Quote of the Day, Love: Oscar Wilde

To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.

Go ahead and search it up

Friday, February 4, 2011

Off Ramps

Some people only like beginnings because they are new and exciting. Others like endings because they are dramatic. And since he couldn’t stand the boredom of the middle, he did beginnings marvelously and endings with a real flair for the awful. About a week after the startling breakup, they arranged to briefly meet so he could fix a problem on his old laptop he’d given her a few months earlier as a welcome and generous gift for grad school. It was not easy for her to ask the favor as she was inherently  proud. The last time she saw him, her parting quip was  a very dramatic  combination of,”bullshit,” and “I never want to see you again.”  That is until the computer froze and only he knew the passwords to unfreeze it. The rains had just set in after a long Indian summer.  She pulled on a cashmere cardigan and a silk shell and left her hair down, putting a tiny dab of perfume on her neck. It occurred to her as she dressed to meet him, that he had never seen her wear a coat or a sweater. It had been strictly a warm weather love affair and as soon as the days became shorter and temperatures dropped, he too became colder and crumpled like a dry leaf.
    She dressed carefully to appear attractive and yet unaffected by the whole ordeal, but not so perfect that she seemed to be trying. Looking alluring and touchable but still casual is a difficult balance. At this point, she doubted he would have noticed either way short of her sporting a flour sack or a sequined evening gown. 
They met at a Starbucks in-between their respective homes at noon The place was packed and the rain had changed from mist into shower. As she got out of the car, it beaded on her hair and stayed there in droplet before soaking in.  Standing outside the door, his hair wet either from the rain or a recent shower,s he spotted him.  A piece of paper fluttered from her purse and he motioned to alert her.  Momentarily flustered, she picked it up deciding that no matter what she would remain unflappable. That she felt a  fist squeezing her heart to pulp like a ripe tomato and that her hands were shaky for some reason would be completely invisible. Instead, she would be agonizingly polite, brief, and neutral; the three deadliest weapons of the Northwest WASP.    
“It’s packed in there, we can sit out here,” he motioned to a metal table with wood benches and a summertime umbrella partially covering it.
They sat next to each other on the damp wood bench. Only two weeks earlier, they would have been holding hands and chatting. He wore clothes she had seen before but, somehow he seemed like  a stranger. After asking him why he chose that particular Starbucks, he mentioned that his car had some problems and his garage was nearby.
“Nothing too serious I hope?” she asked coolly.
“No, not too serious,” he answered and continued to tap a few keys and  taking an edge of his jacket polishing the screen.
“Thanks for doing this,” she said
“It would be on my conscience as a computer tech to leave someone with a problem,” he replied.
She took a quiet quick breath and bit her tongue. After what he had done with such casual cruelty, the idea of him possessing a conscience seemed ludicrous to her. However,  pointing that out to him would not only solve nothing, she decided, it would make  it look as if she  cared either way. Whatever else happened,  it was paramount to her that she would remain composed and entirely unmoved. As he popped a disc in, she fumbled through her purse for her checkbook and  pen.
Engrossed in the repair, he paid no attention as she wrote a check for $100. That was fortunate because her fingers weren't working properly and the note on the check, "time, repair, purchase," was nearly illegible.   As he clicked the last key, she handed him the check her fingers delicately pinching the edge so she could avoid the awkwardness and  of accidentally touching him. It was nothing like the thrill you get when  you first brush by a hand  or kiss; but rather like  the anticipation of  the sting  when  pouring rubbing alcohol on a deep cut.
   “You said the laptop was worth $50 and the other fifty is for your time, travel, and the repairs. Thanks.”  she said, quickly.  The check flapped for a brief second in the wind and he looked at her as shocked as if she'd hit him upside the head with a hammer. 
"It was a gift," he said and either a small tear welled up or the  a stray raindrop landed on his face. She couldn’t tell anymore. She thought she should have gained some satisfaction out of seeing him in pain, but she didn’t.  Putting her put my checkbook in her purse and fishing out her keys, she left him this time with slightly softer words even if they were in a cold tone.
"I don't take gifts from people I don't like," she said and put the check on the table with a pen to hold it down.
As she walked away, she  swore she heard him mumble, “I’m sorry," and she could feel him watching her walk away. Not wanting to end up like Lot's wife, she resisted swiveling back. That would have been a sign of weakness. Instead, she walked casually shoulders back to her car wishing she had eyes in the back of her head.
   She locked the door  and adjusted the seat to put the computer safely in the back. Her birthday was in a few days and she remembered he had said he bought her something. Maybe he'd get it in the mail and it would just sit there because he didn't like to waste things. She smiled at that vengeful thought.As she put the keys in the ignition, she saw him walking in front of her car only a yard away. He looped back towards Starbucks through the walkway in the center of the parking lot.Why was he walking through there when his car was at the other end, she wondered.  Had he followed her and if so why? She didn’t try to figure it out for long.
Turning on the radio and maintaining a neutral expression, she drove over a speed bump jarring her on towards the exit. He’d parked on the opposite side of the lot, so his car was now in front of her as she headed towards the main road.   Pretending  he was invisible among the other cars, she mimed played drums on the steering wheel. The radio was playing a talk show. The road  was constructed so she had to follow him for about two miles to get to the freeway. She swore he looked in his rear-view mirror directly back at her a few times, but she remained frozen swearing not to get caught looking at him or even worse, to make eye contact. Time went by like a rubber band stretched to its breaking point and when if finally snaps, it still comes as a surprise. For a microsecond she forgot all of her rules and turned her head, catching his profile in her peripheral vision.
  The light changed and their cars were parallel to each other for a second. The arrow turned green, she turned right, he turned left and they each blended into the thousands of other non-descript cars on the ever-looping ribbons of freeways. She wondered  as she drove home watching the pewter skies and dust rising from the pavement as rain hit,what would happen if those loops were every straightened out? Would the distance between people be shorter somehow, could we see each other coming straight on, or would it be just another busy and anonymous road?

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