"She had tried exponentially hard to turn them into one of those artsy couples."Pixabay

Margo and Nick sat opposite each other.

They hadn’t sat like this for a long time. It was mainly due to the fact they hadn’t seen each other for a long time, but didn’t use to believe in sitting opposite. They would slide into booths side-by-side, so close their legs were touching. Nick would slide his hand over Margo’s knee, not in a sexual way, but as a private conversation. Now, sat opposite, it was more formal.

They were both nervous. This wasn’t about sides; it wasn’t about who hurt who more, or who had power over whom. It was about closure. Redemption. Redemption of what, Margo couldn’t be sure.

They ordered coffees; it was something to do. This way the tension was gauged before they started talking. Nick ordered an espresso – he wasn’t planning on staying long. Margo ordered a cappuccino – she had time to kill.

They waited each other out. Watching for movement, thought. They were so in sync once, they’d be able to tell what the other was thinking. Now, in this interrogation set-up, they may as well have been strangers.

“So,” Nick finally spoke. Margo realised she hadn’t heard his voice since. Any conversing they’d done was solely through messages. She’d liked this, she’d felt removed from the situation this way. As far as she’d been concerned, anyone could be behind their messages; they didn’t have to be themselves. She could be angry, transcribing her bitter thoughts before him. “I suppose we should talk.”

“I suppose we should,” she repeated. She crucified herself for what could appear to be mimicking. The reality was, she couldn’t think of anything to say, so copying was easier. She had to think of something. “Where do we start?”

“Good question.” He laughed weakly, as if it pained him to do so. She had hoped this would lead him somewhere. It didn’t.

“I think,” she declared, “you should begin, because you feel that you were hurt the most.”

“Don’t you think you were hurt the most?” He shot back. She hadn’t prepared for this one.

“Of course I do,” she eventually confirmed. “I mean, you did sleep with my friend.”

“Margo, not this again,” he sighed. What had seemed like a good idea had quickly become reset into an old routine. He had hoped that the distance between them had allowed her to settle the situation, approach it with some clarity. He repeated what he always said: “We had broken up.”

“For three days,” she said quietly, as she always did. Their conversation played out as normal, while they saw each other deliver the words for the first time.

“You’ve made this out to be some illicit affair, in your head.” He felt his blood pressure rise. “It wasn’t an affair Margo, we weren’t together.”

“You had it in motion,” she retorted. “It was an affair.”

“You’re being so irrational.” He rolled his eyes. “I know that it hurt you because it was so soon, but it was a one-off thing. I’ll call it a mistake if that makes you feel better? A mistake.”

“It does,” she mumbled, selfishly. “Don’t call me irrational though, that’s so typical of you.”

“I didn’t call you irrational.” He shook his head. “I said you were acting in that manner.”

“It’s the same thing,” she declared, although she knew it wasn’t. He could always pick holes in what she said, he was irritably perceptive to words, rather than emotion. She often thought about this, as if she weren’t also. “Anyway, I think I have every right.”

“What do you want me to do? Pretend it never happened?”

“That wouldn’t get us anywhere."

“I was lonely, okay? And drunk,” he added, as if it would make things better.

“I was lonely, but I didn’t sleep with one of your friends,”

“That makes you better than me, does it?” he asked. “This is what you’re thinking?”

“Of all the girls it could have been, you chose Elle, it had to be her, didn’t it?” She seemed genuinely upset then. “You knew that would hurt me the most, didn’t you?”

She remembered receiving that message vividly. Her phone buzzed whilst she was grocery shopping, a mutual friend delivering the news. I just thought you should know… She’d started crying at the point in which she read the names. At first, she was silent, but as she thought it through, turned it over and over again in her head, she began to cry, loudly. People were staring; she was so embarrassed. An assistant sat her down with a glass of water at the back of the store.

“I can see why it hurt.” He felt sorry for her for the first time. And guilty. “It wasn’t meant like that, at all. If you thought that was why I did it, you’re wrong. She was just…”

“Convenient?”

“I guess.” He shrugged. “I was completely out of it, she was just there, asking me questions about how I felt. I think she took advantage of me, to be honest, I suppose I was vulnerable.”

“I don’t really want to hear this.” She looked down at her mocha, so Nick wouldn’t see her eyes glisten with the promise of tears. He would call her manipulative, he said she cried to make him feel a certain way. Sometimes she did, but this wasn’t one of those times.

“I’m sorry,” he said, slightly quickly as to not change his mind in the middle. She lifted her head instinctively. He had never said sorry for anything before. This was a development. “While I don’t think what I did was what you think it was, I appreciate that it really hurt you and I don’t get a say in that, so I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” she said smoothly. Her hands didn’t feel connected to her body at this point. They were distant and dislocated, cold even. Her head was fuzzy, perhaps the product of trying not to cry. She wouldn’t cry now, she’d got what she wanted. Nick couldn’t help but feel a degree of unease at the way she had brushed off his confession of vulnerability. This gave him the courage to proceed and voice what he had stored for the entirety of their relationship.

“I guess it’s my turn?” She nodded for him to proceed. “I feel like you were moving forward without me. Honestly, until the Elle-thing, I didn’t think you cared at all that we weren’t together, it didn’t seem to bother you until something affected you directly.”

“Of course it did.” Quietly. She closed her pale eyelids at the thought of this. “I had to tell myself it didn’t, you have to carry on.”

“That’s your style, isn’t it?” This wasn’t meant cuttingly, although he could see why it appeared so. He quickly added, “and that’s not a bad thing…it’s just different, it’s hard to get through to you sometimes.”

“You felt distant though. I thought you were always somewhere else. I don’t know if you were, it just felt that way.”

“We were never going to buy a house together.”

“What does that even mean?” This hurt her. Had he never seen a future?

“You never wanted to settle down.” He avoided eye contact. “You always wanted to be on the move. I moved to London for you, but that wasn’t enough. You wanted to go to New York, Paris, nothing was ever enough.”

“You act like moving to London is such a big thing.” She was unhappy, now. “It’s not. People move to London all the time, Nick. You didn’t move for me.”

“I did. You just never asked what I wanted, where I wanted to be.” Again, this made him angry. “You never asked what I wanted at all, actually.”

“Please, Nick.” She wasn’t sure what she was pleading for. She gripped her fingers through the handle of her cup, trying to feel present. The smooth ceramic was startlingly hot against her fingers. She kept them there.

“All I wanted was a quiet house,” he admitted. “You were always so…so exotic.”

This word confused her. She had never considered herself exotic before, only uninspiringly plain. When she heard exotic, she imagined the images of idealised Odalisques that hung in the Louvre. Billowing flesh and elongated, floating limbs, they were painted by a man who had never been out of Europe before. They had gone to Paris that summer; Margo impersonated the figures in the paintings until Nick laughed so hard he cried. She later read that the Odalisque paintings were used as a justification for Colonialism; the images became hideously perverted in her mind.

“I don’t understand.”

“I wanted things to be simple,” he explained. “You always wanted more.”

She had tried exponentially hard to turn them into one of those artsy couples. She’d show him paintings in glossy catalogues and comment on how ‘curvaceous’ the women were. She’d read out contemporary poems to him, and he would reply they’re just words on a page. He was more receptive to the modern pieces, but he would shrug when she asked what he felt. I don’t feel anything. She wasn’t sure she even believed in it herself. She really wanted to.

“I wanted to enjoy things again,” she shrugged. “Everything just felt so mundane…I’m sorry, I don’t want to offend you.”

“No, it’s fine,” he replied weakly. “I thought you felt like that. I wasn’t quite what you wanted.”

“Who knows what I want.” She was the one laughing now, painfully. She stopped. “For a long time, I wanted this, then I wasn’t sure. Then when I found out what you did, I wanted it again.”

“And now?”

“I’m not sure.”

“I see.” He felt a degree of relief at this. This hadn’t been arranged for them to recouple, but reconcile. He wasn’t sure how he’d react if she’d told him she wanted it again. He would probably be passive and accept. He hated that about himself. “Is there anything else you want to say?”


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Mountain View

Hitting the books: making time

“I don’t think so,” she mused, before deciding she didn’t.

“Me neither.” He took a deep breath. She was shocked. She thought he’d try to win her back, fight for her a bit. Part of her hoped he would. She hadn’t thought about what she’d do if he did. She was quite empty. She selfishly enjoyed the thought of him wanting her, even when they were apart. Now he didn’t. “I should probably go.”

“Probably.” She nodded, airily. Composing herself, she confidently delivered, “Thank you, for this, I appreciate it. I didn’t know what to expect when I arranged it, so thank you. For your patience.”

He rose from the table. Quickly, without premeditation, he declared, “You were the best of all my days.”

She was confused. Maybe he had listened to her poetry recitals after all. Frank O'Hara, Animals... now the words seemed so full. She smiled down to her near-empty cup. A thin smile, wispy and nostalgic, symbolic of what could have been, as he left the cafe. Once he had gone, she looked up and saw a vase of tulips on the table. She hadn’t noticed them there.

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