You never get surprised anymore.

  One woman at work, you always heard her name but could not remember it. A cheerful widow, Stacey or something like that. Stacey was always surprising herself. You always heard Stacey shrieking. It was a constant presence.

  Stacey trotted over to my desk one day. She said to me: I can see you’re tough, but I’m gonna crack you.

  She waggled her finger at me. 

  She waggled the finger again.

  I told her: I don’t surprise much, not easily. 

  Oh everyone has a surprise button, Stacey said. And I’m gonna push it.

  I’m gonna find it, and I’m gonna push it.

  I’m gonna find it! she said.

  Okay! I said. I got back to work.

  Emails from Stacey: videos with loud and sudden noise. She ate my lunch, swapped my stapler out, printed all our memos horizontal. She burned half a twenty dollar bill, showed me her mismatched socks. She fired herself. It didn’t hit the button but she tried.

  The other woman, her name was Cassie. No one talked to her, she talked to no one. She just kind of chewed absently at a granola bar in the break room and watched porn on her laptop.


Out of work one Friday I got dragged into a night spent on the town. My coworkers took me bar-hopping and pub crawling through the seven pints of stout and five shots of rye whiskey cocktails that made me drunker than I had ever been before. We found three dead apartment parties and brought them back to life again. They let us walk inside their homes, we drank more alcohol. We fired our drunkenness into their faces and they were grateful. The third apartment smelled so bad of cat shit I had to breathe in through my mouth. The renter of it was an amateur stage actress with an enormous nose. That was the second to last straw, the cat shit smell. The last straw was the nose.

  After the nose I said, I’m done, and left the apartment, which only caused everyone to be done and leave along with me. It was just me and the two guys from work, but the enormous nose and somehow, out of nowhere, my ex-girlfriend had tagged along. We needed to go somewhere now. Oh the pigeons were awake, the rats were sleeping, everything was grey. Warm fog. A cop car turned its siren on and then off again and sped through a red light, another cop van spent ten minutes on a parking job.

  A prison bus passed by.

  We can go back in time, my ex-girlfriend said, or I thought I heard her say.

  What? I said.

  To mine, she said. Go back to mine. It’s just up past the bridge.

  There were five of us and we went. That girl with the nose, my ex, three men, including me. We took each others' hands and walked side by side. We all had flat feet and heel-walked down the streets in wood-footed work shoes. We passed a mischief of young rappers shooting a music video. We passed a small old green sedan. We passed a van parked under the overpass, with a man half-naked masturbating furiously into the steering wheel. We climbed up five flights of red stairs, panting. Once inside, we sat in circles and tried to solve obesity. We got caught on economics and did circles there. Then we broke into gluttony and the death of God and lost two interlocutors to the bedroom.

  Some love may have been made in there.

  I was listening to see. I had thought I was the only one awake, and almost didn’t notice the one who kept on talking. Someone was dead, he said, I thought he’d meant his dad.

  Next thing I knew I was shivering outside, and it was cold only because of how long I’d been awake. My ex, who I had forgotten was still with us, had come outside with me, and now it was clear we didn't love each other anymore. There was a time when we had loved each other, but that time was over now. I looked at her and tried to stir myself to thoughts of loss and time past. It wasn’t working.

  Here I noticed that some things had changed about her face that surprised me.

  For one she now had lip fillers. She had extensions in her hair and a doctor seemed to have filed down her nose. She had new teeth, a whole top row of them. By someone’s measure she was more beautiful, but not mine. For an insane second I suspected that she somehow didn’t know about these changes, and I thought I'd tell her. Then I got very sad, because I wanted her to take it off. I would have stopped her if I had been there to. Now what she had done was permanent. I would never get to see her old face, my her face, again.

  We walked in the sound of cars starting up and morning birds. I saw myself in the reflection of the double door of a closed bank office and thought I looked older than three hours ago.



  I just began regretting everything, everywhere, all over the street, all over her, my ex, all over her face. And she could see it and she felt it too, on her, all over her face. It was you! It was just you! I loves you! I said, I adore you! I need you! even though it wasn't exactly what I meant, none of it, no, worse, it wasn’t true, not even close.

  I did not love this woman anymore.

  I lived through the heyday of surprises, I sometimes think. And when it ended, what a surprise it was. But the moments that it lasted. Joying.

Charlie Clateman is a fiction writer based in New York City. His recent work can be found here. He is currently working on a novel.

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