Friday, June 13, 2014

Always, Veronica by Regina Solomond

Roger reminisces on the highs and lows of his relationship with Veronica, as he prepares to break up with her; by Regina Solomond.

He knew he had to do it today. The sooner he did it the better, seeing as how next week was Valentine's Day and all. Still, Roger was never good at confrontations.

When Roger was eight years old and accidentally broke his mother's porcelain Virgin Mary that she got from her honeymoon in Italy during a solitary game of blind man's bluff, he apologized in a letter he left among the broken shards. He proceeded to lock himself in his room before his mother returned home from the supermarket and saw the damage. If only he could break up with Veronica through a letter, things would be so much easier. Whenever Veronica felt upset, her bottom lip trembled and her eyes mimicked those of a vulnerable deer looking straight into a hunter's gun. Roger couldn't handle that. But Veronica deserved a face-to-face explanation.

"Ideally," Roger thought, "Veronica has the same feelings, or lack thereof, as me and wants to break things off as well." He absentmindedly ran his fingers across the pink letter in the pocket of his coat, where he had found it last week. It was covered with silly sentiments that would seem dear to a lover but childish to anyone else, and he had to admit that it seemed unlikely his dissatisfaction with their relationship was mutual.

If only he had a good reason for breaking up with Veronica, that would make things easier. If only she had cheated on him with his best friend. If only he had fallen in love with the coffee barista. If only he had discovered that they were actually cousins. Unfortunately, Veronica was faithful and Roger hadn't fallen for anyone new and as far as he knew their bloodlines were completely separate. Even now, at the point before their break up, Roger could not deny that Veronica Dixon was a nice, cute girl. Anyone would be lucky to call her their girlfriend.



"That barista is pretty cute," Roger's friend Isaac said as he nudged Roger's elbow while jerking his own head at the direction of the girl working behind the bar. Roger had been thinking the same thing, though he would never have said it aloud. He was a quiet guy. Besides, why would such a pretty girl be interested in a gawky salesman such as himself? Nevertheless, he took another glance at the spunky brunette behind the counter and almost toppled out of his seat when he saw she was looking back. He hurriedly turned his gaze down to the tabletop as his cheeks burned red.

"You should ask for her number," Isaac laughed as he sipped his beer. Isaac with his stable three-year-long relationship was always trying to set up the seemingly perpetual bachelor Roger with some young woman or another. But nothing ever clicked. Isaac's fiancée's best friend, Cynthia, was too chatty for the quiet Roger. Roger had hardly been able to finish a complete sentence on their first date, though by the end of the date he knew all about Cynthia's childhood battle with asthma, her best friend Lizzy in high school who was in theater and had the lead role in the high school's production of The Crucible though the role really should have been Cynthia's, and the main synopsis of all of her favorite television shows. Then there was Isabella, one of Isaac's coworkers at the publishing office. She sounded wonderful from the way Isaac had described her, a petite blonde with a love for hiking and a passion for her two golden Labs. Yet on their walk through the State Park, all she could talk about was her last boyfriend and "real first love," Henry. At the end of the day Roger knew more about Henry then he knew about Isabella, or even Isaac, for that matter. Helen was probably the worst date, however. Some distant relative of Isaac's or something, Isaac had set her and Roger up for a coffee date. She was pretty, with her auburn waves, bright green eyes, and cute freckles, but the way she held Roger's hand throughout the entire first date and fondly referred to him as "boyfriend" while snuggling her head against his shoulder was rather off-putting. Roger was afraid to answer his phone (which rang incessantly) all the following month. To this day fear stabbed him like a dagger in the stomach when he heard the dreaded ring of his phone, playing the refrain of a 60s pop song. Roger could't even listen to "Build Me Up Buttercup" anymore without getting sweaty palms.

"I couldn't," Roger muttered to Isaac, turning his back to the counter. "She's way out of my league."

"You're being too hard on yourself," Isaac laughed, clasping his friend's shoulder. "You're a very good-looking guy. You have nice eyebrows."

Several beers later, Roger still didn't feel confident enough to ask for her number, even with his nice eyebrows. As luck would have it, however, he didn't have to.

"Hey." Roger was startled to see the barista standing at his elbow, her hands on her hips. "Hey," she repeated, smiling and revealing a slight overbite that only gave her an even more endearing appearance. "Can I have your number?"

"You want my number?" Roger asked, surprised.

"You want his number?" Isaac asked, surprised.

The barista nodded, her head cocked to the side, studying Roger. "Yeah, he's cute."

"I keep telling him that!" Isaac exclaimed. "But he doesn't believe me! Doesn't he have nice eyebrows?"

The barista nodded. "His ears are pretty cute too."

Roger felt his ears, which he always considered slightly larger than usual, turn red.

"I wish I had a head of hair like his," Isaac added.

Ever since he was a young boy, Roger had been proud of his thick brown hair. He spent an hour styling it every morning before high school.

"He looks kind of like a nerd with his glasses," she said. "But a cute nerd."

Roger blinked behind his thick lenses. He was nearsighted.

"And such a strong Italian nose," Isaac said, his voice slightly muffled by his beer mug.

Roger inherited his nose from his Jewish heritage (he wasn't the slightest bit Italian, actually) but he didn't say anything.

"And I like how clean-shaven he is," said the barista, leaning her elbows down on the table.

"Sometimes he tries to grow a moustache," said Isaac. "It's funny. And kind of sad."

"So how about that number?" the girl asked, nudging Roger's elbow. She was leaning so close to Roger's face that he could see the specks of gold in her hazel eyes. "And I didn't catch your name?"

"My name's Roger," said Roger, and he stuttered out his number. While she was punching his number into her phone, he couldn't take his eyes off her nails, which were painted black, though the polish was peeling off in large chunks.

"So, I have to get back to work or my boss will literally murder me..." she groaned.

"That seems harsh," Roger said.

"And he will do it in the most gruesome way possible," she affirmed. "But maybe I'll see you later!" She whisked around and started to walk back to the counter.

"Wait!" Roger called. She paused and turned around. "What's your name?"

"Veronica."



For all of her faults, no one could say that Veronica didn't go after what she wanted, Roger reminisced with a smile. Though he did admire this trait in her, it could also greatly annoy him at times. Like how every time the went to the cinema, they had to watch the newest fast-paced action film with hardly any dialogue that Veronica adored, instead of the simpler indie films that Roger preferred. And even though Roger was not a huge fan of Chinese cuisine, they always ended up eating at The Hungry Panda on their dates.



"So what'd you think of the film?" Veronica asked, sidling up closer to him beneath the umbrella. The umbrella was yellow, featuring a large duck face; it was Veronica's but she insisted that Roger hold it since he was, after all, taller than her by exactly seven and a quarter inches and thus it only made sense that he be the one to hold the umbrella.

"There were a lot of explosions," Roger said. He had trouble focusing on the movie, due to all the seemingly random explosions, as a matter of fact.

"Yeah," she laughed. "My favorite was the explosion at the gas station. BOOM!" Several people turned their heads at the sound of Veronica mimicking the explosion. Roger tried to apologize by looking embarrassed by the loud-mouthed girl hanging onto his arm.

"Was that the explosion that the guy with the scar caused?" Roger asked, trying to feign interest.

"You mean Cal? No, Sylvia was the one who blew up the gas station in an attempt to distract the undercover Wolves that were following her... Cal was still in jail at that point," Veronica explained.

"Oh, right," Roger said as he nodded his head though he really had no idea what she was talking about.

"Where should we eat?" she asked, looking up at the restaurants they passed on the small downtown street.

"I've been wanting to try Sam's Sandwich Shop," suggested Roger, halfheartedly. He didn't even know why Veronica bothered asking, they would end up at The Hungry Panda as usual.

"How about The Hungry Panda?" said Veronica as if she hadn't heard him. Roger wondered with annoyance if Veronica heard even half the things he said.

"I really don't like Chinese food," Roger protested.

"Nonsense, you love it," Veronica insisted. "We always eat there."

"That doesn't mean I like it." He could hear the twang of irritation in his voice.

"Oh look, we're here!" Veronica exclaimed, and she pulled him through the doors, barely giving him time to shut the umbrella.



Veronica could be a bit controlling, Roger had to admit. And for there to be a happy, stable relationship, he thought, talking himself up for the inevitable break up, a couple has to agree on which film to see or what restaurant to eat at at least once, dammit.

Not all their dates were bad though. That time they went to the zoo, for example, that was pretty fun.



It was the sunny kind of day that makes one nostalgic for one's childhood. Back in his youth, Roger would come to the zoo with his family. His dad would buy them lemonade and Roger and his brothers would race from one exhibit to the next. He missed those days. Though being at the zoo with a cute dark-haired girl wearing a panda backpack wasn't too bad either.

"Do I look like a penguin?" Veronica asked as she waddled up to him, her arms stuck out at her sides like flippers.

"Cutest penguin I've ever seen," Roger answered.

"You're darn right I am," said Veronica, stretching up to give him a quick peck on the lips. She suddenly placed her hands on his shoulders and leaned against him to whisper seductively in his ear, "Did you know that penguins can jump six feet up into the air?" This continued for the rest of their trip through the zoo.

"Sometimes a sloth will reach for its arm, thinking it's a tree branch, and fall to its death."

"Armadillos sleep for about eighty percent of their life."

"A hippo's toenail is ten inches thick."

"Shark embryos eat each other in the womb."

"Alpacas are the only animals capable of winking. During mating season all the alpacas are just winking at each other."

Roger thought she was making at least some of these "animal facts" up, but he couldn't be sure.

"Elephants!" Veronica exclaimed as she spotted the thick-skinned pachyderms in the distance. "They're my favorite!" She pulled on his hand and forced him to run through the crowd and up to the enclosure.

Her whisper tickled his ear, "Elephants eat for about sixteen hours a day." She jumped back from Roger. "Let's take a picture!" They posed for Roger's phone; Veronica smiled the widest smile she could manage and Roger pretended to look embarrassed while elephants snuffled along in the background. "I look so stupid," Veronica laughed when she saw the picture.

"I'm making it my phone background," said Roger.

"Nooo."

"Too late," Roger said, sticking his phone in his pocket. "It's already done."

"You're the worst," she said, her bottom lip jutting out in a mock-pout.

That afternoon they drove back to the city from the zoo, hot and sticky but happy. Roger rolled the windows down and the wind whipped their hair back while they sang horribly along to the radio.

"If you were an animal," said Veronica, studying him intently, "You would be a giraffe."

"Because of my long neck, spotted complexion, and four hooves?" Roger asked.

"And the two little horns on your head," added Veronica. "Only partly. Also because you're quiet but also funny and sweet and you just have this loveable air about you."

"But it's mostly because my neck is about the length of my body, right?"

"Right." Veronica stretched in her seat, throwing her sneakered feet up above the car radio. The feathery hair that had escaped from her ponytail fluttered around her face. "If I was an animal," she asked, her hazel eyes intently focused on Roger, "what would I be?"

"An elephant," Roger answered without hesitation.

"Don't you dare!" she laughed.

"Because they eat for sixteen hours a day."

"Ugh," she sighed, leaning back in her seat. "You're saying I'm large and wrinkly with a big nose."

Roger thought that Veronica was actually most like a bear. Ferocious and stubborn at times, but huggable all the same.



The picture of him and Veronica at the zoo was still the background for his phone, now that he thought about it. He paused his walk to look at it. It was one of his favorite pictures of them because they looked so happy just to be with each other. Roger sighed. He wished he still felt that way, he really did, but things change.

He thought back to the most recent picture of him and Veronica that showed up on Facebook. One of Veronica's friends took the picture. They were at a party in Veronica's cousin's apartment. He was sitting next to her on the couch, texting on his phone while Veronica was chatting animatedly to the person on her right. Roger felt like that picture summarized their relationship pretty well at that point. They would always be together, they were practically inseparable, yet there was still a distance between them. Roger couldn't remember the last real conversation they had. Their talks lately were lackluster to say the least.



The two had decided to stay in for dinner, and so they stood side-by-side in Roger's small kitchen, preparing a meal of salad and homemade pizza. Veronica was chopping up vegetables while Roger added toppings to the pizza.

"Did you hear about that guy in the news..." Veronica asked, half-turning to Roger while she sliced a carrot.

"Yes," answered Roger. "What a tragedy." They continued their tasks in silence for several minutes.

"This salad looks like it's going to be deeelicious," Veronica said in a sing-song voice.

"Yum," said Roger. Several more minutes of silence passed. "Can you pass some of those olives?"

"Don't use too many," Veronica sighed, passing him the bowl of sliced-up olives. "They're for the salad."

Roger yawned and wondered where the spark had gone.



Roger entered Veronica's apartment building, a red brick building with green carpeted floors and white ceiling tiles. The first time he entered the building, he thought it magical. The place where Veronica lived. Veronica touched this door handle, nodded at this receptionist, walked across this carpet. Now it reminded him a bit of the nursing home where he used to visit his great-grandmother when he was a child. He could almost smell the cinnamon and overpowering stench of perfume. He slid into the elevator and punched the button for the fifth floor. Then he stuck his hands deep in his pockets and prepared himself for his meeting with his girlfriend.

Roger couldn't pinpoint an exact moment where their relationship started falling apart. Things were going terrific, but then they just kind of plateaued and started going downhill... Roger forgot what made him tell Veronica "I love you" that first time, and Veronica went through weird phases of being either stand-offish or overly clingy.



"Hey, do you want to go see About the Sofa?" Roger asked Veronica over the phone as he sat at his kitchen table, sipping on his lukewarm coffee.

"Do I want to see what?" Veronica's voice sounded tired and slightly annoyed.

"About the Sofa," Roger repeated. "They're a local band playing in Green Man Bar tonight."

"Ugh, not tonight," she sighed.

"Oh, are you busy?" he asked. Hadn't she been relieved last night because she had the weekend off from work?

"Yeah, I have to..." her voice faded away as she muttered something unintelligible.

"What?" Roger asked, starting to feel a bit annoyed himself.

"My mother is visiting this weekend."

Roger sighed. "Your mother is dead."

"Yeah, thanks for reminding me, asshole." Veronica snapped before hanging up.

Roger nearly threw his phone across the kitchen in frustration, but his phone was new and expensive, so he settled for slamming his head (which was worth less than his phone) against the kitchen table repeatedly. He ended up going to the concert alone that night, and even though listening to the music was about as enjoyable as having his arm amputated without any anesthetics, Roger would have liked to have Veronica there getting her arm amputated along with him.



That happened a month ago, and since then, Veronica had been strangely affectionate. Like how she left him the sentimental letter in his coat pocket, for example. He pulled the letter out now, staring at it for a second before unfolding it and reading her large, bubbly writing.

Dearest Roger,

I'm writing this while you're taking a piss during the commercial break, so this is going to be short and sweet.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. Alright, I'm plagiarizing those lines but seriously, I need you like flowers need the sun. I need you like the tinman needs oil. I need you like elephants need to eat sixteen hours a day. I love you I love you I love you.

Okay I just heard the toilet flush so I'm going to hide this before you get back, and then you'll find it later and remember how cute I am and how much you love me.

Always,

Veronica

P.S. I hope you remembered to put the toilet seat down. Seriously, Roger. It's becoming a problem.


Roger folded the letter back up and returned it to his pocket. How could she be so distant one week and then so affectionate the next? He didn't think he would ever understand her.

He would never understand her love for intense action films and Chinese food.

He would never understand how she could possibly need two hours to get ready before doing anything in the morning.

He would never understand how she could have such a complete lack of care for hygiene that she would clip her toenails at the kitchen table.

He would never even understand why she asked for his number in the first place.

He would never understand a lot of things about Veronica. And as he reached out to knock on her red apartment door, he realized that he was okay with that.

He would never understand how Veronica could make any mundane event a spectacular adventure.

He would never understand how she could make his whole day brighter simply by talking to him.

He would never understand how he could be so happy to just eat cereal and watch childhood cartoons with her on the couch on Saturday mornings.

And he wanted to go on not understanding these things for the rest of his life.

Maybe they had been growing apart recently, but Roger loved Veronica. He loved her stubbornness and her smile and her brightness. He loved her chewed nails and strange humor and warm touch. And when someone loves someone like Roger loved Veronica, they don't break up because of a few dull weeks. They work things out.

His fist knocking against the door echoed his heart beating against his chest. When she answered the door he would hold her close and apologize for being so detached lately. He would explain that he was just scared. Scared because he didn't deserve someone like her. She would tell him to stop acting so sentimental and weird. Then they would go out for lunch at The Hungry Panda. They would be Veronica and Roger again.

He waited several seconds, then knocked again. He checked his watch. It was eleven o'clock in the morning, maybe she was still asleep? Or she might've stepped out for a bit. Roger tentatively twisted the brass doorknob. It was unlocked.

Roger stepped into the apartment and quietly closed the door behind him. "Veronica?" he called. There was a rhythmic tapping coming from the kitchen. "Veronica, it's me." He walked to the kitchen, unbuttoning his coat. Suncatchers hanging in the kitchen window threw rainbows onto the tile floor. The spout on the sink was dripping; Roger absentmindedly tightened the faucet and the tapping sound ceased. "Veronica?"

Her bedroom door was agape, so Roger softly knocked and peeked into the room. "Veronica?" Her bed was neatly made, and a piece of paper lay upon her pillow. Feeling like someone were wringing out his intestines as if they were a wet towel, Roger sat down on the bed and picked up the note. It was written on the same stationary as the letter in his coat pocket.

Dear Roger,

I'm a horrible person and I'm sorry.

I bought a plane ticket to somewhere far away, and I'm not coming back.

Don't think it's your fault or anything. It's just that I was suffocating here. This cement city was trampling me into its pavement. Every time I looked in the mirror, I saw a person wasting away, and it scared me.

I feel like we've been falling apart lately, Roger. Our relationship, I mean. I tried to resuscitate us, to keep us alive, but we were smothering each other. So this is for the best, really.

I know running away like this is stupid and irresponsible, but I'm afraid that if I don't run now, I'll end up dying here, wrinkled and old and staring at the pistol-shaped crack in the ceiling, wondering if my life could've been more.

So I'm running. And I'm sorry. But I'm also happy. It's like I was drowning but finally reached the surface, breathing in a rib-aching gulp of fresh air.

Maybe you feel sad reading this, or maybe you're relieved. I guess it's my vanity that's hoping you're a little sad at first maybe, I mean we did love each other after all, but I really do want you to be happy in the long run. So after you finish crying over me, go out there and live life. Do things that make you glad to have lungs full of air.

I love you, Roger. Take care.

Always,

Veronica


Roger folded up the letter, placing it in his pocket next to the one she had written just a week earlier. The only sound was the tick, tick, ticking of the forgotten clock on the wall. With a decisive movement, he stood up and crossed the room to her dresser in two large steps. He pulled open drawer after drawer. Empty. All empty. He crouched on the floor, running his hands through his hair. From her bedroom window he caught sight of a plane gliding across the blue sky. He imagined a dark-haired girl looking at the minute buildings below and finally breathing free among the clouds.

1 comment:

  1. this is absolutely great! lovely writing style, nice wry humour. not quite but almost along the lines of, 'you don´t know what you´ve got till it´s gone'
    first class read

    Michael McCarthy

    ReplyDelete