We were sitting on the bench outside the library with all of its grey stone and I was drunk and you were not and it was snowing.
Just a little.
Aimless flurries attaching themselves to branches and backpacks and the occasional tongue.
I was chewing gum and blowing bubbles, leaving them out in the snow to slowly lose their elasticity and shrivel up all rigid and stoney. If I stayed focused on the gum then I would not look at the cold sweat above your lip or the small twitch in your cheek or the blank in your eyes because you were irritated and cold and I was cold and sad.
“How are you?” you asked, rubbing your gloved palms together quick and sharp like you were trying to start a fire.
“Fine.” I smacked the gum, pulled it between my front teeth, pushed it to the side of my mouth like I could try to forget it.
“Good,” you said. You shifted and my right knee touched your left knee and for a second I think it is on purpose, it is a sign, it is your olive branch your peace offering, your white flag your paper crane your hands up — and then I see the alarm in your eyes and the stone turns to dust turns to fear and your face twists up and your body is all hunched and cold and you back up on the bench and you set your backpack in front of us as though you need a shield.
I am the one that has needed a fucking shield.
“Can I ask you something,” I say.
“Let’s not do this.” You have your hands around your bag now and I think that even the inanimate objects get more love from you.
“Just one question,” I say, all desperate and devoted, my eyes searching for some of your anger to turn into kindness or love or even somewhere in between would be nice.
“I have to get going.” You squeeze the backpack now, deciding whether to hoist it over your back again or leave it between us like all of this space.
I blow a bubble and it catches a snowflake, big and crystally and—
“I don’t understand,” I say.
You rub your naked ears with your gloved hands and I want to cup them with mine and capture the heat.
“I don’t want to —”
I am chewing and chewing and now the bubbles are getting harder to form, the gum getting tight and stiff and tasting more and more like an eraser with each moment.
“We’ve had this conversation several times.
“Maybe you don’t remember but I do,” you say. I realize I have been blurry eyed this whole time and I widen my eyes and rub them quickly with my frozen chapped hands that desperately need gloves.
“You said we want different things and I asked you what do you want and you said I don’t know and—”
“I don’t want you.”
I am looking for your white flag your raised hands your paper cranes but all I see is grey and cloudy smudges like the bricks the snow your eyes the strap on the backpack the swoosh on your shoes the zipper on your coat— it is all I can see and I take the gum out of my mouth, twist it around my index finger like I am a child.
“I think you have made your point.”
I want to get up and walk off, all strong and independent, all manic pixie dream girl, but I am all manic and no dream and I can see in your eyes that you pity me.
It is the first emotion I have seen from you in months and it is not love or longing or even lust and I thought maybe I would catch sadness or pain or nostalgia but it is endless pity all grey and squinty.
“It is not that I don’t care, I do.”
“No, not in the same way,” I say forming tight vowels like I am learning a new language and all of its sounds and shapes.
“I guess probably not in the same way,” you say.
“You were right that we should not do this.”
“It’s too cold.”
“It’s way too cold.” I am holding in tears, my eyelids a frozen dam ready to shatter, and I press my lips together for warmth and reinforcement. My peacoat is too thin for the midwest winters.
“I have to go.” you pick up your backpack and you have made the decision to put it on your back like a hiker headed for Kilamanjaro. “I’m sorry about all this.”
You look like you are shrugging but that is just the shape of your shoulders or maybe it is just the shape of pity as it warms up your muscles and bones.
“No, you don’t have to apologize for not wanting me.”
“I don’t have to apologize for not wanting you.” You say it back like you are reminding us both and it stings so much that I bite the inside of my lip so that I don’t cry and I can taste the blood as you turn around.