There she is: the woman you love. Sitting on the park bench. Exactly how you remember her. Gold-red hair rising in the breeze. Fair skin pale in the early morning light. There’s her legs crossed beneath her skirt, a hint of thigh. From where you stand you can just make out the birthmark on her calf. A notebook balanced on her knee. In one hand, a blue ballpoint pen; in the other, the one with the diamond, a pink highlighter. You used to tease her for her systematic to-do list. You used to love her for it.
Check your device. It worked. You’ve come to the right date, the right place. Six minutes to seven. The sky is a uniform blue. The air has that chill of impending autumn. Aren’t you glad you wore your leather coat? The weather is what you remember.
Take a deep breath. Calm your nerves. This isn’t a first date. You’ve waited a long time for this. Go. Walk. Stand before her. Say hello. Hello.
Look at her shielding the sunlight from her eyes. That hollow in her neck. Remember when you used to gather the hair at her nape? Remember how you used to pull her head back so you could kiss her?
Her brow furrowing—she doesn’t recognize you.
Quiet that twinge of hurt. Of course she doesn’t. You knew she wouldn’t. Thirty years change a man. Not that you were ever handsome, but now you’re aged, haunted, hollow. Some days you look in the mirror and don’t know how this weathered man could be you. How can you expect her to? Be still.
Beautiful morning. Her fingers are in her hair. Sliding. Twirling. That nervous tic you loathed. Irritating. Lovely. God, how could she? But focus now, focus.
What are you writing?
Is it a note? Was there a note? What are the words and do they include your name, do they include love, do they include sorry? Had she written a note but been a coward, a fucking coward, and left you nothing instead? You see flor—, you see cater-, you see the first three letters of your name—but her palm is creeping over the paper and her eyes are blue steel cutting through you.
Excuse me, she says. Her voice is edged. Not the soft, girlish voice you remember. Not sweet, not coy, not effusive and lit. Not even close.
This is the woman you love but she will not let you in. Had she ever let you in? She’s young and beautiful, graceful and elegant, too good for you, how did you never see it? You’re a stranger, a man beaten, a man heartbroken, a man with nothing to lose. And it’s all her fault. Punish her. Hate her. Make her pay.
Smile at her.
Tell her, Has anyone ever told you you look like a young Julianne Moore?
Her nose wrinkles like it does in your dreams. She has. She hates it. You know she hates it.
Watch her blue eyes dart around. Watch her search for joggers passing by. There is nobody. The two of you are alone. You used to tell her not to come out here so early, you used to warn her, but she never listened, she thought you were paranoid. This is how you knew where she’d be. You should have stopped her that morning, insisted she stay in that day of all days. Chump. You always gave in to her too easily. No matter. You’re here now. A whole lifetime’s worth of savings for this moment.
Ask her, You know what a broken heart does to a man?
I’m sure you’ve broken a few hearts yourself, haven’t you?
Her face is turning pale, her freckles darkening. Don’t feel bad now. Dismiss that urge to hold her, to comfort her, to make her feel safe. She is the girl you love, but not. She is the girl who will break your heart. Who broke your heart already, and will do it again.
Is there a man in your life? Someone special?
I’m engaged, she says.
She flinches, but you don’t feel sorry. How dare she use that as a defense, knowing what she’s about to do?
Her body is stiff, shoulders up by her ears.
Calm down. We’re almost there. Be kinder now. Don’t alarm her.
I was once engaged too. To a lovely girl. Love of my life, really.
Is she going to respond? No. She isn’t.
I thought we’d spend the rest of our lives together. We made plans. We were going to have two kids. I even put money down on a house, let her plan the wedding of her dreams. Do you think that’s stupid? To throw away everything on a woman?
Look at her. She doesn’t know how to answer. There’s no right answer, is there, my love? You don’t know the answer yourself.
My friends thought so. Thought the fact she had no family made her less reliable. That she was probably a gold digger. How could someone that beautiful want to spend the rest of her life with me, they wondered. But I thought love was blind.
Guess I was right.
She’s not listening. Or maybe she is but her eyes are glazed. She’s biting her lip, that lovely pale pink lip. Painted with that sticky berry gloss you so hated to kiss. Your dick is getting hard. Bitch. How can she still be so fucking beautiful.
She left me at the altar, that cunt. Spit it out. Tell her.
No note, no goodbye, no explanation. Just gone. And with her, the envelope of cash to pay all the vendors, the deed I’d given her for safekeeping. Everything.
That’s awful, she whispers.
Hatred washes over you, fresh and thick. Is it?
She nods, a tiny bend in her neck.
Yes, it was horrible. I lost everything. I couldn’t get over it. Get over it, people kept saying, she’s gone, she conned you, accept it and move on. But I couldn’t. I looked everywhere for her. I just couldn’t believe she would do this to me, you know? But finally, I just accepted it. Except even after I accepted it, I couldn’t get on with things like before. My shrink tells me the anger is eating me up, ruining my life, pushing away everyone I loved, but I can’t help it. Tell me, if you were me, could you get over it? Could you take that betrayal sitting down? Or would you want revenge?
Her eyes are getting silvery, blue irises turning hollow with tears. You feel a wave of sympathy. No. Stop it. Don’t you dare. Answer me!
I don’t know what to say, she says, voice shaking. Then, Please.
This is it. You can’t stand it anymore. Can’t stand the way she looks so beautiful, a tear dropping down her cheek, can’t stand the way she’s twisting up your gut and confusing your anger.
There’s nothing you can say, bitch.
What? she breathes, but you’re already pulling out the other device, the one the dealer promised would zap her gone, dissolve her instantly, turn her into dust, erase her.
Her hand is up. Her mouth is a cherry O.
Tell her. Tell her You ruined my life. Tell her and fuck her manicured fingers and the diamond that’s yours, fuck her large scared eyes and red-gold hair whipping, fuck her perfect nose wet with frightened tears.
She’s shaking, she’s opening her mouth to scream, but then her eyes go wide and clear, and voice soft, she whispers Joseph? and suddenly you are remembering that old dream. That last memory. The one where she kissed you the morning she left and told you she loved you.
Her final lie.
Fuck you, you say, and shoot.