Written by Rachel Parris

Arts

Short story: Chicago Blues

Hello there. We thought we’d cheer up your Wednesday with a short story by Rachel Parris. And when we said cheer you up…

deep crust pizzaWe broke up in a restaurant over an authentic Chicago deep-dish pizza. It was three full inches tall and packed with mozzarella, peppers, mushrooms, ham – I can smell it now and picture it, I recall it so clearly and how little of it I could stomach, having just ordered one between the two of us.

We were on holiday.

They were playing Adele’s Hello in the toilets (‘washroom’) where I went off to (try not to) cry, which really didn’t help. I tried to make myself look less puffy before coming back to the table, I didn’t want to set us both off and make a scene, not in front of the pizza. I smiled. I was grown up. We both were. We were together in it. We held it together.

It was January.

It wasn’t decided for certain at that restaurant table but it was there, in Giordano’s in downtown Chicago that I first said I was worried, really worried, about us. And to my surprise, he agreed. That was enough. Even though the end didn’t come for a few weeks more (trial periods, contemplation time, what do we do about the deposit?) I think we both knew there at that table we had set the end in motion.

We were kind.

They were playing Adele all over town the next few days, it seemed – the back catalogue as well as the current number one – in restaurants, in cafes, in bars, it was as if she was following me singing my inner monologue. Leave off, Adele with your concise summary of my heart breaking, can’t you sing about your bum like J-Lo does? “I wish nothing but the best for you.

“An ocean from our home, the only home we had was each other, and that, of course, was what we were giving up.”

After the pizza was a night of searing honesty, and serious drinking, just the two of us, speaking from the soul, for the first time in forever, no pretending, accompanied by whiskey and wine (you’ll feel fine). A Chinese restaurant obliged our wish to drink but not eat until the shutters came down, one way or another. They were curious I think, there was something about us that night. It was -15°C outside and while the park was covered in pristine snow the city walkways were slushy and wet. We smoked together (rare) in the freezing cold outside. We held hands tightly all night long, more that night than ever.

We weren’t coming back home for a few days more and so had to see this picturesque snow-globe limbo out a while longer. Chicago is beautiful. And full of things to enthral and distract – the ice-rink through the park, the Monets in the Met, the blues bar and the jazz clubs and the blue-grey frozen lake. We were easier with each other than we had been, in fact, gleeful for a while. The big bad had been addressed, there was relief there I think, and making the most of each other while we could, the last hour of sunshine on a beautiful day.

But it was a lonely time – just us two, an ocean from our home, the only home we had was each other, and that, of course, was what we were giving up. In the middle of the all-smiles post-pizza days, I had to remove myself and took myself back to our apartment uptown to grieve it for a while.

I remember those hours (three), not the elegant teardrops of movie close-ups but the retching noises of a woman in labour, barking, struggling for breath, rattling lungs and thinking the neighbours would come round. (They didn’t – city living) I crawled around the shallow bed, feral, like you do when you have period pain, trying to find a position where it didn’t hurt – all fours, apparently, helps with this pain too. The streaming face and budget one-ply toilet tissue, which was entirely not up to this job. And knowing it would have to stop. This can’t go on forever. And it did (stop). And it hasn’t (not forever). As I write this though, I remember it all, the pizza and the freezing cold, the tissues and the noise, like wounds, like scars you know well, that are healing but still hurt.

(It still hurts)

For a fleeting moment during those days I thought I might lose my appetite indefinitely: that would be theatrical, I thought, wouldn’t it? That would add a certain gravitas to the whole thing but the crying was exhausting and I ate the take-home deep-dish that we had brought home the night before, two mammoth slices quickly and it was delicious.

We said goodbye in Chicago (separate flights) and see you at home. We knew home would mean the final talk, the big decision. I didn’t cry when the plane took off, or during the flight. I smiled at the crew and watched a Marvel film. I didn’t cry when we landed. I put on the scarf and gloves and woollen hat that had been my uniform for 10 days and when I got outside, quickly took them off – it was not cold enough here for them. It was mild, unseasonably, unreasonably. I got the tube home and sat in our flat alone and stared at our bed, and stared at our things, and wished for snow.

@rachelparris

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Written by Rachel Parris

Rachel Parris is a comedian, musician, actor and improviser. She is best known for her award-winning musical comedy songs, presenting Thronecast on Sky Atlantic and improvising in hit show Austentatious. @rachelparris