Sugar chooses a new pronoun every day. It drove their ex boyfriend crazy, that and the way they only watched dystopian psychological horrors on a grayscale screen and supplied too much commentary, so he, and anyone else who was watching, knew exactly what was going to happen. But everyone has their flaws.
For example, Ian—their ex—rented out his driveway. He still does. The current rate is five dollars an hour in cash only, with friend and family discounts of 20%. People have to schedule ahead of time but if they pay a few dollars extra up front, he’ll excuse the fact that they’re already running late for their daughter’s ballet recital or moonlit date.
“The parking business is booming,” Ian bragged once.
Sugar was arched over a pot of boiling water, taking an online guess-my-gender quiz. They were stupid hoaxes—always wrong—but they needed to be entertained in some way or another. “Glad you’re putting that Art History major to use,” they’d said.
“Glad you’re putting those extra bits of sarcasm to use,” Ian had said once. “Wouldn’t want to waste them.”
They broke up the next morning and got back together at morning-thirty. It was Sugar who claimed that they weren’t meant for each other. Ian had agreed, angrily, and tossed their hamper of clothes out the window. The brass belts had caught on tree branches and the shirts had breezes swimming through them. Sugar left them there, all stretched over the round blackberry bushes, like a version of Dali’s The Persistence of Memory with clocks that melted despairingly onto acute surfaces.
It was Sugar who seated themself at the local bar, having a conversation on the jagged edge of sanity with a close friend, but it was Ian who texted first. It was simply a bagel emoji. Followed by: could u get bagels at the store? A typical Ian move. Bribing Sugar with their favorite food and a mysterious text.
So they did. Sugar ended the call and bought bagels and cream cheese in a plastic bag with a red logo. They thanked the man with the paper airplane nose with a blink of their eye. When they arrived at Ian’s, they saw there was a Tesla parked in the driveway. Obviously not his. But he was waiting beside it, flipping a rusted quarter in his palm.
“Heads, Sugar will come back. Crap, tails. They’re not coming back. Ugh, tails again.”
Sugar grinned. “Might as well pick petals of a flower like Ariel in The Little Mermaid.” They dropped the bag onto the swollen bricks.
“It’s always a crapshoot with you, Sugar. I never know.”
“And look how Ariel turned out. Married to a nice, handsome prince. More of a gamble, really.”
“It’s the same thing. But not everything is a fairytale.”
“It can be.”
“And look how Eric turned out. Reconnected with his mental girlfriend.”
“Life partner. Because today this Ariel feels neither a princess or a prince. More of a they/them.”
“Gotcha, life partner.”
“Life partner? Don’t stretch your luck, Ian.”
Sugar leaned into him and grabbed the bagel bag. The couple walked inside and sat on creaky wooden chairs, each one avoiding the other’s eyes. Ian smoothed the creases from the glossy texture and handed Sugar a bagel. They like theirs with cream cheese in the middle so they spread it on with an old butter knife until the old fashioned design of banana tree leaves were tattooed into the side of their hand.
And so they ate in peace.
But little did they know, that was the last time.
Currently, Sugar is lying face-down on their bed. They’re alone with a half-eaten banana propped onto their bedside table. The sunlight filters through the window into sharp spears that pierce their back.
It’s like time has frozen. Yesterday, Ian had launched their dirty clothes out the window, one by one. Sugar watched them sprout wings but tangled them in a fly swatter before they could get too far. There wasn’t any screaming, except for Sugar who belted the lyrics to Ian’s least favorite song. It was something from a Disney movie, something harmonized and romantic. It was something that made the pigeons take a jolted escape from the lampposts.
As Sugar lies on their bed, they think about their life like a Monopoly game. Perhaps this was their Get Out of Jail Free Card, which they always kept in their pocket. Perhaps they and Ian weren’t each other’s lifelines, only ones that popped and sank into great blue. Perhaps now they’ve got to roll the dice and move their spaces forward. Hopefully to somewhere nice, like the boardwalk.
Sugar’s thoughts are interrupted by their phone discoing to a chorus of bells. The screen lights up to reveal their friend’s unsmiling face. They pick up the call.
“Sugar.” LJ pauses, and Sugar can feel a sigh prickle the other end. “What happened?”
“There’s no car parked in Ian’s driveway.”
“So?” Sugar stands and paces the length of their room.
LJ knows everything. “You and Ian broke up . . .”
“For the last time. We’re done.”
“That’s what you said last time.”
“What did the bastard do?”
“‘The bastard’ called me the wrong pronoun. For the fourth time that day.”
“And which pronoun was it?”
“And which pronoun were you?”
Sugar plays with the spaghetti straps on their dress.
“What are you now?” LJ asks.
They sway on their heels. “I am most definitely a girl.”
“Have you talked to him since?”
“Yes. He texted this morning.”
“A bagel emoji?”
“No. He said ‘I want my partner back.’”
“But today you’re his girlfriend.”
“Bastard.” LJ waits for a few seconds, listening to the drum of Sugar’s breath, and finally hangs up.
Sugar falls onto their bed and watches as the afternoon shadows seep into the creases in the wallpaper. It’s a faded cherry color complete with the light-up stars that they pasted onto the ceiling a while ago. Even before everything.
And as if on cue, Ian texts a bagel emoji. It’s round and dotted with little sesame seeds. Sugar doesn’t react at first, only observing their phone fill with lies. Then they braid their hair onto their left shoulder and tuck a handbag into the crook of their arm. The door to their apartment clicks when it locks.
Sugar’s car doesn’t start at first. They’ve left everything in an apartment that reeks of stuffed animals without eyes and expired bananas. The roads are almost empty. It’s surprising because the sky is still shaped a lavender blue. They honk their horn at passersby for no reason at all, smiling out of pure joy when the pedestrians hold up a certain finger.
Finally, Sugar swerves into his driveway. He’s standing at the head of it, clutching his phone with his eyes closed. There are blackberry bushes on either side so Sugar has no exit except for the street behind them. Ian doesn’t even jump when they slam the car door.
“‘A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.’” He sighs. “I’ve been catching up on my Disney movies.”
Sugar plays with the keys in their palm. “That’s not Disney.”
Ian doesn’t say anything for a second. “With a spoonful of Sugar you’ll be driven out of your mind.”
“In the most delightful way.”
“Did you bring bagels?”
“Let’s go inside.”
“Whatever.” Sugar’s hand is way too small to fit in his but they make it work anyways.