Warm hands, cold metal, the blue of her dress reflecting into his eyes and his lips, pink.
What she wants and what she needs, crashing together like the waves against jagged rock and she’s falling.
Can’t happen. Not like this, not with what’s coming.
She pulls away.
Not fair, not fair, not fair, not fair, not fair, not fair…
She feels thin and a little tired, like denim worn from age, dropping the keys by the door with more sound than she should be able to take. Her legs wobble under her, and she thinks that her knees and her lips are in cahoots because they’re trembling too. But she peers around the corner, pressing her ear to the cool wall she’d painted a year ago.
“But I thought you said you were supposed to be an artist, Pammy? Don’t artists paint?”
Not like that, that’s not who I am.
But she didn’t say it like she should have, out loud for the walls and floors and the ceiling to hear.
He’s not home yet. The television is comatose and the plaid couch is empty.
Empty. It’s all empty now.
She fingers the fabric, the repeating pattern like a skipping record, tattered edges, the dipped instep where he sat, whitened with wear.
She doesn’t want to be like this anymore.
The dress is shiny and iridescent, and even though it’s lived in, it doesn’t share the same broken, browned, sickening feeling the rest of the apartment does. Comfortable, but alive.
She wants this. God help her, this isn’t what she wants anymore.
She presses a hand to her stomach, the old that should be new whispering against the new that should be old, and shifts the fabric against her skin, wanting to feel something here and tangible and real.
It’s only then that she lets herself drop down and cry.
This fuzzy, swirling abyss around her is confusion, she knows, the bold looming shapes of constants making her a little nauseous. She bends over the porcelain cavern and wonders which mistake she’s sick over at the moment.
She’s trying to distinguish the exact moment where her life went wrong.
She should have known he wouldn’t disappear in her sights. While she isn’t quite sure how she could hear the end in his heartbeat as she pressed her palms to his chest, she figures that falls under the category of unknown. Like how she knew there were words in those silences or how she could feel his thoughts on her.
His desk is empty. Her eyes dart to a note or a token, some physical trace that he had been here other than blank table space and transferred calls.
She wouldn’t have told him, even if she’d been given the opportunity.
Shocked face, understanding eyes and driven mad by the idea that maybe he was hoping for some other outcome that she wasn’t quite ready to contemplate yet.
But her skirt flaps out a little and brushes against his vacant chair, and she wishes she’d had the choice.
She’s curling in on herself, folding in half, squeezing her legs to her chest and trying to disappear.
She has come to the conclusion that oblivion is the only answer that’s clean and neat. No one would even know she was gone and after awhile she would forget she ever even existed.
There’s this pain in her gut, somewhere below her navel, and she curses it with all her heart because it’s the only tether keeping her from drifting away after she closes her eyes and sinks further into the couch.
She’d float away on the breeze of her own thoughts, too high to catch.
She doesn’t stop to think that maybe this stomachache is from all the swallowed words.
She wears the lilac sweater he always said he’d liked and she eats her mixed berry yogurt alone, and she mourns him. Her shoulders hunch forward, her grandmother’s pearl necklace looping forward into her eye line, casting lacy shadows across the keyboard.
Wear your best jewelry to a funeral. Never mind the wedding.
Roy never asks why she’s crying, just why she’s so fucking moody.
Could be (probably) the same thing to him.
She almost whispers hormones, but that might give away too much so she breathes in the silence. She doesn’t have time to consider what that implies.
She’s fingering the long stem roses when the thought hits, like a bubble popping inside her mind.
The flower drops to the cloth as she gasps.
She would have thought the end would have been more dramatic than the soft crunch of leaves compacting fabric.
The thorn rips through her skin and the tiniest drop of blood hits the table cloth.
Her seams are tearing. Someone come quick before all her insides are outsides.
Her mother and her cousins run it under water, but it’s too late. She’s tainted now.
His long arms wrap around her and for a moment she doesn’t have to be the one protecting someone else. She’s never heard of a tiny paper company called Dunder Mifflin and she only answers her phone about three times a day. And it’s never occurred to her that her dreams will never come true. She drags her fingernails across his scalp and whispers his name into his ear like a prayer.
But she wakes up and it’s someone else snoring on the opposite side of the bed.
It’s not the same.
She leaves him on a Tuesday.
It’s drizzling outside, the sky spitting out snake poison, and she wants to carve out the last, letting the next grow back in its stead. She makes sure her bags are already packed, so that she doesn’t need to wait for him to come to terms with the obvious facts that she’s memorized in her head like statistics.
She’s done waiting for him.
He screams and he yells, and for one terrifying moment she thinks he’s going to hit her, but he un-triggers his fist and shoots a vase across the room instead.
She’s glad she packed everything she needed right here.
The cell phone is held open, waiting, begging to be used. She wants to call. Her thumb finds the speed dial as the rain taps against the hood of the car.
The weatherman said the storm had come from the ocean, the blank expanse of the Atlantic.
Her fingers hesitate, knowing he’d twist back towards her if she asked, knowing he’d hold her hand and tell her it was okay, that everything would be okay.
His long fingers slipping into her hair, drying her tears, wiping away the clarity she’d found just recently like an eraser on a chalkboard.
She flips the phone closed, knowing she doesn’t want anymore lies right now. She needs this pain, and she needs to feel it alone, as badly as she needs to breathe. She doesn’t feel like she’s taken a breath in awhile.
He’s kissing her and it tastes like beer. Like stale cigarettes and cheap cologne and she knows then that ten years isn’t enough incentive to choke it all back and wait for another ten.
She feels her pulse drumming in her neck, but this isn’t living.
The car door swings open in her fist and she steps out, feeling the cool rain pelt her skin and seep into her pores. Dirt path beneath her feet, she stops worrying about a muddy carpet or wet seats.
Maybe the salt water will wash it all away and make her clean again.
Mom’s voice echoes inside her ear like a series of caverns, ringing back to her empty and with no reply. Because the truth is, she has no idea what she’s doing.
“What will you do?”
She thinks she understands. She was here once.
“Was I a mistake, mommy? Is that why daddy left us?”
She offers her tea, placing a warm hand over hers, curled up with a balled tissue trapped inside, a fuzzy silence packed around her in the kitchen like cotton balls in a glass case. When she doesn’t mention it again, she knows she does understand after all.
She can’t isolate the exact second when the decision is made. It’s more like slowly coming awake from a dream. The truth was always there, just under the surface, but she was too clouded to see it.
Why couldn’t you see it? It was right there? Can you see it now?
It may have been the walls of her new apartment or the blank space in her refrigerator or the way he looked at her then, just outside of the warehouse, like acid, and the realization that once there was no hiding she’d be looking at that chemical burn for the rest of her life. It was probably a little of everything. But most of all, it was the tiny shoes in the third isle of a superstore.
Her thumb grazed over the silk and the miniature rose bud, and it wasn’t her. She was new beginnings and stinging cold and un-complicating the complicated. She knew herself, and this wasn’t her anymore. She retched into a trashcan but she still knew what she knew.
It was the only time she’d have to dust over one mistake with another.
The room is tiny and dimly lit, smelling like missed chances and opportunities that were never quite right. She thinks of who’d sat in this place before, and who’d sit here after, wondering if they’d felt the same as she was feeling then. She wonders if it’s wrong that she kind of wishes they had.
Should she have brought someone?
No, if she made the mess, she should clean it up. No more excuses now. She was a big girl.
They call her name and she tries to remember the clean up song her mom had taught her. Her mom would hum it as she stooped low to mop up the liquid, her eyes red with embarrassment and shame.
“Don’t cry over spilt milk, baby.”
She doesn’t figure it still applies.
Lying back on the paper sheet, she counts backward from ten, letting the images of tiny little girls with her eyes and his hair slip away, away, away with them. There’s a brief fear that she’s doing this for him, not the old him but the new him, the one that she couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment where he’d been the one deserving of italics slanting across her mind. But no, this isn’t about him or him, it was about her. Her and the small one that she couldn’t rectify in her own mind with who she was or who she’d be. It was a grain of power he (that’s the first one) still had over her and she could have that. No, no, no.
It hurts a little, but it’s more uncomfortable, and it’s only then that she begins to think ahead, to the empty apartment and the trap she’d left for herself, with no one to talk to. She hadn’t told him, and certainly not him, and she thinks she’d planned it that way. Her future self would thank her past self one day, but her present self still didn’t know for what.
When she gets home, she pours herself a glass of red wine and she knows all this bitterness wasn’t for nothing. She knows that at least for right now it’s only merciful that she’s alone.