Megan conceded to consciousness at noon that Saturday. Unwilling to hoist her brittle bones out of bed in the traditional fashion, she spun her body until it lied across the mattress perpendicularly. Sticking her arms out in front of her she began to wiggle. With a little help from gravity she landed chest first on the floor and soon the rest of her body followed suit. Progress, Megan thought as she traced the burn marks left from the cream-colored shag carpet down her forearms.
The harsh light of day was a cruel bitch that could not be reasoned with. When it came to burning daylight Megan would have gladly supplied the gasoline and matches to speed along the process if she could. Alas, some primordial response dictated that she remain a diurnal creature, at least partially. Sunlight poured down on her through the slits in the blinds. It exposed the bags under her eyes that had grown a deep shade of purple from countless nights of shunned sleep; it highlighted her pale skin that only sought natural light during a full moon; and it warmed her oily face that had bathed in alcohol and greasy food during last night’s pity party. Worst of all, the sun seemed to exacerbate the sharp throbbing in her skull and the dull pain in her stomach that also refused to be ignored.
Day, day, go away, come again another…day.
She needed a shower, that would make her feel better, but getting to the bathroom seemed far too arduous a task—even in her cramped apartment. Megan positioned herself on all fours and began the now ritualistic crawl of shame that had become part of her weekend routine.
On her journey she passed the inside-out work pants she had worn yesterday, a pizza box containing the mutated offspring of a substance once called cheese, and a bottle of Malbec still swishing around some of her dark red backwash. Megan dubbed thee “Trip,” “Stumble,” and “Fall” as she scooted by, thankful that she was at ground level to avoid causing further injury to herself.
Before she could complete her maiden voyage by nudging the door open with the top of her head, a loud chirping noise cried out behind her. Megan’s first instinct was to cover her ears to deafen the high-pitched squeals. Her sweaty palms did little to prevent the dancing spikes circling her brain like electrons defiantly shooting through their nucleus. The blaring sound irritated her enough to quicken that day’s evolutionary process as she sprung to both feet, dashed back to her bed, and silenced her cell phone’s cantankerous shouts by pressing her thumb to the screen.
“What?” she demanded.
“Megan?” an unmistakable voice answered. “Megan, it’s Carl. How—how are you?”
“Carl?” she responded, immediately embarrassed by her rude tone. “Umm…hi. I’m uh—fine. How are you?”
“Not too bad, not too bad,” he replied.
There was a moment of silence as Megan nervously shuffled on her feet like a toddler in desperate need of a toilet. Why Carl? Why now? Then he spoke again.
“I was actually wondering if you were around. I wanted to stop by quick if you had a second.”
“Around?” Megan asked as if she couldn’t grasp the concept. “Yeah—yeah. I’m at…my apartment? Do you need dir—”
“Cool. I’ll be over in like fifteen?” he interrupted.
“Sounds good,” Megan replied. “I’ll—” she could hear the white noise turn to dead air. “See you then,” she finished.
She stood in the middle of her apartment dumbfounded. Why does he want to see me? Why is he coming over? Why do I care so damn much? Megan could only answer the last question that she posed, and she didn’t like hearing that she hadn’t moved on. That was the type of sobering thought that made her want to go into the kitchen and uncork another bottle of wine.
Megan’s relationship with Carl had defined her for the last three years—more so than any other aspect of her life. Without him, she was simply working a dead-end desk job and rapidly approaching thirty, which felt a lot more like forty. She tried hard to convince herself that it didn’t matter—that she had all the time in the world and didn’t need some capital M.A.N. in her life anyway. Easier said than done though when every time she called on her friends for support they could only oscillate between talking about how lovely their married lives were or pity her with as much understanding as a baboon trying to use a telephone. She was starting to feel like a leper, like there must be something wrong with her if she wasn’t primed and ready to start shooting out children by now. Everyone’s doing it, Megan. She didn’t know if she wanted to though, not yet. Maybe that was the problem.
Her phone soon slid out of her hand, bouncing loudly off the floor. “Shit,” she exclaimed before realizing a dropped phone was the least of her concerns. She left it there and catapulted into the bathroom.
Megan tore off what little clothing she had on, turned the valve on the shower, and started frantically brushing her teeth. She did her best to scrub the strong taste of alcohol from her breath. It had somehow managed to grow more pungent at the back of her throat while she slept. She could feel the layers of plaque breaking away from her teeth adding to the mint cesspool frothing above her tongue. She wanted to retch, but opted to spit the sour concoction into the sink before she could start gagging.
A dense layer of fog had started to collect near the ceiling by that point. Megan failed to notice the steam in her haste, jumping into the shower without testing the water temperature. The hot liquid instantly scolded her unassuming flesh. “Fuuuuuuuuuhoooooot!” she yelped, managing to reach through the molten lava for a brief second to turn the valve. She jumped to the opposite end of the shower while covering herself, as if some stranger had just walked into the bathroom and snapped her with a towel. Megan removed one of her hands to flip off the inanimate showerhead. Maybe next time it wouldn’t play such a nasty trick.
Realizing time was of the essence she quickly shampooed her hair, lathered her skin with soap, and washed off. When the cool air kissed Megan’s wet body she felt like a new person, one that might actually be able to handle the trouble that would soon be knocking at her doorstep. She swiftly applied some concealer and a light layer of makeup to her face, going for an unnatural natural look. If there was more time—five minutes—she could have done herself up right. Maybe she could have applied some light mascara. He always seemed to like staring into her eyes when they’d been delicately outlined a dark black. That would show him what he was missing, but there was no time.
There was a faint, muffled sound—one that was reminiscent of a buzzer for an apartment. Megan ignored it and continued applying the finishing touches to her face. My imagination, she thought. Then there was another buzz, this one was unmistakable. She threw down the makeup brush, letting it bounce off the bottom of the sink, and spun her legs like the Road Runner. “Fuck, fuck, shit, fuck,” she muttered under her breath.
Megan swung open the bathroom door with such force that it rebounded as she sped forward, catching her pinky toe. She tumbled forward in pain, trying to prevent herself from falling while simultaneously bracing for impact. She did neither. As Megan landed hard on the unforgiving hardwood her eyes closed tightly. The backs of her eyelids lit up a brazen red. Every profanity she knew boiled in the back of her throat and shot past her lips in one anguished scream. She wanted to cry, she wanted to check her foot, but the apartment buzzer rang again so she tried her best to keep moving forward.
The wet naked blur that was Megan Daugherty dived into the closet. She found herself some underwear, a pair boxer shorts, and a dark t-shirt. To the right person the disheveled look might actually be sexy—that was if her visitor didn’t notice the faint trail of blood Megan was leaving behind her. She was having difficulty not wincing from the damage caused to her toe. The right side of her foot seared as if her pinky had been amputated. She didn’t want to look, but did anyway—thankful to see the toe was still there and to notice the crimson droplets trailing her. Megan grabbed the thin roll of paper towels from the kitchen and did her best to cover her tracks. It was a sloppy cleanup job, but one that would pass as long as Carl hadn’t brought a team of forensic scientists with him.
On the fourth buzz Megan yelled, “Hold on,” at the ceaseless wall speaker. She rushed over and rang Carl in. That’s when it occurred to her that this was all unfolding at such an accelerated pace that she hadn’t had time to think about…well anything.
She could feel her heart trying to flee its cage. What would she say to the man that had caused such disarray? Or, more importantly, what would he say to her? The back of her throat started to feel humid and thick. Don’t yack, she told herself. Not now.
Megan tried inhaling a few deep breaths, but the air shuttered in her chest as she held it. She exhaled with the elegance of a basketball player after playing a full 48-minute game. Before she could have a full moment to herself, there was a rapping at her door. She opened it and the two stood face to face with each other for the first time in weeks.
Neither seemed to know how to break the silence. Megan was unwilling to open her mouth—afraid that what might come out wouldn’t be words or air. She was appreciative when Carl finally said “Hi,” after what seemed to be an eternity. He grinned slyly, appearing to bask in the awkwardness of the situation.
“Hello,” she said, trying to sound casual by elongating her “O.”
“How’ve you been?” asked Carl.
“Fine,” she answered, still refusing to say too much before she knew what he was up to. Megan wished they could fast forward through the pleasantries they’d gone through on the phone earlier. The one time in their relationship that she could have done without the foreplay. “And you?” she added.
“I’m good—pretty good,” he replied.
“Would you like to come in?” she asked.
“Yeah, maybe for a minute,” Carl agreed.
Megan immediately regretted how she had let her discomfort back her into a corner. As Carl moseyed in from the hallway he surveyed Megan’s new place. His eyes danced from the cluttered floor to the plain ceiling, never lingering in one area for too long. He reminded Megan of a squirrel.
Meanwhile, Megan took this opportunity to look over Carl. Nothing had changed about him physically since the last time she had seen him. He still wore those neatly pressed golf shirts and the khakis to match. All of his outfits were cross compatible for work and the golf course. His hair was still thick and quaffed. Depending on Megan’s mood she either adored how the style complimented his boyish good looks or thought the bushy brown hair resembled a fat beaver perched upon his head. The only thing that was different about him was the grocery bag he seemed content on holding out to his side prominently, inviting Megan to ask about its nature. She decided she wouldn’t be lured in that easily.
“Would you like to sit down?” Megan asked growing more uncomfortable by the second.
“No. Unfortunately I really have to get going.”
“Oh, okay then.” Megan wished she hadn’t sounded so disappointed by his answer.
“Maybe some other time?”
She was confused what could possibly bring him back some other time and wanted to ask, but figured it would only make her seem more desperate. “Yeah. Maybe.”
“I brought by some of your stuff that you left behind. I thought you might like to have it here.” Carl reached out presenting the grocery bag, which now all of a sudden seemed like more of a garbage bag to Megan.
“I see. Thanks,” she said, wondering if all he had shown up to do was to drive a nail in her coffin.
Carl’s smile grew more certain, as if he had pleased himself by thoroughly executing his own valiant gesture. Megan tried to replicate his expression, but his presence had unnerved her too much. Her lips tucked themselves into her mouth as she grinned, failing miserably to convey the gratitude she thought Carl probably expected from her.
“Not sure what I could have forgotten. Probably wasn’t that important, but I appreciate you stopping by.” That probably didn’t help either, Megan thought.
“Yeah, it’s just some shirts and a poster or two you had tucked under the bed, but I figured it was better than throwing it in the trash.”
Isn’t that what you’re doing? she wondered.
“Place looks nice,” Carl asserted. “I mean it’s not quite my thing, but a great location nonetheless.”
Did he need to say that? Does he think I give a damn what he thinks about my place? Megan could feel her body temperature rising. She hadn’t been the one to end things over some deep-seated need to sow her wild oats before settling down.
“Thanks,” she said, trying her best to stay calm and polite.
He continued to linger. Now Carl was beginning to dance nervously. He refused to make eye contact with her, craning his neck every which way but directly in front of him. “Say, I was wondering if you might want to do something sometime. We can go out and grab dinner—catch up.”
Catch up? Megan tried to convince herself that Carl was only being nice, but she couldn’t quell her suspicions. The drive across town, the fact that he gladly walked inside, the invitation to dinner, it wasn’t adding up. The fact of the matter was he had never been this thoughtful, not even when they first had started dating. Was the bag of her stuff just an excuse?
Of all the questions she had for him in that moment, she only could muster the simplest: “Why?”
“Why not?” instantly shot back Carl, amused with himself. He had said it like she had nothing to lose, but that wasn’t true. Megan knew that she could lose everything all over again, and she knew how terrible that felt. This was all some game to him, but it was her life.
For the first time in weeks she spoke with clarity. “Because we broke up, Carl. Because you thought it was best that we see other people.”
“That doesn’t mean that we can’t still see each other.”
“That’s exactly what it means.”
He stood there at a loss for words, a sight that Megan had never seen before. It brought her a malevolent kind of satisfaction—one that she thought others would look down on her for having the ability to possess.
“Listen, Megan, I love you. I’ve always loved you, and I always will. If that’s what you need to hear, then there it is. I just think we need a bit of distance before we move forward, and I do want to move forward with you, babe. I just need some space before we get too serious. Can’t you at least give me that, Megan?”
She hated how he said her name. Megan this, Megan that, Megan wants to club you with a baseball bat. He’d learned that lazy technique in business school—using name repetition as a way to endear himself to clients and coworkers. He didn’t realize that such a cheap tactic only worked on people who were too consumed with themselves to notice such a sycophantic ploy.
“No,” she told him bluntly. Then two more words assembled themselves in front of her. Words that had scared her once, but now they seemed to make an absurd amount of sense. “I’m done.”
Carl stood there in disbelief. “What do you mean ‘you’re done,’ Megan?”
“Carl,” two could play that game, “you kicked me out of my home. That’s not something you do to someone you care about.”
“I was feeling claustrophobic. Don’t you think that I should be happy? That we should be happy?”
“Well,” he laughed, “Just look at this place. I’m telling you that you that this is only temporary.”
“This is what I want now.”
Carl looked more flustered. “Yeah, okay, sure. I totally believe that,” he said, with all the sincerity leaving his voice.
Then it occurred to Megan that the only reason he stopped by was because that claustrophobia he’d been so discontent with hadn’t been tempered. He was as lonely as she was now, that was the only reason he wanted her. His dreams of bachelorhood hadn’t turned out the way he thought they would. Megan 2.0 didn’t exist or was too much for him to handle, and that was the only reason he was ready to settle now.
She started to laugh.
“This is funny to you?” he asked. The disgust was unmistakable in his voice.
When Megan had gained control of herself she spat, “A little, yeah.”
Carl’s face contorted. It looked like he had bitten into a lemon. “Here I am, checking in on you to make sure you hadn’t gone and offed yourself or done anything melodramatic, and this is the thanks I get?”
More laughter. “How sweet,” Megan replied. “You’ve always been so considerate.” She was wiping tears from her eyes from her giggle fit.
“God, you can be such a bitch,” Carl said, his voice growing whinier.
She could see flames starting to burn behind his eyes. He wasn’t finished with her yet despite how desperately she wished he would leave. She had the strong urge to kick him between the legs and dig her nails into his throat after that last comment, but knew her outburst had already cut him deeply.
“I really am going to miss that charm of yours,” she told him.
“Yeah, well, enjoy your small little life.”
“I will. You know a lot of things seem smaller when you have something else to compare them to.” She didn’t know where the words were coming from, but she found herself immensely entertaining.
Then Carl took a long forceful stride towards her. Megan thought that he might strike her for a brief moment. Wouldn’t that be a riot, she thought.
Carl held his face inches in front of Megan’s steadily. “Fuck you,” he said.
Megan continued to be unimpressed. “You wish.”
That’s when his body violently twisted. Carl knocked his shoulder into Megan’s. She stumbled backwards from the force landing on that sore toe of hers. The irritation caused Megan to reach back and swat Carl across the face with all of her might. The sound of her palm against his pink cheek echoed sharply echoed off of the barren walls. “Get the fuck out,” she told him.
Carl was holding his face like a paddled child. He was in disbelief that she had hit him, which only annoyed Megan more. “All right then,” he said, “I should be going anyway. I’m already late for my next appointment.”
“Of course,” Megan said sternly. “You don’t want to keep your proper lady waiting. We can’t have her asking where you’ve been.”
Megan opened the door for Carl, prompting him to leave. He stomped through, but before he could get out of earshot Megan called to him, “Hey, Carl?”
“Don’t come back.”
Megan shut the door and listened to Carl’s feet pounding down the steps. She made sure to fasten both locks in case he got the bright idea to turn around to get the last word in, or worse. When enough time had passed she moved to the window to watch Carl return to his car. Sure enough, the black BMW was sitting outside on the curb and Carl was sauntering back towards it. There was no urgency to his gait as he moved unapologetically back to the car. He was doing a lot of posturing for someone who just got kicked out of a woman’s home.
He slithered back into the driver’s seat, shut the door, and sat in the car while it idled for a good amount of time. Megan started to worry that he might not leave, and then she saw his head lurch over the dashboard and look up to her floor.
She tucked herself into the corner next to the large window and peaked down at him. His fist could be seen slamming down on the dashboard. Then, still clenched, it tilted upward before raising a defiant middle finger toward the wrong window. Megan smiled, hoping that would be Carl’s last word to her.
The car pulled out into traffic. A large truck blared its horn as it slammed on its breaks, nearly avoiding colliding with his car’s bumper. She thought she could hear Carl’s muffled voice yell, “Watch where you’re going, dipshit,” before speeding away.
Megan started to laugh again. It was a new laugh, or one she had long since forgotten. It was genuine. She hadn’t figured out why she was so happy yet, only that today felt like a good day to celebrate. She put on a pair of blue jeans, grabbed her keys, and decided to head to the park.