Breaking (March 2022, Week 1 Day 1)
“Mhm. Why do you ask?”
“The table is clean.”
She’d left after that. Without a word. She left and didn’t look back.
He didn’t let himself break. He kept all his appointments and completed his tasks. He was just as charming at the monthly meetings for book club as always. He kept himself together by sticking to his routines and not poking at the gaping hole her departure had created. He even, every so often, sat at the empty table. Only ever for breakfast or lunch – never dinner. He knew enough not to go too far.
It was on a trip to the grocery store that he broke for the first time. The grocery store, of all places. In the aisle with cheap wines on one side and freezer cases on the other. Maybe it was the sheer audacity of the incongruity of the aisle that did it – that’s what he would blame it on later, anyway. Standing there, looking at the wine bottles working to intuit which one would be decent enough to bring to book club and not leave him with a reminiscent headache afterwards, he felt a tear sliding down his cheek. Just one tear, on one cheek. It took him a moment to identify it. He had only just pulled the desperate puzzle pieces together enough to realize he was, indeed, crying, when a raspy voice came from behind him.
Instead of doing something reasonable like waving away the question or even answering with a brief, “yep” with or without “!”, he broke. He watched it happen as if he were a spectator, as if he’d been the one to ask instead of the one to be decidedly not ok. He saw his knees buckle, saw his grip on the basket in his left hand loosen, saw himself fall to the ground and crumple into a heap.
“Shit!” The gravelly voice said, closer now.
He saw himself as clear as day but the person with the voice stayed out of his vision somehow, even though he saw/felt their hand on his shoulder and saw/felt them crouch down next to him. His spectator-vision didn’t extend beyond his person. The voice-holder stayed by him as other unseen beings added their voices of concern to the scene. He stayed on the ground, forehead pressed against the cool floor. He found himself thinking that, perhaps, the floor was cooler in this spot because of the presence of the freezers on the other side of the aisle and wondering if the temperature difference was enough to impact the wines on the shelves. Thinking about wines and freezers and floors was much safer than thinking about the fact that he was crumpled on the floor of the grocery store, sobbing silently.
“Give him space,” the gravelly voice was saying now, and he saw/felt the other people backing up. He wondered if it was the gravel in the voice that caused the others to listen and obey, of if there was something more to the person talking that commanded attention.
This is part of the 2022 500-Word Short Story project. Comment with “Tell me more” if you’d like to vote for this to move to the next round.