by Allison O’Leary
After it ended, Laura would sit on the bed in her room, eyes closed, fingers gripping, mind quiet, quiet, quiet. Being a practical person, Laura understood the negative consequences of psychological repression and allowed herself at most three minutes a day to sit and think as every muscle in her body yearned to scream. Calmly, she would go about her day: washing the laundry with a cupful of lavender soap, filling out job applications, wondering whether she should take the old cat into the vet. Decisively, she would will herself not to think about it, not to let her mind wander to places that would prevent her from cleaning the apartment, for once, because Scott always told her that the place was a mess and she should hire a cleaning lady, like Laura had enough money to spend on maids when she could barely afford a Swiffer to clean out her own bathroom.
Early into the relationship, when Laura was in grad school and Scott was starting his job at his dad’s law firm, Laura had the sneaking suspicion that Scott…she didn’t know. Felt sorry for her? God, it sounded terrible when she said it like that, like she was poor, downtrodden and insecure and Scott, of all people, was sophisticated and self-assured. He was classy, sure, but that was mainly due to his upbringing in Lenox Hill, and if Laura was being honest, his confidence could border on desperate arrogance at times, all pleading eyes and fake laughter. It had barely been three years, she told herself. Just three years out of her twenty-eight, and never mind that her mother had long been married at this age. Katie, her younger sister, was engaged, but Katie had always been like that: the first to do everything, and anyway Laura knew Katie planned on torpedoing out kids as fast as she could and the mere prospect of motherhood made Laura’s eye twitch.
Lately, she spent a lot of time in the evenings taking out the trash; and then if all her trash was taken out, well, maybe the neighbors needed their recycling to be brought downstairs. Momentarily, Laura would stumble, almost completely lose the ability to breathe and have to sit down on the top step of her stairwell, gasping and clenching her jaw, drumming her grubby fingers against her thighs until the air returned to her lungs and she was fairly sure she wasn’t going to vomit, or pass out, or worse, start crying, because there would be literally nothing more humiliating than nice Mr. and Mrs. Abaza of Apartment 224 finding her dirty and disheveled, without a ring, covered in snot and dishonor next to a bag of over twenty empty Domino’s Pizza boxes. No, no, that had never happened before and would never in a million years happen, because Laura wasn’t a quitter. Only quitters allowed other people to infer exactly how much pizza they ate per week and exactly how greasy said pizza was, and only quitters used a fake voice to order Domino’s for the eighth time in a row and used Scott’s last name so she couldn’t be recognized.
Pretty soon her stepmom got word of the breakup, somehow, and Laura’s landline showed the New Jersey area code about once a week. Quite possibly, Sharon was racking up a hell of a phone bill for Laura to pay, but Laura tried to push that fleeting thought from her mind. Really, it was nice that Sharon was thinking of her, and oh honey, Laura should be glad that they hadn’t started planning the wedding yet, did she know how expensive it was to cancel catering services? Sometimes Sharon’s voice softens and she asks Laura how she’s feeling, and Laura chokes out GREAT in a tone that makes her even pity herself. Truly, it’s good that she ditched the idea to major in theatre during her undergrad.
Unsurprisingly, there were times when Laura’s mind would churn for longer than three minutes, and rent would go overdue, and she’d make and delete an online dating profile with a picture of her from five years ago. Verily, it had been a goddamn stressful experience, being Scott’s fiancée, but Laura reminded herself relationships weren’t necessarily about joy but more about encumbered persistence. When Scott finally texts her, something about coming over to pick up his fancy coffee machine, Laura sends a quick reply and leaves the key under the mat. Xenial chit-chat with Scott sounded about as enjoyable as a stomach ache, so she buys a poppy seed muffin and goes to the park to watch the squirrels. Yearning wistfully wouldn’t help anyone, she knew that, and yet the pressing melancholy in her head, her stomach, and her chest kept her still and silent, listening to the murmur of people around her and the rustling sway of the autumn leaves. Zealously, she would press on; there would be other days, other sadness, other papers to sign, other ways she could keep pretending as only she knew how.
Allison O’Leary is a high school senior in the Early Honors program at APU. She loves Bruce Springsteen, coffee, and writing about women. Her specialty is short stories and poetry about lives that aren’t quite hers. In the fall, she is going to Whitman College, and then out into the great world.