A work of flash fiction

You begin in a bar that stinks of battered fish and wet wood chips. The hubbub from a table of sauced bow hunters spills onto your backs and she’s obliged to scoot her dented chair nearer your hip. Two knees brush together. She smells your cologne — oh lord god, too strong, too strong, you think — but she doesn’t seem to mind. You glance at the peanut shells underfoot and her nicked, white calf, and order another beer. It’s a warm night. Then, a series of spoken words: “It’s too sweet for me” and “That’s funny,” sans laugh, and, prematurely, “I don’t think people are meant to be alone.”

In an hour or two, you move to a bedroom — first yours, then hers (for two days and then ten months straight), and then into your first ours. You buy lamps, condoms, goldfish, bookcases, a futon — all the necessary, cheap, household Ikeatrements. The duvet cover develops a stain and you both claim ignorance. You argue. Now you speak in delighted instants of defense, tawdry breaths, and newfound honesty: “That’s so sweet” and “You can come on my back” and, eventually, “Can you hand me another roll of toilet paper?” A new comforter matches future window coverings.

Evenings and Saturday afternoons are no longer devoted to cuddling. Your night sweats turn her sticky and restless. She buys the wrong kind of orange juice, and the pulp separates and settles at the bottom of the bottle. You no longer fight — you are the anti-fighters. You are the anti-movie critics, anti-chefs, anti-massage therapists, anti-tandem bike riders. It’s like a party where only the caterer shows up. Like coming home to the same set of chores that never get done. No, you say with a stupid, half-drunk grin, it’s like that movie, where the guy says a relationship, like a shark, needs to move forward or it will die. She doesn’t laugh. Then: “This milk smells sour” and “You go — my feet are tired.”

“You no longer fight — you are the anti-fighters. You are the anti-movie critics, anti-chefs, anti-massage therapists, anti-tandem bike riders.”

Now you live in new, separate spaces with half the goldfish and no one to not fight with. You sleep beneath a stained duvet cover. She falls apart in a bar with a mutual friend, who grazes his hand across her back in sympathy and glances nervously from table to door before telling you about it later, in another bar. Then — an indefinite amount of time and weather passes. It’s a dusky weekday, and a dog park where you now both take your new pets to sniff, run, shit, and pee. It hasn’t been long enough but: “He’s a cutie” and “I’m going back to school for nursing” and, obviously, “Yeah, I’m glad too.” You think about how you used to see her naked. You wonder if she wonders why you sound so shaky, or maybe, lord god forbid, hungover..? And then you part, and dissolve into other people’s food and wine, flip-flops and bras, and saliva and sweat, and you wonder, again — reclining in a dentist’s chair, of all places, where the fear of dying suddenly splits you down the middle — how many firsts you have left to experience and record and mourn.

Author’s note: An earlier version of this story first appeared in apt in 2012.

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