I'm the Heavy Here
by Marge Lurie
You set the check on the barren kitchen counter. And it occurs to me to look at it first, to make sure you've made it out in the full amount. For all I know, you've decided that the car has depreciated in the two years since we bought it. You never were someone who pulled your punches, but I don't know this new you. The you who doesn't crack jokes or smile. The you who's traded caffeinated nights for California sunshine and Vitamin C.
From where I'm standing, at the far end of the counter, I can see your tiny, cramped cap letters, but not the figures themselves.
I reach for my purse, tucked in a corner beside the bookcase, the only piece of furniture I have in this new apartment we will never share. The books are all still in their boxes, but the bookcase has become a catchall -- for canned goods, gloves, mail, you name it.
I dig in my bag for my keys, but they aren't where they're supposed to be. Nothing is. I empty its contents onto the floor, and aimlessly shuffle scraps of paper, rubber bands, pens.
"They're here," you say, as if some things just never change. You dangle my key ring in front of your new face -- the face without a moustache -- and set it back down on the counter beside the check for my half of the car. I know there's a word for that space between the top of the lip and the bottom of the nose. But what is it? For a moment, that's all I can think about. How odd it is to see your whole face now, after all these years. I'm guessing that Lorraine is not a big fan of facial hair. Or maybe it's more emblematic than that. An outward sign of the newness within?
"When did you shave?" I ask.
"Shave?" You rub you bony fingers over your stubbly chin.
"Oh that," you say. And something flickers across your face. You who remember everything say, "I don't remember," and I think that somehow Lorraine put you up to it.
You could just find the keys yourself. Car keys, house keys, mailbox key. But you don't do that. You are waiting for me to give them back to you. To acknowledge defeat. Out with the old. In with the new.
I put everything back into my bag and walk across the room to the counter, and then I pick up the key ring and begin to work the car key off, twisting the loops of the miniature ring off the larger ring. But I'm shaking so much it isn't working.
"Here. Let me," you say. You extend your hand.
When I imagined this visit, I imagined that you would see me again and remember that you liked me. You would apologize for sleeping with Lorraine. You would tell me that she didn't mean a thing to you. You were just lonely, or horny, or bored, or whatever it is men feel when they cheat on women they've been with for more than a decade. And I would forgive you, of course. Eventually, we would find a way back into bed. Touch would heal the places that words could not. But the you who has come back for your keys is all business.
"Sure. You do it," I say. I set the key ring back on the counter and pick up the check. You have made it out in the full amount after all. I stash it into the pocket of my jeans and squeeze my arms around my middle to keep from flying apart.
"I'm sorry," you say. "I know I'm the heavy here."
"We could try again, you know." I reach across the empty counter to touch your arm, but you pull away.
"I'm in love with someone else now," you say. You focus on the keys as if it took all your concentration to wrest them free. And then when you're done, you stash the loose ones in your pocket. "I need to get out of here. Should we get a bite to eat?"
It's the first surprise since the big surprise. The one a week ago where you told me over the phone that you didn't want to break up over the phone.
I expected you to flee the moment you'd secured the keys, but now suddenly it seems that you want something more. But what? To know if I'm about to commit suicide? To make sure I don't hate you?
"Why," I say.
"You must be hungry. I bet you haven't eaten all day."
You hand me my new lightened key ring, and I lock up after us. We descend the stairs, me first, you behind me. And then we are out in the world, looking for a place to eat. We walk north toward 86th Street, thinking of those old German places, but wind up at an Afghani place instead. We each order a beer and then the waiter recites the
specials of the day. To him, we must look just like a couple. You get a vegetable dish and I go for some kind of lamb. And for a moment I feel normal, like someone who goes out for dinner at dinner time. But neither of us can eat.
The waiter looks concerned, as if he were to blame. We assure him that the food was wonderful, we just weren't hungry. And he seems to accept that. He brings us a special dessert on the house. And we pick at that to make up for the dinner we didn't eat. "See you soon," the waiter says as we leave.
Back out on the street, you pluck a Marlboro from your shirt pocket and light up. In the old days, the days that ended a week ago, you would have tipped the pack toward me to see if I wanted one too.
"Let me get you a TV," you say, as if the thought has been building up in your mind for some time.
"I think you'll need one," you say.
"But I never watch TV."
"All the same," you say. "You may want one now."
"What I really want is a cigarette. Do you mind if I bum one? I'm all out."
You stop walking and pull the pack out again, and then you do what you always do, which is to tap the bottom of the pack just so, so that exactly one cigarette extends past the foil. And for a moment, it's as if this were just a TV commercial and you were the Marlboro man, and we were just pretending to break up.
I take the cigarette. And you do your trick with the matches where you light it using just one hand. First, you fold a single match in half with your big opposable thumb, and then you flick the head of the match against the flint, and cup the flame inside your hand. I duck into the flame, light up, inhale, exhale.
"I don't think a TV will fix this," I say.
You shake your head as if the whole thing were as much a bafflement to you as to anybody. When you blow the match out, I can hear your tiny exhalation, as if you were blowing out a birthday candle. And then, for a moment, the smell of sulfur lingers in the air.