This is Julia. She’s on her way to meet Michael at Starbucks, near the Library. It’s Wednesday afternoon. She hasn’t seen him since Sunday night when he returned to her bedroom in the middle of the night and stated that he had to go home because he felt sad. She’s on the phone to Gez, arranging to meet him later today and she spots Michael walking down the street towards her. Subconsciously she evaluates his mood; consciously she smiles at him. She asks Gez to hold on while she kisses Michael hello and then resumes the conversation to say goodbye. They walk the short distance to Starbucks together, back in the direction Michael has come from. As they walk, they talk and almost miss the entrance to Starbucks but Michael points it out.
They order tea, ordinary for Michael and Earl Grey for Julia. It comes to £2.85. Julia’s leopard print coin pouch also houses her cashcard and some receipts which make it difficult to clearly see the coins available. She grasps £1.70 and hands it to Michael. Pulling out his wallet, Michael adds the rest before giving the lot to the server. They add skimmed milk (and sugar for Michael) to their tea and claim the sofa that Julia hoped would still be available.
Michael’s face is tense mostly but sometimes softens, and when it does a twinkle warms his eyes briefly before the cloud covers it again. His tone is taut and he uses lots of words very quickly. They have been in this situation before but Julia knows they can ride it this time. They have things in place: an agreement, Nate’s Core Relationship Skills class this coming Sunday (it’s about the shadow phase, conveniently), their love. Michael is stating his dislike. Julia feels nervous. The previous three times that he has talked like this, stated these statements, it has lead to them breaking up. She reminds herself that they are different now. She feels relief as Michael states that he is okay with not liking the current state of their relationship, that he can be with it. She knows that if they can make it to Sunday and Nate’s class, they’ll be okay.
Sunday night prods her to mention it so she does, faltering at first over the disrespect but then stating firmly that she felt her wishes were disrespected. She’d asked him not to smoke spliffs in her flat and when she got up in the morning she found the remnants of spliff making on her kitchen work surface. She starts to say that if he can’t respect that then… he interrupts with an apology. He was drunk. He didn’t care. She doesn’t probe further.
Silence. They are facing the window which looks out onto Jubilee Street. There is a blue grey brick building on the other side of the road; it houses a cafe called Giraffe. Julia was there yesterday with Nate and she tells Michael of her experience: the free plastic giraffes the waitress gave them, the nailing of the structure for the collaboration party she and Nate are throwing at the end of July, her sensation of having a spear lodged in her chest and Nate’s playful way of talking about it with her. Her eyes sparkle as she speaks. She is having fun.
“I’m glad you’re doing so well, Julia,” Michael states. The tone sounds menacing, the jaw is tight and the words are delivered like punches. Julia throws him a sideways glance warily. He catches it and says, “I mean it. I am glad.” Julia feels confused. His words and his body language are giving very different messages.
“This feels yukky now,” she states and breathes into the tightness in her belly.
“Can you say more?” Michael asks. Julia hates this question. She feels it as an imposition on her intelligence. She would say more if she could, she wouldn’t hold back, she doesn’t do that any more. She feels angry. She needs space to feel into and recognise what she’s feeling but she’s sprayed with staccato words instead.
“I would say more if I could,” she snaps. The game has begun and she feels powerless inside it. She doesn’t know how to stay responsive; reactions are more instinctive right now: there is danger present. Breathing deeply and slowly into her belly, she waits for words to come so that she can describe what’s going on. There is conflict. Inside she is fighting herself. Part wants to hide, part wants to run, part wants to be fully present with what is happening. Confusion reigns.
“I want to go back to being friends, Julia,” the word bullets have been fired. They hit her angrily in the solar plexus. There is no turning back now; death is on the horizon. The feeling in her solar plexus floods into her chest as she breathes into it and allows herself to feel it. It’s different this time. She has not closed herself off from the feelings. She cries. They nearly made it. There is a serviette in her rucksack. She pulls it out and blows her nose on it. She lowers the serviette and the embers of their dying relationship spark up and burn her; she cries and lifts the serviette to her nose once more.
He speaks; he tells why it isn’t working for him. She is cold, he says. Her eyes blink rapidly trying to see through the blizzard of his words. It’s not true. She’s not cold. It was him that withdrew. She sought him out for cuddles and kisses and sent texts. He just replied each time. He never sought her out. If she was cold he was frozen.
“Kiss me, Julia!” The demand flashed into her memory. Sunday night. She was warm in his embrace and nodding off to sleep when the demand came.
“I need to sleep now,” she murmured and nuzzled her head against her pillow. That’s when he left her.
“I’m not cold,” she states and gazes past him through the other window that looks out onto Church Road.
“You’re saying I’m needy,” he retorts.
“I’m not cold.” She says it again.
There are more words but they’re all saying the same thing: it’s over.
“Do you agree, Julia?” He’s asking her to agree to breaking up. She can’t quite believe her ears.
“You’re asking me to agree to breaking up?”
“You could say no. You could fight.”
She stares at him and suddenly feels exhausted. “You want me to fight?” She narrows her eyes in disbelief and turns her head away from him towards the wall. She can’t think. Her head feels muzzy. Her womb aches. She has reached the end of what she can tolerate.
“It’s just a small change from romance to friendship, Julia!” His words tower over her, creating a link to the past where her mother’s iron rule exists. Her fury is swift to retaliate: “I’m not listening to you talk down to me any more. Fuck off!” Grabbing her rucksack, she stands and marches away, her military inheritance reclaiming her actions.
This true short story was written in July 2009.