The List

Vincent Van Gogh, Cafe Terrace

         They broke up on one of those winter days when the snow seems to rise rather than fall. From their seat by the café window they watched the continuous drafts pull the snow up into the dizzying gray. Occasionally, when the view became too much, they would look at each other briefly, then down at the steam rising from their coffee. Finally they both spoke at once.

         “Do you think we’re doing the right thing?”

         They both laughed, shook their heads, and then drank some coffee. For the next hour they went through the same conversation they’d been having lately. First there were the reasons to break up. We haven’t been the same lately. We’ve only dated each other so how do we know if we’re the perfect fit? We don’t make each other laugh like we used to. It’s been so long since we’ve . . . And then the reasons to stay together. A short list. We love each other.

         The only difference in their conversation was they were talking out in public rather than in bed, pressed close against each other to stay warm in her cold apartment. They thought the change in atmosphere would give them perspective, a practical look at their relationship, this complex entity which seemed to have a life both bigger and harder to understand than either of them had realized.

         After running through the list they looked out the window again. It was evening now, the sky no longer so vast. The snow was visible only when they looked at the streetlights.

         “We can’t stay here forever,” she said.

         With some effort he pulled his attention away from the window and nodded. He signaled a passing waiter.

         “Then what do we do?” he said.

         She paused while the waiter poured coffee from a gleaming silver carafe.

         “We probably should see what else is out there,” she said. “We can always get back together someday if that doesn’t work out.”

         After speaking, she drank some coffee and told herself the flush of heat rising to her face was from the hot liquid rather than the sentimentality of her words.

         “I guess that makes sense,” he said.

         And so they agreed that they wouldn’t return to her place later. They wouldn’t call each other either, at least not until a couple weeks had passed. He could retrieve his stuff from her place when she was at work so they wouldn’t be tempted to get back together. After making these arrangements they went back to staring out the window.

         Evening had given way to night. The café filled up with students there to study. They came in, stamped the snow off their shoes, and carried their books over to a table. Every so often one of them would jealously eye their seats. The waiter came by often to ask if they needed anything else, another refill? the check perhaps? Each time they would shake their heads and say, “No thanks, we’re fine for the moment.”

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