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Vol. 3, No. 2

The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Could Imagine
by Melissa Bank

XXI

The next weekend we went up to the farmhouse. He did whatever I wanted to and nothing I didn't. He didn't ask me to play Scrabble or Honeymoon Bridge or Hearts. He didn't suggest we invite the professor over for dinner.
    In the late afternoon, he took me to the flea market. He ate hot dogs at the concession stand and read the newspaper while I hunted for treasures. When I showed him what I'd bought--cardboard farm animals with wooden stands--he said, "How did we live without these before?"

 

~

Saturday night, we lay outside in the grass. The moon lit up the meadow and the stars were out. It must've been their brightness that made me remember a radio jingle from when I was growing up, and I sang it to Archie: "Everything's brighter at Ashbourne Mall."
    He got the tune right away, and sang, "Ashbourne Mall."
    After a while, he said, "Honey."
    "Yes, honey," I said.
    He put a little box in my hand. I looked at it. It was that robin's-egg blue from Tiffany. I opened the blue box, and there was a velvet one inside, and I opened that. I looked at the ring. It was platinum with one diamond. It was just the ring I would've wanted, if I'd wanted a ring from him.
    I said, "It's beautiful."
    He heard the remorse in it. "Oh," he said, "I see."
    I was about to say, I can't make a big decision right now--I can barely trust myself to decide what earrings to put on. But I said, "I'm sorry, honey."
    He spoke softly. "I knew you wouldn't marry me when you didn't ask me to the funeral."
    My father was gone. I felt I couldn't lose anything else, but just then I realized I already had: I'd lost the hope that I would ever be loved in just that way again.

 

~

I walked through the meadow. I sat at the picnic table. I looked hard at everything, so I wouldn't forget. Then I picked an apple from the tree for the ride home.
    In the car, Archie said that it was hard letting me go; I was probably the last shot he'd have to start a new life.
    I started to disagree, but he got angry. "Jesus," he said. "At least pretend the idea of me with another woman is still hard for you."
    "Harrisburg, Pennsylvania?" I said.
    He said, "Albany, New York."

 

~

When he pulled up to my apartment, I said, "You don't want me to come over and get my stuff?"
    "No," he said. "I don't."
    I was a little afraid of him just then.
    Then he reached over and took my hand. We sat like that in front of my building for what felt like a long time. Then he hugged me, and said, "My little rhesus monkey."

 

~

Archie waited a week to call me. He said I could come over and get my things anytime I wanted to.
    I said, "I'll come over tomorrow morning."
    "You don't want me to be here," he said.
    "I think it would be easier," I said.
    "It shouldn't be easy," he said. I knew he was right, and I was about to say so, when he added, "Don't take the easy way out, Janie."
    "You can't do that," I said. "It's a violation of the Versailles Treaty."
    "Well," he said, "according to the Geneva Convention, I get to say goodbye to you."

 

~

Instead of taking the key from the gargoyle's mouth, I rang the bell.
    He opened the door. "Hello, honey," he said.
    "Hi." In the foyer, I saw my clothes and books in beige plastic bags that had once delivered our Chinois. My cardboard farm animals grazed on his windowsill.
    "Can you stay for a minute?" he said, and I said, "Sure."
    I saw white freesia on the dining-room table. He poured a diet root beer for me.
    We went to the den, and he sat in his big leather armchair. He said, "I'm afraid Mickey's in shock about us. He said he feels like his parents got divorced."
    "I think the important thing is that he doesn't blame himself," I said.
    Archie didn't smile. "He'd like you to call him."
    "I will," I said.
    "He asked me why we broke up, and I couldn't explain it to him."
    I was about to say, Honey, but I said, "Archie."
    "Yes, Jane," he said, hurting me exactly how I'd hurt him.
    "Are you asking me to explain?" I said.
    "I guess I am," he said.
    As gently as I could, I told him what I'd figured out about us. He nodded, and I went on, saying what I thought was wrong and why. When I told him that we couldn't talk openly to each other, I realized that I was now. It made me wonder if we really did have to break up.
    But then he interrupted: "I guess I don't need to hear all this."
    "Okay," I said. "Just tell Mickey we couldn't make each other happy."
    He said, "Coleridge said that happiness is just a dog sunning itself on a rock. We're not put on this earth to be happy. We're here to experience great things."
    I said, "I don't think you want to tell Mickey we couldn't make each other experience great things."
    "Is that what this is about?" he said. "Sex?"
    "Why are you badgering me?" I asked.
    He smiled. "I thought if we had a good fight, we could make up."
    I shook my head, and he stood up so I could.
    He helped me carry the bags outside, and hailed a cab for me.
    He said, "You going to be okay on the other end?"
    I said I would.

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