Like Toys From Cereal Boxes

Her hands were shaking, and no matter how many times she had tried, Dana could not seem to light the candle properly. She must pretend like nothing was wrong.

It was not his first lie, but it was his biggest one yet. Oh, the extent of her anger was beyond measure. All she could do now was wait.

She went with it. She knew she could not have children, so she went with Philip’s indiscretions that had, just now, reached epic proportions. And it was his birthday today. She had set the table perfectly as he had always wanted it. All she wanted to do, however,  was to smash the china on his smug face and to break the perfumed candlesticks on his Blackberry, the tool that had simplified his endless pursuit of women who seemed to be getting younger, and duller, by the minute.

He said he would marry her, and she believed him. The moment her doctor urged her to inform him that she could never bear children, however, she feared he might walk away. He did not. But he dangled the possibility of a proposal like a meaty bone to a hungry dog. And she held on. Through lie after lie. Despite promise after broken promise.

She thought that by being perfect, she would, one day, be good enough for him.

Philip and his parents moved into the house next door when she was 10. He used to play with her older brother, Joseph, because Joe had a roomful of toys. Angry that her brother was no longer able to spend time with her, Dana barged into a rather violent game involving guns and tanks, demanding that the boy Philip go home. After he had left, Dana received a scolding from her mother, who wanted her to be kinder to the boy, whose own  mother was dying of cancer.

Dana felt sad and guilty. She picked up flowers from their garden and went to visit their newest neighbors. Philip’s father opened the door. Dana offered the flowers, smiled prettily, and said she just wanted to welcome them into the neighborhood. The man smiled back and thanked her for her thoughtfulness. Then he invited her in to meet his son, Philip.

Philip was leaning on the breakfast table, lining up his toy soldiers, when Dana entered the small house.

“Hi,” she said.

Phil did not even look up.

“Those are neat,” she attempted to say, but she heard a bell ringing, and then Philip’s dad went inside a bedroom. Philip looked up at the sound of the bell, then his hands shook and he spilled the toy soldiers on the floor.

Dana helped pick up the small plastic soldiers, one by one.

“Mom used to buy me the special cereals so I could collect these,” he said quietly. “She said she and Dad would get me those big G.I. Joes when I turn eight. But she never did. She got sick.”

Dana said, “I am so sorry I was mean to you. Please come and play with Joe anytime you want. You can bring these little guys. I think they’re cool.”

“Yeah,” Philip replied. “But they are not real toys.”

“Of course they are,” Dana said. “They make up an army when you line them up like that.”

Philip’s mom died that summer, and he grew even closer to Dana and her family. She adored him all those years and loved making him happy. She learned to bake cookies, climb trees, and swim laps just for him. Philip, on the other hand, never seemed to be interested in anything more than friendship.

Until one moonlit night, when Dana was in his apartment to bring him baked macaroni to last him a week in med school. He got drunk, said some things he could neither remember nor mean, and ended up having his first serious girlfriend.  Dana could not believe it either, but it finally, unceremoniously, happened: they became a couple.

And adoration turned into worship. She did not accept foreign assignments for work because she could not stand to be apart from him. Her brother had warned her about Philip, but she did not listen. She waited for him to love her.

Dana’s recollections were abruptly halted by the sound of the doorbell. The birthday boy had arrived from his business trip, where he had attended a conference, which he was supposed to have attended alone.

She opened the door and there was her prince, carrying a bouquet of fragrant flowers. She knew a thing or two about bringing flowers to assuage one’s guilt. She let him in and he admired the table setting.

“Sorry I was not able to call. My phone died,” he said after giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. That was all she offered him.

“Why what’s wrong with it?” Dana asked.

“It ran out of battery and then I forgot my charger,” came the reply.

“You know why you ran out of battery?” she asked while helping him take off his coat, out of habit.

“I have no freaking idea. I went back to the hotel extremely tired last night and immediately fell sleep.”

“Let me tell you why your phone died, Philip. You dialed my number last night at about 9:15 p.m. I answered it and we were on the phone until about 11.”

“No, that could not have happened. I was…”

“Where were you last night, Philip?”

Philip froze as recognition hit him. “Dana…”

Tears started to fall, and her head wanted to explode in pain, but she had a few things to say. “I do not know what freaking object pressed the Dial button, but I heard your pathetic lines that never change, especially when you have had too many whiskies. I do not even want to know who she is. I had enough of her screaming and moaning.”

“Listen, Dana, I’m…”

“You’re what, Philip? Sorry? You’re not going to do it again? She’s just a fling?”

“There is a better way to talk about this, when you’ve calmed down…”

“I am NEVER going to calm down. I have wasted my youth on you. I have believed every promise and lie that just naturally dripped from your tongue.”

“You know me, Dana. I just need to save up so we can have a grand wedding and a happy life together. I just want to give you everything that you deserve! I cannot settle down just yet.”

“Twenty years ago, that sounded sweet, Philip. Now it just makes me sick. You are never going to want to settle down.”

“I don’t deserve you…”

“Save it,” Dana pleaded. She had been lining up toy soldiers for so long.

“I have to grow up. We have to grow up. You have been feeding me scraps, yet you say I deserve more. I would rather go through life without you, at least maybe in my memories you would have a chance at being a good person.”

“I do not know what to say, Dana,” Philip said, as he looked around her apartment for the last time.

“That actually says a lot to me,” replied the girl who had loved him blindly all her life. “It was never real. It was never going to be real. I let myself believe that you would change. You have to go now.”

Philip stood outside the closed door for a few minutes, then turned and started walking along the corridor to the elevator.  Along the way, he fished his Blackberry from his pocket and dialed a girl’s number. It did not matter who she was.

Dana saved her china from breaking that night. She broke her heart instead.


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