‘You’: A Short-Short Story By Me

I remember entering the kitchen to you you sitting there, shoulders hunched; you had gotten up early and wanted to make us breakfast.  The kitchen was in shambles; thick doughy pancake batter sat cool and plastic-y in a bowl, a spatula jammed into it like a shovel; cutlery, so much cutlery, was sprawled across the counter, spotted and filthy; you had left all the contents of my fridge — orange juice, milk, eggs, chocolate sauce (why did I even have chocolate sauce?) — out in the open, the juice container gleaming with a wet dewy sheen; glasses and pots and pans, splotched with the innards of the bowl were soaking in cloudy cold water in the sink.  You had a look on your face, boastful and bashful, a look of boyhood innocence, and I didn’t even get mad; I didn’t even think to get mad.  I laughed and laughed, so hard I had to rest my palm on the table’s edge for support.  What, you asked.  Nothing, I replied through smiling gasps.

I ate your homemade breakfast anyways.  It was awful, but the kind of awful that is so comical, so memorable, that I ate everything on my plate and even had seconds.

You looked like Kurt Cobain back then with your vintage mohair sweater, your permanent accessory, and your unkempt, flattened hair, bleached a honey blonde but the roots were showing like soil under autumn  grass.  It was the 90’s and denim was in, the only trend you embraced (though, you argued to me several times, denim is NOT a trend, it’s what a “real man” wears).  I loved that sweater and your jeans, going to the bathroom for a shower in the early mornings and seeing these garments, your garments, rumpled up on my bedroom floor, I loved your mix tapes (I played them everywhere — in my walkman on walks to the store, in my car, while I was housecleaning), I loved your awful cooking.  I loved how you would sleep with your arm under my pillow so my head was resting on it, and it would, like us, fall asleep in the night, then when we awoke you would wag it wildly in my face to demonstrate its limpness while I giggled in my morning voice.  I loved the time I asked you if I could hem the worn-out friction holes on the cuffs of your good pants before we went out for dinner and you refused but just before we left, you changed your mind; we were late, you looked clean-cut but somehow fantastic, ecstatic, new.  I loved you.

I wish I had realized that before I sent you away.  It was a cold sunny day in December, the snow in a thin veil on the lawn.  We were sitting in my kitchen like we always did after a good sleep together and you asked if I wanted to help you with the crossword.  What a mood I was in — I said, seven letters starting with ‘F’: F U C K O F F and you shied away from me, your face like an abused puppy’s, and retreated to the living room where you spent the afternoon silent and alone watching movie after movie, mostly yours with one or two of mine tossed in; black and white classics.  I went out.  When I came back, I apologized but followed my weak attempt at reconciliation with a break-up.  You left, hurt, and we never bothered to contact each other after that.

I always figured you wondered why I decided to break up with you and the reason is that for a long time, I was unhappy; I was unhappy being a wife in my mid-twenties, and I wanted space; in my bed, in my kitchen, on my shelves.  That’s a poor excuse, trading diligently hemming men’s black Dockers for a smiling sweet man in a mohair sweater, for material possessions.  It wasn’t the material possessions that scared me; it was the fact that you were moving into my life, smothering me, your ubiquitous presence, intrusive on my allotted selfishness.

I saw you a few times since our demise.  Once, I was walking past a coffee shop and you were sitting by the window, enraptured by Ana Karenina while the wet snow fell, half-melted flakes sliding down the window like tears.  I ducked away so you wouldn’t see me, not wanting to deal with the shame of my mistake, the awkwardness of a chance encounter.

Another time, you were with a ponytailed girl wearing a navaho-patterned poncho.  Odd-looking, I thought, that hippy-couple.  Then I realized it was you; I recognized your eyes.  Your hair was longer, past your ears and feathering out in the evening’s moisture.  Your delicate chin was hidden under a beard and you were grinning — really grinning, as you locked pinky fingers with the girl you walked alongside, the two of you deep in happy discussion.

The last time I saw you was today and you were alone waiting for a bus.  You had a car when I knew you, a Civic.  You kept a stash of plastic bags under the passenger seat in case of emergencies.  But today you were in a bus shelter, scanning the street every few moments for your ride.  I couldn’t bare my mistake anymore and I stopped to say hello.  You didn’t notice me so I called your name and you looked up.  The lengthy hair was gone and replaced with a smooth, businessman cut.  The blonde was gone.  So was the beard; you were a real adult, a thirty-something man.

We chatted for a few moments; you told me you were still single, living alone, you worked for some company with a dagger-sharp name, one I had never heard of.  I asked what you did and you told me a very something; consulting, accounting… I can’t even remember now.  I asked how you were and you said, Good.  And then the bus came, its headlights on in the dim gray of the afternoon.  A couple of raindrops fell and you said, we should catch up sometime.  I agreed and you messily, hastily jotted down your phone number and name so I would remember whose it was on the back of a tiny slip of paper from your pocket, giving it to me before hopping onto the bus, leaving me with too many questions.

As I walked, I looked at the phone number; your writing was exactly the same as it had been when we were together.  You didn’t dot your I’s with points, but rather, circles; when we met, this little touch struck me as feminine and told me so much about you.  It still did, but I was more mature than that now; not naive enough to judge a man on the lace-delicate touches of his handwriting.  I turned the paper over and on the back, to my wonderment, was a fortune from a fortune cookie.  It said something vague; you will go on many travels in your lifetime, and there were lucky numbers beside it, in red-printed ink.  I put the fortune — your phone number — in my pocket and continued to walk home.


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