By Alan Ten-Hoeve
He leaned over the rickety card table.
Rolled a Ball jar up the flattened tube of Crest.
Trying to extract anything that he might have missed the night before.
He’d bought the toothpaste four months earlier.
The day he moved into the monthly room after being kicked out of his house.
Exiled from the only life he’d known the last 18 years.
It’s temporary, he told himself.
A trial separation.
They would still see each other.
Date nights, she called it.
Things would work out.
They had to.
As time dragged he watched the tube of toothpaste get thinner.
But he knew it would be silly to buy another.
He didn’t want to have to pack more than he had to when she asked him to move back home.
Date nights turned out to be mostly lunches.
He’d bring sandwiches to the house.
Sometimes they’d eat hurriedly and watch tv.
Sometimes they’d argue between bites, then wrap the half eaten food in wax paper.
She was always distant.
Even on good days.
One afternoon she was flipping channels and he pat the space on the couch beside him.
The universal gesture to move closer.
She turned her head.
Fixed him with icy blue eyes that were once warm.
Said, I’m fine where I am.
Not long after she said it just wasn’t going to work.
He asked for more time.
She ignored his texts.
He wrote sweet letters.
Complimented her beauty.
If she only knew how much he cared.
Eventually he couldn’t squeeze anything out of the tube of toothpaste.
Not by rolling it up.
Not by squeezing with his fingers.
Or his palms.
Or his fists.
But he knew there was more.
There had to be.
The jar helped.
And he managed to stretch the tube out.
A few days turned into a week
He was amazed with his ingenuity.
People all around the world were tossing out a fortune in toothpaste everyday.
For a while it seemed like this could go on indefinitely.
But now he couldn’t even produce enough to scrape out of the nozzle.
He put more weight on the jar.
Grunted with the effort.
Sweat broke out on his face.
Then an idea struck him like a bolt of lightning.
He felt so stupid.
Why hadn’t he thought of this before?
He would send her flowers.
Alan ten-Hoeve wrote Notes from a Wood-Paneled Basement (Gob Pile Press) and Burn (KLR10 Malarkey Books). Tweets @alantenhoeve