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Wednesday, May 6, 1998
By Paul Ford
Caroline Sobachevsky was drunk. She straddled her ex-boyfriend Bill.
He took a deep breath. "I'm sorry," he said.
"What do you mean?" she asked, hand on his chest.
"I mean I can't."
"Yes you can. I've seen you."
"Caroline." He pushed back. "Your boyfriend."
"He's so young."
"Then it would hurt his feelings worse."
"No, probably, yes, but. We have history, me and you."
"Which means the past. One quarter of our lives ago. The impulse is different."
"It's still a good impulse."
The phone rang. She closed her eyes, but it kept ringing. She walked to the counter and lifted the receiver, and mumbled for the next minute, finally saying, "let me call you back."
"It was the kid," she said. "Wondering what I was doing."
"Invite him over," said Bill.
"That stings," she said. "Let me have you to myself. He didn't know me then."
"I guess I knew you." He returned, and leaned into her chest. "Remember the last day?"
"You know how that felt to me? I leave you at the airport, and some bitch is screaming at me the second I step off the plane. I thought they'd give us coffee and a little movie, right, but I'm marching. I was a little soft in the thighs, right? I was chafed to all hell, and in two hours I'm ready to cry, on my knees, scrubbing. There you were in your apartment alone and crying and I was scrubbing toilets with bottle brushes."
"Put you through college."
"Yeah, well. I can kill the enemy with a variety of kitchen utensils and operate a type 34 mobile scanning unit. You got a scholarship and broke up with me. Try that for feeling lonely. My Dad was so disappointed in me for the army, and he was kind of on your side, you know? He thought you were too good for me."
"I saw him last month. On the street. He's doing okay."
"You were supposed to be poor and free of guile. But you don't act it, and then you go crazy, and then you're in college on scholarship. Some orphan."
"I didn't go crazy."
"You didn't make much sense."
"There was some wacky shit. You know how it was, and then I found that letter from my dad. I was trying to make sense."
"Suddenly you're calling me saying that you were totally wrong, and that there is a manifestation in the room and that you're being called. You fucking loon. Scared me so bad I almost left training. Really. I never told you that. I wanted out that night; I started to pack, and made sure I had enough for a bus ticket."
"I'm glad you didn't come back. It wouldn't have helped. You would have wasted your time."
"Yeah, I was doing really good work in bed-making and saluting; thank God I didn't leave that behind. Or maybe because I would have found Cyn Corrister in your bedroom. That was another amazing thing, Bill. I get these weird religious phone calls about the beauty of life, and at the same time you're sacking out my closest girlfriend."
"You should forgive her. She still feels awful. She was missing you, too. We both were. We wanted you back, we're hanging out. What would happen? We go to the movies, work near each other. One day."
"I don't know. I should ask her what she thought about your curve." Caroline paused for several seconds, and spit out, "Hey, you loved me, right?"
"Yes. I did and very much."
"And then you change, and you're not another person, you're six other people."
"But I still loved you."
"You were sleeping with Cyn."
"Partly to be closer with you."
"That's evil, Bill. Shut up."
"I won't deny that it was fun to screw around with her. She liked it, too. But it was a shadow, not the real thing. Out of loneliness." He stopped. "Really."
"That's really reassuring," she said. "You know it hurt me badly. I still get angry. You try sleeping on a cot with thirty other catty army whores knowing your boyfriend is screwing your best friend, and you can't eat any fucking ice cream and watch TV, or even work yourself over without someone catching on and punishing you."
"I've already apologized, Caroline. And it worked out fine, though."
"I still have some unresolved issues." She kissed him again, and this time he kissed back a little longer.
"This is not the way to resolve them," he said, taking a breath.
"Oh, fuck off." She wanted to forgive him. He wouldn't let her. The prodigal boyfriend come back.
"No, I mean it. Please." She couldn't believe he was going to deny her. She'd had it on her mind for two months, planning out the night, how she'd do it, the thousand scenarios. It was a total fucking failure. She hadn't changed that much, maybe gotten bigger. If that was it....
"It's because I'm fat, that's okay," she said. But he didn't hesitate, didn't give her room to turn on the guilt.
"No. The only thing you've gained is experience. It just won't fix anything. You think it will and I wish I could believe, but you can't patch six years with one good lay."
She shook her head and left the room. When she came back an hour later, he was asleep on the couch.