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“You’ll fondly remember this particular relationship when you’re married to a solid eight with two photogenic kids (a boy and a girl), but still not complete.”
You pick up a Sally Rooney from a stack of other books and pretend to read the blurb. You finger its contours and press your thumb hard into the sharpish edges as you eye him.
He’s in front of you, in another duty-free store—but with the same loud lights and peppermint breath—perusing quirky-shaped bottles of rum and sniffing rugged scents.
Memories sift through your brain. Good and bad. But mostly memories of him planting sweeps of kisses along your clavicle; a salvo of bergamot, pink pepper, and vetiver infiltrating your patient, girlish defenses. You wonder if he still eats Milano cookies and drinks iced tea.
You consider pulling the book up to your nose each time he threatens to turn your way. But you decide that you are safe: he was never much of a reader anyway. A bookstore to him must be what a cigar shop is to you, dated and unnecessary.
He disappears and reappears between zipping travelers lugging their possessions along the reticulated patterns of cold terrazzo. The airport is frenetic even for early morning. Tired parents search for elusive departure gates. Shops overflow with customers, anxious to purchase cheap, last minute gifts. The bitter roast of coffee and the saltiness of cheese being pressed into panini sandwiches waft through the corridors of Terminal D.
He has aged as have you. His munificent locks—the ones which used to leap off his forehead with unashamed desire and tickle the coarse inclines of your eyebrows—are no more. Instead, they are replaced by a withdrawing line of thinning hair and naked patches of creamy skull. But his looks have been spared, you think; he is still attractive, still captivating enough.
What has it been, twelve years? Fourteen? You agree on thirteen and let out a chesty, counterfeit sigh. You’d always known that you’d get one of these: a glimpse, a snapshot. To return—in whatever superficial way possible—the fragments of splintered hearts which have been taped to your soul. A “moment” to rectify, to fix whatever it is that you are. But you know it does not work that way. You have always known this. For thirteen years, you remind yourself.
You play a game: Guess the girlfriend or wife.
There is a leggy, tanned blonde to his right. On her arm is a tattoo of a man who resembles a young Clint Eastwood. The tattoo artist has done justice to Clint’s popping jawline. She has too much spunk for him. You consider an Asian woman at the register—with perfectly pressed hair—but a couple of jumbo-sized boxes of Marlboro in her cart takes her out of the running. You recall that his father dropped dead from emphysema when he was nine.
Then, out of nowhere, she emerges from behind an M&M’s stall and you know it is her without the need for confirmation. Long, healthy hair, pulled into an unspectacular ponytail. Rimmed, cat-eyed sunglasses and a turtleneck—a size and a half too big for her—draped over a pair of jeans. No hint of makeup, because you reject nude lipstick as actual makeup.
He is with the person you have grown into.
She elbows him. He grins and mutters something you wish you could hear: Is this cologne too much? Think we’re gonna miss our flight if we don’t leave now? Do you know that I am broken?
You ponder whether failed relationships are really just a series of preset factory beats moving along a conveyor belt: the promising meet cute, the hurried, awkward merging of eager bodies, the petulant fights, the inevitable break up, the damaged end product.
Words like “strong” and “empowered” get bounced around in conversations with your mom and girlfriends for months, years. Whatever tales of inner peace these syrupy pow wows seemed to have nourished your brain with becomes embarrassingly undone in this moment. Thirteen years feels like thirteen minutes, and suddenly, you can smell heated mozzarella rising on a pizza in his oven that will never be eaten by the two of you. Layers of pseudo-fortitude built up by all that yoga, and reiki, and Eat Pray Love bullshit peel away, leaving you feeling bare and defenseless, like a buttery hog in the wild.
How does one truthfully reconstruct a heart to be “strong” and “empowered” when it has been stuffed to capacity long before you are even twenty-two?
You dig into Sally Rooney with your manicured fingernails and a rush of regret and anger gobble your insides. With a last look, you leave your soulmate at the airport, not wanting to, but having to.
It’s not the spewing of more fuck yous than a Scorsese flick that convinces you it’s the end, for real, this time. It’s the word anymore, tacked unassumingly onto those fucks that seems to underscore the finality of the relationship.
This is indeed the swan song: I can’t fucking do this, anymore. This isn’t fucking working, anymore. I got nothing left for you, fucking nothing, anymore.
You love her and hate her at the same time; you figure she must feel the same way about you. You’ll fondly remember this particular relationship when you’re married to a solid eight with two photogenic kids (a boy and a girl), but still not complete. Not loved in the way that you feel loved now: to the bone and blood and guts. Yet, in your arrogance and childish spite, you gamble consciously with love like this and decide that better will come along without ever considering the terrible consequences if it does not.
Baby and Shug sour into dimwit and dumbshit. Cookie rots into asshole and jackass.
You’re tired but not because it’s 3:17 in the morning. The toxic effects of marathon rants and debasing soliloquies have seeped into you and you feel dirty thinking about all the “bitches” and “fucks” and “losers” that have stained the white walls of your tiny apartment.
Finally, she rips off her engagement ring and flings it onto the table. It careens off the hardwood and makes several metallic chinking sounds before landing at the feet of your new pair of Nikes. The ones she got you for your birthday. She leaves and you pick up the ring you saved up the last seven months to get.
3:17 turns to 5:34 and she has not come back.
You are at a bachelorette party of a friend of a friend. In five years, you’ll ask your friend, how’s whatshername doing? The response will likely be something along the lines of: beautiful kids, city life, Fiji holidays, and a Border Collie named Luscious Purple.
The party is really a dinner at a charming restaurant in the city. All the girls drip in Gucci and Prada, except you. They sport salon styled hairdos and orthodontically corrected teeth. You don’t assume this; they speak with a cool sense of pageantry about these sterile facts in the same vein you’d expect someone to talk about a recent job promotion or the arrival of a new puppy. You notice narrow trenches of wrinkles beginning to conquer their Mediterranean kissed faces, and you worry what will become of them. You decide that you are only “worried” about these pristine creatures because you’re bored.
You almost didn’t make it tonight. The weather has been horrible all week. The kind where fat streams of water, long as snakes, gush down the edges of sidewalks and give gutters a real thrashing. You are overdue on rent and figure free food and drink is worth the downpour.
You catch whatshername smiling for no apparent reason while the other girls break off into pockets of conversations about celebrities you have only vaguely heard of. Is this how you’ll be when it’s your turn to get married? Crated in an innocuous bubble of obliviousness; a comatose state of bliss? You think and think but decide against it.
You pleasure your brain with warm thoughts of Cookie on one knee. You wonder if you’ll cry. You decide against this, too. Knowing him and his careless nature, you’ll probably discover a crumpled receipt or two, days before the day. You scold yourself: he has surprised you before. And not just once.
You are not over the moon about many things in life, but you are about him. You wonder—at the same time you catch whatshername examining her gleaming rock—whether she is over the moon about her fiancé, whom you assume to be a slippery, armpits-shaven, prick.
In the moment you realize that Cookie is the rock. He is the weight in your life. But the good kind, if there is such a thing.
The sommelier arrives with champagne: two bottles, dark juniper with silvery tops. He states in a snotty tone: Champagne Krug Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 1995, before he unwinds the muselet and impregnates the otherwise empty restaurant with boisterous pops. He says something about the champagne’s rich nutty and honey undernotes as he pours the effervescent liquid into glitzy, crystal glasses.
The girls ooh and ahh.
You recall reading that the average person can’t tell the difference between the quality of a ten-dollar bottle of champagne picked up at a supermarket from a thousand-dollar bottle bought, from, well, a restaurant like this.
You chug the bubbly and conclude that the author was right.
You are in the park, holding hands, observing color explode in the blackness above you. Red. Green. Silver. Blue. You feel the pulse in her wrist quicken—each time the flare of a brocade firework tears through the night and stretches into a wheel of dazzle—sparking up your heart.
You fall in love with her amongst choking sulphur and glittery particles. The thing you love most about loving her is the feeling of oneness, of belonging, that perhaps only an all-consuming relationship can offer. You dismiss your mother’s words of never giving your entire heart to someone, to keep a piece for yourself, for that rainy day. You question the sense in that. Especially the part where your mother says that the day does come, whether we wish to admit it or not.
There is nothing and no one like Shug. The trajectory of your life’s likes and dislikes will be shaped by her and this experience, and you submit to this truth, for better or worse. You pull Shug into you and think this moment should never end. And in some ways it never does.
It’s 7:15. He is late. You saunter around the convenience store and run your hand along a row of chips in shiny aluminum bags. One with intense neon writing steals your eyes. It says: BONKERS CHIPS. Underneath those words, in small, cursive letters it says: guaranteed to make you bonkers about something.
Even someone? you whisper.
You decide to get a slushie, but the machine is out of order. Things like this always seem to happen to you. You almost never particularly itch for something, like a Vanilla Coke or a slushie, but when you finally decide that you want one, it’s never available. Apathy morphs into necessity and you forget that you started off not really wanting the Vanilla Coke or slushie. This is how marketing must work.
The doorbell chimes and you know that he has come in. You wonder why he is late. You wonder if he has a girlfriend. He must have, you decide. How can he not? You wonder if she is waiting for him in the dim carpark. You wonder if she is pretty.
Before you realize it, he’s standing next to you and you feel giddy. This is the closest you have ever been to him. You seize the BONKERS CHIPS and start reading the ingredients: White habanero. Red Savina. Ghost Pepper. Your eyes drop lower. His sneakers are muddied and frayed. You decide that he does not have a girlfriend after all.
You know that he will grab a small pack of Milano cookies, make his way over to the fridge for an iced tea and vanish into the aisles. If you do not go in now you will have lost your chance for another week. Another week of welling agony; of constant indecision about ever returning to this store.
Before you can commit to the idea of turning to him, he turns to you and says: Are those any good…the chips?
You get lost forever in his light, brown eyes. He is even lovelier up close.
Never had them. I think you should stick to your cookies.
You realize your mistake and turn red like the party cups next to the BONKERS CHIPS. He has not reached for the cookies yet.
Rajiv Ramkhalawan is an Attorney-at-Law and emerging writer from Trinidad and Tobago. Rajiv is the winner of The Caribbean Writer's 2020 Cecile de Jongh Literary Prize. He is a past recipient of a regional award from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. His fiction has been shortlisted for the Perito Prize and nominated for a Best of the Net.