The Manchester Review

      The place they come apart is very beautiful.
      Behind the leaded-glass doorway are rows of high-backed chairs silver painted, white walls and white tablecloths setting off the blue willow-pattern crockery. Once upon a time a carpet of soft grey slid beneath the chairs and settees draped in rich rose-purple and leaded mirror glass reflected bright enamels in pastel pinks and mauves.
      But it is still very beautiful, this place they come apart.

      She watches him. He looks at his hands. He is smoothing his hands on the creaseless white tablecloth while she watches him. She enjoys seeing him nervous, always has, and still even now. He knows this too, knowing all she thinks, is.
      “It’s a big mess isn’t it?”
      “I suppose.”
      “It is, pretty much.”
      He doesn’t say anything. His hands are so interesting to him against the white tablecloth because they are not interesting.
      “I’ve always wanted to come here,” she says. “I’m glad we did.”
      He doesn’t say anything, looking at her face, trying to imagine what it would be like to meet her for the first time. It’s a funny feeling.
      “It’s so formal though,” she says. “Like being in church.”
      “I thought we should make the last time special.”
      The edge in his voice surprises him, revealing too much, but she seems to miss the telling inflection.
      “And we’re so not the type of people who’d be doing this in church.”
      “Not appropriate.”
      “No.” She picks up an exquisite white-handled little butter knife and examines her reflection in it, frowning slightly. “Room de Luxe,” she whispers.
      “You wouldn’t find a jewellry store on the ground floor of a church though.”
      She looks at him and he can see himself in her eyes looking at her. If he were to glance at the knife in her hand he’d see himself glinting there too.
      “I’d really like to play a game,” she says. “I miss that, playing games with you. Remember when we’d go to a bar and just sit and play exquisite corpse for hours?”
      “You always got mad when I beat you at chess.”
      Resentment still, after all this time. But she always was such a terrible loser.
      “Not every time.”
      She’s right of course. There were days she won too, many days.
      “We can keep doing that,” he says, quickly. “I don’t see why not. We can still play like we used to. Online maybe. Just for the, you know, company and. . .”
      “No we can’t.”
      “Just for. . .”
      “No, we can’t.” She puts the knife down carefully, impresses it in the cloth, this soft denting. “Tell me one of your stories.”
      “I can’t. I’m all out of stories. My mind has to be at a place.”