That night, she sliced a bell pepper in half, and it opened to reveal a heart-shaped outline. She grew angry, then, tired of seeing love everywhere she looked, when she was trying so hard to keep all her hatred walled off inside her chest. She chopped that half of the pepper into small squares, eradicating what it revealed on the cutting board. Someday, she’d have room in her kitchen for romance again, but at that moment, she just wanted a salad.
She came around a bend in the river just as the sun slipped behind the trees, leaving the clouds above the color of lava, butter, bruise.
It had been a long walk, and she sat on a rock next to the water, which had taken on the clouds’ color so intensely it looked much warmer than she knew it to be. She thought about taking a swim, but decided resting was good enough—she had already leapt into too many things that looked more welcoming than they turned out to be.
Two wheels are better than four, she’d said just before she took off on her bike. She left him holding his car keys, his mouth open, his heart urging him to follow.
He’d only known her long enough to learn she never needed training wheels, but he already loved the skinned place on her knee just below her hem. She seemed older and younger than him at the same time, and her eyes twinkled when she talked about motion.
He ran for his car, determined to catch up with her. For this one day, four wheels would be enough.
He taxied away from their home after making it clear he was flying toward a different destination. He took what he could fit in two suitcases (one large, one small).
His departure surprised her—the pressure inside her heart had equalized, so she had stopped feeling the tension weeks before.
You’re leaving so much behind, she said before he left, gesturing at the things that had grounded them: the furniture, the books, the photographs.
I won’t need it where I’m going, he said, and she knew he really meant he no longer needed her.
She had stopped setting the clock years ago, preferring silence to incessant ticking, waking with the sun to getting up at a prearranged moment. She had stopped paying attention to the weather, too, preferring to watch for frost on her windowpanes or to listen for the whine of summer cicadas.
He didn’t understand how she managed without data. He followed her around, keeping an extra umbrella with him in case she left the house without knowing rain was coming. He suggested a scarf on days he knew she’d need one. She shrugged each time, satisfied with surprise.
A flat of strawberries arrived Thursday, and the race was on. They disappear like summer, turning to soup in the warm air, uninterested in schedules and convenience. Sometimes I jam or freeze them, but this time, I devoted most to eating, beginning just after I brought them home with a pint rinsed and eaten greedily over the sink.
By Sunday, they had reached last-chance status, and I quartered the ones left, saved them in the refrigerator. Later, even after I’d washed my hands, my fingers still smelled of summer and seized opportunity.
The whole world had gone blurry, leaving only the two of them in focus, standing there in the Florence square. He stared at their guidebook, as if to will the pages to explain to them where they’d taken a wrong turn. She stared at it, too, but only because everything else in view made her dizzy.
Maybe we should just go get a gelato, he said. That would give us time to think about what to do next.
Maybe, she replied. Perhaps, she thought, a taste of creamy, frozen hazelnut would fix everything.