by Whitney Collins
They ended their marriage to save their marriage.
“If we stay in this any longer,” she said, “it’s going to fail.”
He saw it differently, which was no surprise.
“The only way to stop failing,” he said, “is to get out.”
They decided to break up over dinner at a restaurant they’d frequented when they were dating. They’d forgotten about the restaurant until they reached the impasse, then it just fondly reappeared as an option, like a recipe fallen from a soft cookbook.
“How about Gerald’s?” she said. “For steaks?”
“Gerald’s,” he repeated thoughtfully, with a glint in his eyes that signified either sadness or glee, “for seafood.”
So, Gerald’s it was. In the parking lot, they held hands as they walked from the car to the restaurant door, which he held open for her and to which she smiled, because there were no hard feelings, only differences. It was cold outside and her hand was soft and icy and his was damp and warm and the November sky was the color of gravestones. The restaurant put off the smell of woodsmoke, which made her think of Christmas and reminded him of hunting ducks. Once inside, they sat in a far corner of the restaurant in a black leather booth as shiny as motor oil.
“We could split something,” she suggested, eyeing the menu, though as soon as the words were out of her mouth, she knew it was a silly thing to say. He wouldn’t want half of a petite filet and there was no easy way to share a bowl of bouillabaisse.
“Or we could just split,” he said with a little laugh. The play on words was both tender and pitiful, like a child’s cough. They both fell silent in a way that was best overcome with a toast. “To Gerald’s,” he said, raising his martini.
“Then and now,” she said with champagne.
All who knew them were bewildered by their decision.
“It was going to fail anyway,” she explained.
“Then wait till it fails,” her friends said.
“It didn’t seem broken,” his friends said.
“Get the plane on the ground while you still have an engine,” he replied.
They went to a therapist so they could say they’d tried everything. The therapist held up a series of inkblot cards.
“An Easter lily,” she said.
“An appendicitis,” he said.
“Joan of Arc,” she said.
“A rack of lamb,” he said.
“Two moths kissing,” she said.
“An airbag, deployed,” he said.
The therapist confirmed what they already knew. That they were opposites. They went home to divide their things, but instead of dividing them, they sat on the back porch in their coats and didn’t speak. He claimed the view of the thin crescent moon as his, while she went on thinking the thoughts she had never shared. After some time, a speck of something fell into her right eye, and she blinked and blinked, then stood and said, “Something has fallen into my right eye.”
He looked at her for a moment as if he still loved her and said, “Let me help you with that.”
Inside, she tilted her head back and held her eye open with her thumb and forefinger, while he stared deep into an eye he had once stared deeply into. “I don’t see anything,” he said.
“But I can feel something,” she said.
She rinsed her face and her eyes at the kitchen sink, and when she was done, she looked like a child who had finished crying about something adults didn’t think was worth crying over. She went into their bedroom and got under the covers on her side of the bed, and he followed her and got on top of the covers on his side of the bed. They lay on their backs and stared at the ceiling and held hands right down the center. Before long, they slept.
That night, they both dreamed the same dream. That her right eye watered and watered until it made a swift, black river that carried both of them away. For a while, the current kept them in sight of one another, but eventually, they lost track of each other and all either of them could see was the river pouring out in front of them like ink and something bright and pink bobbing, in the distance, on the horizon. Neither could say for sure if it was the head of the other or the sun coming up or the sun going down, but one thing was certain: they were finally getting somewhere.
Whitney Collins is the author of Big Bad (Sarabande Books), winner of the 2019 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. Whitney placed first in Grist’s ProForma contest and won a 2020 Pushcart Prize and the 2020 American Short(er) Fiction Prize. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in AGNI, American Short Fiction, Gulf Coast, Slice, The Greensboro Review, The Pinch, Ninth Letter, and Catapult’s Tiny Nightmares anthology, among others.