It wasn’t supposed to happen in the cab, but it was supposed to happen, she did mean for it to happen. Over the past few weeks, Marlene had been compiling a comprehensive list of reasons why she had to end it with Nick. Your inconsistent hygiene was on there, but Marlene skipped over it in favour of some of the bigger items: feels like you always ignore me, sometimes you even walk away while I’m talking—
Nick said, “But—”
But Marlene just continued: Whenever you are actually paying attention, you interrupt me; your pornography thing—at least you could have the decency to erase your history, or to have sex with me sometimes; you rarely have sex with me.
The cab driver turned the volume up on the radio.
Marlene continued, louder now so Nick could still hear: you’d rather spend time with your friends, watching hockey or whatever, than hang out with me, even if we are doing the same things. That one made the list because a week earlier Marlene and Nick had actual plans to watch the Leafs and order pizza when Nick’s childhood friend invited Nick over to watch the same game. Nick asked Marlene permission and she said yes even though she didn’t want him to go. It was some important game, Nick argued. He said he was sorry, but he just really wanted to watch with someone who actually understood. So what was she supposed to say? No? At least he could have invited her, right? He didn’t. And none of her friends were available so she just waited around at Nick’s apartment and the game went into overtime and she fell asleep on the couch and woke up way after Nick had come home and gone to sleep—he hadn’t even had the decency to wake her up and invite her to bed. Anyway.
The final item on the list was about Nick’s dad, who Marlene had only met once even though she and Nick had been together for a year and a half: I have only ever seen you cry about your dad, and I’m not saying you should be crying about me, but it’s like your feelings are locked up and your dad’s the only key.
Nick stared out the window, a tear sliding down his cheek.
“Do you want me to let you off here?” the driver asked.
Marlene saw past Nick, saw all the people lined up waiting to be let into the venue. They had arrived. Nick got out of the car and put his hands in his pockets. The cab driver said, “Twenty-six seventy-five.”
“Right.” Marlene reached into her purse. She gave him forty and didn’t think to ask for change.
Even though the people waiting in line were there to see his favourite band, Nick was staring at them like he couldn’t imagine why anyone would bother. Marlene touched his elbow. “You think I don’t love you,” Nick said.
“Well . . .”
“That’s what that letter says. Not in those words, of course.”
Marlene was tired, suddenly. Like she’d spent all that time writing down what she wanted to say and Nick still wasn’t listening. “I don’t think I can be with you anymore.”
“I got that part, too.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. What she wanted to say was, You don’t need to be an asshole about it.
Nick walked off.
“Can I get my ticket?” Marlene called.
He stomped back to her and handed her both tickets, told her to “Enjoy the show,” then left again.
By the time the line started moving, Marlene still hadn’t decided what to do with Nick’s ticket. She was holding her cell phone, wondering if she should text someone, when Nick appeared beside her. “Hey,” he said. “Who you talking to?”
“No one.” She showed him the blank screen, the blue cursor lazily appearing and disappearing beside a faint To:
“I’ve been thinking,” Nick said. He got down on his knees, then put his forehead on the ground. He was speaking, but Marlene couldn’t hear what he was saying. People were staring. Someone walking past nearly tripped on him.
The line started moving again.
“Nick,” Marlene said. “Nick, get up.” She heard some people laugh and her heart hurt like it was tearing. “Nick.”
He looked up, his forehead mottled by sidewalk, a bit of road grit stuck to the tip of his nose. “Will you forgive me?”
She just waved him over. When he got there, she handed him his ticket and wiped the tip of his nose.
“I know that I can change,” Nick said.
Over the course of the concert, people would walk by where Nick stood with his arm thrown possessively over Marlene’s shoulders and they would look at him and at her like they were some curiosity, not just a couple of people in love. Marlene assumed everyone had witnessed that whole thing in the line-up and she wished she could not see them seeing her and Nick, wished Nick didn’t have to see them, but knew that he did because whenever they looked he would squeeze her shoulders more tightly or brush her breast with his fingertips, the later making her cheeks burn, though she didn’t tell him to stop, so . . .
That night, Nick was more passionate and compassionate than he’d been probably ever, with her at least. At breakfast she reminded him about the list and how if they weren’t broken up, then the things on that list, well, Nick couldn’t forget them. He held out his hand and asked for what Marlene had read him in the cab. She hesitated to go fetch it from her purse because of the hygiene thing that she had skipped over, but when Nick said, “C’mon, I can take it,” Marlene got up and grabbed the six pastel purple sheets of stock she had found at a thrift store with the hilarious girl and, presumably, boy unicorn smiling and faint in the lower left; they laughed about the note paper, and when Nick read the thing about hygiene he laughed and Marlene laughed, and after sex in the shower they went out for a nice brunch.
Marlene couldn’t help but wonder if anyone at the restaurant had been at the concert last night and had seen Nick with his forehead on the ground, making a scene of being sorry, and were seeing him now making a performance of being kind and attentive and listening to all the things Marlene was struggling to come up with because she was mostly just thinking about last night and the awkwardness and wondering if this was right.
The feelings were like a fire warming her, yes, but not necessarily in a nice way.
Over the next few months, as Nick tried, at first, to be better and then just seemed to be better without trying, Marlene could feel that fire—kindled by shame, embarrassment and self-consciousness, fueled by hope and suspicion that the hope was unfounded—and she would wonder if what was happening was good and was what she actually wanted, wondered if she even liked Nick enough for him to be putting all this energy into getting better for her. Eventually, she stopped feeling the fire’s burn and it just didn’t occur to her ask herself whether the fire had gone out.
Toronto, ON/Duncan, BC, June-July 2015
Emoji sequence: My just-former student, Spencer Litzinger, a writer, improv actor and comedian who will be attending Humber's "Comedy: Writing and Performance" program in the fall and who, last I heard, had a summer job with Second City. Her work appears in Vol. 2, Issues 1 and 2 of The West Enders.
Story: Me, Lee Sheppard.