A Kind of Theft
by Charlie Kondek
I was ambushed, running errands on a cold, wet Wednesday when I looked down to see Erica had texted me and it was a long one. She began, “So I’ve been thinking about this a lot...” spilling over line after line, and I thumbed to the dialing application and called her. She answered with a sympathetic, “Hi,” sighing the word in her melodious way.
“We’re breaking up by text?”
“I know,” she said, voice on the phone clarinet smooth, in contrast to the cars and shopping carts I watched angrily navigate an ice-gray parking lot. “We do so much by text I thought maybe it would be okay to handle something so… momentous… but maybe this was another one of my bad ideas.”
I might have summarized our entire relationship as “another one of Erica’s bad ideas,” which began six months before in an atmosphere of surprise and wonder, like stepping onto a carousel, unsure of what color horse or elephant or flamingo you were going to grasp as you accelerated around the lights and calliope music. Being with Erica, who liked to tuck her tidy brown bob under a floppy cloche hat and let it circle her round cheeks, was like some mad game of sudden stops and reversals. Because she loved spontaneity, to do things differently, to make things up, and to change her mind. On one of our first dates, she invited me to a baseball game, and I was going to pick her up but then that part of the plan got changed somehow, and I met her at the ballpark, and on our way to the box office to get tickets she suggested, “Let’s do something unusual, like let’s not actually go in, and let’s just walk around the park observing all the people, see how much of the game we can follow from outside. Let’s circle the park and see all the life that exists in its orbit.” Sure enough, there was life, and food and drink, and people and things, on the steaming streets around the ballpark, and I was happy to follow those slender legs in those four-button sailor shorts and hold her hand and invent with her: backstories about the people arriving late, or leaving early, or hawking tickets, or spearing garbage, or panhandling, or loitering, or monitoring. But after a while, this became repetitive and maybe a bit lonely, and Erica decided, “Maybe this was another one of my bad ideas,” and we watched the rest of the game at a nearby bar where I drank beer and she sangria and we found new avenues to explore.
Erica always had a dozen ideas like that germinating. Was it her heart-shaped face that made me such a willing accomplice? That and the fact that the possibility of adventure was always ripe. Road trips, meeting friends for drinks or outings, adding this person or that, changing the destination, altering the tone. She was like that in bed, too, inventive and unexpected, each coupling ending usually happily but often clumsily. After we had been together a while, I began to believe that while she loved to imagine, to provoke, she would best be complemented by someone who could adroitly realize her ephemeral designs. I had begun to wonder if I was that person, and she was explaining to me on the phone that “We’re not really breaking up because we were never, you know, officially a couple – gosh, I feel like such a jerk for saying that, I’m sorry…”
It wasn’t that I was expecting us to get married, though I thought we were exclusive and we’d remain that way for a period of girlfriend-boyfriend status of some indeterminate length. It wasn’t that I felt she owed me anything, or that she’d been dishonest, or that I hadn’t kept an open mind. It was, I now felt, standing in the sickly yellow light of an auto parts store in the advancing evening, that she’d wasted so much of my time. That, now that I was being cut and would no longer benefit from her “bad ideas,” they seemed a kind of theft to me – unfair, I know. Probably unintentional on Erica’s part. And hadn’t all aspects of the transaction, in which I’d been a willing participant, been somewhat transparent? But maybe all relationships were like this, the way we practiced them in this era. Dating and sleeping together for nine months or a year before breaking up and starting over with someone else. As I stood there listening, I remembered an ex-girlfriend who’d said, at the beginning of a relationship, “Maybe this time it will be different,” and another, at the end, “You’re just like all the rest.”
“Listen,” I interrupted tenderly, “I get it. Don’t beat yourself up over this. It’s just how things work out sometimes.”
Erica exhaled. “Oh, my God, thank you. You have no idea how much that means to me.”
I had some idea, actually.
“Can we still be friends? We have such a good time together and you’re always so supportive of my silly arrangements.”
“Sure,” I lied.
Charlie Kondek is a marketing professional and writer from metro Detroit. His crime and "crime-adjacent" work has appeared or is forthcoming at MysteryTribune.com, Yellow Mama and The Rye Whiskey Review. His niche writing has appeared in Kendo World and others. More at CharlieKondekWrites.com.
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