Cartons of Heartbreak

December 11, 1990|By James Sallis

Fort Worth, Texas.-- STARING DEEPLY into my eyes she told me, ''I put your number in the Rolodex today.''

Not quite the declaration of undying love I'd hoped for -- something along the lines of ''I've waited for you all my life,'' perhaps -- but with age, our perspective on these things changes. We become either more desperate or calmer. More desperate didn't seem humanly possible, so I was working on calm.

And for Susan, even though, as she pointed out, leaves were forever falling from that Rolodex never to be seen again, inclusion therein was signal.

Nevertheless, it was autumn. Months later, as I sat on my porch pondering Katherine Mansfield's statement of one of the chief benefits of solitude --

''Even if I should, by some awful chance, find a hair upon my bread and honey, at any rate it is my own hair''

-- It occurred to me that as time goes on I am going through companions at an ever faster, rather alarming rate.

Of course, one gets over it all a lot faster, too. This time, for instance, I was up and about by the following spring. I walked into my kitchen and into a largely unacknowledged problem of the single life.

Paul Tillich said that the history of religion is a graveyard of dead symbols. My histoire d'amour, I realized, was a litter of drinks and foodstuffs I'd never use. Cabinets, shelves and refrigerator were filled with them.

There were, for example, four cans of diet chocolate drink which Susan was drinking when I first met her. Naturally I'd gone out and stocked up on it. As I recall, she lost her taste for this drink shortly before losing her taste for me, and the cans have languished there ever since.

One cabinet shelf was lined with herb tea another companion drank. For almost a month my apartment hosted innumerable half-cups of this tea. I'd find them, abandoned, everywhere: window ledges, etageres, once in the pocket of a hanging raincoat. Freshly brewed or brewing, Gabby's tea smelled like a spring garden. After it sat a while, it smelled the way flower stems look when you pull them out of week-old water.

Not too far from the herb teas was a stack of popcorn Gail had to have when we watched old movies together on the VCR. Two or three boxes of Familia left over from breakfasts with Barbara. Girl Scout cookies that were Sandy's. Non-alcoholic champagne that Linda brought for our first (and, as it turned out, last) dinner together, about an inch-and-a-half of it remaining in the bottle.

Caviar bought for someone. (I threw the Brie away before it came after me. It had begun to glow with intelligence.)

Sardines for

Sardines?

However desperate I became, surely I would never go with a woman who ate sardines.

Anyway, you get the idea. I'd become the Grocer of Unrequited Love.

What I did was, I contacted a food bank and donated it all. They came by, had a look and called for another truck. When the bombs fall, at least we won't starve: we can squat in the ruins and dine on diet chocolate soda, sardines and Girl Scout cookies while we watch fingernails grow through the back of our hands.

At any rate, now, at last, I am truly alone here. The cabinets groan with emptiness. My phone number is (817) 735-1171.

Mr. Sallis is a free lance.

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