She Went to the Carnival with this Man
Molly Niendorf
Break
She knew he was the Right Man when she realized the thought of him leaving her was not devastating. It meant he made her feel whole and intact, for good, with or without him. She embraced this truth like she had his hand on the spongy folds of her vagina for the first time. That is, she was startled, but relieved.
She had always believed that one should be heart-broken at the thought of being left by the love of one's life. It was disconcerting to be wrong about this. She wondered, what else have I been wrong about, all these years?
When she was a girl, she played dodgeball with the boys in a patch of ruddy grass behind the red brick convent building of her parochial school. It was here she felt her first hot flash of anger when pelted in the back of the knees by Stevie Baxter's throw. The boys were ruthless and had good aim. In winter, with no leaves on the trees, they played on, their icy fingers stiff and numb. Stevie Baxter broke his thumb and didn't know it until he got home from school. In the warmth of his house, his mother saw his swollen, purple thumb; she shrieked and plopped his hand into a bowl of floating ice cubes.
In high school art class, she painted still lifes. Bananas, pears, and peaches. The bananas, she painted slightly brown, flecked with spots, but they looked overripe, melancholy. She hadn't mastered the shading techniques that were supposed to bring them to life, and she was fairly certain she never would. She dropped art class and took up photography. Her photography teacher was a man with a wide nose who looked like a cow. Not because he was fat, but because he had drooped eyes and tufts of brown hair that stuck up behind his ears. Later he would be indicted for embezzling what turned out to be five thousand dollars of cash (he admitted to three thousand) from the register at Shop N' Go, where he worked on Saturday mornings.
She took etiquette classes. She practiced piano for thirty minutes a day and went to one-hour lessons once a week for nine years. She did a back-walk-over on the beam and an around-the-world on the bars. She memorized Latin verbs. She graduated from high school and won awards and she went to college and won more awards. She framed her diploma and sent it to her parents.
When she moved into the home that she had bought, she stopped in the tiled entryway and took a long breath. She smelled the fresh paint, and behind it, the buttery, musty smells of the couple who'd lived there before her. She had met them once, when she'd shown up early to the open house. She imagined that the woman, who was plump and expertly dressed, had been a good cook, inviting and liberal with spices. She imagined the man, overwhelmed by his wife's abundances, to be quiet and unobtrusive, the low profile to his wife's flash.
She went shopping in a fancy boutique. It had frosted windows and a French name. The saleswoman declared her color to be ivory and applauded when she emerged from the fitting room in a strapless satin dress. She did a turn in front of the mirror and charged the dress to her credit card. She carried it home, wrapped in tissue, slipped in a plastic sheath, placed inside a brown bag with braided blue handles.
On the day before the Right Man told her that he was sleeping with another woman, she went with this man to her town's summer carnival. He put his hand in the loop of her jeans. She ate cotton candy and put her fingers up to his mouth to lick. She rode the tilt-a-whirl with her neck craned back, wind pulling tears from her eyes. They laughed and went home sticky sweaty, smelling like the farm animals in the barn of the carnival's petting zoo.
That night she slept naked and was agitated in her dreams. She awoke in the dark and her arms reached out for the man, groping and panicky. She felt the tinge of devastation, quick and definite, like a sewing needle that pricks a finger and draws a bead of blood, and the realization made her wince.
Molly Niendorf writes flash fiction and short stories. She lives in San Francisco and is an MFA student at Antioch University Los Angeles, a low-residency program. She has worked as a financial analyst and third grade teacher, but hopes to give up day jobs in favor of a full-time writing career.