Sunday Story (on a Friday): Take Me Back

“I’ve come to realize something about you,” Valerie said slowly and surely into her FaceTime camera, carefully holding the phone to ensure that she was showing the very best angle of her visage. She was beautiful, no doubt, but 33 wasn’t treating her as well as 28 had, and even in moments like these, she was careful to make sure that she presented herself as elegantly as possible.

Staring back at her through the single crack on the screen of her iPhone 7 was the plain but handsome, older but youthful face of a man who was desperately, hopelessly in love with her. She knew that what she was about to say—what she had rehearsed saying in her mind dozens of times since she had last seen him just 24 hours ago—was going to destroy him.

But so fucking what? Valerie had been destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again in the three years she and Paul had been together, and mostly by his doing. Through all of it, she had loved him. Defended him. Even protected him.

Paul had a bad habit of lying to protect her, but she could handle that. She knew that he needed to lie to her sometimes. Dating a man who traveled for a living and likely had a girl in every proverbial port before he met her…she didn’t want to know about all of that. But there was the one time he hadn’t lied, and that was the one she could never forgive him for. And that’s why she had to say what she was about to say.

“I’ve realized that while I will always love you—deeply, from the bottom of my heart—I’ve realized that I don’t love you romantically.”

There. She had said it. It was done.

Just saying it wasn’t enough, though. That’s why this call was a FaceTime. That’s why she had to see him break as she said it. Because if he was broken, she’d feel better about being broken.

And that’s why when Paul’s face cracked, ever so slightly, just long enough for a single tear to escape his eye, she finally felt the relief that had been missing from her life for so very long.

“Okay,” he said. Because what else could he say? He tried to smile, but that tear had betrayed him. “I understand.”

All the times they had been on and off, will they/won’t they, are they/aren’t they over the past three years, she had never been able to say that. But even in that moment, she wasn’t sure that it was true.

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Fiction: “Migrations”

“Fuck me,” Carter sighed as the strip-mall signs flashed by, yellowed transparent ovals covered indifferently with generic line drawings and fading public-domain fonts, “Christopher Columbus was right, you know? He was just early.” From the passenger seat, Marisol scrunched her face at him in the expression that he had come to think of as no comprendo.

“What do you mean, Columbus was early?” Carter flicked on his turn signal and slowed the rental car before making a hard right.

“I mean, look at the names of the storefronts. ‘India Bazaar’. ‘India Grocery’. ‘Amul India’. And that mini-mart, it used to be a United Dairy Farmers, now it’s just a generic Indian mini-mart. The name… they probably picked it out of a hat or a turban or whatever. What I’m saying is that Columbus came here from Spain looking for India, right? He was so stuck on it that he used the name “Indians” for the Native Americans who lived here. Well, if he came here now he’d have all the bona fide Indians he could stand. He just got here too early.”

“I don’t understand,” Marisol replied, in a deliberately level tone clearly meant to counteract the riding tide of his agitation. “I see also a Hertz Car Rental, and a Pro Golf Unlimited. It is not all India theeeeees and India thaaaaat.”

“You,” Carter stated with resignation, “are the dumbest God-dammed bitch on this planet.” Marisol looked straight ahead and said nothing back. The silence stretched for long moments as they passed the graffiti-covered brick end-cap of the mini-mart. Carter coughed, once, in place of an apology. “Since we’re here,” he said, “I might as well show you the old neighborhood.”

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