MARIE MARANDOLA

★ ★ ★ ★

FICTION

Love, or a Style of It: A Timeline

April, Year Twelve

I am pacing the hardwood floors of your Beverly-Hills-adjacent apartment. You are at work, and your wife is visiting her mother, and I am here alone. Naked. Eating Reese’s Pieces by the handful. I am about to turn 30, about to become single for the first time in nearly a decade. My life plans are falling apart so forcibly, they’ve made the ground outside unstable, littered it with the shrapnel of “what now?” and “how could I?” But here, surrounded by familiar stuffed sharks and signed baseballs, I am as secure as my hair wrapped in your dark red guest towel. In here, there is only the cool soft of the wood beneath my feet and the gentle, rhythmic crunch of candy shells.

July, Year One

You slide into my diner booth, press your thigh against mine. “Amy warned me against you,” you say, grinning. There’s a tiny chip in your front tooth. Your eyes travel the length of my body, with a layover at my chest. I decide I don’t mind. “She told me you’re barely 19, practically a virgin, to leave you alone. But, you know, if you ever need a tutor…” I blush and look away.

January, Year Four

In the floor-to-ceiling mirror in your bedroom, where the girl of me has admired herself naked so many times, a strange woman holds my gaze. Long black skirt, black camisole, dark blue-grey sweater with tasteful pearl buttons. Behind me, at least your striped sheets are recognizable, the unmade bed you let me sleep in even though you still refuse to come to Liz’s funeral with me. I apply mascara, wonder what the point is; the strange woman’s eyes already heavy with dew.

May, Year Two

We sit side-by-side on your bed. Me in pink cotton pajamas, you in boxers and a t-shirt. I am looking at you; your eyes fix on the floor. The ghost of Liz has left a charge in the air—her screaming, her cursing, her stomping down the stairs, all palpable echoes—but you and I are a tableau. You were sleeping with both of us: the realization dropped into my stomach, I can still feel its ripples. Finally, you speak. “You’re still here.” A murmur toward the carpet, disbelief. I consider complicated things: anger, revenge, train schedules. Then put my hand on yours. “Where else would I go?”

October, Year Ten

At your wedding reception, you show me your antique pocket watch and kiss me on the lips. “It’s the end of an era,” I say, smiling. It means, Congratulations. It means, Are you sure? God, are you really sure? My eyes fill up again and you laugh and wrap an arm around the raw silk of my dress. Without heels, without tiptoes, my face fits perfectly against your neck. Salt-staining your silver vest. I can’t stop crying, but we can’t stop laughing either. “God, was it this bad for you when I got married?” I ask. Your breath comes hot through my hair. “Worse.”

July, Year Seven

Today, I am a silent film actress, a starlet in the role I created for myself. Smiling girlish. Blowing kisses. Guarding orange and white sweet peas in my curled-teased-sprayed-teased hair. Sitting at a sweetheart table with a tall and gently freckled British husband, shoes kicked off under the cloth—no one has to know. After my father has given his speech, we open the floor for speeches, this one detail left to chance, to whim, to open-bar inspiration. And suddenly there you are, mic in hand across the ballroom. “I always believed that there was no man in America good enough for my girl,” I hear you say. And then I hear nothing more. The bubbles in my champagne flute.

December, Year Twelve

I am kneeling in front of the couch in an upstairs living room, the boat-neck of my sweater dipping, baring my left shoulder. Demonstrating for you the tricks you once taught me, but that’s not why we’re here. It’s a business deal, an exchange of services, of needs not elsewhere met. Your curled fingers keep my hair behind my neck, gently tug. Tonight, in the guest room of this house you’re sitting, you’ll give me someone to lie next to. A mass of human cells vibrating, heat, a quiet snoring to break the silence. In the morning, we’ll make breakfast, go out for coffee, watch football and YouTube videos.

September, Year Two

The alliterative letters of your name have appeared in my email inbox for the first time in months. My heart beats in my stomach. I slowly get up, close the office door, open the message. “You’re my best friend,” it says. “I miss you. Come back when you’re ready.” Steady-handed stitches in too-young-torn flesh.

August, Year Three

You’re standing on the purplish bricks of my parents’ front porch. In my black dress that borders on a slip, I open the door before you can ring. You pick me up and spin me. “You’re glowing,” you say, and because you’ve said it, I glow. You glow too: I’ve finally found someone new to pink up for; you are not the hapless hero in my story anymore. We trade details, raise eyebrows, call each other Sebastian and Kathryn. Later, we’ll fuck in the backseat of my mom’s minivan outside the show, because we can.

September, Year Thirteen

I get off the train at Union Station and dial your number—it’s easier to dance my fingers across long-memorized digits than to scroll through my contact list for your name. You say you’re waiting on the street, ask what I’m wearing so you can spot me in the crowd. Brown t-shirt, jeans, flip-flops, yellow backpack. Describing myself like we’re on a blind date. It works: you see me first, wave me over. I swing my bag and my legs into your idling car. “So what happened this time?” you ask, but give no space for an answer before making your assessment: “This one didn’t deserve you either, you know.” I roll my eyes. Take my first calm breath in days. “Let’s go get Thai food,” I say, and you start to drive.

Marie Marandola is a badass feminist poet who received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She now lives in San Diego, where she remains in the habit of picking up fallen bits of trees and giving them to people.