I’ve written flash fiction (i.e. a story of less than 1000 words) only a couple of times in my life. It’s not a genre I’m comfortable with. But I liked this attempt at flash fiction–I hope you will too. Readers who have seen my story “Lamp of the Body” will recognize the name of the bar. I am no lover of astrology (more accurately, I’m an astrology loather), but I always thought “Mercury Retrograde” would be a cool name for a bar. Anyway, I hope you like it: “I Fall to Pieces.”
I Fall to Pieces
Wil has just enough room at the end of the text to address the girl by the pet name he used with her: Soph. He would have liked to write out the full Sophia. But apparently even breakups, like relationships, are about compromise.
Wil feels a jolt of energy move through him when he finishes pecking out the message on his phone. It feels like a flash of purpose; he is old enough to know that such a jolt often spells trouble. But it is hard to walk away from such a flush of energy. He presses the Send button.
He downs the rest of the pint in front of him and wonders whether his tone had been appropriately dignified. 150 characters is not a lot to work with when establishing a tone. Probably that is one reason not to break up with someone via text messaging.
He imagines her out with someone else, someone who looks like Ethan Hawke. Or maybe a huge black swan. What does it matter? She is in the Rose Garden where Wil had walked with her on their first date. Only now, instead of walking beside her, taken in by her, Wil inhabits each rose bush like a troll as she walks by.
Which leads him to wonder whether he was in fact breaking up with her. Or had his message simply shown her, at last, that he understood that she was ignoring him? You send a text. Ok, maybe she didn’t receive it. You leave a voice mail, you leave a Facebook message. She doesn’t answer them. You send up smoke signals and a poem tied to the leg of a homing pigeon. You blink to her in Morse Code. She ignores every overture, explicit and implied, written and spoken and telepathic. Who is breaking up with whom, really?
The waitress comes back and he orders without looking up. Instead he gazes around the bar at the couples and singles. Half of them—half of the couples, even—are pecking away at smart phones, taking pictures of their beers, announcing to Facebook acquaintances that they are sitting @ Mercury Retrograde, perhaps summoning a real friend from his house in the glorious sunset. Would it have been better to have sent her a Facebook message instead of a text? In addition to a text? Wil dismisses the latter possibility as soon as it occurs to him: have some dignity, you sorry bastard, he tells himself.
He is tired of dissecting the last word she said to him (before she said goodbye):yes. Do you want to see Obscure Object of Desire at the Laurelhurst, he had asked her. What she said was yes. Had it been a yes of unalloyed, infatuated enthusiasm, as he had assumed when he first heard her say it? Or was there a subtext, an undercurrent of sarcasm or cruelty or carelessness or lack of resolve? He is exhausted from running over the contours of that yes in his mind, but he cannot help himself from worrying over it the way one picks at a festering sliver in the palm of the hand.
The bar stereo is playing Patsy Cline’s greatest hits. “I Fall to Pieces,” Wil’s favorite. You walk by, and I, fall to pieces, she sings. That’s a song that only makes sense in a small town in the fifties. When and where would Wil just see her walking by? You ignore my texts and I fall to pieces, he thinks.
Wil realizes that he should not have ordered another pint as soon as the waitress brings it. He contemplates the full glass morosely, watches the foam spread over the top of the nut-brown ale as though it is a map of lost continents spread over a dark ocean. Perhaps an entire civilization of yeast had burgeoned and died in this glass, unmourned by all except Wil in his drunkenness.
A cheer goes up throughout the bar. On the muted bar televisions a news program is reporting the first holographic marriages to be ceremonialized in New York. Wil looks up from his beer at the pair of slender, aged holographs in tuxedos exchanging vows on the screen, and at the dozens of patrons rejoicing that everyone is free now to love whoever they want.