Short story by Becca Pincolini Contributor, Illustration by John Mueller Graphics Illustrator
There are three ways to say, “Fuck you.” The first being hard and fast, with the emphasis on the “F.” It’s as if the look in your eye as you say it says it for you. The second type is said nonchalantly, and it’s accompanied with an eye roll. The last is expressed slowly and emotionally. It’s when the muscles in your face contract and your tears follow a winding path down your cheekbones.
Austin and I had fought regularly throughout our year-and-a-half together. The conflicts seemed to have started on a particular day when I came home and noticed him sitting on the couch. He was a graphic designer, but he hadn’t found steady work yet, so I’d find him shoveling snack foods into his mouth.
“What did you do today?” I’d ask and he’d use his right hand to drop six popcorn kernels into his mouth before he’d say, “Stuff.”
He was unattractive when eating popcorn because he’d chew with his mouth open and one piece would usually go rogue and end up beneath the couch, next to the cashew Austin dropped and never picked up weeks prior. He’d never look at me when I’d ask him questions and it infuriated me. He’d finish chewing and then use his tongue to lick the salt off the creases of his lips before responding with a vague answer.
I did a lot of things for him, and I constantly sought out his affection in return. The only time I’d get any attention out of him was when we’d fight. He’d look me in the eye and say, “Quit fucking nagging me.” He’d always say “Fucking” hard and fast, with a clear emphasis on the “F” sound. We’d go at it for hours, and I’d always struggle to prove my point of how lonely and neglected I was. Austin was spectacular during our arguments because he manipulated my words and turned them against me.
Once, though, I found the phrase, “Oh, yeah? Well you’ll be bald by 31,” to have been the deciding factor of me winning a specific argument. I stopped him right in his verbally abusive tracks and his blue eyes shrunk to half their size, which made his mouth go crooked and a heavy breath sound escape his lips. I only won because I hurt his ego. I entered our kitchen and saw our alphabet magnets on our refrigerator door that he’d used to interlock our names, Austin and Ava, several months before. Those multicolored letters spelled out the connection I had always wanted from him. In an angry stupor, I used my left hand to wipe them off, and as I heard them hit the tile floor, I emotionally whispered, “Fuck you.”
Austin loved to be out at night. He was wild, but not lose-his-shoe-on-a-freeway-shoulder type of wild; he was simply in need of being surrounded by people. Even in our early days, he’d always be out but he’d never invite me. I had held in the resentment from that until he’d show me some form of love, and then I’d just shove it down deeper within me. He once had painted me a picture of a sunflower and framed it and when we had gotten into an argument of where he had been one night, he threw it against our wall.
“Fuck you,” he said hard, and then left.
When I picked up the frame to throw the glass out, I pulled out the painting and saw that he had written, “For my Ava” in typography font on the bottom half that was covered by the frame. I had stood there, in that moment, and hit the rewind button in my mind and wondered if I had seen that first, if I would have nagged him.
“Fuck you,” I said, as I used my thumb to smudge out his inscription with my tears.
He loved the idea of other women. He didn’t want to be in a relationship with them, he wanted a constant flow of newness. We seldom ate out at restaurants together, but when we did, I’d ask him questions about his artwork, things that I had seen him reading, what looked good to him for dinner, and if he thought we craved the foods we ate or its texture. I liked asking Austin things that made him think long enough to continue a conversation. He’d never look me in the eye, he’d have both hands on his menu and thumb the right side of it until I’d see him slowly move his head to the left and move his eyes up and down at a woman that passed by. I’d get upset and comment on it and he’d toss his napkin on top of the table and stretch his back over the chair and say, “Fuck you,” with an eye roll.
I’d watch him on occasion from our couch, as he got ready to go out. He’d have the shirt I had picked up from the dry cleaners on a hanger outside the bathroom door, and I had often seen him as he leaned over the sink to get closer to the mirror to touch his hairline. He’d use both hands to style his blonde hair but the only thing that ever looked good was the look of concern on his face as he did that. When he’d get home and fall into bed in the morning, I’d find his clothes strewn about and I’d kick them out of my path, either on the way to the kitchen or to the bathroom. He was a sloppy person so it was no surprise to me when I found a cocktail napkin on the bathroom floor with the name Debris Samuels written on it. Under the actual name was written “Day-Bree” for clarification.
I stood in the bathroom and I had stared at it until I grabbed three of his calligraphy pens, each in different colors, that he would leave by the bathtub after he’d finish a project. With them I had written, “Fuck you” all over the cocktail napkin and when I had finished, I threw the pens on the floor without their caps on. Austin was asleep on his back with his head facing the wall, and his left leg was free from the blanket. His left arm covered his chest and I tucked the napkin underneath it. I looked down at his sleeping body and said, “Fuck you,” hard, with an emphasis on the “F”.