There was a leaky faucet that wouldn’t stop dripping, and a clock that was right twice a day. There was a cell phone sitting on the kitchen table, and a man who kept losing to himself at solitaire. He pulled all of the cards back to him, wondering if anyone else was as bad at solitaire as he was. Were those people bad at all cards, or just bad at being alone? The phone buzzed, and the man nearly dropped the stack of cards checking the text.
Save Big This Weekend On Sporting Goods!
Not what he was looking for. He settled it back on the table and ran his fingers through his hair, leaning back and closing his eyes. Nothing from Gloria.
He got up and went into the kitchen, examining all the pictures of her on the fridge, sometimes looking at the camera, sometimes looking at something off in the distance as though whatever lay beyond the frame was the most important thing in the world. He opened the door, pulled out some leftover pizza, and took a bite without heating it up as he turned away from the four years worth of memories plastered to the front.
He had asked his brother what a normal amount of time was to wait before you asked someone to marry you. The response had not been encouraging. “Katrina said yes as soon as I asked her. Don’t worry, Peter, she’ll say yes.”
But Peter asked yesterday and had been waiting for her ever since. He had gone back to his place, tried to watch a movie, and taken some ZzzQuil to fall asleep, sick to his stomach as he tossed and turned. He had checked his phone that morning, remembering that Gloria had asked for space and that she would let him know when she felt it in her heart. Whatever that meant. He turned back to the fridge, and to the faded photo booth pictures from their first date.
“Let’s take pictures,” Gloria said then. “I have a good feeling about you.” Peter had been surprised to hear that, since she had rescheduled twice and then was fifteen minutes late. But that’s the way Gloria was. A free spirit who did what she wanted. She quit her jobs often, deciding that the restrictive atmosphere of an office space was too depressing for her artist soul.
“I just can’t sit at a desk all day,” she would tell him. “I don’t know how you do it.”
“Because I have to pay bills,” he would reply. She would roll her eyes and sit in his lap, kissing him softly to make him forget he had ever been annoyed. She always made enough to get by, selling art and doing work on commission, but it had always been a short term solution.
The clock on the wall beside the fridge finally showed the correct time—11:25 am—as Peter wandered into his room. He decided to do laundry as a way to use up some time. He looked at the pile and noticed that a few of the dirty shirts were ones he hadn’t worn. Gloria had. She liked to come over wearing a dress of her own, then immediately replace it with one of his old t-shirts and a belt, telling him that it was the fashion of the future.
“Pair it with a nice sweater and a pair of cute shoes,” she would twirl for him, “and it’s an outfit!”
“But why does it have to be my shirts?” he would ask her. “Why not shirts that you buy yourself?”
“Why would I spend money when I have you, silly?” Then she would sit in his lap and kiss him, and he would forget he had ever been annoyed.
That was the pattern of their relationship. Peter would forget what she had done to irritate him in the first place, and things would go back to normal until she surprised him with another one of her quirks. That was a healthy relationship, right? Being able to let the little things go—no matter what. He hoped so. That had always been his philosophy when it came to relationships.
He hefted the basket of clothes into his arms and walked down the stairs, passing some of his neighbors as he went. None of them knew he had asked Gloria to marry him. None of them knew that he was in complete agony as he walked to the laundry room. There were no machines free. A few people looked up when he walked in, and he wondered if this was even worth it. He sat down on a bench with his laundry basket between his knees, watching as the minutes on one particular machine counted down. His spine straightened when the buzzer went off and he watched a woman, probably in her late thirties, go over and take her laundry out of the washer.
Peter noticed that she was wearing a wedding ring, and he wondered if she had hesitated when her spouse had asked for her hand. Or maybe she had asked. His cousin Danielle had asked her wife Lauren, saying in her wedding speech that it was the most stressful, but best decision she had ever made. Proposing to Gloria had been the most stressful thing that Peter had ever done, but wasn’t that the way it was supposed to be?
“Are you going to use that machine?” A voice pulled him out of his memory. “If you aren’t, I will.”
“No, I need it.” He dumped his clothing into the machine, added soap, and then sat back where he had been, watching the numbers on the machine count down. 30, 29, 28 and so on, until the buzzer went off again. He pulled the wet clothes out of the washer and held them against his chest, the water slowly seeping into his shirt, as he looked around for a free dryer.
“This one is free,” someone gestured to a dryer half hidden by the others. “Here.” The woman opened the dryer for him.
“Thanks,” Peter told her.
“No problem, you seemed kind of lost,” she laughed and walked back to her seat, opening up a magazine and crossing her legs. He felt lost, like someone had given him a map without telling him where to go. He thought Gloria would be his road. Their marriage would provide him with directions for the rest of his life.
When his laundry was finished, Peter gathered it up, holding the basket of warmth close to his chest and walking back up the stairs. He dumped it on his bed and thought, now what?
Gloria had liked to fold his clothes. It was the only chore that she had willingly done. Peter realized that he hadn’t checked his phone in a while and pulled it out, not surprised to see that Gloria still hadn’t texted him. Funnily, he hadn’t even been thinking about it. He picked up a pair of jeans and folded them. He slowly, painstakingly, made his way through the pile of clothes, folding each item with a concentrated precision. But no matter how measured his actions, no matter how much time he took to line up the sleeves of each shirt, he was still done too soon.
He looked at the dresser and saw the mason jar with feathers in it, tokens from the beach that Gloria brought home, pieces of seaglass covering the bottom. Her idea of a birthday present had been an empty mason jar. Peter couldn’t say he was disappointed, it had been thoughtful—her idea that whenever they went to the beach she would find a piece of seaglass, and soon it would be full—but the reality was that the amount of times Gloria had wanted Peter to come to the beach with her was littered along the bottom of the jar for all to see. I just don’t feel like it today, she would tell him or, I’m going with my friends. Peter couldn’t help wondering when he stopped being her friend. When did spending time with him become a chore instead of a need? He still needed her. Seeing her felt like a privilege more than anything else. Like her presence was a gift he barely deserved.
His brother had laughed at the idea of an empty mason jar as a present, but Peter had defended it. “It’ll be full of sea glass soon, she goes to the beach all the time!”
But there it sat, with nothing but scraps and dirt at the bottom. Peter didn’t claim to know much. In fact, there was a lot that he didn’t know. As he stood in his room, though, and looked at that **** jar, he realized that no matter how much he wanted it, this was not how it was supposed to be. Why was he waiting around for her to fill that jar?
His phone went off, and he snatched it up, unable to give her up just yet.
How are you doing? His brother wrote. Has she said no? Want to come over and play FIFA?
Peter put the phone down and looked around the apartment, trying to find a trace of Gloria that would bring her back here if she did reject his proposal. But there was nothing that she would have to come back for. He picked up the jar. Besides the pictures on his fridge, it was the only evidence that she had ever been there. He went into the kitchen, gripping it tightly, and held it over the garbage can while wishing for the strength to let go. He heard his phone buzz, and assumed it was his brother, but upon closer inspection he gasped softly. Gloria. He stood there, unsure of what to do, his phone in one hand, the mason jar in the other. This isn’t what you want, he told himself, she’s not worth it. And with that, Peter let it go. But even as the jar fell into the trash, the notification of Gloria’s text sat there, tempting him to look. But he was beyond knowing how she felt about him, and he took a deep breath. Careful to not read the contents, he deleted it without ever knowing her answer, heading off to his brothers and to a future that was entirely his own.