She thinks there are probably many ways to deal with a breakup like this. She's tried staying at the office late nights and putting her feet just inside the entrance of his cubicle. She imagined this liminal transgression would allow her to feel close to him without being troubled by anger or dismay. But it doesn't work out that way. She discovers a note she had written him, a private joke, still pushpinned to his carpeted wall. These and other objects once imbued with meaning and signs of their intimacy are dusty, relics of an anonymous past.
Her colleagues have taken the end of their affection in stride and tactfully avoid referring to it. The only person she has allowed herself to mention it to is Helena, who vacuums and empties the wastebaskets after everyone else has gone home and the overhead lights are dimmed. In the semi-darkness Helena scolds her. "Marriage is problem," she says, "boyfriend no problem." Even after she demonstrates to Helena the proximity of their workspaces, Helena waves her hands impatiently and insists, "Tonight you go dancing with new boyfriend." But she doesn't feel like dancing.
She drinks at lunchtime. Sits by herself. Gets strange looks from bartenders sometimes, maybe because of the obvious scars on her wrists. She's glad to be drinking in a room with other people in it. And afraid.
She meets up with sunburned, slick-haired guys in windbreakers who find a way to work their divorce into the conversation. "My wife at the time," they say. She listens to their stories about contracting jobs and city politics or about fishing trips to Acapulco and the kind of property they have in Florida where they're planning to retire. Their kids in high school, their commute to the suburbs. Stories about something they did a long time ago. Told in a way that makes it clear they haven't done much since. She smiles and pretends to consider the question seriously, "What is the name of the beer they make in Milwaukee that begins with an F?"
She sits next to a guy with size-16 feet, which leads to a conversation about a job he did at an airport hotel. "There was a convention," he says, "for obese-fat people. Big watches, clothes. They called out the fire department," he says, but it wasn't a fire. Turns out it was just the elevator overheating and his job to fix it. "Three or four of them people in there," he says, "and the oil started to boil and smoke." He says some obvious things about the women he saw in their bathing suits out by the pool. Then he finds it, the thing he can say over and over again without having to think anymore. "With that oil so hot," he says, "you could'a made French fries." The punch line pleases him. Saying it periodically gives him a way to renew his contact with those around him. She feels it's important not to look at him.
The guy on the other side of her wants to talk about the humidity. It's difficult to avoid him and her neighbor to the right at the same time. "The humidity," he says, "day after day." "No relief," he says. "It's better than fifty degrees, sure (still talking to her though she's staring determinedly at her hands), but a person's gotta sleep." The baseball game comes on the TV and she shifts slightly to look at the screen, the opening he's waited for. "Those people in the stands," he says. "Get no relief from it." Usually it's like this. So dull she notices the skin under her eyelids tighten before she blinks.
Most of the time at the bar she's putting on an act. She's careful-boring as her ex said about their sex life. But once in a while she finds the right person to unload on. She tells them how she left her boyfriend. "Thank God," she says, "for once I left him." She tells the person that she likes giving vent now to the ways he changed her or she adapted herself that were so stupid.
She tells the story about the time her ex called her before they were supposed to meet for breakfast and said that he was on his bike and getting wet. "He said it with a whine in his voice," she says, "like it was my problem. "I hated him," she says, "the baby." He asked her if she'd heard the weather report. "He was always asking me that," she says. "The fucked up thing is that I actually started doing it, accepting the idea that a real adult person should have an idea about what the skies are supposed to be like at points in the future." Here she pauses for a laugh.
She says she'd see her ex's bicycle parked outside of where they work with a goddamned plastic bag tied neatly over the seat, some meteorologist to thank for it, and feel she'd failed, once again, to do the right thing. Be a scout, be prepared.
She's getting loose now though it's early afternoon. Talking makes her feel good. The shot she decides to order will make her feel even better. Her office building, two blocks away, might as well be on another planet.
"He's seen these," she says, turning her palms up to show her victim the scars. "I told him it's a rash," she says. "He knows I'm lying, but doesn't care. Wants the weather predictable."
The shot and her confession have her worked up. Mind racing with thoughts she can't bring back to work. Thinking about how the best way to say what she felt for him is that she'd fight for him. Fight anyone who tried to hurt him. Crazy on her side. It's drinking makes her think like this, about the end, the bottom line. Choosing sides. The way she sees it the problem is that it never comes to this. You never get the chance to show people what you're made of. You'd fight for em. But most likely they'll never know.
She's going to share this line of thinking with her companion when she realizes he's turned back to his buddy or gone to the bathroom or started watching the game like there's money at stake. It's like the jukebox is suddenly silent or the TV gone black. But they haven't. It's the air that's shifted imperceptibly.
She figures this guy's her guardian angel doing what he's supposed to, letting her know it's time to go. So she reins it in. "Only two drinks," she thinks. "Three if you count the shot." But they did something to her. It's time to think practical. "Elevator," she thinks, "breath mints, sunglasses."
On the way back to her office it occurs to her that it takes less than an hour to get to hell. She's got five minutes to get back.
- Heather DiLeo