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Story: Mason-Dixon

He knew this would be a hard one to leave. He felt her breath float across his chest as she slept, and pulled her closer. He knew this one would be hard.

He cried their first night together. As she held his face in her hands and touched her lips to his forehead, his lips, his eyes, he whispered “Thank you for being real.” He felt her smiling, and she pulled his face into her chest and closed her arms around him.

He had asked her to talk dirty to him, but she couldn’t. She giggled, embarassed, and he thought she was the softest and most beautiful girl he’d ever met.

He held her hand in public, kept her close at all times. “Don’t hold her so tight, she’s fragile,” a man in the street had said, laughing, as they walked past hand in hand. She laughed and put her head on his shoulder as they walked.

She tried cooking for him many times, but always failed, full of apologies. He ate every bite of her terrible food, and asked for second helpings. She smiled at him while he ate.

He called her every night, and left messages when she wasn’t home. He called her at work one day, but she was busy and couldn’t talk. She rarely had the need to call him.

He spent days and days with her, and didn’t want to leave her house. He didn’t want to go back to his dirty apartment, his drug-dealing neighbors, his streets full of addicts and prostitutes and sex clubs. Her house was clean and bright and spacious, her neighborhood full of friendly family neighbors and flowers in every yard. Sometimes he ripped flowers from those yards for her. She always displayed them in a jar on her kitchen table, smiling as she chided him for taking them.

He left her only to go to work–he worked the late shift washing dishes, leaving his mind free to think of her. On his days off he tried to occupy himself with other things, but his thoughts always came back to her. When one of her roommates moved out, he hinted that he wanted to move in. He saw the hesitance in her eyes, and didn’t pursue it. She suggested he find a cheaper place nearby. She began cutting out apartment ads for him, and he called a few. “You have to get out of that place,” she said. The ads piled up.

One night they went to a pub and a drunken Irishman approached them. He asked them if they knew what the Mason-Dixon line was. She couldn’t remember, but he tried to answer the question. He liked to talk about history. He prided himself on his knowledge. He didn’t finish college and he was eager at the chance to discuss it with someone other than the lowlife regulars at the bar by his house. But he couldn’t quite recall the exact story of Mason-Dixon. The Irishman yelled at them for not knowing their history. “Well please, tell me then,” he said to the Irishman.

“I didn’t come over here to give Americans a history lesson!” the Irishman shouted, and stomped away. She giggled, wide-eyed, but he followed the Irishman back to his table. He sat down and began to explain what he knew of Mason-Dixon. “From my understanding…” he began, but the Irishman cut him off. “Fuck off,” he said, looking him dead in the eye. He paused a moment, taking in the Irishman’s words, then stood up and led her over to another table and ordered another beer. She touched his hand, and he pulled it away. He didn’t speak for awhile. He kept ordering beers.

“I guess I’m just some dumb fucking Yank,” he said finally. “I guess it doesn’t matter that my family’s Irish. I guess it doesn’t matter that my ancestors fought wars. I’m just some dumb Yank.” She kept her eyes down as he talked; she didn’t want to watch what this did to his face. He got angrier as he spoke, his voice louder. He began explaining Civil War history to her. She tried to touch his hand again but he pulled it away again. She sat silent. He continued his angry lecture, moving on to the Irish Potato Famine and ordering beer after beer.

After awhile, he stopped talking. He looked at her and whispered, “I’m sorry.” She half-smiled, relieved, and leaned in to kiss him. He didn’t know that when she excused herself to go to the rest room, she broke into tears in the stall.

One day she was upset about a family problem, she was crying on the phone. She said she wished he could come over, she wished he lived closer. She needed him. He told her he had overly worn tires and needed to buy new ones–not safe to drive an hour to Boston on such tires, he said. He told her he had to go, but he’d call her back.

The next day she called, still upset. She asked why he hadn’t called her. He said he got home late from work and didn’t want to wake her up. He said he had to get off the phone to go to work, but that he’d call her later that night.

A week later, she had filled his answering machine with worried messages. He showed up at work one day to find she had called to see if he had been coming in, and had said she was calling the police to report him missing. She called again and he answered the phone. “Look, I’ll call you back, alright?” he said, and hung up.

Three days later she had filled his machine again. Only now the messages were alternately sad and angry, always ending with “Why are you doing this?”

He turned off his machine and kept the ringer off.

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