Story from Peter F. Crowley

                                            Dump

     From the early afternoon light filtering through the tavern’s off-white shades, Sharon’s frown had become apparent. She sat there watching Daryl eat an enormous pulled pork sandwich after finishing her grilled tempeh and arugula salad.
     “What?” Daryl asked, taking off his baseball hat and wiping the sweat from his brow.
     It was over 90 degrees. From where they sat in the back, not a trickle of air from the doorway fan was palpable.
     Sharon’s lower jaw sunk low as she started to open her mouth. She placed her pointer finger to her lips and thought for a moment before putting her shoulder-length, red hair into a bun.

     “He’s not a bro but he’s different from me,” she thought. “He doesn’t get the details of my paintings and how it’s really only them that matter. Kara even said that the details ‘overwhelm and inform’ the whole. But the last portrait I did of an old woman, all that Daryl said was, “Very cool.” Did he even look at it? I tried to show every skin cell of the woman’s face to depict the dark circles around her eyes and all her wrinkles.”
     “Not talking again?” Daryl asked.
     The waiter came by and asked if everything was ok. Sharon responded that all was well, as Daryl had just taken another large bite from his sandwich. 

     Did they want the check? Sharon shook her head.
     It’ll be ten years before he finishes that sandwich. He eats so goddamn slow and look how he chews! Like a cow chewing on grass all day. Hurry up, cow!
     Sharon tried to remember if Daryl had asked her something. He must’ve, but what?
    “How’s your sandwich?”
     “It’s good.”
     Sharon raised her eyebrows and nodded.
     “Why do you always have to be so sarcastic about everything? You don’t have to look down on me for eating meat.”

     “I don’t.”
     Actually, I do, but not that much. If you just ate chicken and beef occasionally, it’d be different. But you eat beef or pork every day. Don’t you realize how bad that is for the environment? Methane is worse than CO2, dude. And you say you care about climate change. That was probably just to get into my pants.
     “I have to say: I’m really loving this conversation we’re having.”
     “Me too.”
     “See what I mean? And I don’t even know if you mean it or not. But I guess not, right? Because we’ve barely spoken all through lunch.”

     “That’s because you’re eating.”
     “We’ve both been eating. You’re just done.”
     “Yep, I was done like ten minutes ago.”
     “Is it a race? I can’t help it if this place makes ginormous sandwiches.”
     “You don’t have to eat all of it.”
     “Come on, this kind of thing would taste horrible the next day. It’s eat it all now or waste it, you know?”
     “Interesting.”
     Was he always so boring? He couldn’t have been. Or maybe I was just blinded by his good looks and how into me he was.

     “Really? You don’t find that interesting. You shouldn’t say stuff that you don’t mean. It almost seems like you’re just responding to me on autopilot and you’re really just way off on another planet or something.”
     That would be preferable to being with you.
     Sharon got up and went to the bathroom. A thick cigarette smoke pervaded the air. The stall she went into had an empty Heineken bottle floating in the toilet. 

     “Figures,” she thought. “He always likes divvy places. Maybe that was cool when you’re 21 but not when you’re 35!”
     When she returned, Daryl was lying on the floor underneath their table, with his head popping out at the end. The plate of pulled pork sandwich, of which there was still ¼ remaining, was on his stomach. She rested her feet on his ribs as she sat down, and it felt particularly comfortable. The White Stripe song “Stop Breaking Down” came into her head and she tapped out the beat with her heeled shoes.
     “I think I got it! That’s Green Day’s “Basket Case,” right?”
     “No.”

      “What is it then?”
      “Why does it matter?”
      Daryl peered up at her, trying make eye contact and asked, “Don’t you love me anymore?”
     “Did we ever say we loved each other?”
     “Yeah, we both did. Remember? We were in Brooklyn at your favorite restaurant in the whole world.”

     Sharon thought back to a year ago, four months after they had met. They were seated outside at a narrow row of tables next to a dozen-story brick building. It was an Indo-Chinese vegan place. She ordered an amazing Gobi Manchurian appetizer; he just sat there with a coffee, saying that he wasn’t hungry. He looked into her eyes and said those words. When she replied in kind, his eyes hazel eyes beamed. 
     Love is weird. I thought I loved you then, but did I? Maybe? But maybe I was just really horny and lonely. I definitely don’t love you now.

     “Why do we always have to talk about these kinds of things?”
     Why, really, do we have to talk at all?
     “I don’t know. I guess that it’s nice to reminisce about the nice times that we’ve had together.”
     Sharon looked straight across the table to where Daryl had been sitting and said, “I’ve been thinking. We’ve been together for almost a year and a half now. Don’t you think it’s time to give ourselves a little space and maybe see other people?”

     “You mean like an open relationship?”
     “No. I just mean us not see each other anymore. Ever.”
     Daryl stopped chewing and looked up to the ceiling fan, which had finally whirred on.
     “…I don’t think that’s something we need to do.”
     “I do,” Sharon said, shoving her heels deep into his side as she pushed herself out from the booth. 
     She stood up, looked down at him as he masticated on a mouthful of pulled pork and said, “I’m dumping you, Daryl.”

                                       Nanny

     “Good timing,” Giselda thought, taking off her shoes. 
     Jimmy, the 13-month old she was hired to watch, had fallen asleep for his morning nap just before she arrived.   
     Giselda looked out the window, from the dried-up grass on the expansive front lawn to a sign in the neighbor’s yard across the street that read “We’re proud of our Christian Academy student.” 
     She took out her phone and scrolled through Facebook. Her friend Adriana and her new American husband had posted pictures from a fishing trip to New Hampshire. But Giselda knew that Adriana didn’t even like fishing. Giselda’s mother had finished reading the Harry Potter series for the fifth time. Her São Paulo high school classmate, Luiz, posted something new against Bolsonaro.

     “Would you like a coffee?” asked Lisa, Jimmy’s mother, who Giselda had responded to on a local Nannies/Babysitters community page seeking childcare. 
     “No thank you.”
     “Good, because I’d have to charge you for it.”
     Lisa laughed and stood over Giselda, watching her look into her phone.

     “How long are his naps, usually?”
     “What?” asked Lisa, unaccustomed to ESL speakers.
     “Jimmy’s naps, are they usually for one hour? Two hours?”
     “Oh, I don’t know. They could be anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours.”
     “Wow, quite a range!”
     Lisa nodded and walked away. 

     Giselda fished out a hair tie from her purse and tied her long, silky black hair into a ponytail. She looked to her phone and saw Rodrigo’s number pop up. They had broken up two months ago, but he kept calling her to “check on her health.” It was around the time that she had Covid when she stopped taking his calls. She had been symptomless for over a month and a half but the only foods she could taste were Guaraná and her roommate’s barbeque beef.
     Giselda texted, “I’m fine. Stop calling me all the time. Ok?”
     A few minutes later, just as she heard fussing coming from Jimmy’s upstairs bedroom, Rodrigo texted back, “Ok. But I care about you. If the feeling isn’t mutual then I’ll just go back to São Paulo.”

     “No, stay. Not because of me though. I don’t think we’ll ever get back together. But the money you make at your fancy job, it doesn’t make sense to leave now. Your family needs that.”
Rodrigo was a software engineer at a Boston financial firm. Although he didn’t make as much as his American colleagues, he was fairly content with his salary.

     Giselda felt a tap on her shoulder.
     “Umm, excuse me. Did you hear Jimmy?”
     Lisa looked down at Giselda with small, squinting blue eyes. Her dirty blonde hair was parted in the middle and tucked behind her ears. When she bent over and tapped Giselda, the right side of her hair fell across half of her face.
     “Yes, but it just sounded like a little fussing. Do you want me to go and get him?”
      Lisa stood upright and leaned towards the staircase with a tilted head.

     “He quieted down. Never mind.”
     Lisa went back to the kitchen and began chopping vegetables. She turned on the radio to her favorite soft rock station.
     “Just as an fyi, I don’t pay for the time when he’s napping.”
     “Are you serious?”
     “It wouldn’t be fair to us. I can’t pay you to just sit there. We aren’t loaded.”
     “It doesn’t matter if you’re loaded or not. This is my time that you have to pay for.”
     “It’s your time to go on Twitter or text your boyfriend. I won’t pay for that.”

     Lisa opened the freezer and took out a plastic bag with several pizza crusts from weeks ago. She placed them into the microwave to defrost, then put them in the toaster until they got warm and crispy and started chewing on them while chopping celery.
     Giselda remained seated in the family room and stared at the Persian rug. It had multiple gilded boarders, each one smaller than the others. In the center, there was a detailed depiction of a king seated on a throne. A woman wearing a wimple clasped his leg with both hands.

     “I like that we can still talk,” texted Rodrigo.
     Giselda started to text back when her phone was snatched away. Lisa stood over Giselda wagging it in her face. 
     “Hey, we provide free internet service for you here and we aren’t a public library. So, drop the sour face, k?”
     Giselda gritted her teeth as Lisa handed her phone back. She looked back to the picture of the king and woman. The king had one of his hands on the woman’s head, as though he was petting a dog.
     Giselda clutched the phone, put her arm back and hurled it at Lisa as she walked away.

     “Ouch, fuck!” said Lisa, holding the back of her head where the phone had hit. She pointed towards the door and said, “Get the hell out of my house!”
     Giselda walked slowly towards Lisa and picked up her phone from the off-white linoleum kitchen floor.
     She looked into Lisa’s eyes and said, “Gladly, you miserable woman.”

As a prolific author from the Boston area, Peter F. Crowley writes in various forms, including short fiction, op-eds, poetry and academic essays. In 2020, his poetry book Those Who Hold Up the Earth was published by Kelsay Books and received impressive reviews by Kirkus Review, the Bangladeshi New Age and two local Boston-area newspapers. His writing can be found in Middle East MonitorZnet34th Parallel, Pif MagazineGalway ReviewDigging the FatAdelaide’s Short Story and Poetry Award anthologies (finalist in both) and The Opiate.

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