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Profanity. Egging. Xanax. Oh, the things men (and even some women) will resort to when love’s gone awry. In The Encyclopedia of Exes, some of today’s hippest male writers dig deep into their romantic pasts to present twenty-six inspired pieces of short fiction on heartbreak and failed relationships. Their stories, ranging from the passionate to the cynical to the downright hilarious, address the age-old issue of how and why romance often fails—from a uniquely male perspective. Ever wondered just what men do with their broken hearts, or why they break women’s hearts so often? The Encyclopedia of Exes demystifies the inner workings of the male psyche to the benefit of women everywhere, featuring a broad range of writers.
Anthony by Steve Almond • The Breakup Ceremony by Touré • Car by Matthew Sharpe • Devotion by Adam Langer • Egging by Jeff Johnson • Five by Jonathan Lethem • Geography by Michael Schur • Honesty by Ben Greenman • Innocence by Nick Fowler • John by Joshua Braff • Kiss by Anthony Schneider • Last by Richard Rushfield • Murmur by Panio Gianopoulos • Nightlife by Lee Klein • Over by Jack Murnighan • Profanity by Darin Strauss • Quitting by Dan Guterman • Radio by Sebastian Matthews • Sealed-off by Jonathan Ames • Triangle by Gary Shteyngart • Unambiguous by Ben Schrank • Virginity by Neal Pollack • Winston by Lewis Robinson • Xanax by Marc Spitz • Youth by Justin Haythe • Z by Dan Kennedy • and a Preface by John Aboud
An encyclopedic approach to our most enduring mystery, The Encyclopedia of Exes offers insight, humor, quality writing, and an unparalleled look inside the male mind.
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The Encyclopedia of Exes
By Edited by Meredith Broussard
Random HouseEdited by Meredith Broussard
All right reserved.
The Encyclopedia of Exes
Anthony Steve Almond
(an'tho-ne), saint. a.d. 250?--350? n 1: Egyptian ascetic monk considered to be the founder of Christian monasticism 2: Roman general under Julius Caesar in the Gallic wars; repudiated his wife for the Egyptian queen Cleopatra; they were defeated by Octavian at Actium (83--30 b.c.) [syn: Antony, Mark Antony, Mark Anthony, Marcus Antonius] 3: loutish neighbor responsible for illuminating deficiencies in relationship (2005)
Anthony and his girl were at it again. She was in the backyard, making her awful noises, directing them up at the second floor where Anthony was. We could hear him clunking around up there. She yelled. He clunked. This was their unique talent: to sustain a heated argument without using any actual words.
"Why doesn't she just knock on his door?" Mona said. She was stirring rice.
"Maybe she's retarded."
"I told you: I talked with her."
"That doesn't mean she's not retarded."
"She's not retarded," Mona said. "Stop saying that."
"You want me to call 911?"
"Please don't, Timothy."
The last time I'd called, the cops insisted on taking statements from us, which meant entering our apartment, which meant Mona had to run to the bathroom and flush my stash down the toilet, while I used the word officer several hundred times. And then, also, there was Anthony and his girl. They glared at us as the cops lectured them out on the porch. Every day for the next week, they left little gifts on our doorstep. A strip of rancid bacon. A salted slug. Those kinds of things.
I told Mona I wanted to confront Anthony, but she pleaded with me not to. I was incredibly grateful. Anthony was terrifying. His arms were covered in dark, matted hair. He wore clothes too small for him and his pale gums showed when he grimaced. He made Mona shiver. Shit, he made me shiver.
Anthony's girl looked like an overstuffed Kewpie doll. Her eyes were blank and sort of sinister. She always smelled strongly of baby oil.
When we first moved in, we'd found Anthony and his girl fascinating, part of the local color. We speculated on how they might have met. (At the Pink Floyd laser light show? Cruising the local flea market?) They didn't seem violent. It was only her noises that set them apart, these strange, comic wails of grievance. Some nights, drawn close under the sheets, our skin still ripe with the smell of sex, I would lie there in the dark and translate.
Wait, I'd say. She's telling him he forgot to pick up laundry detergent.
She's asking him why he isn't more supportive of her macrame.
She's saying: Let's do it with the lights on this time, you big lug.
I can see now that we should have left the house on Mont-ford, moved on to a place where Mona and I could have run our natural course. But I think at that time we wanted most of all to feel solid with each other. And living beneath Anthony and his girl, withstanding their terrible fights, made us feel like paragons of romantic tranquility.
There were other factors. Our place was cheap. Mona liked the afternoon light that cut through the alcove where she wrote poetry. When she wasn't writing, Mona worked at a Greek diner. She came home smelling like lamb and mentholated cigarettes. I loved that scent, though Mona couldn't stand it. She jumped in the shower the second she got home.
I enjoyed proximity to my suppliers. We spoke of the arrangement as temporary. Soon enough, we would make off to some nicer address, one with central air and water that wasn't brownish.
"I can't listen to this anymore!" Mona announced. She looked as if she were going to tear at her hair.
"Shall we dine out?" I said. "The Dash, perhaps."
"How about somewhere else? Somewhere nicer."
I showed her my wallet, turned it upside down and let the bills, all three of them, flutter to the ground.
"Fine," she said. "Let's just go."
On the way out, I locked the new deadbolt. It had cost more than forty bucks, but it was worth it, just for the feeling of security. We both suspected Anthony was breaking in while we were out.
The Dash Inn was a Mexican place in Tempe, across the street from Arizona State University, where Mona was in graduate school. They made about 80 percent of their revenue selling pitchers of Bud Light to the underaged. The food was an afterthought. Jalepeno poppers. Nachos with mountains of government-issue cheddar. Eating out there, amid the college blowhards and their pointless ruckus, made me feel worldly. And another thing: it was easy to make connections at the Dash Inn, to cut the small-time pot deals that served as my income.
As soon as we sat down, my friend Ethan appeared. I figured Ethan would be at the Dash. He was almost always there. We'd been undergrads together at ASU, blood brothers and all that, and we'd both received perfectly useless degrees in sociology. He took Mona's hand in his own and planted a kiss on her knuckles. He knew Mona didn't like him much, so he was always overdoing it a little to impress her.
Ethan had been gaining weight these last few months, mostly in the gut. He blamed his metabolism--another way of putting it would be that he was drinking too much. Mona told me I should talk with him about this. And I planned to do so, only it was taking me some time to think of how to approach the issue. Ethan could be pretty touchy that way.
I put my arm around Mona and asked him how it was going.
"Well, you know, okay. Things could be better, I guess. I saw Franny this morning."
"In front of her place, you know."
"What were you doing over there?" Mona said.
Ethan shook his head to avoid answering the question. "She looked perfect, man."
We'd known Franny back in college, before Mona was in the picture. She was a thin girl, sweet, insecure, bad teeth and a heavy hand with the mascara. The Bonesack, I'd called her. Ethan had, too. Then they'd started going out, toward the end of senior year. Ethan had been embarrassed, had played the whole thing down, said they were just fucking, just fuck buddies. Even after it was obvious they were a couple, he refused to acknowledge they were going out. Then she'd gotten tired of his act, grown up a bit I guess, and dumped him. This was six months ago. He'd spoken about her incessantly ever since, long, indignant tributes to his own wounded vanity.
"She's been getting sun, Timmy."
"What about a beer?" I said.
"Just perfect," Mona murmured.
"A pitcher," I said. "For the three of us." It was always a balancing act with the two of them. I wanted them to like each other. Secretly, I hoped Mona would regard my concern for Ethan as an indication of my loyalty.
We drank one pitcher, then another, and waited for our enchiladas. Mona and I sipped our beers. We hadn't eaten much that day, so we were both a bit loopy. She felt for my hand under the table. "Why is it," Ethan said, "that the good old days never feel so good when you're in the middle of them?" A sappy song came on the jukebox and Ethan began to sing along.
"Quiet down," I said.
"I'm twenty-three years old," Ethan said. "I'm so damn twenty-three it hurts."
"You should try meeting someone," I said. "Someone new."
Ethan swung his big head toward Mona. "What do you think?"
Mona looked at Ethan for a long moment. A complicated glance passed between them, a glance that said a number of things at once. Said: self-pity will get you nowhere. Said: you don't miss your water till your well runs dry. Said: you should have loved her as a person, not a possession. It was as if Mona were regarding the part of Ethan too wounded to love anyone, or to love them sufficiently, and I might have seen, from the depth of sorrow in her eyes, that her concerns were broader than just Ethan: that she didn't want to be here, in this crap-ass college dive, with a boyfriend she explained to her folks as "very artistic" and "full of potential," but who was, in point of fact, dealing pot out of her apartment.
"Maybe you should spend some time on your own," Mona told Ethan.
But I was missing the connection, of course. I looked at Mona and saw only her beauty and her sadness, which made her more beautiful to me, because it suggested depth of feeling, and the possibility that I might comfort her.
"Easy for you to say," Ethan said. "The happiest couple on earth."
"What about that girl from the sandwich place," I said. "What was her name?"
"The girl from a sandwich place?" Ethan said. "Would you listen to this guy? What are you, the comic relief?"
Mona finished her beer, a final dainty swallow, and excused herself. We watched her sway to the bathroom, her legs making that calm scissoring motion.
"Don't let that one get away," Ethan said suddenly. "She's the real deal."
"I know," I said. "I'm working on it."
Mona returned a few minutes later and Ethan offered to walk us home.
"We'll be fine," I said. "Really."
Ethan shook his head. "That neighborhood you live in, Timmy. Shit."
Mona looked at me and lifted her chin. "We were supposed to have that talk," she said to me.
This was true. We were supposed to have That Talk about the future, which meant my plans, whether I was going to apply to graduate school this year or let another deadline slip past. I feared That Talk, as I was fairly certain it presaged a larger, more final Talk, meaning Mona's exit, stage left.
Ethan looked at his shoes. "Hey, no big deal. If you guys have something heavy on the agenda."
It was a cheap little guilt trip, horribly obvious, right down to the hangdog grin. But it was also full of loneliness, the brisk hunger not to be alone. And again, I expected that my loyalty might be seen as heroic.
Excerpted from The Encyclopedia of Exes by Edited by Meredith Broussard
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