I like confessing things that aren’t completely true. Like the other day, a friend of mine asked where I’d been the last few months. I said, “You’ll never believe it but…” He waited for me to finish, and what I meant to say was, “Mason and I aren’t together anymore,” which was true, but halfway through, I chose this instead: “…Mason met another guy.”
My buddy groaned. “Shit, really?”
Yeah, really. Mason met another guy.
But the truth was I’d met one first.
When I saw Mason, weeks after we broke up, he was arm in arm with a man I’d seen a few times—okay, a thousand—at the grocery store, the gym, the park with his little dog, everywhere. Our town was hardly more than a few hundred people and a pizza parlor, so it was hard not to see him if you tied your curtains back.
Honestly, it didn’t feel great when I saw them spending a day together, but I couldn’t let them know that. So we smiled and said, “How are you?” and of all the things to lie about, I thought, that’s the biggest of them all, smiling when a tiny piece of you is dying inside.
“Man,” my friend said, “weren’t you guys engaged?”
Kind of—Mason and I bought each other ring pops at a movie theater and drunkenly posted, “Engaged!!!!!!” with six exclamation points and it was easier to click “like” on every phony comment than to let the world in on our joke.
“That’s what makes it so hard.”
My buddy sighed. “He tell you why or anything?”
I thought about what I’d told Mason. “He just said—sometimes you find someone else who fits you better.”
“It doesn’t mean they always will. It’s just about where you are right now.”
“I know,” I said.
When I’d said these words to Mason, he cried. I’d never heard him cry before. We’d been together for two years, left Philly to find some place smaller, slower, where we could “lay down our roots” as if we couldn’t find a crack in the city streets to grow together. We drove an hour out and started looking, had our things packed into the back of his father’s pickup, found a one-road-town where the storefronts needed paint and unloaded our shit on the front step of a duplex that faced the main drag and called it “home.”
For months, we shared our little two-bedroom half-house, unbothered by the things we hadn’t known till then—like how the sink miraculously clogged each time he shaved or the way he slurped his soup when it was just the two of us—among smaller things we pretended not to see, like the unmatched socks he left on his bureau for so long he must have known any hope of reuniting the pairs was gone, dead, finito, and I wondered how anyone got along—I mean, to the point they could actually live together—unless they closed one eye and covered one ear and pinched a goddamned nostril shut because the sad, lonely truth of it all was no one needs to be seen completely, and to this day I wonder what kind of tears I’d have gotten if I told him this instead.
“Well,” said my buddy, clearly having done enough consoling for one night, “you need anything, you let me know.”
“Of course,” I said. And alone on my couch, I thought of the man I’d left Mason for. The one I’d seen at the bar, when I drove the hour back to Philly. He was on his second Manhattan, so I asked, “A Manhattan in Philly?” not knowing if this was funny. It wasn’t.
“Hey—” I leaned in toward him. “You think I’d like the total you?”
“The what?” he asked.
“If we moved in together. And I had to step over your smelly clothes and listen to you laugh at inane comedies and watch you bite your nails when you’ve got nothing to even stress about—you think I’d like you then?”
The man shrugged coolly. “I don’t do any of that.”
“Tell me then. What do you do?”
He considered it a moment, squinting at the row of TVs. “Sometimes I drive with one knee.”
“You mean if the traffic’s slow?”
He shook his head. “On the highway.”
“That would literally fucking kill me.”
The man searched my eyes, so I shut one.
“What about you?”
“Come on. Name one thing that would drive me nuts.”
I didn’t know where to begin. So I started in as good a place as any: “When I get to know somebody, I run.”
“Is that it?”
“Or when someone gets to know me. I’m running from a man right now. He doesn’t even know it. But when I tell him, he’ll wonder who the hell I am. And for a moment, I’ll love him again. I’ll love him when he thinks about the signs he missed. I’ll love him when he wonders if we knew each other. I’ll love him when he passes our old house and—for the very first time—sees how the windows slope north, how the red brick fades by the roof.”
Matt Barrett holds an MFA in Fiction from UNC-Greensboro, and his stories and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Sun, Best Microfiction 2022, SmokeLong Quarterly, River Teeth, The Minnesota Review, Pithead Chapel, The Forge, Contrary, and Wigleaf, among others. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and their two sons and teaches creative writing at his undergraduate alma mater, Gettysburg College.
Header photography and artwork by Jordan Keller-Wilson