You say tomato

Lucy sat at the worn wooden table watching her aunt slice tomatoes. The methodical back and forth was mesmerizing, as the silky skin of the fruit gave way to the finely sharpened blade. Always the sharpest knife, her mother had always recited, or you might as well be slicing them with a mallet.

“Did your mother ever tell you how she and I used to try to predict your future?”

Startled by her aunt’s simultaneous thought of Lucy’s mother, Lucy jumps a bit. “Huh?”

“Well, not really predict, just kind of speculate a little. You know, about what kind of job you’d have, how your love life would turn out.” A graying wisp of chestnut hair flutters to her aunt’s forehead and she shoved it aside with the back of her hand, her fingers dripping with tomato innards.

“I’m sure that was a colorful conversation on my mother’s part,” Lucy scoff, settling herself back down in her chair.

“I always thought you’d marry a musician or an artist, but your mother always predicted something more…tumultuous.” Her aunt chooses this word as kindness. Lucy has no doubt her mother had shown no such gentleness in her damning of Lucy’s future prospects.

“Well, she would know.” Lucy tried to keep her voice bright, the education you do when you look for the good in the dead, even though there was no good to be found while they lived.

Her aunt sets the knife doubt and gives Lucy one clean, Sharp look, slicing through her like a ripe tomato.

“Your mother raise you the way she should have, Luce, but she was sick. She couldn’t-“

“I know!” Lucy snaps. “I’m not throwing a pity party, I know-“

“Now let me finish!” Lucy can recall maybe four other occasions when her aunt raised her voice, so she is instantly silenced. “Your mother was sick, but it wasn’t catching. You are not broken.” She moves to the table and grabs Lucy’s ARM in one slushy vice. “And it’s time to stop making excuses.”

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Love and money

He spoke slowly to more clearly convey his boredom with the conversation.

“I didn’t say that, Alyssa, I-“

The same steady even pace with only the minutest changes in pitch. Calm. Monotonous. A few times his emotion ran higher and he felt his voice try to rise, but he steadied himself. He consoled his rage with the simple thought that all it would take to drive Alyssa mad would be pretending not to care.

Alyssa’s main arsenal was even simpler; she just repented everything he said in an incredulous voice. The passengers one the bus with him heard it like this:

“Well, I’m going to work, so just get back in bed and watch your 90210….yes, get back in bed…”

He made this technique even easier for her because he tended to repeat what he thought was his strongest point.

“I’m going to work, so I’m tired…”
“It’s seven in the morning, I’m going to work and you’re screaming…”
“I’ll give you what I have, but I have my own obligations, it’s why I have a job…”

But Alyssa screwed up. At the last second she changed her story for why she needed the money, and he had her.

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Smoke and Mirrors

“He doesn’t want you anymore. You know that. You do.” Allyson heard the words through the headset almost without recognizing her own voice. She strained to hear the response from the other end. Anything. Silence.

“I know you’re there, and I know you know who this is,” Allyson spat. “He doesn’t. Want. You.”

She was doing her best impression of cruel, summoning all the hatred and anguish this pathetic girl had caused to well in her heart over the last six months, drawing to the surface of her mind what she had fought to push down and deny and pretend didn’t matter. But now she let if flood her body, the angry, violent toxins bred by weeks of uncertainty, insecurity, and jealousy.

Jealous of what, she had difficulty knowing. But she recognized the emotion and could name it as easily as she could point out a Ferrari in a sea of Volkswagens.

As the silence persisted, Allyson felt her anger giving way to exhaustion. It was tiring, all this pretending not to care and then caring too much. She wanted it to be simple. She spent most of her life actively avoiding what was complicated, only to screw everything up and fall in love with a mind-numbingly complex conundrum. On paper, though, it was simple, which was why she could never get Daniel to understand. Daniel loved her. Allyson loved Daniel. Karen shouldn’t matter. But she did. She made sure she did.

Allyson felt her shoulders slumped and slid suddenly against the kitchen wall to the floor.

“We were almost friends once,” she said softly. “As a friend? I’m telling you to move on. You’re hurting yourself just as much as anyone else. Live your life. Stop waiting around and telling yourself that you’re winning at something.”

“Oh Allyson,” the musical voice slithering sweetly through the receiver. Allyson felt her heart thump instinctively, like a rabbit who is suddenly unsure whether or not she’s alone in the meadow. “Of course I’m winning.”

The line clicked sharply, and Karen was gone.

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Cause and Effect

It was no surprise that when Lucy’s heart broke, she took a clinical approach.

She wondered why that happened. What flow of blood could create the sensation of wrenching, crushing, tearing in her heart valves?

She imagined it was probably a nervous system thing, not actually having anything to do with the vital organ. It was probably an involuntary tensing of nerves. An anxiety-driven reaction of her subconscious.

Lucy would do deep-breathing exercises, wait for the panic to pass. Instead it would deepen when she realized it wasn’t helping.

Your heart cannot literally break like glass, she would tell herself. Chastising her body for being so…female. Such a cliche.

Your heart cannot literally break like glass. She would repeat the empty mantra as she scoured online medical resources, typing her ambiguous symptoms into narrow search boxes, her eyes scanning the resulting links critically. All the while the pressure, the tearing would grow worse.

Lucy would obsess over the symptoms, the effect of the breaking. The one thing Lucy would not let herself think about? The cause.

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The Eyes Have It

He smiled at her, but she couldn’t decide for sure whether or not it was a leer. It was too restrained to be a grin, but with enough teeth to steer clear of smirk territory.

The leer, she decided, was in the eyes. In the slow spreading of the lips over the teeth with a wet smolder in the eyes instead of a twinkle.

She played it safe and smiled back, but she knew without a mirror that her eyes undoubtedly conveyed her misgivings.

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Trains of our Lives

The man on the platform had one arm around the dark-haired girl, but neither of them looked comforted. His eyes effused sadness, but the more he begged the stiffer her spine became.

She would forgive him, that much was clear. She knew it. He knew it. The girl on the platform watching them furtively behind oversized sunglasses knew it. The question was when and how much she would want from him before he did.

His left hand gesticulated wildly, and from time to time he would glance knowingly at it. How could a man with such an effusive left hand be deceitful?

But the saddest part was the impending forgiveness. Because just as they all knew it would come, they all also knew it probably wasn’t deserved.

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Missing something

Allyson’s body rose and lowered gently with the effort of sleeping. No one took sleep as seriously as she did. Her kind of peaceful slumber left people like Daniel, defeated, only to watch her and wish everything could be different.

His phone buzzed nastily on the nightstand, and Daniel picked it up quickly so it wouldn’t wake her. Daniel’s better judgment told him not to answer the phone when the familiar number lit up the tiny screen.

“Hello?” Daniel whispered, hurrying out of the room.

“Why are you whispering?”

“No reason, what is it?” Daniel looked around Allyson’s pitifully small apartment and ran a hand through his hair. Karen. Of course it was her.

“What are you doing?

Without thinking, he left the apartment and stood in the hall before he answered.

“Why does it matter, Karen?”

He didn’t waste time with social niceties. They were passed that.

“You’re with her, aren’t you? My god, Daniel. You are remarkably predictable, aren’t you.” He could hear her triumphant smirk oozing through the phone and fought to retain his composure.

“I told you not to call me.”

“You knew it was me, Daniel,” she purred. “You answered the phone. Jesus, were you in bed with her when you answered?” She laughed, a melodic, tinkling sound.

“Leave me alone,” Daniel said curtly, snapping the phone shut. As if it were that easy to cut off Karen.

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