The last time Ray and I broke up, I flew my flag at half-mast. It was the kind of thing that pissed him off. He was very big on flag etiquette: how the flag should be folded, the fact that it should never touch the ground, when it is acceptable to fly it at half-mast, the rules regarding its destruction. As a former ROTC cadet, I already knew these things myself, of course. But I wasn't much for authority, especially after our final break-up.
Ray went on with his life. He went out with that skank from the notation on his calender: "Miriam-Party 7p" on the 17th of the month. I wasn't being nosy when I looked. He had told me to check the calender when we were at his place. We usually ended up there after we went out for dinner. He had cable. I didn't. We'd watch TV on his couch before we headed to his "love nest," his "boudoir." Since he was a cop, his days off were always changing. I blinked when I saw the party entry, traced over and over in his black printing. Is his mother named Marion or Miriam? I tried to remember, but I knew. Who would put his mother's name on the calender instead of just "mom"?
After he dropped me off that night, I went to the drugstore. I knew what was coming. Hell, I should have known sooner. He'd been on some kind of diet, had definitely lost weight, and I'd noticed a pack of some cherry smelling cigarillos tucked into the visor in his car. Maybe he was already seeing her. At the drugstore, I stood in line with my razor blades, a whole new pack of five safety blades in cardboard sheafs. My wrists were already itching. I held my arms in tight like wings. I figured "Miriam" must be the new dispatcher. He'd been talking about her a lot. Shit. She sounded like a flake to me. She did tarot readings on the side and threw rune stones. I wouldn't have thought she was his type, but he did say she had strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes, like him. Deep down, I knew, he was just enough in love with himself to like that, to want to be with someone who looked like him.
I was pretending to scan the impulse crap right by the register when I saw it—one of those punching bags like we had when we were kids, blue with a giant rubber band on the end so you can keep hold of it, so that, no matter how hard you hit it, you don't lose your grasp. There it was and in that moment it looked just like his head to me, big and round, his hairline receding, so I bought it, too, and when I went home, I didn't head to the bathroom and start the warm water. Instead, I got out a sharpie marker and drew his face and a big badge near the bottom. "Officer Friendly," I said, and gave it a good punch. I punched it and punched it but it kept springing back, his nose, his mustache, one corner of his three cornered police hat eager to make contact with my fist.
We went out a few times before the party, before he had the balls to tell me about Miriam. I pretended I didn't know. A free meal is a free meal, right? Especially when you're in college, and I wanted to see if he was going to tell me. Maybe, I even hoped he'd change his mind.
The last night we went out we didn't go to his place. I knew then it was time. Whatever else Ray was or did, he didn't go out with two women at once. Ray said he had to go to the bathroom, and I made him a cup of instant coffee. He came out wiping his hands on his pants because I'd forgotten to hang a clean towel when I did the laundry. It took him a few minutes to notice Officer Friendly, probably because he was busy thinking about how to do it this time.
"What's this?" he asked when he did see it, slightly deflated hanging from the pegboard over the counter. "Is this me?"
I didn't say anything. I can draw. It was obvious who it was. Ray put down his cup and took the bag from the hook. He gave it a punch.
"Weak," I said. I took it, gave it three quick jabs on the chin: pop, pop, pop. The sound was so satisfying. I hung it back on its peg, adjusted the face so it seemed to be watching. It was the tenth of the month.
"I can't see you next week," he said after a minute.
"I know," I answered.
He still kissed me before he left. I waited until I heard his engine turn over and the sound of his tires backing out over the gravel. Then I took Officer Friendly with me into the bathroom. I tied him to the towel rack and turned on the hot water. The air displaced by the water's steam made him bob on his string.
"Watch," I said, opening the box, unsheafing the blade, and then I plunged it into him. I didn't mean to do it. One moment the blade was hovering over my wrist and then, the next, Officer Friendly was deflating, making that flappy sound like a whoopee cushion. That's when I turned the water off and went out to the flagpole. I tied the balloon's fragments to the flag before I sent it halfway up the mast. Then, I went inside and called American Airlines and booked a flight to visit my father in California.
Ray picked me up and drove me to the airport two days before his date. "That's not right," he said when he saw the flag. He didn't notice the remnants of Officer Friendly. The car smelled like the cigarillos. She must smoke, I realized. He must be smoking those to cover up the taste when they kiss.
I shrugged. I half expected him to get out of the car and reel the flag down but we were running late, and it was freezing. There were three fresh inches of snow on the ground.
"You cold?" He turned up the heat. He was always good about that kind of thing, trying to make sure I was comfortable.
"No," I said. I was thinking about California, about my father who, when I was a kid, always kept safety blades on the top shelf of the medicine cabinet to scrape paint off the windows. Subconsciously, or, maybe not, Ray flashed the sign for "I love you" with his thumb and pinky fingers extended before I boarded. Dad could draw, too, anything, like me, but he was messy around the house, not like Ray who ran masking tape around the edges of the panes.
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