Might Have Been

Might Have Been
I come home from work and my girlfriend is frosting a cake in the
kitchen. It's neither of our birthdays and I can't remember a time
she's ever baked. I ask who the cake is for.
“Our might have been,” she says, bending to smooth frosting along
the sides. She's made it with chocolate so dark it looks black.
I don't know what to say. It has probably been a year since we
decided and today might be the same day. It was awful after and
we don't talk about it. I hoped we could just move on and forget.
“You want to celebrate?” I ask.
“Of course, don't be silly.”
She shakes her head like I'm crazy and continues her work. I study
her, hoping she'll let something slip so I can tell what's really
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, I'm fine.”
“Are you angry?”
“No,” she says. “Will you hand me that box of candles.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“I just am,” she says.
“What is going on?”
“Nothing. I want to celebrate.”
She moves toward the candle box on the counter. I block her. She
puts her hands on her hips, looks to the floor.
“Look, I'm sorry,” I say.
“There is nothing to be sorry for.”
“There is. I'm sorry.”
“There isn't. Anyway, this isn't about you.”
“Then what is it about?”
“Do I have to know? Can't I just do this?”
“Yes, you have to know.”
“Will you just hand me the fucking candles?”
“Fine.” I hand her the box. “If you need me, I'll be elsewhere.” I
start for the living room. I don't really want to go. I just want to
anger her enough to tell me the truth.
“You can't leave,” she says. “You don't get to run away. This time
you have to stay and be a part of things.”
“I didn't run away.”
“You did.”
“I didn't. I was there and I'm here now.”
“You did.”
She ignores me and sticks a candle in the cake and lights it. I'm
angry enough to leave her there, but she closes her eyes and a
silence falls over the kitchen. I'm afraid to violate it. I'm afraid it's
a prayer or a confession.
She opens her eyes then blows out the candles. They smoke for a
time and the black cake looks like a cooling cinder.
“Look, we did what we had to,” I say.
“I know that.”
“Then what are you doing? Why are you doing this?”
“Because it might have been wonderful. We got so close to
wonderful and not many people even get that in life. We should be
happy we came close to wonderful.”
She pulls the candles out, sucking the frosting off the bottom, and
slices into the cake. She lays a piece on a paper plate decorated
with pink and blue balloons and hands it to me.
“Okay,” I say looking into her eyes and trying to make my face say
forgive me. For a moment, I think she says I do, but then she looks
away and it's clear she has never spoken.
Her silence was waiting for my voice. I know I'm supposed to say
something about why things went the way they did. I look at the
cake and am certain there is a reason. I think of all my loves and
my mother and father and all the things they did to me. I think
about God and fate and love and how maybe everyone had gotten
it wrong all these years because the original sin wasn't sex or
disobedience, but that we are forced to be born into other people's
love affairs.
I want to tell her all of this, but it's probably a lie to cover
something real and ultimately petty. I eat my piece of cake for her
instead. The frosting has too much sugar and it grinds like sand
over my teeth. The cake is gummy and dry and hard to swallow. I
finish it, anyway, before I go.