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We are breaking up in a Friendly’s. I seek distraction from this poignant irony by flicking through the menu. But it only offers bizarre expressions. Like: The tyranny of verb tenses creates the illusion of time. Adobe PDFs saved the Spotted Owl. Lab-grown beef will spare the Amazon Rainforest. Drifting continents suffer from separation anxiety, too. I shake my head and look back up. The jut of her jaw tells me it’s over, that she’s decided. I want to tell her that the infinitive “to decide” shares the same root as “suicide” and “homicide.” That every decision kills some alternative. That perhaps she hasn’t thought this through properly. But there’s no point, because she’s already left without even a “goodbye,” “good luck,” “take care,” or “fuck you.” And I think back to that meadow where we rode to one night: moonlight glinting off the handle bars, frogs croaking, crickets chirping, grass undulating in the somber glow, where it all came apart. Then I close my eyes and she’s right there in front of me in that same meadow on that same night. Most likely I’m hallucinating or something I don’t remember taking is kicking in, because now she gets off her bike, strips, wades into the stream, and lies down on its soft bank inviting me to join her. Butterflies crown her head, anointing her into their order. The earth creeps over her skin. Apricots burst out of her armpits. Salmon leap into her crotch. Roe oozes down her thighs, gumming dead scales to her flesh. But behind this transformation, I sense she’s just preparing to leave me. Because a raven scratches against a window I never knew about in my mind, lured by the scent of my prescience. The beak looms massive and moist. Its savage hunger terrifies me, so I drag large rocks around her to keep that bird from breaking in. She screams at me, Stop! This isn’t how it’s meant to be. After everything, can’t you see there’s a river in me that’ll dry up if you don’t let me get to the water? But as long as the raven keeps clawing, I’ll keep piling the rocks over her. She doesn’t understand I can’t let it in. Her eyes sublimate into nacre. Okay, okay, she rasps, come, you can come with me and maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll find a tide that will take us to the ocean. But I’m not sure I can trust her. Anyway, my moment now beckons. The alternatives it gestates demand I midwife one of them across the threshold, into being. They clamor like festive church bells in my skull, tolling: What will it be? Then, a premonition or a glimpse of a future memory of a breakup in a Friendly’s, and not even a goodbye from her. So, I wedge the last rock in place, wipe the mud off my hands, and walk away. The bird flies off. The bells stop their mad din. I lean back into the booth, gasping in the velvet silence. A milkshake I’d ordered plinks down on the table. I sense the moist beads on the cold glass and want to take a sip but don’t want to open my eyes and leave her. Still, I know I’ll have to risk it eventually. Then I figure maybe later I could come back and check up on her.
Because for now, I’ve decided.
Work is forthcoming in X-R-A-Y Lit, Abyss & Apex, and Best Small Fictions Anthology 2021. Poems and short fiction have appeared in Euphony Journal, Orca Lit, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Word Riot and other print and online journals.