Ceramic

by Molly Ketcheson

            When we broke we broke like a ceramic coffee mug on a green-tiled kitchen floor, cracking into a kaleidoscope of pieces, sliding under the dishwasher and into the living room so that you could never find them all. I searched through the rooms that had been ours but were now mine. I cut my bare feet. I did not put on shoes.

            First, the handle, still perfectly curved and cleanly cut, as if waiting to be reattached if only I can find enough glue:

            We went to the Leslie Street Spit on our fourth date, because it was hot out but not too hot and I told you that I liked to bike because I knew you did. I had prepared to hate that day. I planned for Dalia to call me an hour into it with an emergency of some sort so I could bail early. But then we were biking and you said to me, you don’t actually like to bike, do you, and I whispered no, and you laughed and said, then let’s stroll and we walked our bikes and witnessed the sun’s daily arc, gilding the city in gold.

            We hopped a chicken wire fence and sat among the grass and the rusty old pipes from when the Spit was a construction waste dump and watched the water catch the sunbeams with its greedy fingers. My fingers met yours. Your thumb curved around mine like the handle of a coffee mug. I did not look at you. You did not look at me. But our thumbs felt much more intimate than any glance, any stare. We let the waves swim in our eyes, and I got so terribly sunburnt that I wouldn’t see you for a week because I was red as the t-shirt you wore that day. I remember the way it clung to the curve of your spine with sweat. I remember how soft it was when I brought my hands up to your chest, back around your neck. I remember gripping it in my fists as you kissed me and whispered I’m going to teach you to like to bike. I laughed into your mouth and did not reply.

            Stuck in the ball of my foot, a sliver the size of a push-pin in our corkboard, holding up the coupons for McDonalds and the photo of me at Niagara Falls you took last year:

            The telephone wires crossed overhead like the hatchings of a pie crust. The car was quiet. I stared out the window, looking up, up, up. I felt the rain in my boots, sloshing between my toes, even though they were utterly dry. We did not speak. The radio was not on. You always drove with an intensity that made even the birds go quiet. Eyes ahead. Fingers tight on the wheel. Jaw clenched. I always wanted to ask what you were so afraid of. That day, on the way to your cousin’s birthday party, the car was drenched in that question, the leather of the seats soaking in the words I did not speak. Because I knew you would not answer. And I knew that would only make me want to know more, which I knew you hated. We sat, rain outside the car, inside a flood that ruined the curls I’d spent an hour on that morning. I felt the silence slip into me, no more than a push-pin in my pinkie finger, urging a spot of blood onto my calloused finger-pad. The telephone wires clicked past, and I wondered what wasn’t being said through them. I swear I saw them wobble with the weight of those withheld words.

            Next, under the garbage can, a piece perfectly round like the pebble you spent an hour looking for on Cherry Beach:

            I love you, you said, in a subway car at eleven-thirty-three PM, the syllables clean as skipping stones on a glass lake.

            I found a piece – vaguely star-shaped  – in my slipper next to the bathroom door:

            Our first Christmas together was smooth as the jazz flowing from the record player in the corner. You were the dream I had not dared to remember. Dark hair, pale skin. You looked so good in that dark green sweater, and I spent the entirety of the holiday season wishing to rip it off you. I was avaricious, savage in my longing. On Christmas Eve we went to my parents’ house and I could not bear to see you laughing with my sister, talking quietly to my father. You, in that sweater. I wanted you all to myself. And when you caught my eye across the living room, you saw that need. And you grinned, and my organs almost failed right there. Your gaze was unflinching. Your eyes grazed my body like you were searching meticulously for something you could not find. I was wearing a red mini dress, patterned with silver stars. My hair plaited down my back.

            You told me that night that you liked my hair like that. The way it showed off my neck. I wore my hair in braids for the rest of the winter, despite the chill that even my scarf could not cover. Despite the way it tugged at my roots, breaking my hair. You were worth any cold, any amount of honeycomb strands swept off the bathroom floor.

            That Christmas, we ached with the perfection of what we had found. I knew I did not deserve you. You knew we deserved each other. One-two, one-two. The dance you led. Around my parents’ kitchen. Under the lights of the Distillery District Christmas Market. I could not get the rhythm right; I kept stepping on your toes. But you laughed, and corrected me and for a few blissful seconds, we waltzed in time. Your eyes outshine the town, they do/ this Christmas.

            You bought me a necklace with a pendant no bigger than the pad of my pinkie finger, a bumblebee, its wings half stretched, almost soaring.

            At the edge of the brown area rug that had been a gift from your grandmother (I’d have to give that back to you. I did not want it. The thought made my knees jitter), I found a parallelogrammical piece, edges jagged like the books you kept from college that had been nibbled on by the mice living in your walls:

            Sometimes we played cards. War, Spit, Double Solitaire. Games for two. But Dalia and Harrison had come over and we were playing Euchre, the four of us poised around the coffee table. I was kneeling on a cushion. You were across from me on the couch. When I think of that moment, I see us all frozen, paused at the height of our movement like a Baroque painting. Sharply colored – Dalia’s hair shaded as deep red as curry powder, your eyes a collapsing blue – and wickedly still, a tantalizing trick of the artist. Ha. Try to escape your static. I dare you.

            We were losing. I had never been good at Euchre. It was a game of give and take, of seeing what your partner was going to play before they played it. I couldn’t get the timing right. One-two, one-two. Two-one, two-one.

            We lost a round, and the others made it to ten points. As they high-fived across the table you looked at me and my heart beat faster than should be possible. Your hand slapped the table. Hard enough that I flinched. Not hard enough that Dalia or Harrison noticed. It was only for me. I felt it in the filaments of my biceps, digging in like the edge of a rusty, jagged knife.

            Later that night, you picked a fight with me over how I loaded the dishwasher. But I knew it wasn’t about that. I never did learn to like to bike.

            I stood still as you came closer, your spit peppering my cheeks. You smelled of sweat and smoke. I looked out the window behind you, at the city we had claimed. I was going to leave before I met you. Move back to Guelph. The streets were too big, the sky too close. My limbs were awkward and squished. But I stayed for you. Now I loved Toronto. You were Toronto. The demanding CN Tower, the ebbing lake bordering us in. I desperately wanted to stay. But I still didn’t quite fit.

            Stuck under the dishwasher, lightning-shaped like the scar on your right palm:

            It was our anniversary. You were making chicken parmesan. I was making chocolate cream pie. I leaned across the island to grasp your hands. I kissed your knuckles, brushing my lips over your scars and calluses. You came around to the other side and then your hands were on my back and the kitchen was once again in tune. I hadn’t even noticed the dissonance.

Later, you helped me wash the chocolate out of my hair, fingers gentle and reverent.

              Under a counter stool, a slightly curved piece, the slash of your sideways grin:

              I tried to break up with you three times. We had gone to dinner with my sister and you were quiet all evening, drinking too much wine, not speaking, just snapping words in my general direction. When you went to the bathroom during dessert, my sister looked at me, squinting her eyes a fraction. She didn’t say anything. But that’s the thing about sisters. I knew what she meant.

              The next day, while I was folding laundry and you were watching the hockey game, I said I think we need to talk. I folded your red t-shirt into a perfect square. About what, you asked. I picked up a pair of my jeans, stared at the fraying hem. About us. My heart was a wildfire. My jeans caught alight.

              You laughed, and I could feel your head turning towards me, could feel your half-grin against my cheek, but your team scored and you cheered and forgot I had spoken at all.                

            We were shouting at each other in the parking lot when I broke up with you for the second time. I don’t remember what the fight was about. You were probably right. Or maybe I was. It never mattered, in the end. We were standing by my car, you at the drivers’ side, me the passenger. You yelled, what do you want me to do? And I remember – I remember, I do – saying, I want you to let me live.  

             You started laughing, and the tension fizzed as it escaped the space between us. You got into the car and I did too, and you grinned at me, shaking your head. You drove off.

            The third time, it was the middle of the night, and we were both awake. I want to go home, I said into the air. Your breath, so steady against the back of my neck, paused, for just a moment. I know you heard me, but you pretended not to. Ten minutes later, in the din of the night, your laughter caressed my skin.

            Did you really think I was joking? Or did you just revel in the way I trembled more and more every time you handed me coffee in the morning, terrified you would break the cup?

            I like to think you could not be that cruel. But my feet are covered in cuts and there is blood on your grandmother’s rug.

               By the radiator, a piece that curved like the end of your nose:

              I wrapped my legs around your waist, my arms around your neck. The lake was colder than it should’ve been in June, but we were in anyways, because you liked to swim and in the water I could pretend there was nothing keeping me with you but my own legs and arms.

              I kissed your wet cheek with my cold lips, and you tilted your head to kiss them back. Your eyes were sharper in the water. Excess cut away by the cold until all that was left was you. Run away with me, you whispered. We are away, I said, laughing against your nose as I kissed its tip.

              Farther, you said. Faster.

              Anywhere.

            Finally, the largest piece, still sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, appearing innocent. One side was completely intact. So if you looked at it that way, you did not notice the ruin of the other:

            I was sitting on the counter, legs swinging. You were standing in between my knees. I thought you were going to kiss me. I tilted my chin forward in anticipation, the hairs on my arms rising. I could see us from afar, voyeuristic, someone outside looking in the window. Two people ensconced in each other. Perfect. Inimitable. Undeniable. But, inside, you then gripped my forearms, hard enough that I whimpered. Hard enough that I knew I would have bruises. You said, You are all I want. I want you too much. And I said, You need to leave.

            I didn’t know where it came from. I still don’t. But the words were right as the feel of your skin against mine. I knew I would never know that rapture again. It was a dime-sized loss. Not worth much.

            You stepped back. Tilted your head to the side, your eyes carved from adamant like those of a tiger. But, for once, I held your gaze. I was Orpheus and I was looking. I was Eurydice and I was looked at. The distance spiraled. We fell away.

            I wanted to ask it then, so I did: When you drive, what are you so afraid of?

            I thought you might hit me. But you had never had the guts to do it. You had come close before, hand an inch from my cheek, but you always stopped, fingers wavering, breath mimicking our dance: one-two, one-two.

            No, you growled, the beast of my nightmares I never let myself remember when I woke up. I stayed silent. But this time, the silence was a sword. It sliced you clean down the middle. You did not beg for me, and my lungs gasped for it even as my heart corkscrewed with relief. You slammed the door so hard that I had to call a handyman to fix the hinges.

            I picked up the pieces, careful as to not cut my fingers. They clanked against each other. I put on my shoes, my toes stinging, the salt of blood stiff in my nose as I bent down to tie the laces. I went downstairs, and put our broken pieces directly in our condo building’s shared bin. I heard them smash as they hit the bottom.

            Back upstairs, I stood in front of the mirror in the front hall, and braided my hair. I took it out, slowly, as you once did. I basked in the feel of the strands tucked against my neck. And then I put it up again. Summer was waxing outside the windows, and I could use the reprieve from the heat.

About the Author

Hailing from Toronto, Molly Ketcheson is a student at the University of St Andrews. She aims to write stories that find a bit of wonder in the every day, and is proud to have won the 2019 Dan Hemingway Prize for her work. When not writing, Molly can usually be found baking cookies or running around backstage at a theatre.