Harris broke up with me in the Pancake Parlour downstairs on Bourke Street. It’s the one where they always run out of syrup and there’s only the one waitress working whether it’s full or empty. She had just banged down my Long Stack and his Royal Canadian and sighed her way back to the kitchen when he looked me in the eye. He didn’t touch his fork or his napkin or try to grab the tomato sauce first.
I need to talk to you about something
I don’t know. What about us?
I don’t think it’s working.
Well I do.
We argued about it for not very long and then he left slowly. When I think of him now I remember the smell of his scalp and his hairless arms. They smelled like corn chips, salted, and Lynx Africa. He moved slower than I’d ever seen him move as he picked up his coat, looked down at his cooling meal and turned his back on me.
When I left the Pancake Parlour it was still early and I rode the escalator up towards the blue light of a smog morning. I called my friend Mary from primary school on a pay phone and asked her if she wanted to get drunk. She told me to come to her flat near the Skipping Girl Vinegar sign. When I arrived there were four skinny cats and a smell of moss that made me feel like I was suffering. Mary had short arms and had never been in love. We spent the afternoon drinking room temperature rosé from a paper bag and eating creamed corn on toast. As the sun set, I vomited pink and yellow decoration into Mary’s toilet
For a while I called Harris every night. I’d see the moon, looking so strange out there in the sky, making me feel like I couldn’t be alone in such a world, and I’d press the green phone below his name. The sound of him half asleep, trying to find something to say, wasn’t comforting but it was better than being alone. I never heard anyone in the background: Harris found it harder than I did to get anyone to sleep next to him. When I reminded him of this he said nothing. I could hear the trees swishing against his window, his spotted breath. I asked him if he’d ever loved me and he turned his alarm clock radio on.
After nights when I hadn’t called, when it was cloudy or the moon was only a sliver at the very edge of my window, I felt lighter in the morning. I could reason in the mirror as I scrubbed at my teeth that Harris was only a phase; that I only liked him because he played the drums and had pretty good taste in shoes. I told myself the night calls would end, while the sun filled the sky, and I forgot how much a bright moon could scare me.
Mary wasn’t the kind of person who would tell me that Harris was a waste, even though I knew that he was. I knew that he was more of a sketch than a painting, that he didn’t feel the need to be anything and would never change. Still, the only thing I wanted was for Harris to tell me that he was nothing without me, because he was the only one I’d really believe. Sitting across from Mary at the Melbourne Central food court, I lied and told her things were the other way around.
He calls me every night.
Mary was so earnest, sitting there across from me with her sleeves rolled up and her face all scrunched from listening. She had sweet and sour sauce on her nose and I dabbed at it with my serviette. It felt nice to touch someone, though the lies I kept telling sat cold and congealed between us.
What do you say back?
I say sorry. I say sorry, it’s over.
I wanted Mary to think I was wanted, that no one could ever stop wanting me once they’d started. When Harris broke up with me it felt like he had been holding my worth in his hands, and as he had walked out of the Pancake Parlour he’d dropped all of it swiftly into the bin. I didn’t want Mary to know my worth was gone, that I wasn’t lovable, that maybe I had never been in love either, just like her. Even though she would have understood.
I’d never told anyone that I get bored in movies but I told Mary while we were emptying our trays into the bins. I told her that I spent most of the time watching a movie waiting for it to end. She nodded. On RSVP I had agreed to meet a 36 year-old man called Glenn for dinner. It was an hour before I was supposed to be there. Mary pointed at the escalators.
Do you want to go and see a movie now?
We both ordered large popcorns with real butter topping and stuck out our tongues to catch the top pieces as we walked to Cinema 3.
It was stocktake time at work and there was a big sale at Priceline with three Maybelline nail polishes for $5. That was a crazy time because so many teenagers were lining up to get Tenacious Teal and Pinkalicious before they sold out, and twice I had to work through my lunch break because the line was blocking the disabled toilets.
One day, when the sale had ended, Harris came in to work. There were hardly any customers. I found him in the baby aisle pretending to look at the price of nappies. Even though I hadn’t seen him for 41 days he was exactly the same and his smell made me want to push the nappies off the shelf and kiss him a lot up against the empty racks.
How’re you going?
Did you come to see me?
To see if you’re okay.
I told him about the movie I saw with Mary and how I hadn’t wanted it to end, because it had been nice to sit in the dark with my friend. I told him that afterwards we went to her house and her skinny cats had taken turns sitting in my lap. My chest was squeezed tight. When he was about to leave I asked him if he wanted to get back together. He said no and that he thought we’d made the right decision, his eyes fixed just to the right of my eyes looking at something else. I pictured my torso splitting open and my insides plopping onto the floor. Harris would try to help me pick them up and put them into a plastic bag so I could mop up the mess but they’d keep slipping out of our hands. Behind me someone asked where they could find the gingko biloba. When I turned back, Harris had left.
Laura McPhee-Browne is a writer of short fiction and a social worker, hailing from Melbourne. She has had stories published in publications such as Seizure, The Suburban Review, Verity La and Tincture Journal.