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 An Accident
XANDER
 Posted: Feb 12 2018, 03:08 PM
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Zelda had not meant to fall in love with Troy. In fact, she perceived it as a major inconvenience, the way a stubborn patient is offended by a grim medical diagnosis. She was annoyed that this could happen to her, even as it seemed, in retrospect, stupidly inevitable. Like a smoker who is told that she has cancer, Zelda was compressed both by the weight of her own ignorance and the ugly future before her. Again, the only sensible response was overt denial.

There was nothing to do but deny it, given that Troy had recently decided he was in love with someone else. They had talked about it over dinner, on long walks, in drawn-out text conversations. They had circled through the gardens around his apartment complex, and she had lured him with prying questions, and slowly, he had described his infatuation, and then his passion. She had first found this other love a relief, fearful as she was that Troy might be in love with her. This other woman, Maxine, served as a perfect distraction, someone who could displace the threat of being loved. So much the better that Maxine was two states away, allowing her to be a more ephemeral kind of interference, as opposed to a genuine geographical inconvenience. The ascendance of Maxine had felt like a god-send, a woman that Troy could go see one weekend a month and channel his feelings toward, without monopolizing all days of the week and all hours of the night. Now, Zelda was reminded that the gods had always had a wicked sense of humor.

She had planned for Troy to fall into the same line as the other men who had come to her with hopes of her love and had found themselves satisfied with her friendship. She was practiced at persuading people to love her; she had a natural curiosity for all people, which each individual interpreted as a unique affection for them. She asked deeply personal questions in a perfectly straight-forward manner, and accepted the answers she was given with such friendly dispassion that any response was normalized. She was charming in the way people are when they lack self-consciousness but they also dislike themselves, such that they accrue labels like 'authentic' and 'sincere', and, worst of all, 'interesting'. She had liked Troy instantly, since their first conversation about an article in the Wall Street Journal, but she had liked many people and not seen fit to love them. She only loved people who resembled her - she could not love herself as herself, and so she sought the still surfaces of lakes, shop windows, polarized sunglasses, and other reflective surfaces. Like the men before him, Zelda plucked Troy from a stable of online suitors and met him, with every intention to neutralize serious affections.

She waited for a gesture from him that never arrived. There were no romantic overtures; there was only an idle sense of hopefulness that she could not hold or mold. Still this delicate miasma was dashed when, at her office Christmas party, one of her co-workers asked if they would ever date, and she shook her head at the same time that he nodded. Zelda pretended to be drunker than she was, as to render the moment forgettable in their shared history book; she had feared such a misinterpretation by bringing him along, but it had come out even worse than anticipated. If he remembered, Troy did not admit it. Instead, he discovered Maxine, and decided to love her.

Zelda did not realize she was in love with Troy until he told her stories about Maxine. He told Zelda stories about the terrible things Maxine had been through, and how that made him want to save her. Zelda recalled her own failed attempts at damage mitigation and rescue, the passionate love she had felt for a woman who had, in time, come to dislike her just as Zelda was mastering her charms. Zelda had believed she was the only true savior of her lover, the only one who could feel deeply enough to offer true relief. She remembered how, instead of being repelled by tragedy and horror, she had been drawn to it, wanting to pit herself against darkness she did not fully comprehend. She listened to Troy describe his feelings, and Zelda saw herself with piercing clarity, as if in a mirror. When she left his apartment after dinner, her heart tight in her chest, Zelda realized she was in love with him, and cursed her foolishness.

There was nothing to be done about it now, she supposed. She felt the vengeance of a universe committed to both justice as well as art; she felt her punishment both fair and beautiful, even as it tightened her jaw and set her mind to wretched whirring. There was nothing at all to be done. Whether condemned to love or to death, the only dignified option was to pretend it wasn't happening.

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