Here is the chance to become someone new, free of all the clinging of old, the drive by the ex-boyfriend’s house three times in an hour level of need. Melissa can escape crying, not so silently, in the bathroom at work, and visiting the bar they once frequented in an effort to orchestrate a meeting. Because being that girl, the girl who takes everything too far, is exhausting.
She smiles at the man across the table from her. It is a thin smile, hiding her teeth in case the dried herbs from her half-eaten pasta primavera is lodged in there. His sonorous voice rolls out between them, he’s talking about himself, his work in advertising, of traveling to Japan and being surrounded by the chaos of an overgrown city. She nods her head in the pauses, not because she is listening very hard, but because this man has a perfect forehead, the kind always pinched up in thought. Imaging how his strong chin, beautifully aquiline nose, and the shadow of rough stubble will feel when they kiss makes her want to forget who she used to be.
One year gone, but she can’t give up stalking her ex online. His new wife stars in a flooring company commercial. Melissa watched it in an endless loop on the Internet looking for flaws. Wrinkles. Something. The wife is thin and blonde, but that hair color can’t be real! Not with those dark brows. The wife’s pretty enough, though her mouth is small. She looks wholesome running her hand along the carpet wave and talking about stain resistance.
“Do you want to come back to my place?” the new man asks. His eyebrows arch up high on that perfect forehead and there is a glint to his eye. His hand glides up her leg under the table, palm catching on the weave of her black pantyhose, and he squeezes just above her knee.
Fuck, is what she thinks. She laughs at both the predictive and exclamatory function of her word, how it can serve both her needs at once. He laughs too, reflexively. What would the new girl she is becoming say?
“How do you feel about the floor?” she asks.
He cocks his head to the side, regards her with equal parts curiosity and intent. Those medium-sized palms grip her leg more tightly.
“I like the floor, but no carpet,” he replies. He grins. It feels to her like the sort of grin that should be sinister but the grin, like the man, is trying too hard.
“It burns,” she says. Melissa reaches down and digs her nails into the top of his hand. The flesh curls under her manicured nails. The new man doesn’t flinch. He stares at her with wide eyes, but doesn’t pull away. She relaxes her hand and folds his fingers into her own. She rubs along his arm, pretending she is the wife and he is the carpet. Everything is new. Everything is possible.
Jennifer Marie Donahue’s work has appeared in Catapult, Grist Journal, Flyway Journal, The Rumpus and other fine places. Her writing has been named a finalist for the J.F. Powers Prize for Short Fiction, the Barry Hannah Fiction Prize, and the So to Speak! Nonfiction Prize. She lives in Massachusetts. You can find her online at www.jmdonahue.com.