As time went on, though, they grew apart. It was gradual at first. Conversations were peppered with overly-pregnant pauses and indelicate phrases. Before either one knew it, they were living a cliche.
But things like that happen.
The end was inevitable; it wasn't drawn out or messy. They simply met in a cafe, spoke hollowly for an hour or so, and then walked out of each other's lives forever.
Yet Howard was discontent. He felt nothing for Liz anymore, but he also felt that he should feel something for her: anger or longing or anything. Apathy, he thought, was unbecoming in a romantic.
So he worked at feeling. He made lists of everything he had loved about Liz, and he made lists of everything he had hated about her. He wrote letters and then burned them. He looked at himself every morning in the mirror and said, "Isn't it awful to be so very lonely?" and sometimes he added, "I miss Liz."
Slowly but surely, the feeling that had no place in his heart began to grow. It was awful to be so very lonely. He did miss Liz. He had found some weak strain of poetic potential in his emotional agonies, and now had no muse. Life had never been so bleak.
One day, sitting alone on a park bench with an untouched sandwich in his hands, Howard decided he couldn't take it anymore. In a moment of pure and suffering eloquence, he moaned, "This can't go on. I'd rather die than feel so alone."
If Howard had had the chance to have another thought after this, it might have been something self-congratulatory - a triumphant recognition at having felt and said something so original and meaningful.
As things were, however, he never got the chance to relish his artistry, because immediately after he had spoken, his loneliness spontaneously overflowed, and Howard exploded into a thousand tiny particles.
The explosion itself was miraculously beautiful. Like the break-up that had started it all, it was neither drawn out nor messy. One moment he was in a park surrounded by people, and the next, he was gone - floating away, piece by piece.
If such a thing as poetic justice existed, then here was Howard's reward: he would hover indefinitely in the atmosphere, being breathed in and out until the world ended. He would never be lonely, because he would spend every second being intimately embraced by hundreds of different people. He would know a level of communion with his fellow-men that most people - even the really romantic ones - only dream of.
But on that day in the park, there was no justice. A child moved away from the area to escape a funny smell, and a dog sneezed. A pigeon began pecking at the sandwich lying in front of the now vacant bench.