She pens a breakup letter the day she meets him, then runs her tongue along the envelope’s bitter strip. Sealed with DNA and tucked in the front pocket of her messenger bag. Estate planning for the relationship, she calls it. Do not resuscitate.
They met at the coffee shop in her office. He lingered by the register, pretending to browse gluten free donuts when all he wanted was for her to notice him. They walked around the sputtering fountain in the courtyard. He offered her a penny and made his own wish. She pretended to throw hers but let it drop onto the cement.
The breakup letter grows heavier in her bag each day they’re together. He shows her pictures of his family. She shows him ones she scavenged from a photo album at a thrift store. He gives her the key to his apartment. She adds his name to a pretend timeshare in the Outer Banks.
Inevitably there will be a dinner. He’ll wear a tie she’s given him, pink with navy diamonds because something about that combination of colors reminds her of a sunset against a resigned ocean. She’ll excuse herself to the restroom and never come back. The letter will take her place on the chair.
Pulling off the band aid her mother called it before heading to Dollywood with her boyfriend. Fucking someone over her sophomore roommate said before transferring to Duke. She believes it is inhumane to risk a messy breakup. Some broken things can never be properly mended.
The letter is kindness.
The letter is love.
In college she took a mapmaking class. Even the professor said hand-drawn maps are obsolete. Everything is done on computers. Sitting in his class felt like trying on the skin of a corpse. But she admired the destinations drawn with a flourish of sepia ink. The endpoint. It wasn’t like pulling off the band aid. It was healing a wound before the skin separated.
They eat at Market Cross Pub on Friday night. He’s ditched the tie because someone at work told him he hasn’t got a future with the company. When she orders two beers with no intention to drink hers, he holds her hands in his. Nearby, a waitress lets the man at the booth cup her ass. Nearby, an old man drops quarters in a jukebox that looks out of place. Out of time.
The harder she pulls her hands free, the tighter his grip, like quicksand. He says they should go to that timeshare this weekend. Skinny dip in the ocean. Wear straw hats. Let the sand grind off a dreary layer of their skin.
He tells her disappointment can be outrun. He traces the lines in her palm, stopping at landmarks like her thumb, her wrist. He wants to explore with her. He wants to know the craziest thing she’s ever done.
Sarah Clayville teaches high school English and writes from a small town in central Pennsylvania where she has lived forever. She holds a special place in her heart for short fiction that stops people in their tracks. Find more of her work at SarahSaysWrite.com and follow her on Twitter @SarahSaysWrite.