Hurt stings in his eyes as he tries to hide the tears. These fucking allergies again, he says, hoping that explanation will be enough for the man sitting in the passenger seat. Tomorrow, when he sits here, he will say it is the sad song that comes up on random play. They will all be sad so it will be a ready-made excuse.
So many of the songs remind him of her. The ones she sent him. The ones he sent her.
The very first one had something about infatuation in it and she assured him it wasn’t how she felt. Just a song she loved. He didn’t think she would ever love him, like she loved that song.
Then she asked a question, but didn’t say I or you. She said we. Why wouldn’t we kiss, just once? And her words came into his tattered heart, stroked up against his worn ego, soothing like a salve.
Guess, she said, what I’m thinking about now? She asked that in the text messages she sent him months ago and again as they laid in bed, her soft hair against his shoulder. I don’t know, he said softly. And she let her thoughts flutter out into the air, shared rough pieces she’d never told to anyone else. She shifted from a solid form into a melted mess of vulnerability.
She used the L-word first, but only in a roundabout way. This week you have said you love Murakami, tangerines, chocolate milkshakes, the sound of the waves outside our room, the girl you met when you were 16, the Rolling Stones, she said, her long lashes pressed down against her closed eyelids. Is there anything missing from the list?
You, he said, and then he whispered the words out loud for the first time. I love you.
She heard the truth when she said them back, kissed his lips and promised to see him again soon. Next time I can get free, she said.
But now it is five months on and “Wild Horses” plays over the radio. Her eyes sting again. She is closing her mind off, shifting her language and her body away from him, like how the light glints away from the edge of his glasses. In a few minutes, she will smile and shrug to the man next to her, place a hand over his and say, This song always gets to me. But for now, she keeps her hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel.
She tries to tell herself nothing is changing and wonders if her heart has always been this lacking in credibility.
You are the one who made the rules. You are the one who broke the rules. You are the one with a broken heart. You are the one that broke a heart. Which one are you?
Picked a word and its opposite: hurt and salve, guess and credibility
Swapped pronouns for male and female character, changed from first-person to third person narrator, added in future tense, changed to second person narrator for last paragraph
Melissa Flores Anderson is a Latinx Californian and an award-winning journalist, who lives in her hometown with her young son and husband. Her creative work has been published or is forthcoming in Punk Noir Magazine, Maudlin House, The Write Launch, Voidspace Zine, Daily Drunk Magazine and Rejection Letters, among others. Her CNF “Six Gun Fights” received a Best of the Net nomination from Variant Lit. She served as a co-guest editor of Roi Fainéant Press’ first special issue, HEAT (6.26.22) and is now a reader/editor. Follow her on Twitter @melissacuisine or IG @theirishmonths. Read her work at melissafloresandersonwrites.com.