New Voices: “That Was Me Once” by Megan Cummins
Today, we present “That Was Me Once,” by Megan Cummins. In this story, a man revisits a past relationship in order to distract himself from the uncertain future that awaits him. Cummins’ prose is exact, detailed, and perfectly textured. We are proud to add her to the list of emerging authors featured in our New Voices series.
Mara and I are trying to do normal things in the time I have left, so on Sunday afternoon we take Brian to lunch in town.
Harper, Michigan is one of those places that for a long time could have been anywhere. There was a main street with a few dull shops and a Greek diner, but recently people have been trying to make it a more specific place to live. We go to one of the new restaurants that have sprung up in recent years: a tavern with wooden booths and bric-a-brac on the walls, twinkle lights strung from the ceiling, a menu full of dishes more expensive than we expected. We have to connive with the waitress to get her to admit the chicken medallions are close enough to chicken fingers, one of the few things Brian will eat, but when his food arrives he tears it apart and not much of it makes it into his mouth. Mara keeps saying he can sense the tension in our lives, that the big approaching changes are bearing down on him. I can never tell with Brian: he’s three-and-a-half but doesn’t talk much. He’s frustrated with the limits being a toddler places on him. I’ve been with him since he was born but he seems to sense I could depart at any minute. I sometimes have this feeling he can tell when my eye is wandering from our little family, like it has been lately.
Mara sits next to him, across the booth from me, and her hands worry over him: chasing spills and wiping ketchup from his face. I’m supposed to enjoy moments like this, quiet ones, but instead I’m ready to dive into something reckless. For this feeling I blame my moribund chances of avoiding jail time. My hopeless outlook, Mara tries to bulldoze with optimism, but some days, like today, she can’t muster it. So she sits and steams frustration—with me, with Brian—and punctuates her scowling with anemic smiles.
It doesn’t help that the restaurant is bonfire-hot. I twist in my seat to look at the completely-still ceiling fan. As I’m about to turn back, my eyes fall on Dani, sitting in a booth by the back window.