I’m on the phone with my best friend, while she dumps her boyfriend over e-mail. I am dictating what to type, and I hear the keys click in another state, me holding on the line while she breaks a heart. She lives by the beach, my friend, and at times I think I can hear the water in her voice, frothy and transcendent. I know, because I once lived there too. Time passes differently by the beach, sometimes not at all, because sun and water blend, and it’s not the easiest way to measure days.
I live in Seattle now, where time moves quickly, by means of gray rain and public transportation.
My friend on the phone says, “This e-mail will be good. It will spare me the embarrassment of seeing his face or hearing his voice.” I say, “He’d be embarrassed?” “I’m not sure,” she says. “But I don’t want to see it.”
It’s quiet where I am, in a coffee shop, just the low, tinny rumble of other peoples’ conversations. I’m talking softly on the phone, as to not disturb. My friend is an actress—strictly plays—and you can hear it when she talks, the range of highs and lows, she is always emoting.
“What went wrong with him,” I say, because I realize I never asked. Outside, a dog is tugging on its leash. The owner has his back turned.
“It was no fun anymore,” she says. “It got too serious.”
This friend and I were college roommates. We went to school on the beach, where the days moved slow but the years passed quickly. It was fun. I know this, because I barely remember it. Happiness tightens up time, solidifying it, until the years feel shot out of a cannon—a tiny steel ball passing you by.
“How’s work,” says my friend. She is the only person I know who likes to hear about offices and cubicles and water cooler talk. She likes it because it’s far away from her.
In college, I played in the orchestra. I thought I’d make a living that way, touring with my violin. “Work’s fine,” I say. “Now read me what you have.”
She coughs once, preparing, and I can tell she’s standing up. She reads me the e-mail as though she’s talking to him face to face, as though he’s right there in front of her. “What do you think,” she says.
In her mouth, the words don’t sound like mine. In fact, I wonder if she changed them.
In college, we drank too much wine, and then after college, I continued to. I have many photographs with red-stained teeth. The images look sinister now.
My mother calls me every day on the phone and tells me she is proud, she is impressed by my strength and determination. This is what good mothers say when life has twisted up their daughters, shrunk their future plans into words like abstain.
To my friend, I say, “Are you sure that’s what I told you to write?”
She’s reading it over now in a low whisper, the words humming in her throat.
In the coffee shop, I overhear pieces of a date. A man and woman are exchanging information as though carefully peeling back skin. It will be months, or maybe years, until anything raw is revealed—anything raw and tender and pink that will make the teller look away.
A fat man reads a novel, his hands resting on his belly, but the light seems too dim to me. “How about this,” says my friend on the phone. “I think I fixed it.”
She reads it to me. It sounds unrecognizable, as though I had no part in it at all.
“Send it,” I say.
“Are you sure,” she says.
I sip my coffee; I can taste the grounds. I am not so sure. I am not so sure I know the best way to break a heart, but it has something to do with speed—do it quickly and do not look back.