Ghost in the Produce Section
He didn’t mean to. He just kept putting it off until he forgot, and by the time he remembered, it had been a month, and responding then seemed worse than not responding at all.
And then here she was, gently squeezing avocados at the grocery store in his—his!—neighborhood. Had she moved? She had cut her hair shorter, so that the tips just brushed the shoulders of her coat. He wasn’t sure if it flattered her. It was a new color, kind of silvery.
He considered a run for the exit, but it was too late. He was in her peripheral vision. The best-case scenario at this point would be that she would see him and pretend he didn’t exist. He had gotten new glasses since they last saw each other. Maybe she wouldn’t recognize him in wire frames. Maybe he could blend into the background with all the other generic-looking men in produce.
And then, of course. “Matt?” Her head cocked, eyebrows raised. Confusion or fury? He couldn’t tell.
He turned as if just spotting her, laughed nervously. “Hey there!” he said, too loudly. “How’s it going?” Then, before she had time to answer, he blurted, “How ‘bout them avocados? The finest almost-rotten produce Brooklyn has to offer, am I right?” God, he sounded like a cruise ship comic. Where had that come from?
She laughed, a short, quiet laugh but a laugh nonetheless.
He would rather not make it into a whole conversation, but he imagined that she would make it one. She had a therapist, he knew. She liked to confront things head-on, in a no-nonsense way that made him deeply uncomfortable.
“Can I ask you a question?” she would say, and despite the panic clear in his eyes that screamed No, definitely not she would press on. “What happened?” Balancing her grocery basket on her hip, waiting for him to answer. He knew exactly what she was talking about.
The silence, a beat too long. She couldn’t resist filling it. “Why did you just disappear?” A pause, a deep breath. “Why didn’t you just break up with me for real, instead of just ignoring me?” She would try to hold his gaze, eyes searching, trying to read him. He would look down at the avocados instead of looking her in the eye, trying to appear very invested in finding just the right one, though in truth, he had a slight allergy. Guacamole made his tongue itch.
Here he would stutter. Focus his attention directly on the center of her forehead. “It wasn’t you, I swear,” he would lie. “I’m sorry,” he would lie. “I was just working through some stuff.” He had not been.
“You could have just sent me a message.” she would say, disappointment in her voice. “You could have just told me that you didn’t want to see me anymore.” So vulnerable it hurt him to look at her. In public, no less. “I would have been fine with that. We could have been friends, even.”
He felt a shameful blush of pride at the relative power he had over her. She was the one with feelings, not him. None of this mattered to him, really. Well, he did feel a little guilty about the whole thing. But most of all, as he looked at her, he felt nothing.
Not true. He felt embarrassed. The memories came to him, unbidden, of them in bed. Her regular critiques—slow down, not that way, do it this way. She once made some kind of analogy comparing her clitoris to a carrot. She wanted to know why he didn’t warn her before he finished. “You have to give a girl a heads up,” she lectured him.
He thought he was good at sex. Or good enough, at least. He had been sexually active since high school! He had had girlfriends. Several! None of them had complained.
And this was the crux of it. Clothed, they were electric. They made out in corners of dark bars, couldn’t resist touching each other’s legs under restaurant tables. Naked, he felt like he was failing a class. He could never shake the feeling, not then and not now, of being incompetent at the basest tasks of manhood.
She never had an orgasm with him, not even when he tried his best to wrap his mind around whatever she was saying about giving a baby carrot a handjob. (What?) That one had been the final blow to his ego. As the weeks went on he had felt all trace of eroticism flee whenever he thought of her, replaced instead by a buzzing anxiety.
One Saturday, she texted him a picture of the condoms she bought. In bulk. Ribbed for her pleasure. Naturally.
He didn’t respond. “When do you want to come over?” she asked, a winking emoji at the end of her message. Many hours later, he forced himself to respond, though it was with a lie. A white one, at least. “My parents are in town, can’t hang anytime soon. Maybe next week?”
When next week came, she texted again. He was in his cubicle, tinkering with his fantasy basketball lineup.
“How’s it going?”
He let it hang unanswered. He shouldn’t be texting at work, anyway.
Later that night: “I’m supposed to go to this party down the street from your place this weekend—want to join?”
He was on the couch. A little high, last week’s Game of Thrones on TV. He swiped the notification off his screen.
She was persistent. “Let me know if you ever want to hang out again.” He could hear the desperation—tinged with annoyance—across the virtual divide. He felt a sudden twist in his stomach.
He wanted to tell her it was over, maybe lie and say he was settling down with someone else, that he was leaving the country, that he had developed a severe and life-threatening allergy to her cat. It was him, not her, really, he should swear. He needed time to focus on himself. Things at work were just really crazy.
But he never decided which lie to tell, and the thought of drafting the message always seemed just a little too much for the present moment. Later, he told himself. Tomorrow, maybe.
“I’m sorry,” he knew he should say now, though in truth he knew he would do it the same way again, given the opportunity. Instead, now clutching avocados he couldn’t even eat, he said nothing. Again.
But she didn’t say anything about what had happened between them, or not happened. Or anything at all.
She just put her fruit in her basket, looking over toward the piles of kale and towers of cabbage. No questions, no guilt trip, nothing at all to hint that she cared that he had disappeared after two months of sleeping with her. No. Be honest, Dating her.
He almost wanted her to ask. He wanted to explain it, make sure she knew he was a good guy. He was a good guy, plenty of people would say that. He wasn’t an asshole.
She smiled at him and raised her hand in a small wave. “It’s nice to see you. Have a good one,” she said, walking off toward the salad dressings. For weeks afterward, he would think back on this moment obsessively, what that meant, what she might have been leaving unsaid. What he could have done differently. If she hated him. If she cared.
About the Author: Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in outlets like Fast Company, The Cut, and more. Her fiction has been published in Ink in Thirds.