by Alice Martin
You think of him when you smell smoke. A switch in your brain, a splinter in your nose. Musty and rich, and just a little sweet.
His shirts smelled like campfires. For four years, the scent weaved into the threads of your sweaters. When it ended, you washed them five times in a row, sat watching the spin cycle.
“You’ll be fine. Better, even,” he said when you cried. “I’m not good for you.”
No shit, you thought.
Your roommate Claire says all the right, bland things when you tell her, as you sit beside each other on your couch and split a beer. At some point you wonder why you’re settling for half and keep the warming bottle against your chest.
“I never liked him,” Claire says.
You’d known this and it’d brought you a certain amount of pleasure. The way she’d flare, like a match catching fire, when he’d come to your apartment. Her searing smiles and high-pitched voice, the way her eyes pointed at him, pupils shrunken to the tips of two sharpened pencils. Once he asked you if Claire wanted to sleep with him. “Probably,” you said and tried to pretend the question wasn’t a threat.
Later that night, when Claire’s gone out and you’re in the apartment alone, your task is to scour your closet-sized bedroom for any trace of him. The soft-backed books he lent you, covered in his blade-like lettering. (You’d read his notes more carefully than you’d read the books, training yourself to read the way he did.) The empty wine bottle you drank together on his old apartment’s rooftop that you now use as a vase for dead flowers. (You’d never liked red wine until you had it with him and learned to find pleasure in the way your tongue would curl inward at its taste.) Some of the things you ball into a trash bag aren’t even his, but you know they need to go anyway: the vanilla hand cream you bought when he told you that he liked it when women smelled sweet; the too-short dress you wore to his birthday party; his favorite pair of your underwear. You shove it all in and carry it down to your apartment’s trash room.
You keep a stack of photos of the two of you together and a pack of his cigarettes that he dropped behind your dresser and never rediscovered. You take these things to your small kitchen, flick on the gas stove, and wait through four empty ticks before the range wooshes to life. You don’t have a lighter—you’ve never smoked when you weren’t with him—so you bring your hand close to the stove’s flame to light the tip of the cigarette. You keep it balanced in the front of your lips as you feed the pictures to the fire. You could have thrown them away, with everything else, but there’s just something about watching his face catch fire, smolder, and ash.
When it’s over, you stand by your kitchen window and think of all the useless information about him that you’ve stored deep in your head. It’s stuck there like a song, rolling over and over again, until it’s stale and out of tune. You think about how you once read that female praying mantises eat their mates after sex. This surprised you at the time; you’d heard black widows did this, but praying mantises? With their gangly, fragile limbs and big, childish eyes? Now, you stare at the image of yourself, superimposed over the dark glass of the window, bringing the cigarette to your own, unfeeling lips. You suck and you suck and you think it tastes like him but better.
To read all of “You Won’t” by Alice Martin, buy The Canopy Review Issue 2 from the store.