Exit Strategy (After the Crème Brûlée)
“I’m going to do it.”
“We’re having dessert at Pix.”
“Will she have the German chocolate cake a la heartbreak? Ha.”
I’m on the phone with my cousin Calvin. It’s lunch time at Wilsonville High School, where I’m subbing for economics and business. We’re talking about my soon to be ex-girlfriend Siobhan. Calvin never liked Siobhan. He thought she was “difficult” and, when he had too much gin and juice, “a controlling bitch who wants to ruin your life.” I though that was a little much. He was right about the difficult thing though.
“Maybe I can come and watch. You know, bring a bowler and a newspaper and sit in the corner. Or I can be your cornerman if you need stitching up or your eyelid cut.”
“Thanks, that’s sweet.” A student wearing a Nirvana shirt wanders in and asks if Mr. Lear’s here. I shake my head. “Listen, I’m gonna run. This four pepper bagel’s not going to finish itself. I can only taste three peppers so I might take it back.”
“Make sure you tell her that while you can’t be friends with her, you’re happy to sleep with her anytime she’s drunk and desperate. That’s letting her down gently.”
“I’m gonna try to avoid the sadistic asshole approach.”
“Don’t knock it till you try it. OK son, be strong. Let me know how it goes.”
I hang up and eat my bagel. Seriously, I can’t taste that third pepper.
Siobhan (it’s Irish and means something like “God is gracious”) and I met about a year ago at a friend’s party. My friend Juliette, an aspiring actress and unpublished playwright (she’s working on a solo show called “Gynocracy”), likes to throw theme parties and this was a pirate party. I had an eye patch, which totally fucked up my depth perception, something exacerbated by the copious amounts of rum and tequila I heroically soaked up. I had my eye (literally) on Siobhan for a while. She looked quite the fetching lady buccaneer in a short black skirt, striped shirt, and boots; a fake parrot affixed to her shoulder.
But it wasn’t until later, when I was three sheets (and several boats) to the wind, that we found ourselves out on the porch smoking. I think I asked her if she liked “booty.” I’d been asking a lot of people that. I think I also asked Juliette’s roommate if she wanted to be boarded. I gave her a light for her Dunhill and we started talking. Well, I kind of swayed back and forth, spewing a stream of consciousness monologue that was truly Joycean in its force and incoherence. She politely listened. Somehow I lost her in the haze of the evening, threw up in a fichus plant, and fell asleep in a beach chair that, for some reason, was in Juliette’s living room. The next morning, after many apologies and an offer to buy a new fichus, I asked Juliette about Siobhan.
“Oh, she’s got a boyfriend. He was pissed at you because he thought you were hitting on her.”
I shrugged. Hitting on guy’s girlfriends, usually unintentionally and without malicious intent, was sort of a specialty.
“She’s too intense for you anyway.”
“Oh,” I said, taking a bit bite of my Denver omelet. “This is delicious, by the way. Yarr.”
I didn’t run into Siobhan for another couple months. It was at a show with a bunch of local conceptual artists, a terribly unfunny comedian, and a jazz flautist. I decided, for a change, to drink responsibly and try to carry on a conversation that didn’t involve Pirate jokes or lengthy discussions of scurvy.
“Hey,” I said. “I’m Dylan.”
She smiled and took a sip of her drink. “Yeah, I remember you. You were really drunk at the pirate party and you kept telling me terrible jokes, almost all of which had some variation of “Arrrr” as the punchline.”
“Hey, that was me! Buy you a drink?”
I did and we had a pleasant conversation in which we both discovered that we had heart murmurs and a pathological hatred of Rene Zellweger.
“Why can’t she stop squinting? She’ll never see her non-existent talent!”
“I know, totally! Just open your eyes girls! There are lots of sucky movies for you to be in!”
We continued our discussion of things we hated (bands with numbers in their name, Michael Moore, cole slaw as a side) over late night breakfast. I got her number and, well, one thing led to another. In short order, we were dating exclusively. I didn’t even ask what happened to her boyfriend.
I’m not going to bore you with the minutiae of our relationship or go into some High Fidelity-like dissection of everything and nothing (her favorite record, by the way, is Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair). It was the same as pretty much every other relationship. The first couple months were great and fun and easy, as they often are. It was like a crisp, snow covered Christmas morning in New England, but with sex. Then our fundamental differences emerged and we started to fight and quarrel and argue and get on each other’s nerves and…again, there’s nothing new here.
But it’s hard to break up with someone, even when it needs to happen. It’s always kinda shitty. I’m usually the dumpee and this was going to be the first time I’d been the dumper since Casey Chapman in November ‘02, which sucked because she cried and I felt like a total asshole. I pulled out the well worn break up playbook and said things like “It’s not you” and “I need some time alone.”
Hell, Siobhan and I actually broke up before, but it only lasted 12 hours. It was because I went to see a movie with my cousin that she wanted to see and then I lied to her and said we went out bowling, but then I slipped and said how funny that movie that I supposedly hadn’t seen was. She got mad and I called her “irrational” and told her to take off her “whiny pants.” She called me some names too.
So here I am now, waiting for her to come from work. I ordered a double espresso. Then when the short haired waitress with the dove tattoo on her wrist came back with my espresso, I ordered a Belgian ale.
I check my watch. It’s 6:28. I check my phone. No messages. I haven’t really rehearsed this. Nor have I ever done a public break up. I thought about texting, but that’s pretty sketchy. I was dumped via e-mail once. The waitress brings my ale in its special goblet-like glass. You know what else is great about Belgians? Waffles.
I take a big drink. Siobhan walks in. Holy shit. It’s go time. I wave and she comes over. She’s wearing a grey pencil skirt and a black polo shirt. This would be so much easier if she weren’t so good looking.
She kisses me on the cheek and sits. She pulls her hair back into a pony tail. I take another drink. I think I’m starting to sweat. Jesus Christ, I’m starting to freak out. Speaking of Jesus, what would Jesus do? I have this momentary vision of Jesus walking across the water telling me “Dump her ass you idiot.”
I ask how her day is just to get the answer that will remind me of why I’m breaking up with her.
She rolls her eyes. “Oh my God. You remember Bill, right? From that party we went to at that warehouse? He totally doesn’t understand this project and I’m stuck with him and I know it’s gonna suck unless I do all of it. He wants to add impressionistic landscapes and naked nymphs, like he always does.”
Siobhan works at an up and coming graphic arts firm. They do a lot of artwork for local bands. According to her, she’s the only one who knows what she’s doing.
“I’m the only one who knows what I’m doing. I should be running that place, not Ms. Ugg boots and coke whore sunglasses and Pearl district bitch ass…She’s not even from here. She’s from, I don’t know, Buttfuck Junction where they just got Sex and the City reruns.” She laughs harshly and orders a glass of Pinot Noir and the Crème Brûlée.
“That’s nice. My day was fine. I taught economics. I told the kids not to be whores to the dollar and to stick it to the man. I think they really took it to heart. Sometimes I remind myself of a young Howard Zinn. But way hotter.”
Siobhan scowls at me. “You bug me when you try to be funny. I wasn’t finished with my day.”
“Weren’t you?” I say nonchalantly. The alcohol is almost—but not quite—blunting the coffee coursing through my system. Damn I wish I could smoke in here. Meth preferably. The whatever the coolest new freak folk album that is playing is not helping.
“You’re acting weird.” This would be a good opening. Right here. Right now. I’m going to tell her. Right. Now.
“This beer is really good. You know it’s brewed by Trappist monks. Monks are alright. In fact, I think they’ll be the next pirates. There were those chanting monks back in the 90s, but they were kind of boring. The new monks will be totally up in your grill. They need a catchphrase though. Maybe “Get Your Cowl On.” It’s Monk-tastic! Monk-tasy!”
Thankfully, before I can expound on my plan to make monks hip, the waitress brings Siobhan her order. She lights the Crème Brûlée.
“They should call it crème flambé,” I say, looking at both the waitress and Siobhan. They both stare back blankly.
“Give it a few minutes to cool,” the waitress says.
“Yeah, I know. Thanks.” After the waitress is gone, she says, “Like I haven’t had crème brûlée before.” She takes a big gulp of wine.
“I thought it was considerate.”
“Well, maybe you should go out with her. I saw you eyeing her tattoo.”
“Maybe I will!”
“Well, I’m going to go out with that guy from the band you hate. He likes me.”
I sigh and have a drink. Siobhan starts cracking the top of her dessert.
“Well, that was easy,” I say.
Siobhan stops, spoon raised. “What was?”
“Breaking up. I thought it’d be harder. I thought there’d be more pleading and weeping. That’s what I usually do.”
Siobhan puts her spoon down. “Dylan, what the hell are you talking about?”
“Breaking up, you and me. Splitsville.” I raise my glass. “Cheers!”
“Um, that was just a joke. We were joking. Like we often do.”
“Hon, um, what’d you say if it wasn’t a joke. I mean, the whole taking some time off and going your own way and the whatnot.” There’s a long, agonizing pause.
“This isn’t funny Dylan, even for you.”
“Oh, snap,” I say.
She goes back to her crème brulle “I mean, if you do want to break up, just say so. I haven’t been happy anyway. Fine. I’m just sorry we couldn’t have been more open with each other.”
“And I’m sorry we didn’t try that thing that we saw in that one movie.”
“You’re an asshole.”
“Good. That’s settled.” I drain my beer. “Mmm. You can really taste the tonsure.”
Siobhan shoots me a positively Medusian death look.
“I’ll get the check.”
Well, that could’ve gone worse.
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Portland Fiction Project
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