Outside
A Short Story by Nicole Krueger
Written using the suggestion "Chocolate"
Originally featured on 05-03-2010
As part of our series "All From These Magic Beans"

She’s got my brocade slippers on and my feet are cold. Standing in the snow outside my Belmont apartment, nose pressed to the windowpane, I watch her shuffle around the kitchen in my brocade slippers while fiance finishes the paper and a cigarette. She cooks breakfast wearing my Chinese silk pajamas, the ones he bought for my birthday, and they look better on her. I hate her for that more than for wearing my Chinese silk pajamas in the first place.

Their forks scrape my mismatched pottery plates, dig into my customary zucchini and fried potatoes. They sip hot chocolate, share the crossword—the New York Times, the one I can do in under 15 minutes—but she doesn’t seem to be getting any words. It takes too long, and then they argue over who will do the dishes. She raises her voice a little. He loses the argument for once, and the set of his jaw makes it clear he’s not used to that, but it isn’t enough to make him give me my life back.

 

It’s flattering, you know, when someone just a little bit prettier and a little bit more outgoing takes an interest in everything you do. It means you’re the kind of person other people want to be, and somehow that makes you feel more real, as if other people’s approval is the flour that gives you substance before you can be popped into the oven. So when she signs up for your bellydancing class and takes up hemp knotting you don’t really mind, not even when she does it all just a little bit better than you. And you don’t think twice about introducing her to your friends, people you’ve known for years, because you have history together and she can’t even begin to mean as much to them as you do.

It doesn’t really hit you until your best friend is racking up the pool balls and before you can set down your vodka soda this new girl has grabbed a cue stick and stolen your break and the two of them proceed to laugh and pocket the balls without ever noticing you’re still standing off to the side with your mouth agape. And suddenly your cat, the cat that bites old ladies and small children and everyone in between, is purring on her lap while your boyfriend shows her the latest viral video he’s discovered on YouTube and you’re wondering at what point it all slipped through your fingers.

 

“Don’t make a scene,” he’d said, guiding me out the door while she lounged on the couch, arm stretched over head, canary-eating smile.

This was after I stopped inviting her to things. After she kept showing up anyway. After I tried to explain my position to my best friend, who only shook his head. “That’s just your insecurity talking. You need to trust your friends.” After my fiance cut me off with a curt, “Don’t be paranoid.”

After I turned on her, hissing, “Stay away from my friends.”

“They’re my friends too,” she said, wounded. And, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

My toes are turning blue in the snow, and I’m tempted to bang on the door and demand my brocade slippers back, but I can’t face losing such a small battle over such a small thing. And I’m not even sure I want them back anymore now that she’s made them hers. As if by not valuing them, I can make them worth less to her. It’s all that’s in my power to take away.

She catches my eye through the window, walks right up to it, both of us so close our mouths puff out steamy clouds on the glass. Her hand pulls a cord, and thick drapes fall between us.

I have nothing left but to shuffle away, down the driveway, across the street, to buy myself a pair of ugly dime store slippers no one else will want.

Read More By Nicole Krueger

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