They leave with the sharp sound of chair-scrapes. That classic cafe endnote. Sometimes leading to better things, better places, more things to do. Today, though, it's the sound of something ending. The last thing they will remember about each other, she thinks, is that one awful sound.
But somehow there's one moment more, a stolen secret second neither of them are quite prepared for. Peter's eyes, reflected in the shiny black stone that lines the door. A chance glance, perhaps. His eyes are disturbing, she thinks, not in their intensity but rather in intensity's absence. Then he's gone. Leaving nothing but the white glare of an afternoon.
Ellen sits back down at their table—now her table—pulling in her chair. She puts her arms out in front of her, considering, intently, her palms. That was it, she thinks. It's done. A long sigh escapes her throat, sour and deflating. A relief.
She had spent the entire night half-awake, sick and searching for air. She pictured all the things she loved about Peter, she held them there, in her mind's eye. She forced herself to see them as only as what they obscured. Every happy memory was a thin paper over that unseen depth of his deception. Every fond moment was one he shared equally with another person—that name without a face, his other. Holly. The name kept conjuring. Holly was a name only, a voice only once caught. Holly was stitched together with dial tones. She was made of unexplained absences, swallowed words.
When she had said the name—Holly—that simple, festive name, Peter's eyes went wide. His coffee cup swung in his hand, hinged by its tiny handle from his rigid first finger. The dregs of his cappuccino dribbled out, creating new liquid countries on the laminate. His mouth made protests, but his eyes told Ellen she was right. She felt the tension break inside her eyes. The hot tangle of tears she had spent all morning fighting.
Peter's arms had slid out to her then, pushing through the spilled coffee clouds. All she could do was stare at his freckled arms, the fake granite table, the smeared milk. Just tell me, she said. Just tell me.
Ellen takes out a ten dollar note from her purse, holding it to the light. In it she sees, even in the harsh polymer plastic, the wrinkles and dents of time. Not like a coin, she thinks, with the date stamped forever, always traced back to a single year. Getting up, shrugging off the dry remnants of emotion, Ellen leaves the cafe, walks off into that blank glaring afternoon.