He’d known this was coming, known it since last Tuesday when she leaned forward to give him an obligation of a kiss and he turned his face so that her lips made contact with his cheek and she seemed to accept it, because she didn’t try to kiss him again, and so when Maya pushed her hair behind her ear and said “I think we should see other people,” her voice wobbly but steady, he wasn’t surprised at all.
Maybe he’d known it since their first date, when he’d shown up with a bouquet of grocery-store flowers he’d bought not ten minutes ago and she smiled at him, a smile that took her face from average to interesting., not beautiful but unique in a sense, like something you’d see in a modern art gallery. He knew then with a sudden certainty that it was going to end—not badly or anything, but instead of the vague possibility of a breakup at some point in the future there would be one soon and he wasn’t sure if she knew that but it didn’t change the fact that it would happen anyway.
She stared at him now, the same modern art face, this time with Picasso tears waiting at the corner of her eyes, tensed for a response.
“Okay,” he said. “Is it your fault or mine?”
“Fault?” A new concept. Maya blinked—the Picasso tears vanished, gone to wherever good tears go, visibly reshuffling her concept of the end of things from a snuffed-out candle to a smashed vase, a situation with someone to blame. “I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault.”
“It’s always somebody’s fault. Maybe you nagged me. Maybe I never remembered our anniversary.”
“You didn’t remember our anniversary.” He had, though, for a given definition of remembered; he’d shown up again, late this time, with a bouquet of grocery-store flowers, these ones more wilted than the first batch, and her smile had been less art and more scribble, two dots and a line on a paper drawn by someone who hadn’t even bothered to make sure the mouth turned up at the ends.
“Exactly. It’s my fault now.”
“Why do you want it to be someone’s fault? Can’t things just…not work out?”
“It makes a better story if it’s someone’s fault. You can blame me at parties.” At this point it was the simple pleasure of being difficult that was dragging him on, watching her face shift, her hand come up to tuck her hair behind her ear again, and the thought that he would miss winding her up like this broke through his acceptance; still, there would be other girls to fall into this push-pull routine with, though it was doubtful if they’d have that same icy charm in their irritation, that fine-edged sketch line of the mouth.
“You really want this to be your fault, don’t you.”
“I don’t want it to be my fault, I’m just saying this because it makes it easier.”
“You’re not even going to say ‘let’s work it out?’ ‘Give me one more chance?’”
“What’s the point? Like you said, I think we should see other people. Let’s just let it drop before it gets ugly.”
He watched her bite back a response, something along the lines of “You’re the one making it ugly” (part of what he enjoyed about her was her predictability, the way he knew how everything would go with them together), and as she let her face fall from Picasso to poster-like, flat and blank and charming at a glance, he added, “and thank God we never moved in together. Less stuff to clean up.”
The gallery of her face closed its doors on him. She turned and left, leaving nothing behind her but the cloud of her perfume and him, leaving too, with his slowly wilting bouquet of grocery-store flowers tucked into his bag; they hadn’t been for her this time. He had simply seen them and thought they’d brighten up the room.