love (lower case)
by Dallas Woodburn
(Ventura, California, U.S.A.)
"I really hope we can still be friends," you say.
Scrolling back through the worst moments of your life, this is at the top. Up there between the rejection from Brown and your dog Sammie being hit by a car in fifth grade.
Sitting here in your bra, pressing a smushed bloody tissue against your nostrils (you always get a bloody nose when you're nervous) while your boyfriend - er, ex-boyfriend - lies face-down on the bed beside you. He clutches a pillow and sobs into the twisted sheets.
Oh, this is worse than Brown saying no. Worse than Sammie dying. This is the worst.
"Why?" he says. "I just don't understand why."
You don't know what to say. There's not an easy reason why. Is there ever an easy reason why?
"I mean," he says, "we were so happy."
It's true. You were happy. Most of the time. As happy as most people are.
"You're The One for me," he says.
There. That's the reason. He's so certain the two of you are Meant To Be. He's been talking about A Future Together. There was a time when you thought about A Future Together, too. A time when you were giddy with Future thoughts. The two of you, old and gray. Wedding anniversaries and mortgages and diapers and wallpaper and vacuum cleaners and joint checking accounts.
"I can't imagine being with anyone else," he says.
The real problem - the palms-sweating, stomach-clenching, claustrophobic insomniac problem - isn't really the Future. It's the Future with him and only him. It's the two of you together always.
What a cliche, but you can't help it. At some point, your relationship stalled, then rolled backwards, like a car parked on a steep hill without a parking brake, out of Love and back down into love. Lower case.
"Why?" he says. "Just give me a reason why."
"I don't know," you say. "I'm sorry."
Your mother comes over with turkey chili and freshly laundered sheets.
"You did the right thing," she says. "At some point you've got to either stop fishing or cut bait and move on."
You pick at a scab on your knee from when you cut yourself shaving.
"This isn't a dress rehearsal," she says. "This is your life."
You grip a hangnail between your teeth and pull.
"Never settle," she says. "It's not fair to you, or to him."
You spear a clump of turkey and onion with your fork. You worry no one will ever love you as much as he did.
All day long, you make lists:
Things You Would Tell Him About If You Were Still On Speaking Terms.
Things That Make You Think Of Him. (You Can't Help It.)
Inside Jokes That Are No Longer Relevant, Which is Unfortunate Because They Were Pretty Damn Funny.
You do not call him. You call Margot instead.
"Will I ever be able to call him?" you ask her.
"Just wait a few more days."
"But I said I'd call him in a couple days, not a few days. And it?s already been a couple days."
"Just wait a few more," Margot says. "Till you're ready."
"Will I ever be ready?" you ask.
"Just wait till tomorrow," Margot says. "You're not ready yet. I can tell."
Instead of calling him, you go to the grocery store. It is a place with lights and people. Things to buy. You're not out of milk, but you can pretend to be. And bananas. You should try to be healthier. You should start putting sliced bananas on your cereal.
You pick the greenest bunch in the pile because you like bananas with a bit of green at the tips. Not this green, but they'll ripen. Your boyfriend - ex-boyfriend - likes bananas yellow and spotty.
All of a sudden you're thinking about his banana and how at one time you had thought his was the only banana for you, the only one you would ever really know, ever really need.
You put the green bananas back on the shelf. Try to think about his belly-button, the way it was always lined with belly-button lint.
The last time the two of you did it, your roommate knocked on the door halfway through. "I have to come in and get something. Right now. It's an emergency!"
So your ex-boyfriend, who was still your boyfriend then, pulled his banana out of you and the two of you hurried to dress. What else could you do? After your roommate grabbed her iPod and gym key off her desk and left, you and your ex-boyfriend watched Weeds on DVD, because neither of you was in the mood anymore.
You wish you had done it once more after that. It makes you sad to think that was your last time with him. Unfinished.
Up ahead of you in the grocery aisle is a middle-aged man, paunch like a bowling ball beneath his white T-shirt, considering Frosted Flakes versus Lucky Charms. He is balding and carries a basket instead of pushing around a cart. His basket contains chocolate ice cream - two cartons - and a box of macaroni and cheese.
Tears prick your eyes at the sight of him. So many lonely people in this world. You leave your cart in the middle of the cereal aisle and make a beeline for your car to beat the tears.
There's something about crying all alone in your car in a half-empty strip-mall parking lot at night. If you were a character in a movie, this would be the Low Point. Which means that in the next scene something would change. Things would only get better from here.
You slide the key into the ignition and blast the heater. "Eleanor Rigby" comes on the radio.
Driving home, it starts to snow. Darkness hugs the car close. It would be easy to get lost here. You turn your high beams on and hope you're headed in the right direction.
Dallas Woodburn studied creative writing at the University of Southern California and at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Monkeybicycle, Cicada, Palaver, flashquake, The Newport Review, Eve's Harvest, and The Hudson Valley Literary Magazine. In addition, she has written essays for numerous publications including Writer's Digest, Family Circle, Justine, and The Los Angeles Times.
Contact Dallas at www.writeonbooks.org