To get over the man I loved, I bought a pack of scented sparkly gel pens. It had been two weeks since we agreed we should take a break. We both knew that break meant forever, though neither of us had wanted to say it. It’s over is harder than one day we might be okay.
I hadn’t seen scented gel pens since I was a pre-teen, since I wrote poems in Lisa Frank journals and sent letters to my best friend over summer break—when she lived at her father’s three states over and we only talked on the phone once a week (as my mother set a timer because think of the long distance bills, Chrissy). I haven’t talked to that friend in a decade, different colleges then different friends then I couldn’t remember what her favorite color had been. I hadn’t been Chrissy either since I was 15 and it was Christina only, even to people I loved because nicknames felt like something for people who got left behind in memories.
He had always referred to me as just the first initial when we messaged. It was I miss you C and I love you C and I’d wondered why he needed to put the C in, as if “you” wasn’t enough for me to understand that he meant me. I almost asked him once, he’d brought me pancakes in bed and syrup dripped down the side of the plate and made my hands sticky with it, but my mouth was full of pancake and he was reading next to me and the sun was shining just right through the window so a patch of light fell across our legs. So instead I’d said, “look, the light’s connecting us.”
The lightest of the gel colors was the silver, it barely shows up on white paper unless if held at just the right angle. It smelled like watermelon, or the fake scented version of it. To me watermelon rind always smelled like summer, freshly mowed grass deep. The pens smell sweet, light as cheap candy where the flavor only lasts for five minutes. When I bought the pens, the clerk said “these are so fun!” and I’d nodded. “I got some for my daughter,” she said. I think she was waiting for me to say I’d gotten them for a daughter, too, for some tiny version of myself who could use them to write silly love letters to a crush. But I just paid and took the pack to my car.
When my best friend and I had had sleepovers, we’d stare at the glow in the dark constellations on her ceiling and we’d tell secrets to each other. We passed them back and forth like trading cards we wanted to collect the whole set of. She said she wanted to be a famous dancer when she grew up, though her mom always said her legs were too short (“squat” her mom called her and only years later did I register the cruelty in that, the damage it might have done). I told her that I never wanted to fall in love. It was the deepest secret I had to give, that love scared me when everyone else our age seemed to find such hope in it. “Why,” she asked. I tried to put it in the right words, how much I hated the idea of relying on someone else being there so fully, how I watched my father’s worry when my mom went off driving late at night when she was mad. I’d hear him up, pacing, all night, each footstep so gentle against the floorboards, as if he was stepping away from the bed of a sleeping child he’d just checked in on, quiet quiet. But instead, I’d shrugged said, “I just don’t think I’d like it.”
When things were coming to an end, our bodies already states apart and though we’d planned for that, for the distance, our hearts were starting to separate out as well, he’d asked me to text when I went out at night—to let him know when I got home safely. So I’d text jokes, text bad puns, photographs with captions that made me laugh. He had to go on a trip for business and I told him to text me when he got to his hotel. He texted a picture of the hotel room, the neatly made bed. Wish you were here C, read the message. I stared at the empty room on my phone, wondering why he hadn’t taken the photo with himself in it. I wondered if there was a joke I didn’t see.
In the car, I opened the pens and got out a piece of paper. I started to list off all the things I wanted to do in the next year, all the plans I wanted to make for myself. In glittering colors, they looked so inviting. I thought I’d call all my childhood friends and see how they were, see how their lives spooled out without me. I’d take photographs of places I’d never been before. I’d travel somewhere I’d always wanted to go. I smelled the paper, expecting those hints of sweet to be singular. But with all the different colors, they all just smelled like things not themselves—no lemon, blueberry, strawberry. Just scent itself. I read the list, so many things I probably wouldn’t do. I wrote Miss him, happy to have something on the list that I might be able to cross off.
Chloe N. Clark’s poems and fiction appear in Apex, Little Fiction, Smokelong Quarterly, Uncanny, and more. She is co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph, writes for Nerds of a Feather, and teaches at Iowa State University. Her debut chapbook, The Science of Unvanishing Objects, is out and she can be found on Twitter: @PintsNCupcakes.