Two Roads

 

Two Roads

By Sophie Panzer

 

I lost both my grandfather and my best friend in July. Zayde proved easier to mourn – there was family, a funeral, two thousand years of tradition to serve as my guide. The Mourners’ Kaddish. Y’itgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei rabah. But there was nothing I could read, no prayer I could sing, that would help me process what happened to Nathalie.
 
A week after we buried my grandfather, I volunteered to walk over to his office to dig up the documents my grandmother would need in order to sell it. This would be no small task – Zayde was the kind of messy genius who could multiply four hundred thirty eight by fifty seven in seconds but couldn’t keep a filing cabinet organized. It was something I could do to feel useful while my mother and grandmother grieved. It is one sadness to lose a grandparent, another entirely to lose a father or husband.
 
Before I left, I peeped into my mother’s room, which smelled like cough syrup and stale sleep. She hadn’t left her room much since the funeral, not even during the shiva when everyone gathered in the living room to eat bagels and cry into cream cheese. I tiptoed in, grabbed a couple of the half dozen water glasses that had accumulated on her nightstand, and snuck back to the kitchen to place them in the sink before I went out.
 
Walking into the Upper West Side summer morning was like walking into someone’s mouth. Even the ground in Central Park was spongey and moist beneath my feet, tongue-like. Sweat crawled down the back of my button-down and beneath my cutoff shorts. I had been trying to stay away from downtown as much as possible to avoid the tourists and the sometimes-we-work-and-sometimes-we-trap-you-underground-for-half-an-hour-with-no-air-conditioning subways, but the heat was omnipresent. For the three hundredth time, I thought about how grateful I was to have short hair.
 
I remembered she was the one who cut it. When I realized I hadn’t had a Big Gay Haircut and didn’t want to pay to go to a stylist before leaving to work as an au pair in Italy for a year. “You sure?” she said, holding the scissors up to the dark curtain over my eyes.
 
I looked at her in the mirror. “I trust you.”
 
 
It was true. I trusted her more than anyone at our university. My first roommate and I fell out of touch after moving off campus. My friend Jason and I stopped hanging out when I lost my taste for making out with strangers in gay clubs. And then there were the girls from my residence hall who called themselves M4, as if they were an elite British intelligence unit. Madison, Mallory, Maya, Maria. I still remember the ecstatic shrieking that echoed throughout our floor when they saw they had been assigned rooms all in a row. Mine was down the hall, near the emergency exit.
 
I liked them all well enough individually. Madison and I had an hour-long conversation about Kristen Stewart’s hair when we were supposed to be studying in the library during midterms. Mallory was also minoring in Spanish and we frequently sat next to each other in seminars. Maya invited me to all her artist friends’ gallery openings and exhibitions. Maria and I had absolutely nothing in common aside from being vegetarian, but we still tagged each other in cooking videos on Facebook.
 
The problem was when they all fused together into M4, that four-headed, shiny-haired hydra of straight WASP femininity. I always felt a degree removed, as if there was some joke I wasn’t getting or some shared memory I wasn’t a part of, some night out that had solidified and sanctified their bond while I watched Netflix or hooked up with a girl I thought I might marry. Oh my gosh, do you remember when… Do you still have that dress from… Are you going to see that guy you met at…? They would trail off, and I never knew how to fill in the blanks.
 
They were nice, these girls. And I was… something else. Blunt. Sarcastic. Not to mention Jewish and queer. No, I don’t want to watch The Bachelor. No, I don’t want to help you choose between three different Nicks from three different apps. No, I don’t want to wear Christmas sweaters and do an Instagram photoshoot with you in my candy-cane striped underwear.
 
I had almost given up on the concept of making friends by my third semester. Then I met Nathalie.
 
 
I walked across the park, passing panting dogs with their sweating owners. Zayde’s office was on East 80th and I had only been inside a few times. It was dark and close and Freudian, not somewhere one would voluntarily spend their time.
 
He was always the one encouraging me to see the world, expand my horizons. When I declared my intention to move to Canada and then to Italy, he didn’t dither about my safety like my grandmother or caution about culture shock like my parents. His faith in my abilities knew no bounds, and he was delighted. “New York is the center of the world,” he liked to say. “But the world is a big place.”
 
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio…..”
 
“That’s good. Now do the whole soliloquy.” He was an actor in his youth and was always making me memorize the great dead white men. Frost, Carroll, Shakespeare.
 
I never told him about the girls. He was heartbroken enough by the hair.
 
When I reached the building, I took the key my grandmother had given me out of my pocket. I passed the door to the plastic surgeon’s office on the right and made my way down the hall, footsteps muffled by the dingy carpet. I took out the second key and turned it in the lock, fumbling for the light switch as I made my way inside.
 
It looked exactly how I remembered it, the quintessential haunt of an elderly psychiatrist. A worn velvet couch placed across from an armchair. Shelves full of books about women’s health from the 1960s – all written by men, of course. Pictures of him and Bubbe posing together while traveling in Greece, Japan, the Galapagos. Various handicrafts his grandchildren had made for him in art classes over the years. Potted succulents, glass paperweights. The small objects one accumulates over a long and stable life.
 
I smelled something sharp under the mustiness. It grew stronger as I approached the desk, and when I looked down I saw a shriveled brown apple placed next to a pencil holder carved out of a whale bone. God only knew how long it had been there.
 
I reached down to nudge the offending object into the wastebasket and thought of the Dutch vanitas, with their skulls surrounded by overripe fruit and flowers. “Life and death crowded together on a tabletop,” Nathalie used to say.
 
I sniffed and told myself it was because of the smell.
 
 
I first saw her in the lecture hall for Art History 321, The Dutch Golden Age. We both arrived awkwardly early and sat in the front row, but on opposite sides of the room. Her appearance was the opposite of mine in every way: tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed. Sophisticated-looking glasses perched on her tiny nose. Resting angel face instead of resting bitch face. It seemed we also had different tastes – my laptop was plain, while hers was covered in K-Pop and Parks and Rec stickers along with a faded, doomed Hillary H. For three months we scribbled separate notes about Vermeer’s mastery of lighting and Rembrandt’s head portraits. I noticed she raised her hand to contribute the most when we talked about landscape paintings, which I found dull and propagandist. The Dutch really loved their cows. I preferred the genre paintings, those scenes of domestic tranquility that usually revealed something illicit if you examined them closely enough.
 
Our final was a monster of a research paper: fifteen pages minimum, seven secondary and seven primary sources, comparing and contrasting the works of at least three artists of the era. I procrastinated, which inevitably led to a minor mental breakdown in a stall on the Visual Arts floor of the library. After a few minutes I felt as though I had cried myself out, but when I finally closed my mouth I still heard sobbing.
 
When I tried to sneak out of my stall, I saw her bent over the sink, splashing water on her blotched face.
 
“Hey,” I said huskily. “You okay?”
 
She turned to look at me, taking in my swollen eyes. “That 321 final’s a bitch, eh?”
 
We spent the next three hours comparing notes and editing each other’s paragraphs. We traded notes and sources. Do you have anything else from the October first lecture? Who are you citing for your section about Judith Leyster? Did you know that any woman who smiles with her teeth showing in these portraits is a prostitute? Is this too many semicolons? How many times can I use “therefore,” without sounding like a dick?
 
When we both started to feel like we were on the right track, we headed to the Tim Horton’s across the street. It turned out she was also having rough semester. Flu had carved a huge swath out of her attendance and notes in October, and her midterms had suffered. Now her scholarship rode on her grades this finals season. In addition to that, she had been dropped by former friend group after casually hooking up with a guy who then started seriously dating someone else.
 
“It was like they completely froze me out,” she told me. We were sharing a box of Timbits. She bit into a chocolate one, chewed. “Whenever I walked into a room, everyone looked at me like I had two heads. The girlfriend made another group chat that I wasn’t invited to and they started planning everything there.”
 
“And you didn’t do anything wrong!” I exclaimed around a mouthful of sour cream glazed.
 
She smiled sadly. “I felt like I was being punished for a crime I didn’t commit, you know? Because it was before they were together.”
 
“He’s the one being a messy bitch and you’re the one who has to deal with the consequences? Ridiculous.”
 
She sighed. “It’s just hard. When you don’t feel like you belong anywhere.”
 
I nudged the donuts over to her. “Right now your hand belongs in this box because I don’t like the jelly ones.” Her laugh was deeper than I expected, rich and warm and full.
 
We had another class in common the next semester and sat together every day, trading RuPaul GIFs and cat videos while we were supposed to be learning about Gothic apses and flying buttresses. We found out we both liked sour gummy candies and Alfred Hitchcock films and chess. We were both only children. We wandered the alleyways of the Plateau and Mile End neighborhoods, eating poutine and gazing at murals. We went to galleries and the fine arts museum, murmuring about the properties of light or sketching silently side by side.
 
The joke was that everyone, especially M4, thought we were dating. Because we were always showing up together at parties. Because everyone knew I was into women and her blonde hair was dyed electric green at the ends. Because we danced in each other’s arms. If anyone had bothered to ask about my type or her sexual orientation, they would have known. But no one bothered, and that was fine with us. It gave us the freedom to huddle together and whisper about who was gaslighting who and who was too beautiful for her boyfriend and only with him out of tragic insecurity. This was usually one or all of the members of M4.
 
 
I began searching for the deed to the office, whose location my Bubbe had described helpfully as “one of the drawers.” I checked desk drawers, then bookshelves, then filing cabinets. I found invoices from the eighties and a conference schedule from 1957. I wondered if it was his first one. He would have been in his twenties then. Only slightly older than I but already more successful and sure of himself.
 
I searched for half an hour before collapsing into his desk chair, frustrated. The same feeling I got when I was little and he told me riddles. “What travels around the world but stays in one spot?” “What has many keys but can’t open a single door?” I would stomp my feet and scrunch up my face when I didn’t know and he would refuse to answer “stamp,” or “piano” until hours later, which infuriated me even more.
 
I had just resigned myself to the fact that I would have to return home empty-handed when I looked up at the bookshelf across from me. It held a series of binders with hand-labeled spines. MEDICATION, one of them read. REAL ESTATE, read another.
 
Shaking my head, I grabbed it and paged through until I saw a paper with the address on top. Success.
 
I couldn’t help but think about how Nathalie would have seen this a long time ago. Sometimes when we were making cookies I would stare inside my own refrigerator for minutes at a time, vainly searching for some baking ingredient until she reached over and took it from where it was resting two inches from my nose.
 
 We were good at pointing out the things the other couldn’t see. I had to remind her frequently about the basics of self-preservation. You have to eat. You have to hydrate. You have to sleep more than two hours a night. No, not in the library. Let’s go to the gym. Let’s go for a walk. Half an hour. Fifteen minutes. You’re sick, I’ll take you to the clinic. Here’s some soup. Here’s the homework I picked up from all your professors. Here’s the books you need from the library. Here’s me walking you back to your apartment after you tried to go to the library and got dizzy.
 
She pointed out my willful blindness in romantic relationships.  “How did I not see this?” I moaned from her couch the day after I broke off my unlabeled involvement with a girl in my sexual diversity studies class. We had started as study buddies trying to parse meaning from the works of Judith Butler before taking a more practical approach to the subject.  “How did it take me this long to realize she’s still in love with her ex?”
 
Nathalie set a mug of Earl Grey tea down on the coffee table and sat in the armchair across from me. “She shouldn’t have strung you along like that,” she said. But she was drumming her nails against the side of her thigh, and I knew that meant there was more.
 
“What?” I sniffed.
 
“Nothing!”
 
“You always do that thing with your fingers when you’re not saying what you mean.”
 
She glanced at her hand, smiled, sighed. “You don’t just run past red flags, Talia. You incinerate them. With your–” she gestured helplessly, grasping for the right phrase.
 
“Use your words, Nat.”
 
She smacked the bottom of my foot. “Blow torch of denial!”
 
Anger kicked in my gut before I realized what she had said. I started giggling. Then she started giggling. When it seemed like we would stop, one of us would whisper, “blow torch,” and start everything all over again. We laughed and laughed until tears streamed down our cheeks.
           
 
I slipped the papers into my bag and considered my next move. I was overcome by how much I didn’t want to be in that office. This place was not how I remembered Zayde. His and Bubbe’s apartment had always been full of light, of music from the old gramophone, of the smell of baking rugelach. I needed somewhere to clear my head.
 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was a few blocks away. I had spent the past year browsing the Louvre and the Uffizi, but none of them quite measured up to my endless awe of the MET. You could spend days, weeks wandering the halls and not see everything on display. I hadn’t visited since crash-landing back in New York. I grabbed my bag with the papers, locked the door, and set out.
 
People were packed onto the steps, posing for Instagram photos in front of the spraying fountains. Once I managed to nudge my way past the security line, I made straight for the kiosks to use the membership card my grandparents had given me. I considered where to start. The ground floors would be the most crowded, and I had already stared at the marble curls of dickless Greek gods too many times to count. Apollo and his lyre, Poseidon and his triton, Cupid and his bow.
 
I had a card with a chubby, Victorian version of the latter pinned above my desk from when Nathalie and I went all out for Valentines Day our last year. I bought the pizza and the chocolate and the wine, she bought the movie tickets. It was a big budget musical teeming with autotuned love songs and bad CGI effects. For the first time in my life, I was spending Valentine’s Day with someone I loved. Surely this is something, I thought, chest warm from the wine as she passed me a handful of sour gummies. Surely this will last forever.
 
 
To be fair, I was the one who left. The one who couldn’t stand another Montreal winter. The one who wanted so badly to see the world and was sure the wonders of modern technology would preserve everything she left behind. Who thought she could leave her friends like insects frozen in amber.
 
At first, we messaged each other every few days and tried to video chat every other week or so. It got tricky with the time difference and work schedules, but it was basically fine.
 
Until one day I rang and she didn’t pick up. I frowned, checked the time, made sure this was when we had decided on. I rang again. I wondered whether something had happened. Did someone follow her home from the library? Did she forget to eat again and pass out? I messaged her U ok? to no response. Anxiety gnawed at my insides until late that night when I picked up my phone and scrolled through Instagram to distract myself. This was when I saw the photos.
 
She was posing in front of Glitter, a trendy nightclub we had never liked due to the pricey drinks and rapey clientele. She was squeezed into a tiny black dress and stiletto heels she never wore around me, grinning in the swirls of February snow. One arm around Mallory, the other around Madison. The other two members of M4 grinned toothily next to them. The photo was captioned Careful boys we have bear spray in our bras #rawr.
 
Relief and disappointment mingled in my belly. In the morning I woke to a text that said Oh my gosh soooooo sorry!
 
Lol it’s fine, definitely didn’t think you had been kidnapped, I sent back.
 
J she replied.
 
Wanna reschedule? I asked. 9 me/3 you on Sunday?
 
Yes!!!!
 
After some fairly standard catch-up talk about work and moms and the lack of cute sexual partners in our lives, I brought it up casually.
 
“How’s M4?” I asked.
 
She frowned. “They don’t really call themselves that anymore, you know.”
 
I smirked inwardly, realizing I had touched a nerve. She didn’t like being reminded that they had existed without her, that it had once been us and them.
 
Our chats became fewer and further between over the next few months, and when we did talk she began to use “we.” We watched this movie, we went to this bar, we love this brunch place. It was the verbal equivalent of the Instagram pictures she was posting of  #girlsnight and #boozebrunch. I didn’t mind that she had other friends. I wanted her to be happy.
 
I did mind that she never suggested a time to video chat. That she participated in our conversations but rarely initiated them. That when I brought up the possibility of visiting after I returned from Italy, she quickly changed the subject. It’s natural, I thought. Friends grow apart and back together again. You don’t have as much to talk about now that you’re not in class all the time. It doesn’t mean you need each other any less. It’s fine, it’s all fine.
 
I called her the week I got back to the U.S., when I was still jet-lagged and disoriented from the news of my grandfather’s diagnosis and all I wanted in the world was to see her face as I had seen it a year ago, open and sympathetic and wise.
 
“Welcome back! How are you?” she asked when our faces popped up on the screen.
 
I shrugged, wanting to be truthful but not depressing. “Not great, to be honest. My grandfather has brain cancer.”
 
“I’m so sorry. Do you want to talk about it?”
 
I shook my head. “Not at the moment. I’d rather hear about what’s new with you.”
 
I hadn’t expected her update to be as depressing as mine, but her sympathy face morphed into her ecstatic face quickly enough to be disturbing. “I’m actually really excited! Dreamlife Dimension is coming to Montreal and Mallory and Maria are going to go see them with me.”
 
I frowned. “Wait, who are they again?”
 
“Only my favorite K-Pop band of all time!” she gushed. “Did you see that music video I posted?”
 
I briefly recalled ignoring a bunch of dewy-skinned men dancing jerkily in what appeared on her story to be a psychedelic candyland. “I watched a few seconds, but Justin Biebers with bowl cuts have never really been my thing, you know?”
 
Her eyes narrowed. “Oh. Right.”
 
“They kind of sound like a bunch of ducks got caught in an answering machine.”
 
“Ok.”
 
I didn’t think any more about the exchange until I received a message from her a few days later.
 
Hey. I just wanted to let you know that the things you said about the Dreamlife Dimension concert the other day really bothered me. I know you don’t mean it but you can be extremely negative and condescending about the things that aren’t your cup of tea and I find it really unpleasant.
 
I froze. Blind panic. Is this happening? This isn’t happening. I started typing before I even knew what I was going to say. Then, before I even had a chance to send a response, she sent another:
 
We don’t have to like the same things but I find it really upsetting when you dismiss and invalidate me for liking K-Pop or anime or The Bachelorette or anything that you seem to think isn’t good enough for you.. I’ve been spending time with people who have a more positive outlook and it’s making me realize that this is lacking in our relationship.
 
I didn’t have to ask who she was talking about. I immediately recalled the trademark M4 squeal of joy, which could be triggered by anything from cat videos to learning someone had gotten good head from her boyfriend. The constant upspeak, how every opinion was phrased as a question in order to avoid offense. The endless scroll of heart-eyed emojis in response to pensive bathroom selfies posted on finstas captioned good vibes only. Everything that we had privately dissected and derided now placed on a pedestal. Was this positivity? Was this what friendship was actually supposed to look like, never mind our history, never mind the countless times we had been there for each other when we had no one else?
 
But I couldn’t think about that now. I wouldn’t – couldn’t – lose her to this. I’m sorry. I sent back. I didn’t realize you felt this way. You are very important to me and I want you to be happy always. I will be more respectful and supportive from here on in, and I would love to hear about the concert when you go.
 
I watched the three dots bubble back and forth as she sent her reply. I could feel the sweat beading in the lines of my palm.
 
Then, Thank you for your apology. I know you don’t mean it! Don’t worry, we’re fine J
 
I felt an initial relief. We’re fine. We’re fine. She said we’re fine so we’re fine.
 
But I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. My world tilted from the nausea as questions flooded my brain. Why did I have to fight for her attention? Why did I feel out of sight, out of mind? If I didn’t text her, would we text at all? If I didn’t ask to video chat, would I ever see her face again?
 
From questions, anger. From anger, resolve.
 
I put down my phone and waited.
 
 
I headed to the European Arts and Sculpture wing, roaming among the Realists, idling before the Impressionists. I could stare for hours at Van Gogh’s oily swirls, the way he so perfectly captures the movement of light on dark water.
 
I came to Jules-Joseph Lefebvre’s Graziela, one of my favorites. The eponymous woman gazes out over the horizon, taking in the fact that her absent fisherman lover is probably shacked up with some mermaid in a grotto deep below the waves and Mount Vesuvius is about to cover her hometown in ash.  Her face is not afraid, merely resolute. Whatever happens, she will persevere. I loved her strong nose, her dark hair, her small breasts outlined in the fabric of her peasant’s dress.
 
As I made my way towards the painting, a flash of color caught my eye. Golden hair tumbling down a familiar back. The shockingly purple blouse she found when we went thrifting at Eva B one autumn morning, in that magical interval between the start of classes and midterms when all seemed right with the world.
 
I closed my eyes, wondering if I was hallucinating. When I opened them, Nathalie was still in front of me.
 
 
I was still waiting for her to text a month later as I applied for jobs at museums, then galleries, then auction houses, then advertising agencies, then the Starbucks around the corner from my house when it seemed that the only employable skill I had brought back from Italy was my ability to make a decent cappuccino.
 
I was still waiting when my grandfather was hospitalized for a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop. Still waiting as my mother and grandmother argued furiously over chemo treatments. Still waiting when the doctors said it was more important to keep him comfortable at this stage. Still waiting when I brought my laptop to the hospital so the two of us could watch old Hitchcock and Shirley Temple movies while he called me by my uncle’s name.
 
Still waiting on the last day. He was barely lucid, thin and yellow as dried grass. We had switched off the movies and were just sitting there, dozing, when I heard him shift in his bed.
 
“Two roads,” he rasped.
 
I blinked exhaustion out of my eyes. I had come straight from a double shift at work. “What?”
 
“Two roads diverged,” he croaked again,  “in a yellow wood.”
 
I knew this game. “And sorry I could not travel both,” I said. It came automatically, without thought.
 
“And be one traveler, long I stood,” he said.
 
“And looked down as far as I could…”
 
“To where it bent,” he coughed, “in the undergrowth.”
 
We went on like that through the entire poem. The way we used to recite nursery rhymes when I was young, one line for him and one line for me, again and again, until we got to the end.
 
 “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I…” he murmured.
 
“I took the one less traveled by.” Tears were streaming down my cheeks.
 
“And that has made all the difference,” we concluded in unison.
 
His mouth twitched in a feeble smile and he lay back on the pillow, spent. Later, at the funeral, we would realize these were his last words.
 
I was still waiting when we lowered his coffin into the ground.
           
 
I followed her as if in a dream. The walls and artworks blurred until she was the only object of focus in the world. The crowds allowed me to trail her, without her knowing, to the Egyptian Wing, where we stood before the Temple of Dendur, gleaming in the sunlight slanting in from the giant windows.
 
I wanted to tell her that I had been having nightmares about our places. Falling through the floors of the Contemporary Art wing at the fine arts museum. Teeth falling out while eating at the dumpling place in Chinatown. Getting crushed by falling book cases in the library. Falling, always falling.
 
“Nat,” I said.
 
She turned. A moment of blankness before she realized who she was seeing. “Oh my God, hey!” she said, grinning too widely. The face she put on every time we saw someone we hated at parties. How I had enjoyed being on the other side of that grin.
 
I said nothing.
 
“It’s so weird to run into you here! I was just about to text you!” she chirped nervously, enveloping me in a hug I did not return. “My aunt invited me down to stay, it was all super last minute, that’s why I didn’t get the chance to say anything.”
 
I studied her. The green was gone from her hair now, and she wore contacts. She seemed shorter than when we’d said goodbye over a year ago.
 
“How have you been? Are you available? We should go get drinks or something if you have time.”
 
I didn’t say anything for a few seconds. For months, this was the only thing I’d wanted. Her, here, with me. My heart fluttered with something that felt like joy.
 
Then I remembered how my grandfather’s coffin slipped as it was lowered into the ground, that thud I felt in my back teeth.
 
“No,” I said quietly.
 
She blinked. “Sorry?”
 
“No,” I repeated. I looked right into her contact-sheathed eye. “I don’t think you actually want to. So let’s not.”
 
Was the panic in her face genuine hurt, or simply guilt? “How can you say that?”
 
“You disappeared,” I said through clenched teeth. “You haven’t reached out to me once in the past six weeks. And I’ve somehow managed to catch you by surprise, despite the fact that you are in my hometown, a few blocks away from my house, and you haven’t seen me in over a year. Don’t insult my intelligence. Please.”
 
Her eyes were wide and anxious and her hands were already twisting a lock of her hair, the way she did during exams or when I was encouraging her to talk to a boy she liked. To my humiliation, tears stung my eyes.
 
“Look,” she said. “I’m sorry we haven’t been in better touch. I’ve just been really busy with work stuff.”
 
I laughed bitterly. Work stuff. As if I didn’t know she was in the same office job she’d had since we graduated, where she killed time by painting her nails and shopping online. “How’s my grandfather?”
 
“What?”
 
“How. Is. My. Grandfather?” I said again. “Is he well? Is he functional? Is he alive?”
 
She understood then. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry – “
 
“Shut up,” I snarled.
 
She was shocked into silence. I had never even dreamed of using that tone of voice with her before. I don’t think she had anticipated the force of my anger. In all honesty, neither had I. But it was too late to take back, and I didn’t want to. “Don’t lie. Don’t pretend to care. YOU KNEW HE WAS DYING AND YOU FUCKING DISAPPEARED.” My voice echoed around the Temple of Dendur.
 
Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t yell at me.”
 
“I’M NOT YELLING.”
 
Our fellow museum goers looked at me like you would look at a frothy-mouthed raccoon stumbling around in broad daylight. A security guard started making his way over to us.
 
I liked the noise. I could feel it rushing through my throat like a river, relieving the silent drought she had plunged us into.
 
I saw her eyes harden, and I knew she was lost to me. I had given her what she needed: rather than vague feelings of discomfort, a concrete crime to cite in the court she would hold with M4. I mean, I don’t know, it was just, like, so disrespectful of my boundaries?
 
They would go out for drinks and gasp and nod at all the right places, shaking their heads. There had always been something off about me, but this was the last straw. We never really got along with her anyway. She was a little too… intense.
 
So I went for it. I had nothing left to lose.
 
“We’re done,” I breathed as a guard placed his hand on my shoulder.
 
 
At least I wasn’t banned. He let me off with a warning. I would be allowed to enter the greatest museum in the world again when I was ready to “behave myself.” I smiled prettily – I had a good orthodontist - and imagined smashing his nose into the carved flank of a sphinx.
 
As I walked down the steps and back into the sweltering afternoon, I took my phone out of my pocket, opened my Instagram, and tapped on her profile. I scrolled through it, back to the last picture she had posted of us together. It had been a freezing day in January, and we were bundled up against the cold in the Old Port, gloved hands around each other’s shoulders, long hair mingling in the wind. I remembered how good it felt to be outside with her after being holed up in the library, how alive and flushed my cheeks felt against the cold.
 
My fingers hovered hesitantly over the unfollow button. If I did this, would I ever see her again? Would she try to apologize only to find I had cut off contact? Would she even care?
 
Maybe the answers lay in the questions themselves, and how tired I was of asking them.
 

I held my breath and brought down my thumb.

         

Copyright © Sophie Panzer 2020

Sophie Panzer is the author of the chapbooks Mothers of the Apocalypse (Ethel Press 2019) and Survive July (Red Bird Chapbooks 2019). She was a winner of the 2017 Quebec Writers Federation Literary Prize for Young Writers and a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee. She edits prose for Inklette and her recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sad Girl Review, The Hellebore, Coffin Bell Journal, Little Old Lady, Lavender Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Josephine Quarterly.



 

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