On the last day I saw her, I brought steel down from racks. I measured steel. I cut steel. I felt thousands of pounds of steel slamming against concrete covered in oil and spit and chew. On my afternoon break, I checked my phone.
I did not expect to from her. Our time of how are you, of I’m fine what are you doing, of I’m not sure I might go out later would you want to hang out tomorrow, of that sounds great when did you wanna hang out, of silence, was over.
Months before, on our first date, she wore a skirt that started above her waist. And in our booth listening to her talk about how she was designing clothes for an upcoming lit party, I sensed myself wishing for something hopeless. I think it was how she drank her martinis. Or it was how she kissed. Even how she told me to lock it up when I did so too passionately. That was funny, I think. I laughed when she did.
But soon she pulled away. She would only text. And I would answer. Those like Brenna can be stronger than steel.
Still, on the week of the event, I worked with a strange hope. I would see her once more. I had not thought when we joked in the morning would be the last. I had grown my beard. I had lost a pound, I think. She would remember when we kissed in the daylight. There were people walking by.
On the afternoon of, I checked my phone and there it was, the first in weeks, giving the time and the place. She even said, “hope to see ya.” Though I saw what she wanted to say, like a transparency over my screen, I had to go. This is what it’s like to be propelled by pride.
First we ate Mexican food across the street, my friend Sam and I. Well, Sam ate. I drank margaritas and began to hope they were the kind of margaritas that gave superpowers, maybe something like invisibility. I wanted that more as I saw in the gallery’s front window a model posing in a bathing suit. Brenna had designed that, I knew. And that knowledge somehow made me want to drink. So I did. After I set it down my glass I noticed my hands, as pink and fleshy and stupid as they had always been. Sam finished his meal.
After I paid we crossed the street and I could sense, as we got closer, the building girding itself against my entry. But with a wave from a man in a drum major’s hat, we went inside. Almost immediately, I saw her. Her face flush red as she appeared from the back to attend to a model. I grinned a fake grin and tried to wipe it off by biting my tongue. Soon, we would be face to face.
Though I didn’t know what I would call her. I had been Champ and she had been Bud. Only a step away, it came to me. It was the jumpsuit she wore.
“Hey Rihanna,” I said. And as she turned, disappointment drained her face.
“Hey,” she said, then slowly faced the model again. I retreated back to Sam.
We stuck out like bears in a burrow of rabbits. More filled the space as I dreamed of the end. I wanted her to lie to me. I could leave once she lied to me.
At last I had my chance. She was near and I called to her by name. Now she approached.
“How’s it going?” I asked as she pulled it from some mysterious pocket.
“Good, yeah,” she said, a loose grip on her phone. And the way she held it, it seemed like a weapon.
“Cool,” I said, smiling in self-defense. I then introduced her to Sam. After they shook hands I asked, “So, what you been up to?”
“Oh I just started at French Meadow, my last job…”
“French Meadow,” Sam interrupted. “They have those sandwiches…” He kept talking for hours; it may have been minutes.
With each moment, though, the patience Brenna had graced us drifted away. She began to look just at her phone. And as I distantly heard my friend’s familiar voice I thought, this is right, this is what was supposed to happen.
When he finished, Brenna left without ceremony, still texting. Sam and I, we stayed only a little while longer.