Breaking Up for the Last Time Again
Cruising up the long hill towards her apartment, he got about ten feet from the bumper of a midnight blue Acura. Tapping the throttle, he nudged the steering wheel to the right as the dull roar of dual exhaust rose, paused and resumed with the shift to second and back to third, not bothering with the clutch.
The woman in the Acura gave him a dirty look.
At the apartment, his girlfriend heard the approach. The sound was unmistakable, she’d heard it the last several blocks; knew it about as well as she knew his voice.
She could quote all the custom work verbatim. How often had she stood around while he talked cars with some guy at some gas station somewhere? Sixty-five fastback two eighty nine bored over forty thousandths TRW flat-top pistons ten and a half to one compression oversize intake valves Edelbrock Performer manifold matching Erson cam Pete Jackson geardrive Holley six fifty double pump toploader tranny nine inch posi rear-end zero to sixty in 4 seconds, ninety in six. But would he ever paint it? Yet another thing he could never seem to get around to.
“We, um, need to talk.” she said by way of greeting as she stood in the open doorway while he got out of the car.
It hadn’t been exactly warm outside, but he could feel the temperature dropping. “Yeah, I think we do.”
“Come on in.” She turned and started walking up the stairs.
He stood in the doorway watching the hypnotic swish of her skirt. “I don’t think so.”
“What?,” she turned abruptly to look back down at him.
Looking up at her, he leaned casually in the door frame and just smiled.
“You want to talk in the doorway?” She smiled back, a little uneasy.
He shrugged. “I thought we’d go out. I’m tired of fighting at your place.”
“What makes you think we’re going to end up in a fight?”
“When’s the last time we had a nice quiet evening together?”
She looked up for a second to think.
“I rest my case.”
“God! You’re such a jerk.” She said with no heat.
“Fine I’m a jerk. I can live with that. But I flatly refuse to come into your apartment and you know how I feel about the phone.”
“That is not even a little bit funny and you know it. You have a real problem. I don’t know if I want to be with you unless you get some help.” She could still hear the sound of the phone slamming down once, then again and again until the line went dead after their last fight.
He straightened up as if to go. “Yeah, whatever. We can fight about that too if you like. I’m leaving now, if you’re serious about wanting to work stuff out, let’s go. If not… See ya.”
“Hold on! Alright! I need a coat.”, as she ran up the steps.
He closed his eyes and replayed the mental image he had of her getting ready to go out– a ritual that fascinated him. As long as he’d known her, it never altered. She could never just go. She always had to change. She would catch her reflection in the mirror and run a quick brush through her hair. She would wiggle out of her skirt and into a pair of jeans. On the way out the bedroom door she would run a lipstick over her bottom lip, purse her lips and run to the stairs.
When she returned he was still in the doorway, looking out with his back to the stairs. “Wow, that was a quick change.”, he teased without turning around.
“I remembered I always wind up freezing when you pick where we go,” she said when they got in the car. It was amazing to her that someone so cute could be such a pain in the ass.
“I do that on purpose.”
“I know. That’s why you’re such a jerk.”
He started the car and headed back down the way he’d come up. “If I’m such a jerk, why do you hang out with me?”
She didn’t answer. Punk music playing softly from the stereo filled the void in the conversation. She hummed along with the music as he drove. “Where are we going?,”she finally asked when they entered the Presidio, “There’s nothing out here.”
“You’ll see. I have a plan.”
“That’s what worries me.”
“What’s that about?”
“I don’t know, you could be taking me out to kill me or something.”
He laughed, a brief moment of genuine warmth. “Think about it for a second. If I was really going to kill you, this would be the worst way to go about it. Too many details. I’d have to ditch your body, come up with an alibi and try not to look guilty, right? As you like to point out so often, I look guilty already. Just think if I had to hide something.”
She gave a short laugh, “Uh-huh,” and looked confused.
A detour around a white and rusted barricade, onto a walkway and over a curb put the car onto a road that had been closed since sunset. To the right, out across the inky void of the bay, Oakland and San Francisco blended together into one long glittering skyline.
“The best thing to do if I was going to get away with your murder” he continued, “would be to wait for another fight in a restaurant or even better, in that class we have together, and kill you suddenly in a room full of witnesses. Crime of passion, temporary insanity. No jury would convict.”
“That’s the way to make me feel better.”
He pulled into the last space in an empty parking lot. “I promise not to kill you, okay. You watch too much TV.”
“Domestic violence is not just something I picked up on TV, okay? Don’t be so insensitive.”
The breeze coming off the ocean was much colder than over by her apartment. He rolled up the widow. “Are we really fighting about this?” “I mean, really. I must have missed something. I try to spend some time with you, and you blow me off. After all the time you spend complaining that I don’t have time for you? Now you think I’m a murderer? Fine! Okay! I murdered the goddamn phone, that’s not a crime in this state.”
She stared out the window.
He sat looking at the back of her head until he felt claustrophobic and got out of the car.
She watched him walk towards the chain link fence that was as far as you could go without climbing or swimming, grabbed his coat from under the folded down rear seat and got out too. “Okay!”
He turned and came back.
“You can’t get mad.”
He took a deep breath and braced himself.
“That night when you were gonna come over…”, Her head tilted down a bit, she looked up at him with big bambi-brown eyes, “I….., I fucked that guy, okay? …….. I’m sorry I lied.”
“So. There you have it. Tell me, how much time were we going to waste trying to work shit out?”
“I don’t know why I did it. It wasn’t that great.”
He locked his eyes on hers. “That’s really the point, isn’t it?”
She tried to look away, but could not.
They stood there for what seemed like a thousand years, bathed in the light from the Golden Gate Bridge. No moon, and only the few stars bright enough to fight their way past the skyline glow were visible.
He looked her up and down, black boots and faded jeans, bundled up in his black leather jacket, arms wrapped around herself. He couldn’t tell if she was braced against the cold or him.
“I didn’t think you cared.” She shook her head slightly to let the breeze feather back her hair. Behind her, big black waves silently rolled up and exploded into blue-white foam and spray. She still didn’t know why she hadn’t wanted him over that night, or really why the other guy had even been there. She didn’t know if he called her or she called him. None of it made sense.
“I care. What are you, the new chick? And as for the phone, it WAS my phone.”
“It was your phone. That’s all you have to say?”
“What if I’d been there? Or if you were at my house? It could have been me… you really scared me.”
He started to pace. Anger rose like one of those Pacific swells, “We’ve known each other how long? Where are you getting this? What about all your talk about trust? Is that bullshit or what? I’m supposed to swear undying loyalty, sign over my car and smile while you cheat on me? Then you wonder how I have the nerve to be pissed at you for it? I have an anger problem? Yeah, okay, I have an anger problem– you really piss me off sometimes.”
“So it’s my fault? We have a shitty relationship because it’s my fault you get pissed off.” She followed him back and forth with her eyes, pulled out a cigarette, paused and put it away, “My choices are to think you don’t care or have you beat the shit out of something. That’s just great. This is the man of my dreams. You asshole!”
“You know you piss me off… and I think you like it.”
“Yeah, it’s sooo coool”, she laughed bitterly. She shifted her weight and softly stamped her foot at nothing, “I spend most nights plotting against you. How can I piss you off next? How exactly do I piss you off? Is it when you’re an insensitive asshole and I call you on it? Like when you bring things for my roomates and don’t give a damn about me? Maybe if our relationship was okay it wouldn’t bother me so much. It’s like if it’s not exactly where you are then fuck it. Thanks for caring.”
He stopped pacing. “YOUDONTEVENLIKECHOCOLATE!!!” He stopped suddenly, looked at the sky and stuck his hands deep in his pockets, “I. Work. Next. To. Ghirardelli. I like white chocolate too. If I had seen any, I would have picked some up. Even if I’m as insensitive as you seem to think, I would have at least gotten some for me. Naturally, since I’ve given you both my leather jackets, the spare keys to my car and my home, I doubt I would have held back on the chocolate. See? I owed her a favor. She asked for a candy bar. I got enough for everyone– I got the habit in kindergarten. I’ll never be nice to anyone again, I promise.”
“You son of a bitch. When have you ever done anything for me? JUST for me?” Her whole body shook with crying, ” We can’t go out because you have to work on your goddamn CAR, we can’t go out because you have to WORK, we can’t go out because you have to write a PAPER, pick some ASSHOLE up at the airport. When we DO go out, let’s go see some OTHER asshole; honey let’s go out with the GUYS, dinner with your PARENTS, it never STOPS. You say you love me and you STILL don’t act like I’m special. You MAY think it,” she sobbed,” but how am I supposed to know? You never act like it. I’m just… just another one of your friends. You treat me exactly like you treat everyone else, except when you’re yelling at me.”
He stepped back a moment, “What? I act like it all the time.”
“What-ever! You don’t HAVE the time.”
He took a step towards her. “All those dinners I couldn’t really afford, because you’d said you liked the restaurant. When I don’t go home even though I know I have to get clothes and books and stuff before class the next morning.” His voice softened a bit, “I really enjoy rushing around like crazy because I’m late. You think I’d blow off work and school because ANY girl asks?”
She just stared at him.
“When I asked you to dinner with my parents… MY parents. I don’t take anyone out with them– ever. But you got to go. My friends? I really thought you liked them.” A pause. “Why the fuck did I move here?”, he laughed. “Anybody mention me applying to any other schools? I didn’t. I moved here because you asked me to.”
A silence like those usually reserved for funerals passed between them. He reached out gently and pulled her tight to his chest.
Arms wrapped around herself and shivering, she buried her face in his neck as held her.
Her tears hit his skin like frostbite. He tried to think of something to say, but no appropriate eulogies came to mind. He figured he should just take her home, take a weekend and go home– call her when he got back, after he got a new phone. No, then again, probably not.