By J. L Barnes
Marlow’s long-time girlfriend Gretta left him the week after he concluded his physical therapy, a cruel thing to do, most would think, considering all he had done for her during their time together in the shared flat overlooking the radiant city skyline. Unseasonable as it was, the breakup might’ve delivered him some greater perspective, no matter the pain. Regardless of whether it was Gretta’s intention to step on his heart, it hurt him most, her doing so without remorse, skipping out with deaf ears to any disapproving words from opinionated friends and family members.
When Marlow drove himself into a craze, metaphorically turning over tables for the whereabouts of his supposed love, it was the honor, the good will of another friend, Eleanor, that had pointed him to the light.
“She’s gone, Marlow,” Eleanor told him at the bar. “It doesn’t matter where she is. It doesn’t matter what she’s doing. It doesn’t matter who she’s with. She’s gone, not your concern anymore.”
“It makes no sense.” He reached the bottom of his glass right then, the ice cubes clanking around after he slammed it down. “We were—We were happy, weren’t we?”
Eleanor took that question as rhetorical, the way people ask out loud, “Why God?” She’d let the moment linger before she put out, “Look. It’s understandable to want answers. But let’s not do this here. Don’t become the cliché who digs himself his grave right after his girlfriend dumps him.”
“What else am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to go? The flat reminds me of her.”
“Let’s go for a walk then. You’re fully recovered, right? C’mon.”
“I want another drink first.”
“I won’t go with you being a stumbling, mumbling mess.”
“It’s just one, Nora.”
“Marlow, no means no. Get up and stop acting sorry for yourself. Take it from your friend who’s known you half your life, it’s really pathetic.”
Marlow huffed and went into his leather wallet to pay for his drinks. But Eleanor had already produced the bills and slid it to the bartender.
“You didn’t have to.” Marlow was looking like a sad puppy.
Eleanor ignored the submissive gesture. “Shut up and walk.”
The night was the inside of an oven, baking everything slowly. Thankfully, a convenient breeze came when it was needed most to take away some of the stickiness accumulating under their summer tops.
Together they sauntered on the sidewalk as faster travelers moved briskly by them.
“Hey, Nora. You’re a girl.” Marlow was coming off any drunkenness he had fairly quickly.
“Last I checked.”
“So you know how girls think.”
“If you’re about to ask me what Gretta was thinking, know that I don’t feel inclined to represent the entire female subspecies. Therefore I don’t feel inclined to go there.”
“But I can generalize for you. I don’t make a habit of dispensing advice, so take what I say as you want.”
Marlow’s gaze never left Eleanor’s face except for when he needed to step over uneven pavement or up and down a curb.
“You’re a good guy, Marlow. A very good guy. You’re so good you’d probably donate your life savings to a relief effort with little convincing.”
“You’re so good that you’re too good. Do you see where I’m going with this?”
“Is being too good a bad thing?”
“In an ideal world it wouldn’t be. It’s one of those scenarios where too much of a good thing is a bad thing. I can see being too good as poison for a relationship.”
“I don’t understand.”
“How about this: You’re not bad-looking. In fact, I would go so far as to call you somewhat handsome. But even a handsome guy can lose his lady if he isn’t really doing it for her anymore. Get it?”
“You’re talking about bedroom action?”
They stopped at a crosswalk instead of turning the block. A dog walking with its owner came by Marlow’s leg, sniffed, then was pulled away by its leash.
“I didn’t hear any complaints.”
“Well sometimes complaints are unspoken. How many times have you thought to complain to your boss but didn’t, thinking of possible repercussions?”
“Oh God.” Marlow’s posture crumbled. “I was on medication for chrissakes!”
“I didn’t say this had anything to do with you not being able to get it up.”
An old woman came up behind them. Marlow blushed, assuming she’d heard Eleanor’s last bit.
“What else is there then?” he asked mutedly, after the old woman passed them as they continued across the walkway.
“The emotional aspects, obviously. The issue of if she’d gotten fed-up with you because you became complacent.”
“Still not getting it.”
“The problem is you can’t see the problem. Complacency made you intolerable. Simple as that.”
Marlow had a thinking look on his face as he walked. It was the face of intellectual constipation. He said nothing in response to Eleanor’s take.
“Did you notice anything off with Gretta before she left?” Eleanor asked.
“Only that she was a little agitated. But I figured it was because of the heat. She always said she wanted to move up north.”
“There’s something you weren’t seeing then. Think harder.”
Marlow looked stumped for a long while before inspiration struck him and he said, “Maybe it was something she found out.”
“What? Found out that you were going to propose?”
The silence indicated the affirmative.
They stopped again. Across the street a couple walked arm-in-arm together. They seemed happy, mockingly happy.
“She wasn’t ready,” Marlow wheezed.
“Neither were you, actually. You don’t have to feel bad over this.”
“How should I feel?”
“Like you learned something valuable. Life isn’t going to baby you until you’re back in diapers at the ripe old age of eighty. It’s gonna bury you in shit but it’s up to you to crawl out of it.”
Marlow looked like he wanted to kiss her that moment.
“Don’t even think about it,” spat Eleanor.
* * *
J. L Barnes is a writer based in New York recently published in Every Day Fiction.