Paul blinked, then stared straight ahead at Lucy, unsure if he had heard her correctly, or imagined what she said. She stood opposite him, across the island in the kitchen of their shared home.
“It’s not that you ate my sandwich, Paul, it’s what the sandwich represents.”
But it doesn’t represent anything, he wanted to say. It’s just a sandwich. Instead, not wanting to fight, Paul tried to apologize.
“You’re right. I shouldn’t have eaten your sandwich. That was not cool. Not cool at all. Do you want me to make you another sandwich?”
This sounded like a perfect apology to Paul, who wasn’t bothered by much of anything and who had never in his 33 years been yelled at for eating a sandwich.
“I feel like you’re not listening to me,” said Lucy as she shifted her weight from her left foot to her right. “It’s not about the sandwich, Paul. It’s about you taking things from me. You’re always taking things from me. You take my food and my parking space and…”
“That’s not your parking space,” Paul said, surprised at himself. “It’s street parking.” He couldn’t stop now. “There are no designated spaces.” Even as the words were still coming out of his mouth Paul wondered why he never got over his constant need to right, to be the smartest person in the room.
Lucy sighed. “The sandwich is a metaphor, Paul. You eating my sandwich is just like you eating away at all the parts of me that are just mine. You’re eating my individuality.” Her words were calm, but swollen with the poison of resentment. The air changed, became thicker somehow, and tighter in their chests.
“I just ate a sandwich.” Paul felt bored with the accusation that a meal could mean more than a meal, then realized what was happening. Lucy wanted to fight. Sure, he had done something wrong, but it wasn’t about that anymore. There was a dam about to break inside her, he could see that. She needed an excuse to yell at him, had wanted to for some time. And though Paul couldn’t pinpoint exactly when, Lucy’s attitude toward him had changed from a warm, sleepy affection, to loud ice. And now she wanted to fight him.
“Look Lu, I’m sorry, but all I did was eat a goddamn sandwich, which I’ve offered to replace. The rest of that shit is on you. You’re projecting.”
From his space on the other side of kitchen counter Paul watched Lucy’s eyes widen, and her jaw tighten. Her lips fell into a tight line, and she exhaled deeply and quickly through her nose. Paul didn’t like talking to her like that. It was too aggressive, too harsh, and he realized it too late. Maybe he had been wrong. Maybe she didn’t want to fight. Maybe she wanted to talk or yell. His doubt swelled. He could tell now that he had been wrong. Maybe Lucy felt aggressive in this moment, but she didn’t want his aggression in return. She wouldn’t cry. In two years she had never cried in front of him. Trying to apologize and console was wrong now too. He was sure of it. But he had been sure she wanted to fight. Paul stood frozen, suspended.
He hoped she would not wither under him. That instead she would burst and bloom and crawl out from under the weight of his words. He deserved her worst. A plate at his head. He had been wrong about the whole thing, and he knew it. But he couldn’t say it. He couldn’t move forward. He suspected they would stand in that kitchen until the end of time. Until an earthquake happened right underneath them and as the ground opened up and swallowed them, then, maybe he could say, “That was too far. I shouldn’t have been mean to you.”
Wordlessly, Lucy slowly looked at the four corners of the ceiling, her cedar-colored hair falling away from her face as she did. Paul watched her, waiting for the dam to collapse, mentally preparing himself for the hurt.
They stood silently as Lucy looked down at her toes, mentally calculated the number of tiles on the kitchen floor, stared at Paul too long without saying anything.
Then, “I don’t like it when you talk to me like that.”
“I know. I shouldn’t have.”
“I’m going to go sit outside and get some air for a while,” Lucy said as she turned to leave the room. From the hallway she called back, “You can grab some beers and join me if you want.”
Paul, surprised and still on guard, did as she suggested, and as he walked toward the back door he thought to himself, sometimes nothing happens.