Karen even helped me pack my stuff. I joked about how glad she must be to see me go if she was willing to help me move. She didn't laugh as much as I had hoped.
"I just need time on my own," she said.
"I know." What I really knew was how friendly she had gotten with Kyle, her officemate at work. For a while, she'd tell me about him--things he said, jokes he made. Then she stopped mentioning him. The silence told me much more than her words.
Karen and I had dated since our junior year in college. When we graduated, we found jobs in the same town and moved in together. It just seemed like what we should do.
Of course, at first we spoke of marriage. But it never felt real to me. The fact is neither of us set down roots. This was just a stopover before the next move. Like two children playing house, we were just going through the motions of living together. I understand that now; I sensed it then.
As we got involved in the routine of our new jobs, we stopped talking about our future. Then we stopped talking. It took a while before we realized it was over.
A month after I moved out, I still felt uncomfortable. I still wanted to call Karen when something funny happened at work or I found something for my new apartment. But I was setting it up the way I wanted--a recliner I found at Goodwill in front of the TV, a colorful bedspread, that kind of thing. I even went to a flea market and bought some stuff for the walls. Still, I moped around like I was a guest in a stranger's apartment.
It wasn't simply that I pined for Karen. The new place didn't feel like home.
Then it hit me, like some kind of epiphany. My place didn't smell familiar. Karen placed lilac potpourri in every room and she insisted on brewing burnt-bean Starbuck's coffee every morning. What I realized was I never liked the way Karen made our apartment smell. It's dumb, I know, but I laughed out. I was free to make my place smell the way I wanted.
So I did something I hadn't done since I started living with Karen. I cooked my favorite food the way I liked it. I took out a frying pan and heated some oil. Then I fried garlic and onions before tossing a couple of burgers into the sizzling oil.
Karen hated the smell of onions. I hadn't realized how much I missed it.
Wayne Scheer has locked himself in a room with his computer and turtle since his retirement. (Wayne's, not the turtle's.) To keep from going back to work, he's published hundreds of short stories, essays and poems, including, Revealing Moments, a collection of twenty-four flash stories, available at http://www.pearnoir.com/thumbscrews.htm. He's been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. Contact Wayne at firstname.lastname@example.org.