Fiction Finalist Max Schloner

Jul 18, 2016 by

Fiction Finalist Max Schloner


I Wish We’d Ruined Each Other

“I have to go,” I say, and I mean it. It’s the coldest night of a year that’s barely begun. I could count the degrees on five single digits if they weren’t already frozen around my cell, unfeeling in the endless suck. I’m trapped on the landing of the 49th Street station, straining to maintain our connection. Glazed red bricks reflect Times Square’s terrible twinkle. Down below, beyond the turnstiles, people huddle together, looking left.

“I know,” you say, and I hate the sound more than the banshee screech of the approaching Q Train. I hate the huddled people whose shoulders fall with relief as the train gallops toward them. I hate my phone, even though it warms my cheek. The warmth comes from the work it does through speakers and circuitry and an old battery. The warmth comes from words that aren’t really yours. Words muffled and made shrill. This is not the warmth of an early autumn evening when you said your greatest wish was, someday, for us to need each other.

I hang up. I skip stairs, down. I claw for my Metrocard. A swipe and a sprint into the train. The thaw crawling along my limbs offers no relief. I wish I had stayed on that frigid landing. I wish I had forced you to say more. Even if they weren’t really your words, I’d have a few more. I worry that I could count the words you have left for me on five thawing digits.

28th Street. I used to get off here after work, nearly every night. My ex’s stop. The ex before you, now. The one you had to force me to tell you about. The one whose neighborhood I couldn’t stomach, just weeks ago, as our cab turned through it. With the comically-large teddy bear I bought you wedged between us in the darkness, you told me you wanted to know the bad in addition to the good. You didn’t flinch as I told you about the scars she left. I remember it’s her birthday today. I make a sound like a laugh.

14th Street. A few blocks from here, we sprinted the aisles of Forbidden Planet and geeked out over an Iron Man statuette. A few blocks more, and there’s the discount store where we shopped for winter layers. We found you a coat and gloves. You couldn’t pay for them because your credit card had been deactivated. When I offered to pay, you wouldn’t let me. We salvaged the evening when we went to see a movie at the Union Square Regal. You let me pay for that. The film was awful, and I savored every second of suffering through it with you.

Canal Street. I rush to another cold platform. I hide behind a white-tiled column and plug my ears. I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You by Tom Waits seeps into my skull, and a tear touches the place where your voice last touched me. I can’t tell if it’s drying or freezing, but it stays for a while. The J Train takes too long to arrive. When it does, I wedge myself between an old man and a young couple. I hunch forward, hiding my face.

Bowery. It’s a quick walk to the Evolution Store. It was the last stop on our first date. I knew you were special when a quick look around a store full of skeletons turned into an adventure. A few days ago, I stopped in to get you a late Christmas present. Something simple. You’ll never know what it was. I always will.

We emerge onto the Williamsburg Bridge. I check my phone to see if you called me after I hung up. You didn’t. You respect me too much. I look up, and I hate the Manhattan skyline.

My stop. I step out, and it’s somehow even colder now. I pull the hood of my sweatshirt up over my ears. The sweatshirt you borrowed for weeks. You gave it back to me the day I met your parents. It still smells like the laundry room in your building’s basement.

I hate my neighborhood, and I hate how much you hated getting here from Greenpoint. I hated that you ordered a car every morning after you slept over, even though the subway is only a few steps away. I’d stand outside and wait for you now if it meant you wouldn’t get lost on my street. I’d call for a cab in the morning if it meant one more breakfast in bed, one more chance to deal with you at your grumpiest and buy you coffee in spite of it. I’ll kill the next person I pass on this street who isn’t you. I stab at the knob on the front door of my building.

I shower to take the ache out of my bones. The water is warm and I can move again. My fingers are limber enough to massage shampoo into the hair you cut on my birthday. It’s too short, but it’s okay because you did it, and we laughed after it was done. We ate pasta and you let me watch In Bruges. You said it was too violent, but that was okay.

I turn to rinse, and I notice a smudge on the opposite wall. I move closer, because it’s hard to see without my glasses. Little grey streaks stripe the tile, some lighter than others. Halloween leftovers from when we made ourselves up like skeletons and lost ourselves at a concert downtown. We listened from an alcove in the balcony, speaking without words. Entwined, each of us better learned the contours of the other’s body in the shadows. We came home and showered together. As you rinsed the mask of death from your cheeks, I wanted all of you.

We made love for the first time, and I ruined the moment by explaining how terrified I was of how I felt about you. You told me that it was okay. I told you that you were incredible. You told me that I was incredible, too. Somehow, I believed you. I knew in that moment that at least half of your wish had come true. I needed you.

I let you fall asleep. I watched you breathe until I could do the same.

I haven’t cleaned my room since you left. There hasn’t been any reason to. Three weeks of dirty clothes spilling out of a laundry bag. Three weeks of clean clothes tossed everywhere else. My unmade bed is hidden under a pile of pillows. I bought most of them after you told me I had too few. Your toothbrush is still stuck in a mug on my desk.

I crawl into bed, and I hate New York. I hate how it distorts hope. I hate that the dreams I’m chasing here might never come true. Those dreams might never feel as real as you taking my arm in yours, just so you can trip me. They’ll never feel as real as the laughter that followed. Which Broadway stage will make me feel more validated than singing Disney songs with you on a stoop on the Lower East Side?

Before I hung up, you told me I wasn’t the problem. Not really. You told me if we stayed together, you’d willfully ruin your life. You’d live in a place you hated and turn your back on your dreams so that I could live mine. You told me you knew I wouldn’t do that to you. I told you that if we stayed together, I’d follow you anywhere. I’d live in a place I didn’t like and turn my back on my dreams so that you could live yours. I told you I knew you wouldn’t do that to me. I wished that you would.

“That’s love,” I said, as the huddled people below me turned left to see the light of the train.


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Max Schloner is a writer and actor living in Brooklyn. Yep. He’s one of those.

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