This story can only be found bundled with the Erotic Novella “Starter Seeds”
I’m in the middle of being a dutiful girlfriend when I finally tell Paul we’ve just got to break up. He nearly drops the figurine he’s holding, a ceramic superhero. I’m helping him pick out presents for his twin cousins in Maine at a movie theme store we’d never go to otherwise.
“I can’t do this any more,” I say. I mean us and the store, but I mostly mean us. All this boyfriend-girlfriend crap we do isn’t any fun. A Midwestern family of eight pushes past us to stand right in front of the escalators and begins a loud, confused debate about whether to go up or down.
“Ann,” he says. “This is a really bad time to start this discussion.” He looks exhausted, his auburn hair and dark eyes both rumpled after a long day. He looks down sadly at the floor and notices a pair of yellow cartoon canary slippers with stupid plush eyes. He squats down next to them and looks up at me. “Are these appropriate for a twelve-year-old?”
“Very. So’s this whole damn store.” I glance around and just see a blur. They’ve rigged up fake vines and cardboard cut-outs swinging on mechanized ropes to push merchandise for a kids’ movie about the jungle. It’s six o’clock and I have to head to my waitressing job in two hours. Twenty-four hour French food. What a mess.
“Hey, I told you it was OK if you didn’t come. I knew you’d get all New Yorker-than-thou. I just, I trust your opinion.”
“I’m sorry. I hate those slippers.”
The mother of the Mid westerners, who has a winged haircut and several plastic shopping bags, directs the rest of them upstairs. I hear her say, “How often do you get to see original animation art?” Her husband and the kids, some of them, I realize, friends of the daughter, happily step on the escalator and glide up to the top floor.
“Fuck the slippers,” Paul says. “You’re saying you want to break up.”
“You’re right,” I say. “We shouldn’t talk about this here.”
“Well, it’s too late for that. I want to talk about it now.”
“I have to head to work soon.”
“OK. We’ll go for a walk. Could we get this out of the way first, though? If you do dump me, I’m not coming back here by myself.”
We leave with bags full of backpacks and stickers and emerge into Times Square. The sun sets like a long goodbye and the billboard glow is just starting to take effect. Everyone is in a line or in the push. Either way, it’s wall-to-wall bodies, looking ahead, looking up. We circle the same few blocks again and again. I steal glances at Paul as we talk. His carefully shined boots, something he does so they’ll let him wear them at work. The side of his strong jaw. The faintest touch of his stomach beneath a green sweater. I watch his parts as he listens to me drone on. He drones on in response, stuff we’ve been over before, long lists that boil down to shared unhappiness.
Times Square is dying out of its decay, being reborn into safe, fake glory. Used to be you couldn’t walk across Forty-second without getting your pocket picked or worse. Not that I miss that. But it’s like the whole city got a boob job. It used to be less than perfect, but definitely suckable. Now it’s this bigger-than-life, aerodynamic knockout, but without any feeling in its nipples. Paul’s less than perfect, but suckable. I’m nuts about Paul. I’m bored as Paul’s girlfriend.
We end up standing in front of the wonderful, ugly Port Authority, lingering there since my train stop is deep inside it. All kinds of young men prowl along the edges of the terminal.
“OK, we’re back where we started,” I say. “I like you but I don’t like us as a couple.”
“I can’t keep having this conversation, Ann,” he says.
“Do you want a break?”
“I don’t want to have this conversation any more. I want more time in the day. I want to do all the stuff we keep saying we’ll do.”
“Like?” A car hesitates in the taxi lane and everyone attacks it with honks and curses. The licence plate is New York. Go figure.
“I don’t know,” he continues over the cacophony. “Teach you chess. Go to the beach. Our jobs are just so fucked up . . .”
“Well, Show World’s right over there. That takes ten minutes.” I’m mostly kidding when I say this, watching the marquee wink at me from around the corner in red plastic letters. But I’ve always been curious and Paul knows it. Paul knows something else too. He’s staring at me like his grandmother just walked in on him having sex. Oh. “When’s the last time you went there?”
He looks around at the sidewalk, at the buses creaking out of Port Authority. “Three weeks ago.”
“Yeah. You know I do that.”
“Not lately,” I reply, sounding a little angrier than I want. “You could have told me.”
“Yeah,” he says. It’s a weird yeah, both yeah, I’m sorry, and yeah, right.
“No, It’s OK. I mean, you know I’d be into it. But I understand it’s like, your thing.”
The crowd continues to brush by us. We’re just a detour in their collective path. Paul stands with my hand in his. There are so many ways he could go. He looks past me at the marquee, at the many possibilities of taking his girlfriend with him into the small rooms he doesn’t discuss.
“I’ll go with you,” he says. Before I know what I’m doing, I say OK. If we’re going to break up, at least I’ll have been to Show World before it gets zoned out of existence.