They’d had something between them, but what enjoyment did it bring? They’d go to the movies, but never agree on what to see. The loser would begrudgingly gaze at the screen, only to find fault with the winner’s choice. At home, sharp words spat across every room, over what? Kiss FM or Radio 2? Who would read David Sedaris’s new book first, and was it okay for that person to laugh out loud while reading? Should dishes be washed in hot water, or shoes removed at the door? And then, one day, the dealbreaker: how bread should be cut.
She walked out, and spent an hour at a café reading the latest issue of CineAction. When she came back, he and his stuff were gone. She wandered around the house expecting a post-it stuck to doorpost with the usual terse message: “gone to the boardwalk” or “back at 4:45”, or just “out. will return”. But he wasn’t just out, and didn’t return. Five weeks later, she received a letter. “In Chicago. art gallery impressive. been to The Magic Oven lately? miss their olive focaccia.” She didn’t reply, and refused to imagine the River Hotel on the letterhead. Five weeks after that, a black postcard with “Edmonton at Night” in white type appeared in the mailbox. “I go shopping at the mall and try on clothes with no intention of buying them, just to annoy the salespeople. I have a post office box at the Shopper’s, 62 Edmonton City Centre, T5J 2Y0. reply.” She cut the postcard into tiny pieces and scattered them in the garden.
Five weeks and one day later, another letter arrived, this time with a Hamilton postmark. Inside was a piece of scrap paper with raw edges. “Ham Oper presen L Travia” was printed on one side and, neatly handwritten on the other, “Have ready for pick up: 1) 2/3 jar of fine shred marmalade 2) Oxford edition of Kleist 3) movie poster for Diva, rolled.” She placed the note on her bedside table. She wanted to memorise that handwriting, as she knew it was the last time she would see it.
When she woke up, the note was gone. She threw two slices of bread in the toaster and looked in the fridge, from the jar of raspberry jam to the jar of blackcurrant jam to the empty place between them where the marmalade stood, once. A poster had disappeared from the back of the bathroom door. She went to Book City and looked for literature. Kleist, the complete works. She liked him too, and would need another.
It was strange to be back in Toronto again, in his old neighbourhood. He didn’t know what he’d been thinking fifteen weeks and one day ago—he just wanted to leave. He swung his plastic bag back and forth, the weight of a book and a jar 2/3 full balancing the light roll of paper. All he needed, there, in just one bag. Well, almost all. He knew her—she wouldn’t come looking for him when she woke up, even if she knew where to find him. He walked through the door of the store and found racks of square cases in shining rows. There was so much to look at, but he knew what he wanted. When he found it, he would leave, and take whatever train came next to Union Station. The cases clicked furiously as he looked for the CD with a picture of a beautiful soprano on the cover. La Traviata. Slim fingers locked around the corner of the case. He looked up, dazed. Those eyes, soft brown, shone with pride. She took his grail, moving her triumphant arm in a neat arc, paid with cash, and strode outside. He recognised the driver of a waiting car, an old white Volkswagen. It was their mailman, with his absurd Magnum PI moustache and mirrored aviators. She climbed into the passenger seat, and the car drove away with the only other thing he wanted.
Alison Frank participated in George Elliott Clarke's creative writing course at the University of Toronto. She now lives in London and has recently published three short stories: ‘Monster’ in Gold Dust, ‘EXAM: The Birthday’ in Litro, and ‘Roman School Trip’ in The Literateur. You can follow her @alisonfrank.