So There You Go
By Marissa McNamara
Luna is watching the moth cling to the sky-blue wall above her bedroom door. Its wings are fluttering in the breeze of the ceiling fan. She knows that if you kill one, it will leave a dusty mark like soot, and that if she tries to catch it in her hands and release it outside, it will fight her, beat its wings against her cupped palms, and escape to cling to yet another wall.
At his house where everything—curtains, walls, sofa—were curated shades of brown, the moth would have been undetected except maybe by one of the cats who would have batted it around until it died.
She wonders what he’d think of this, of her letting it stay in her house, if he would still feel comfortable here. And she had tried to make it that way for him—made sure that she had his favorite coffee creamer and that the sheets were not tucked in because he liked to move around while he slept and that he had lip balm on the nightstand of what had briefly been his side of the bed.
But it doesn’t matter now what he’d think because he is currently on his way to his mountain house in Tennessee with his cats. Nutter Butter is in the back seat on the green Indian blanket that he’d bought at a truck stop, and Lorna Doone is in the carrier on the front seat where Luna was supposed to be sitting on their drive from Atlanta. That plan isn’t a plan now though because on Sunday night, out of the blue, after they’d made the grocery list for red curry noodles for the next night, he suddenly wasn’t coming over.
They had decided on the dinner and then lay on the couch and laughed at reruns of M*A*S*H, her head on his shoulder, his arm around her, and he had looked at her like he wanted to kiss, so she’d asked, “Do you want to kiss me?” and smiled and he said okay and so they did, but then he stopped. And he talked for a while. And then they kissed again, and he moved her hair and put his hand on her neck, and then he stopped, and so it went, one interruption after another, until finally he said he just didn’t feel like it, that sometimes he felt this way, not wanting to touch at all, and not just tonight, but sometimes for days, weeks at a time. She wondered how many times he had not wanted to touch her before that moment.
“What do you mean?” Luna felt the I’ve-been-in-this-for-months-and-here-we-go-again sinking feeling. They sat up. She moved to the edge of the couch, and he said he didn’t know if he could do “this.” And “this” didn’t mean just kissing, and she knew what it meant because he’d said the same thing eight months ago, at the beginning, but then he’d changed his mind. She was pissed to hear it again because he’d been so sincere. She was even more pissed because she’d been around long enough to have known, even back then, that “this” was probably going to end, and she hated being right. Again.
“So you’re breaking up with me.”
“That wasn’t my intention,” he said, and she knew that it had been his intention, just maybe not that night. And she knew this because there was no insistence, no “No, no I’m not breaking up with you,” which meant that she would have to end it because he wouldn’t and so she said, “Well, I guess that’s my answer” only she hadn’t really asked a question because a question means there is something you want to know, and she already knew.
Then there was the cold calm that usually came over her and some words back and forth, some apologies, some sentences about the future that he just couldn’t imagine even though he wanted to, some sentences about how he just didn’t know. Then there were her sentences saying that she wasn’t going to stay to see if his “I don’t know” might someday turn into a “yes.”
Fast forward a moment to her in the bathroom sobbing, running the water so he couldn’t hear her, even though he knew what she was doing, and then washing her face and opening the door and going to the kitchen where he was leaning on the counter with his head in his hands. He looked up and there were words she heard herself say like “I don’t think there’s anything here I need to take with me. Is there anything at my house that you’ll need to get back?”
She was glad that she could be matter-of-fact until she walked out to the living room to get her purse and turned around and looked at him and told him that she had loved him but had never said it because she knew he’d never say it back, but it really didn’t matter now. “So now you know,” she said.
And he’d come over and put his arms around her and she couldn’t even really cry or breathe and the grocery list for red curry noodles was in her purse and she was supposed to go to his place in Tennessee with him and Nutter Butter and Lorna Doone next weekend and they’d been planning it for weeks as if he really had wanted to be with her. He’d even said that—that he was happy when they were together.
And when she pulled away from him, she said she’d always thought it was strange that he’d never wanted to take a photo of them together. And he was quiet because she was right—there were no photos.
He followed her to her car and stood holding the door open while she nervously picked at the seam of her jeans. He asked if he could hug her again and she said yes and he leaned in awkwardly and put his arms around her, and she thought how much it sucks when you really like someone and you know it’s probably the last time you’re going to touch them, maybe even see them, that you’ll miss dinner together on Wednesdays, a phone call every day, funny memes texted randomly, private jokes, all of that. Then the hug was over and he stood up.
And he said he was sorry and asked if she was ok to drive. And what was she supposed to do? Say no and go back up the steps and sit on his couch while they waited for her to suddenly be ok with his non-intention? So she said she was fine which she knew would be true eventually but felt like a lie right then.
“Talk soon,” he said, which in break-up-speak means either that you might or that you probably won’t.
And now Lorna Doone is in the front seat riding north to the mountains, and Luna is sitting in her bedroom watching the moth’s brown wings spread against the wall. She could try to catch her, try to cup her in her hands without hurting her wings, but the reality is that she wasn’t going to live and that trying to move her would just leave a sad, dusty smudge on the wall. Easier just to let her stay. Easier just to let her stay in one piece.
Marissa McNamara teaches English composition and creative writing at Georgia State University and in Georgia prisons. She is also a contributing poetry editor for The Chattahoochee Review. Her work has appeared in several publications, including the anthologies Mother Mary Comes to Me and My Body My Words and in the journals RATTLE, Medical Literary Messenger, StorySouth, The Cortland Review and Amsterdam Quarterly. She is a Northern Southerner, brought up outside of Cincinnati, Ohio, just over the Mason-Dixon line, so she is Southern enough to know about grits and sweet tea. She has lived in the South-South (Florida and Georgia) for 27 years—almost half of her life. She has heartily adopted “y’all,” greens, boiled peanuts, “bless your heart” and Southern hospitality.
“So There You Go” was selected for our “Separation” theme about feeling disconnected. Read the rest of the stories related to this theme here.