“You should write a story about me,” he says, and smiles, standing in the doorway. He is porcine, she notes with detachment. She glimpses a roll of plump skin sprouting beneath the woolen argyle sweater. The way he stands, seductively feminine, tongue-in-cheek, betrays the confidence that always alienated her. The skin below his chin sags almost imperceptibly, sprinkled with blue pinpricks, nicks, and cuts. She takes in the wrinkles near his eyes and around his mouth. Each one is hard to bear. His hair is close-cropped, a nondescript color and cut. You have to have known him before to know this man is beautiful.
She remembered his former self: When he was with her, he was thin, youthful, his hair longer and blond. His hair was always what she loved most about him. When she conjures his image, his crown of blond curls always appears first. He hid his skinny thighs and shins in jeans adorned with countless pockets that held the keys to the Volvo where he spent most of his time and where she joined him for a long ride, and then another one, and all in all it lasted just under eighteen months. His hair was matted because he’d play with it, with his pointy, knobby fingers that fidgeted all the time, and that she loved to no end, though she thought them not gracious, but moving, moving.
“…Write a story about me,” she hears, and the words make her flinch with humiliation.
Once, months after they’d broken up, but as he lingered in her life like some sort of unreachable prize, he had driven her home from an interview for an insurance job. The interviewer had wanted to know how many people in her entourage she thought she could rope into buying an insurance policy. Friends, classmates, anything went. She wore a power suit she’d bought at the mall. Her shirt collar peeked out of her suit like some sort of disappointing Jackie Brown costume. She’d stood on the corner, trying to regain her composure, letting her hair down so he’d find her pretty. She’d seen the Volvo coming from a mile away, her eye trained for it. She had tachycardia. He pulled up. He’d stopped by Wendy’s to buy her the hot chocolate she used to drink on their nightly drives through the country. Here, he said, looking her in the eyes, and handed her the drink, his jacket slightly sliding up, revealing his wrist, which she looked at with ravenous hunger, and shame.
You ask me to write about you because a million years later it is still very apparent who here loved the other more, she thought. Who here fell in love in unfathomable and undignified ways, and who here was the rational one, with the temporary, dispensable attachment. His feelings included kindness, endearment, concern, care. He called her his best friend, and she hated him for it. When it ended a second time, sitting on her dorm room desk chair, she alone on the bed, he said: “I realized I’d run into a burning building for my best friend, but not for you.” She nodded.
The cup is red and brown, she knows it by heart, it has something like a black plastic clit. She pushes it in and hot chocolate-flavored air gushes out. One drop appears, and she looks at it as he starts the car. She can smell his cologne, a familiar, scalding scent. “What do you really want to do?” he asks after he hears about the interview.
She looks at a bridge, at the other cars, at streetlights, at everything but this one, too impressed by the thought that she is actually here with him, too eager to hold on to him. “I want to be a writer,” she ventures finally.
“Then be one.”
A snide little phrase that implies all she lacks is will, like it’s only about typing on a keyboard and there you are, a capital W writer. “I’m trying,” she says and turns away, looking at the dark fence and the park behind it.
Now, seventeen years later, the wooden chair creaks under her weight. “Are you sure you really want to ask your ex-girlfriend to write a story about you, and put it on the internet for all the world to see?” she asks, mockingly.
The way he looks now makes her numb and disappointed and perhaps sad. It is all so predictable. Hairline receding, body growing sideways. A marked path, a tranquil life of no particular highs or lows has given him the stability he so badly needed, and transformed him into this heartbreaking suburban animal. I guess you look like who you’re with, she thinks. (“You are what you fuck,” says the voice in her mind.) She couldn’t play house, and he knew it, and that’s why he’d chosen the prodigy of normalcy that was his wife, instead of her, her and her strange, unruly hair, her troubled life, her mind full of knots and spurts. He probably thinks he’s happy. He probably is happy, happy with his wife, his car, his hobbies, their loving home. If he’s anything like she remembers, he must think he’s got it all figured out. She hates and envies this feeling she suspects in him, a conviction that he’s made all the right choices. She wonders if others can see, like she can, the shape beneath him, under that ridiculous fat suit made of years, the punishment for his original sin, the choice-of-not-her. If he was with her, he’d still look twenty.
“Why not,” he says.
If we were still twenty, and you still looked like a dream, she thinks, we’d be in the car, nothing would have ended, everything would forever be born right this instant. Time would not touch us. There would be no resentment, no indifference, no secrets. Every day may be the same, still it would feel like a first, and a last, and everything in between. His eyes are the same. Slightly lighter than hers, but just as blue. His eyelashes are dark blond.
“Anything you write can only be beautiful,” he says, and smiles.
Marie Baleo is a French writer born in 1990. She is a contributing writer for Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel. Her creative non-fiction and journalistic work have appeared in Litro Magazine, Alternet, and Dagens Næringsliv (Norway).