Prose by Amaruuk Bose
Art by Adri Marcano
It has been eight hours and twenty-seven minutes since I killed Nathan and you still haven’t texted me back. This isn’t unusual—you’ve gone without texting me back before, sometimes for hours at a time when you’re busy, but never this long. And never after I’ve killed someone.
It wasn’t our worst fight but it was certainly up there. I thought it best to give you space. You are the kind of person to talk things through. To take a few hours and then reach out, to listen while I explain my side of the story and then explain yours, and at the end we kiss and make up and we watch a movie; something like Coraline if I was wrong, or Whiplash if you were, or La La Land if it didn’t really matter who was right and who was wrong so long as we weren’t fighting anymore. I am the kind of person to do what’s best for us. Best for you. And often that means waiting a few hours until you reach out. Sometimes that means watching Coraline. I waited on my couch and you never called.
And now, more waiting: for my coffee, with two packets of sugar and a stir stick already in hand. The boy at the espresso machine notices. He has nicks on his chin from shaving.
“In a rush?” he asks. He wipes the wand with a cloth in a way that makes me think he should have taken it to dinner first.
“Oh, sorry. You just seem eager to get somewhere.”
I don’t care enough about this boy to tell him that being in a rush and being eager are two different things, and just because I am eager to be in your apartment and in your arms does not mean I am in a rush to get there. So instead I say, “Just eager to get caffeinated.”
“Tell me about it.” He laughs and slides my americano across the counter. “Have a good one.”
I echo the sentiment, mixing in sugar and avoiding the cream—I don’t trust café cream—before taking a seat in the corner. There is a TV on the wall playing the news. I’m not worried I’ll be on it. The news anchor is talking about book banning at local elementary schools. The woman at a nearby table tells her friends she’s glad the government is finally doing something about the books being forced into the hands of children these days and I bite my tongue to keep from telling her that I didn’t know about the Holocaust until I read The Book Thief. It doesn’t matter.
Someone changes the channel from the news to a rerun episode of Friends and I know that I’m safe. It’s as I suspected. No one cares about Nathan. No one cares about me.
Well, that’s not entirely true, is it? You care about me. So why, why aren’t you texting me back?
You don’t know yet. Of this I’m certain. You haven’t talked to him in a while. But I was keeping an eye out, just to make sure he wasn’t planning any grand gestures. And he was, Donna, like you wouldn’t believe. It wasn’t even a romantic gesture, just a very Nathan one. One where he’d pull up at your door with his leased Tesla and a ridiculous suit and too much gel in his hair. No flowers, because he’s an idiot, and he has no idea that you even like flowers. He would never think to send you a basket like I did this morning. You know he wouldn’t. So no flowers, no chocolates (remember that diet he put you on?) and no sweet words, just the keyring on his finger and teeth freshly bleached and a voice he forces deeper when he suggests that you get away for a bit, doll, just for the weekend, what d’you say? And you’re too nice and he’s not bad, not to you, never to you, so you would agree. And in those 48 hours, I would have lost you.
I can’t lose you. I won’t.
Besides, just because he’s decent to you doesn’t make him an angel. He never donates to the children’s hospital and on the rare occasion he tips it’s never more than 10%. He tells girls on the street to smile a little more and takes weeks to call his sick mother back. He doesn’t know that you like sunflowers or the shade of pink only found in sunsets or the Thai restaurant down the street from my place. He was never interested in you, Donna. He was interested in what you could do for him.
I’m glad you don’t talk to him much anymore. I’m glad your friends (whom I adore— whoever said you had to hate your lover’s friends?) convinced you that you deserve better. I’m glad you found me. I would die for you. I would kill for you.
Well. ‘Would’ implies a hypothetical. There is nothing hypothetical about the body in my yard, the unmarked plot dug a good, safe distance from my garden. Nothing hypothetical about the bleach I bought but didn’t even need, the gloves I didn’t use, the jam and the tea. I listened, when you said I don’t put enough honey in my jams. I think I put plenty this time. But I won’t be getting you to try this batch.
My coffee is finished though I don’t remember drinking it, and I realize my tongue stings. I’m a patient person normally, but I’ve never been good at waiting for drinks to cool down. My mother used to say I eat like a street urchin who hasn’t had food in weeks. She thought I’d grow out of it. I suppose I never did.
The world has officially gone without Nathan for nine hours and no one is the wiser. I check various social media to see if you’ve been active, waking up from a night with your friends or treating yourself to breakfast or posting something passive-aggressive that is certainly about me. But you’re not the kind of person to do that. You’ve gone quiet, too. I love that about you. You don’t share your drama. Our silence is just that: ours.
I consider texting you. I know better. If I reach out before you’re ready, it will take longer. Like I said, I’m a patient person. And I have all the time in the world.
Someone enters the coffee shop and for a moment I think it is you, even though her hair is too short and her shoes too loud. Wishful thinking, perhaps. She adjusts her bag and I think of the first time I was brave enough to kiss you, the rain pouring and your bus about to pull up to the curb. I’d planted mushrooms in my garden that day and you had just said something witty and I had to just do it, just do it, just kiss you.
“Took you long enough,” you said afterwards.
“I’m sorry,” I said, and I was sorry. I was furious with myself for taking so long. I was desperate to do it again. “Forgive me?”
You laughed. You’ve never held it against me when I get in my own head about something. I thought I’d feel stupid, begging for your forgiveness when it was my own cowardice that got in my way, but how could anything feel stupid when it makes you laugh?
You did forgive me. You always forgive me, and I always forgive you, and that’s why this will always work. That’s why I know you will forgive me for this, if you ever find out. And you won’t. Why would you need to?
I mean, it was so easy. Mess with his car. Get it to stall a few blocks from my house. Bump into him while on a late-night jog, I have insomnia. Offer to help with his car. Prove useless with cars. Invite him in, it’s cold, do you want some tea? And here, you hungry? I made this jam, I’ve got these melba toasts. I’d never seen someone drink so fast, eat so fast. Tantalus at my table. I wondered if it would still take a few days if he consumed that much.
He was stupid, in the end, Donna. He was greedy. He was small.
I order another coffee. The same boy is working the machines. He is too busy flirting with a customer to notice he’s making my drink a second time. Again, I put two sugars and no cream. Again, I sit in the same seat and watch the television. Ross says the wrong name at the altar. I think he’s a fool.
I wish my mistakes were as simple and as stupid as that. Saying the wrong name. But of course they have to be bigger, something fundamentally wrong with me, something I could and should fix in therapy if not for other things I would rather discuss, like climate change and my father. But I once promised that I would try, and I will. There is nothing I can’t do for us. And you, perfect you, lovely you, you know this.
My phone buzzes.
A text. From you.
Hi. I’m sorry. Can we talk?