He’d taken a deep drag and nodded, closing his eyes as though to steel himself for something. She resented him for behaving as though they were in this situation together when it was he who brought this destructive lunatic first into their lives and then into their home. He continuously acted as though he was ready to walk away from the relationship, which also irked her as he clearly was not ready and would probably never be. It would have been better if Max had just said to her, talking down from his perch on the stoop, that it was his name on the lease and it was he who decided who stayed and who went, and that Bret was staying even it meant she was leaving. But he would never say this to her. He would always act as though she was leaving of her own volition and not because Bret’s strange friends had opened her bedroom door at three in the morning thinking it was the bathroom or that the kitchen was taken up by the strange food that Bret would cook and cook and cook when he’d either taken too much or too little of whatever it was that he kept in the myriad unmarked prescription bottles in the bathroom cabinet. There had been a particularly memorable instance of twelve tarts made all in one evening with strange pairings of ingredients; lemon and cilantro, lemon and garlic, lemon and tuna. Things had already been bad but the lemon tarts were the harbinger of doom.
“I’m going to stay with Shaun for awhile,” Leigh had said, unable to look Max in the eye. He’d nodded and pulled his knees into his chest, wrapping his long arms around them, collapsing in on himself. They’d both known that it was the end and that this was a simple sort of platitude, like telling your lover that you thought you should see other people or take a break because you’re determined to find the words with the least finality. She’d looked away from Max down the street at the block that she’d walked down almost every day to and from the subway. It had already looked different to her, altered by her forthcoming absence.
“Thanks for the stuff, I should get going. I told Shaun I would meet her so…”
“Okay,” he’d said, twisting his cigarette into the pavement. He’d come down the few steps of the stoop he had gone up and planted a kiss on her cheek.
“Bye,” he’d said, and briskly walked back down 2nd Avenue. Leigh had headed down 30th Street. That moment wasn’t what it should have been, she’d thought. She’d watched a girl with a Pomeranian pass by serenely. That’s what people meant when they said they weren’t good at saying goodbye, that they weren’t good at admitting that it had to be said.
Leigh wouldn’t have said she loved Murray Hill. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood; there was great Indian food and one real Irish pub with good live music in amongst a host of imposters with O’s in the names: O’Malleys, O’Flannigans. There was something transitional about the neighborhood, there were lots of kids just out of college, newly minted adults who hadn’t yet figured out how to live up to the title. It was a sort of holding tank for not quite New Yorkers: boys who wore printed t-shirts under their button-downs, and girls with too much eye makeup who congregated in the Tasti-D-Lite. Leigh had ambiguous feelings about the enormous Loews Cinema where she had seen a lot of movies by herself those long first months in New York; it was a reminder of a very specific kind of loneliness and bravery that she was uncertain she would ever feel again. Later there had been a date or two there, none of note.
Whatever this neighborhood was, it had been home. Her first in New York. The café on the corner with the really good macaroons knew her order when she called in hungover and asked for breakfast to be delivered even though it was right downstairs. She’d talked to the woman in the sandwich shop about her boyfriend, who was always leaving and coming back. Leigh would stand there and nod, as if she’d ever be able to understand what it was like to be living with two children in Queens, waiting for a boyfriend to come back. Well, Goodbye to All that, Leigh thought, knowing the words weren’t hers but not remembering where they’d come from. The answer lingered in the corner of her brain but refused to emerge until much later that night when she was on the cusp of sleep when she would promptly forget it all over again.