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She sits alone in the dark park. For a moment, a man crossing before her seat on the bench slows his steps. He examines her face, tries to take in her face, her slender shoulders. Jennifer lifts her hands. They float, pressed, some inches above her crossed legs, their shadow casting a deep purple about her blouse. The man continues on his way. Another moment and a young couple passes before her. Her eyes move to the spot from which they came. Her hands pivot at the palm. Rubbing and rubbing, as if there’s a problem there. The skin growing warm and loose.
A man’s voice calls, “Jen.”
Startled, she looks up as Jack, just feet away, makes his way towards her. She sits facing a swing-set, but no children, not even teenagers play at the moment.
“Sorry,” he says. “Sorry I’m late. I was going to be early. I wanted to be. A call came just as I was leaving.”
She slides to her left. Creating space. He takes a seat beside her, leaving a foot or so between them.
“Don’t worry, it’s fine. Completely fine. Don’t worry about it.”
He stares at her. She keeps her eyes anywhere but on him.
After a moment he asks, “You all right?”
She bobbles her head, eyes still pressed forward. “I’m fine. Yeah.”
“I am. I’m sure.”
“I’m quite sure. It’s been a long day is all. Too long. It’s nothing. I’m fine. Really. Don’t worry.”
Jack nods and nods, plays with his lips. Neither of them say a word for quite some time.
Finally, Jennifer pats her hands just above her knees, looks at him for the first time since he sat down. “So,” she says.
“So.” Jack smiles somewhat, his mouth stretching just on one side. “What’s this big news you have to tell me?”
Jennifer drifts away. Her eyes close, her hands repeatedly trace her hair behind her ears.
Her mouth dangles open and a hard breath escapes her.
“What is it?” he asks.
“God. I . . .” She stares before herself again and smiles. Though she isn’t really smiling.
“That good, huh?”
Jack stops breathing.
“I’m moving.” She says. “Just outside of Chicago.”
He doesn’t take time to process it before asking, “When?”
She says, “Next week.”
He nods repeatedly for some time before speaking. “And, um . . . Wow . . . I don’t . . . When did this all come about?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It doesn’t matter?”
“I’m sorry you—”
“No, no,” Jack says. “Don’t worry about it. Please. It’s not like it matters.”
She grows louder: “It’s not like this was some big plan against you. I had things I had to take care of first.”
“Things which had to be done.”
“I’m sure you did.”
“Jesus, Jack. This is about my life. Don’t think I kept this from you to hurt you. That’s not what I was doing. I wouldn’t do that, I’d never__”
“No, no, of course not.”
“It’s just . . . there’s too much going on—so many things, so many things, and I don’t know what to do.”
“So what, so you were sitting around one day and you thought to yourself oh, things aren’t so good right now, things are screwed up and well, everything’s a mess, and I’m not sure what to do, so I’ll move. That just kind of happened, I guess.”
“That’s not how it was. Don’t act like—”
“That’s exactly how it was! I know you. This—all of this, everything, it’s all out of nowhere.”
“My firm—are you listening to me? They’re opening another office in Highland Park. Do you know, do you have any idea how rare an opportunity like this is for someone my age? Do you get this at all? It just doesn’t happen. But since everyone else has families, no one wants to be the one to move. So . . .”
“People don’t just leave like this!”
“I cannot believe you don’t get it.”
“I don’t get anything.”
Jack shakes his head viciously. He no longer looks at her.
She takes her time now, speaks slower and softer. “Look, I’ve been offered the chance to head things. I get to be in charge for once. Me—think of it—in charge for once in my life . . . I don’t know what kind of choice you think is involved.”
“Have you even thought about what you’re doing?” He bites his lower lip momentarily. “Do you even know where you’ll stay?”
“With Karen. She’s got this huge apartment and—”
“I’m not stupid enough to pass this up. I won’t. The money’s better and—”
Jack frantically waves his arms. “Stop. Just stop. What is this? Are you serious. If this is about money, forget it.”
“Forget it. Forget about the job. Don’t move. Forget about everything.”
“Please. Don’t. I’ll take care of you. I will. You know I’ve got more than enough.”
“I don’t want your money. Okay. I don’t need your charity!”
“This isn’t charity.”
“That’s the last thing it is.”
“Then what do you call it?”
“You know how I feel.”
She erupts in laughter. “And you knew we couldn’t do this forever.”
Jack shakes his head. Shakes and shakes and says, “Is this what you want? Seriously?”
“Taking this job is going to make you happy?”
“It’s what I want.”
He turns from her. Says quietly to himself: “This is just . . . I cannot believe this. I really can’t.”
“This isn’t stupid. I’ve thought about this for a long time.”
He shakes his head, won’t look at her.
“You just want to get as far away from—”
“Jack, just stop. Please. At least you’ve still got someone. After I’m gone.”
“Sarah? Are you kidding me?”
“How long have you two been apart? Months? The better part of a year? She hasn’t asked you for a divorce yet, has she? And she’s not going to. She just needs time.”
“Time heals shit, Jen. I can’t believe you actually think it does any good. You move away, I don’t care for how long, you’re still going to hurt.”
“Jesus Christ, Jack, you’re not in love with me.”
“You’ve got a wife. That should mean something.”
“A wife who won’t even talk to me.” He takes a moment to breathe. “No. You’re wrong. She’s gone,” he says. “And she’s not you.”
He leans towards her; she puts her hands up, guarding. He pulls back.
“Please, don’t,” she says. “Just don’t. You don’t want me. Go back to her. Talk to her. I’m not the end of the world for you.” She leans over and kisses him on the cheek. “I’m sorry.” She stands and begins walking away.
“Jen, please. Don’t do this, please. Let’s talk, okay, let’s just talk.”
She keeps walking.
Brian Burmeister is Program Chair of English and Communication at Ashford University. He co-wrote the nonfiction play Farmscape: The Changing Rural Environment, and his writing has appeared in such publications as 50-Word Stories, Eunoia Review, and Wilderness House Literary Review. He can be followed @bdburmeister.