Ole & Steen
The short story of a small moment that both captures the dynamic of an entire relationship and seals its end
(As first published in THE FENCE magazine – July 2019, London)
Ole & Steen
We stood in the queue in silence. I was wondering what to have.
“What can I get you?” The barista asked without looking up from her monitor.
“Flat white.” he eagerly said as she punched in the order.
“Are you sure you don’t want anything?” He asked me as he tapped his card, his eyes not meeting mine.
He asked me as he tapped his card
In that moment, I knew today was the day I would end it with him.
Not just because he clearly didn’t care whether or not I wanted anything. Not because this event is either careless, or deliberate, or both. It’s because while every dispute over the past year hasn’t been individually devastating enough to warrant a break up on its own, over time, each unresolved argument added to the lumbering sediment of sorrow, which became the real heaviness that ultimately broke us.
I watched him walk towards the pick-up point at the other end of the shop. Swelling with sadness and anger, I sat down at the nearest free table.
My whole life I believed that love is about compromise and selflessness. I know everyone makes mistakes, and people aren’t perfect, and they deserve second chance after second chance. But where do you draw the line? When does your kindness turn to stupidity that others will abuse? When I voice an issue, I either get routinely ignored or blamed for it? When I get criticised for my ‘expectations’ because he doesn’t want to fulfil his promises? When in the early hours he would return home with glitter on his face, only to tell me he was with ‘just a friend’, but all these ‘friends’ I was never allowed to meet. “What are you going to do, break up with me for having a life?” he’d sneer. “Stop being so jealous and insecure” was his go-to insult whenever he wanted to shut down a conversation because he didn’t want to tell me where he’d been, who with, and why we couldn’t possibly have gone together.
Everything is beautiful when you look at it with love, but today I see how hideous he truly is. His negligence, his conceit, his shallow, narrow mind, too fucking self-absorbed to realise it. How manipulative and controlling he’s always been.
“You didn’t ask me if I wanted anything.” I try to catch his eye as he sat down opposite me. I wanted to study his expression.
“Yeah I did.” He righteously proclaimed without making eye contact, fussing over the lid of his cup.
“No,” I have to pause for a moment to choke back the fury boiling up inside me. “You asked me – are you sure you don’t want anything?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Yes, you did.” I touch his hand gently to try to gain his attention, to convey how serious this conversation is. “You didn’t ask if I wanted anything, you assumed that I didn’t.”
“What?” He finally glanced up from his phone.
I couldn’t tell if he genuinely made a mistake or if he’s feigning confusion. He leaned in and brushed my hand off his.
“You’re overthinking again, give it a rest.” He sits back in his chair, sipping his drink. “It’s putting me in a bad mood.”
If a normal person genuinely believes they offered a small token of kindness to a loved one, and learns that they haven’t, wouldn’t they immediately apologise and seek to correct the issue?
But he didn’t. Instead, like so many times before, it’s clear he didn’t care or think about me, half-arsed the execution, got caught, denied it, and then had the gall to accuse me of creating the tension.
“I’m breaking up with you.”
“What? Over a coffee?” He grimaced, his eyes half-dazed.
“Sure.” I said.