Fires

Whatever it is, don’t pick at it. The phrase usually refers to skin ailments, but can be easily translated to apply to emotional wounds.

Olivia got home from coffee with Mike to find Jessie lying on the floor of their kitchen. The front door of their apartment opened into the kitchen – illogically, like everything else in the apartment – so that the first thing Olivia saw upon pushing the door open, keys in hand, carrying a small bag from the grocery store, was Jessie’s almost naked body splayed out on the floor. There had been only a few occasions on which Olivia had seen Jessie anything but almost naked; it was her preferred state of dress, the precarious edge of nudity. Today, the form of this that Jessie had decided on was tiny denim shorts and cotton bralet. She was also wearing some kind of moon pendant, the necklace accentuated by her deficiency of clothing.

“What are you doing?” Olivia asked.

“Is it over?” Jessie asked, propping herself up on her elbows. “Did you break up?”

“He broke up with me,” Olivia said. She opened the fridge and put in the few things she’d bought at the supermarket: a new container of hummus, a couple of individual yogurts, a bunch of green onions. A box of rice crackers went into the cupboard.

“Man.” Jessie rolled over onto her stomach and cradled her chin in her hands. “It’s really over?”

Olivia closed the cupboard and turned to face her roommate. She was wearing a black dress with a high collar. “Yep,” she said. She noticed for the first time that there was a more-than-half-empty bottle of white wine on the floor next to Jessie.

“Man,” Jessie said again. “I really thought you guys were perfect together, you know?”

“What are you doing on the floor?” Olivia asked.

“I don’t know. I’m thinking. And the floor is cold. Everything in this apartment is sweating hot. How are you wearing that?”

“Have you been outside?”

“No. Is it not hot outside? What time is it?”

“It’s four, Jessie.”

“Want to go do something?”

“Not really.”

“I’ve been wanting to do something all day.”

“So go. Do something.”

“I don’t know. I’m bored. Or sad, maybe. I can’t think of anything to do that will make me not bored or sad.”

Olivia sighed and walked to her room. She could hear Jessie from the kitchen saying, “Or not sad exactly. I’m melancholy, I think.”

Olivia found a cardboard box in her cupboard and started to pick Mike’s things from among her own. There wasn’t much to pack up; it hadn’t been a long relationship and over the course of it, he had only left necessities in her apartment. There were a couple of pairs of boxer shorts, a toothbrush and a bottle of mouthwash – the stunted travel size – there was an inexpensive watch that seemed to have stopped, a nameless, faceless white t-shirt, a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls that Mike had been sort-of-reading for months, and an electric razor, brought over in a moment of pre-parental-encounter haste about a week ago, which looked like the only thing he might actually want back. Olivia gathered it all and arranged it, item by item, in the box. The entire collection barely reached the rim, and it looked small and insignificant. The summary of a romance. Olivia was contemplating whether to rearrange it when Jessie walked in. She lingered in the door, hanging off the doorframe.

“So…what happened?”

“Nothing. He broke things off.”

“Just out of nowhere? I thought you really liked each other.”

“Well.”

“He had to have some reason.”

“He doesn’t feel like we’re going anywhere, he wants to go travelling, he wants to do it by himself. There were a lot of reasons, but really he just didn’t want to be together anymore.”

“Want to go egg his house?”

“No, Jess!”

“Come on. It would feel so good.”

“Jesus, he lives in a condo building. He rents the place from his parents.”

“We could wait outside and just get him as he walks out.”

“He would see us!”

“No, we could –

“I’m not even discussing this.”

Jessie shrugged. “What are you going to do with his stuff?”

“Send it back to him.” Olivia closed the box, with purpose, and taped it up.

Jessie came into the room and grabbed her by the shoulders. “You’re allowed to be angry, Liv.”

“I know,” she said. “Thanks, Jessie.”

 

Olivia had to go into work that evening. On the way home, she realized she’d forgotten her keys. She felt a momentary pinch of frustration; it wasn’t like her. She assumed that Jessie wouldn’t have left the apartment, but when she arrived, there was a note taped to the front door in her friend’s loopy handwriting. Come to Rosewood Park.

Alright, Jessie, she thought, too tired to resist. I’ll play.

Rosewood Park was a block from their apartment. It was on the corner of two busy streets; hurried cars paid it no attention. It featured a jarring mix of graffitied surfaces and overgrown wildlife, lush maybe-poisonous urban weeds growing out of its every un-concreted surface. The only people Olivia had ever seen in it were letting their dogs piss on it.

Jessie was standing over something in the middle of this park. Olivia started to get an uneasy, foreboding feeling in her stomach. As she approached, it became clear that the something was a fire.

“Christ, are you allowed to have an open fire in a public park?”

Jessie shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Olivia looked closer and saw that the thing that was on fire was the box she had packed of Mike’s stuff. She wanted to scream, she wanted to cry, she wanted to hit Jessie.

“Jess, what is that?”

“Oh yeah,” Jessie shrugged again. “It deserves to be burned.”

“Jessie, that’s fucked up! We can’t burn his stuff.”

“No, it isn’t,” Jessie answered. “Let’s get drunk and dance around the fire.”

“It’s not as if he was a bad person.”

“No, sure, he was a decent person. He just didn’t love you.” Jess handed her a bottle of wine, not the same one that had been in the kitchen.

“Not everyone can love you.”

Jessie threw something else into the fire. “And that’s shitty. People who claim to love you should be capable of doing so.”

Olivia let herself drink copiously. Later, as the embers settled, as Mike’s property was burning into nothing, Jessie leaned in and settled her elbows on her knees and said, “But he was a real shit, wasn’t he?”

There was only a very satisfying ash left. “He wasn’t. Honestly. He was good people. That makes it worse, doesn’t it?”

“Let’s not bother thinking about it.”

Jessie flung the last thing into the fire. The white t-shirt. A police car went by, sirens on. “Let’s go get arrested,” she said.

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