Melissa Brooks

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

His hair was greasy. His socks, damp. The past week or so, he hadn’t bothered to put in his contacts and wore his thick-framed burgundy glasses instead, simultaneously resembling a forty-year-old librarian and seven-year-old girl with braided pigtails.

It struck Alicia as odd. Normally, Elliot loved how soft and lush conditioner made his hair look and feel. Loved the way a checkered button up made his concave chest and round belly look sleek and fit. He spent more time shoe shopping than she did. And yet, he’d taken to wearing a ratty pair of Vans. Forgoing showers for days on end. Wearing only crumpled up khaki corduroys from the bottom of his dresser drawer. Socks stained brown on the bottom, growing holes his big toe kept poking out of. She was surprised he owned any old socks at all, since he claimed his dream was to wear a brand new pair of socks every day.

His unkempt appearance wasn’t the only problem. He’d become much surlier. She couldn’t say anything without inviting criticism. Just that morning, she told him how she had been running a little late and had to park several blocks away, which meant she had to trudge through the snow and slush in her heels much longer than she preferred.

“Bitch about it some more, why don’t you?” he said.

Elliot was surprised Alicia hadn’t snapped at him. She just blushed and looked at the ground. He gave her a quick kiss as he dropped her off at class and said, “I’ll see you later.”

He was sure it would’ve gotten a rise out of her. But getting a rise out of her was proving to be an arduous task. Like earlier that week he tried to freak her out to no avail. They lay in her small four-poster bed, hardly big enough for the two of them to lie side by side, but he was used to the discomfort of cramming two bodies into a bed intended for one. He lay there like a corpse while she stroked his chest and prattled about her friend Leah dumping Ray. He interrupted her to say how dumb it was because Ray was amazing. “Everyone wants to fuck him.”

Alicia laughed. “Even you?”

“Of course! I’d shove my fist up his ass until he bled and cried and then I’d make him to do it to me.”

“You’re so weird,” she laughed, continuing to stroke his chest.

He looked at her, his stony eyes masking disbelief. What was wrong with this girl?

*          *          *

“It’s not working, Jimmy. I’m a total jackass. I even smell like ass, but she won’t break up with me,” Elliot hoisted himself up on the short brick wall beside Jimmy. “Hey man, can I bum one of those off you?”

Jimmy handed Elliot a cigarette and lighter. “Shit man, don’t you know anything?”

Elliot raised his eyebrows at Jimmy as he lit the cigarette.

Jimmy sighed. “Dude, women love assholes. That’s why these stupid jocks get so much action.”

“I thought it was because they were ripped.”

“It’s because they’re ripped assholes.”

Elliot laughed, “That’s a good one.”

“I’m serious. A guy’s a dick to a broad, and it gets her wet for some reason.”

“Bullshit.” Elliot took a deep drag on his cigarette. He picked up a jagged rock and rolled it around in his hand like a stress ball before pitching it across the parking lot.

“Look, dude, it’s like this. Girls like Alicia, they’re all messed up. You’re a jerk to them, they think they did something wrong. So they start groveling to win back your affection. I’d bet twenty dollars Alicia’s been doing that to you.”

“Yeah! Know what she did? Bought me fucking Flowers for Algernon. Told her I wanted to read it and next thing I know, she’s handing me the goddamn book.”

“I’m telling you, man. What you gotta do to get rid of a girl like Alicia is be nice to her. Really nice, man. It’ll make her think something is wrong with you to bend over backwards for her.”

“Have you done this before?”

“All the time, man. I start getting sick of a broad, I start calling her all the time. Grab her goddamned hand all the time. Call her schmoopy. Act like she’s doing me a favor by going out with me. Girls hate that shit.”

“You’re one messed up son of a bitch, Jimmy.”
“Maybe, but not any more than the crazy-ass girls in this town.”

Elliot laughed. “So, you think I need to do a 180 on this shit?”

“Nah, it’s too late now, man. At this point, she’ll just be grateful for things turning around. The only thing you can do now is dump her.”

“You’re right. I know you’re right.” Elliot hopped off the wall and shook Jimmy’s hand. “All right, man. As always, it’s been a pleasure. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“See ya tomorrow, man.”

Elliot drove to Alicia’s without calling. They sat on her four poster bed. “We need to talk. It’s just that, we used to have this spark,” he imitated an explosion with his fingers. “And now it’s gone.”

“It’s not gone for me.”

He sighed. “Alicia, you’re awesome. But I just don’t feel like this is working. I don’t think we should date anymore.”

“Oh,” she looked down at her hands. “If that’s what you want…”

“It is.”

She nodded her head, her eyes fixed on her interlaced fingers.

“Hey, I still want to be friends. Can we still be friends?”

She forced a smile. “Of course.”

The next day at school, his hair was soft and lush. Contacts in place above a freshly-pressed blue button-up shirt and his most expensive pair of jeans. She was sure that within his red high-top chucks, a brand new pair of socks perfectly enveloped his feet.

Melissa Brooks is a Staff Editor for Switchback and an MFA student in fiction at the University of San Francisco. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The Molotov Cocktail, Gravel, Ginosko, Vannevar and The Thought Erotic.  bio-brooks