Styrofoam – Short Story by L. Breen


She prefers paper cups to Styrofoam. Styrofoam is too kind on the hands. She always thinks that to hold a Styrofoam cup feels safe, and therefore the liquid inside is at perfect drinking temperature. Only after the initial sip and burnt tongue does she ever find out otherwise.

She had done that very thing just now, scorched the tip of her tongue. She ran her tongue along the underside of her two front teeth, feeling the throbbing, protruding taste buds and hoping a good scratch would do them some good. She blamed him for picking such a cheap coffee shop, one that only served their coffee in Styrofoam cups. They were also bad for the environment, such cups.

Surely, once before, she had told him of her grievances, in which case, he chose this location only to piss her off. In the same vein, she was certain he would arrive, sit down, and immediately say that he had given up caffeine. Typical. He was always on some new food thing.

Three months ago, he had asked her to meet, and she had refused. At the time, it had been over a year, but she knew she wasn’t ready. The songs still meant something, and she still had trinkets and photos tucked away in drawers back at her parent’s house. Since that time, though, she had forced her ears to go deaf and made the trip back to Connecticut to dispose of the evidence. This time around, she had been the one to arrange the meeting. They even spoke on the phone briefly. It was overly cordial and labored at times, but had not been reduced to the jugular-slashing insults she remembered. Yes, she was sure she was ready.

She checked her watch. He was ten minutes late. Nothing out of character for him, but it still made her heart beat faster. She hoped she would find him unattractive. The pictures didn’t stir anything in her anymore, but he never smiled in photos. He had a deathly smile. She checked her watch again. Fifteen minutes late.

She thought about leaving on principle, to make a point that her life was too busy to wait even fifteen minutes for an old flame. But then she saw him, or his car, rather, parallel parking in front of the coffee shop. She saw the driver’s side open. She held her breath. He turned to face her. Nothing. She felt nothing. She smiled and waved to him through the glass. He smiled back. Still nothing.

They greeted each other with a hug, and she found his cologne to be familiar, but not nostalgic. They launched into conversation — how happy was she to finally be graduated, how she liked her new job, how her writing was going, mostly topics relating to her. When she realized this, she immediately turned the conversation to his life, if only out of politeness, asking the innocuous, “How are things with you?”

“Great!” he said with an eager smile. “I’ve actually been seeing someone for a while now, eight months or so.” And that was that. He said it so casually, and she knew she should treat it as such, a completely casual conversation. She grappled with the number eight, how close it was to twelve, how far it was from infinity. He provided details – the woman’s name, how they met. She remembered thinking about smiling, that she should smile, but she felt her face growing hot. She nodded and cleared her throat, trying to stave the rising tides. She cleared her throat a second time, and it was then that she felt the tears. They fell quickly in big, picturesque drops. Her shoulders heaved under the mere weight of them cascading downwards. She didn’t bother to cover her face.

She knew that she was not crying because she loved him or wished to be with him once more. She had proven to herself that much. She cried because in that moment she hated him, and she cried because she hated him in the softest, most intimate way.

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