The Green Jacket

Short Stories

By Jenae Janzen

 

I work on a hunch. I’m always working on hunches. I have a hunch that if I follow a man in a green jacket into a corner store I’ll find a solution. I used the colors only in order. I colored only on the right-hand pages.

Today I realize I don’t love you. Today I realize love is only an illusion, and that I only wished to love you. Today I realize that you are only an illusion and I only wished to love you. I wanted to tell you this in person, but I had forgotten. I was too in love with the idea of love to admit this.

We’re taking the interstate. You’re driving. I’m sitting in the passenger seat, reclining, I’m holding a magazine and the directions that we printed off have slid onto the floor and gotten lost amongst the fast food wrappers and discarded clothes. I flip a page and read you advice on pleasing girls. You ask me to read you the exit you need to take instead. I put my sunglasses on.

You miss the exit. I just shrug because I don’t really care where we’re going. You yell at me to find the GPS and I hand you your backpack. You don’t like this. I don’t care.

I read you another article, and this one’s on “sex cravings,” whatever that means.

You turn on the radio, so I start talking louder. You turn up the radio. I start talking even louder. This goes on for several minutes before you nearly run off the road and that shuts us up. After too long of a silence, you see a sign for a hotel and we pull off into the parking lot.

We get a room. We go upstairs. They only gave us one card to the room and so we fight about it. Fight for it.  As soon as we get inside, I change into my swimsuit with the intention of finding the pool. You want to watch TV instead and flop down on the bed. I start jumping on the bed in order to persuade you otherwise. You’re not having it. I trip over you and fall down beside you. You wrap your arms around me. I flounder for a few minutes but you don’t let go and you don’t let go and you don’t let go and you don’t let go and you don’t let go and you don’t let go. I calm down. You don’t let go. You don’t let go. I don’t want you to let go anymore. We sleep. We wake up. I realize I don’t love you anymore. I don’t know why.

I don’t tell you that I don’t love you. Instead I go to the bathroom and wash my face and my hands. I put the mini shampoo bottles in my bag. The clock on the wall says 10:00. It’s dark outside. I’m still wearing my swim suit and so I take a towel from the shelf. Once again I ask you to come with me, and you do, although a bit reluctantly. No one else is in the pool. There is no life guard. The pool is outside and the air is just starting to get cool. It’s August and I think I can see clouds building in the Southeast. Whenever I step out of the pool I shiver. You didn’t bring a towel and so you steal mine. I try to grab it and you throw it in the water. I’m angry. I stalk off. You run after me. You throw me in the water too. I’m not amused. You pull me out. You grab a used towel from the bin and give it to me. You propose. I try not to say yes. I remember that I’m not in love with you anymore. I say yes anyway.

You suggest we celebrate. I suggest we celebrate tomorrow. You call your mother. I see a man wearing a green jacket so I follow him for no reason.

He goes into the bar that’s next to the hotel. I do too. The waitress seats me underneath a painting of a field of windmills and cows. She hands me a menu and I ask for a coloring sheet. She gives me one and a box of crayons. I can never pronounce the word “crayon,” I always say “crown.” Whenever I have to say “crayon” I blush and hope that no one notices. My friends used to make fun of me. You smiled the first few times I said it, now you just ignore it. I like that about you.

The man in the green jacket orders. I ask for water. I look at the menu but there’s nothing I really want. My phone rings and it’s you and you ask me where I went and I tell you. I don’t want you to join me. You join me anyway.

You bring the ring. You didn’t have it earlier because we were swimming and you thought it would be a bad idea, and you weren’t planning on proposing yet anyway, the words just kind of slipped out because you love me.

I want to tell you no, I don’t love you. You talk about the windmills in the picture and ask to see what I’ve drawn. It isn’t anything, just shapes and lines. No, I don’t love you. I watch the man in the green jacket. No, I don’t love you. The waitress brings him his food. No, I don’t love you.  You take my hand across the table. I think you just asked me a question.

“No, I—“

don’t love you.

You put the ring on my finger. Eight months later you put a different ring on my finger. I stare at you. I can’t say it. I can’t say

No, I—

“don’t”

love you.

Tonight we go back upstairs. You tell me how quiet I seem. I smile. Well, I try to smile. You try to hug me. I want to squirm away. I don’t want to lie I want to tell you

No i don’t

“love you”

anymore.

You don’t let go. And you don’t let go. I stop squirming. You don’t let go, and then you do. It’s almost midnight. You ask if I’m tired but I’m not and you’re not either. But I say I am. I go to the bathroom to wash the chemicals out of my hair and I consciously lock the door behind me. You knock for about five minutes before I hear you over the running water. I don’t let you in. Not until I’ve put on my robe and am brushing my teeth in front of the fogged up mirror. You come in and then you write with your finger in the fog.

“I love you.”

Love is too strangling. I can’t write it back. I write

“You too.”

You kiss my hair. You also have toothpaste in your mouth. I make a face at you in the mirror, which is getting less foggy by the second. I wipe the toothpaste out of my hair and accept that I have to love you.

We lie down to sleep. You hold me. I turn my face away from you. I don’t want you to see my face. You kiss my neck. I pretend that I can see into the future when I close my eyes. In the future, I can see us, and you’re putting a ring on my finger, and we’re leaving the church and we’re getting in your car, and you ask if I have the map and the directions we printed off. We take pictures of each other standing by rocks. We buy a house. We buy a car. We buy a puppy. You make me pregnant. I don’t want to be pregnant I don’t I don’t I don’t. No, in the future I might. We have a kid. We have two kids, a boy and a girl.

No.

We plan our wedding. Your mother helps too much. I wonder if anyone’s ever died by too much lace. You get too drunk. I shave your eyebrows off while you’re asleep. We postpone the wedding so your eyebrows can grow back. You’re putting a ring on my finger.

You leave your dishes in the sink. You leave your socks on the floor in the hall. You leave me love notes on the table.

You break my favorite mug. You break a $200 vase in a china shop and I have to pay for it because your checking account is empty. You break the kitchen table because you think that it would be romantic to make love on it.

We fight. We make up. I try to hate you. I try to love you. Neither works. We get a new kitchen table.

We stay together because of the sex. We stay together because of the kids. We stay together because we’re old and because change is no longer a part of our vocabularies.

Tonight. You whisper “I love you” in your sleep. I pretend to be asleep so I don’t have to whisper back.

No. I don’t love you.

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