Henry Jardin, a wizened man in his late thirties made more wizened by his anachronistic name, had only been back in New York for a month when people finally started questioning what he was doing there again. “I thought you were moving to Europe,” said George Gimlin, a member of the “old gang” who still frequented the same dive bar on Second Avenue, Subway Inn. Henry didn’t have the stomach to tell people what had really happened, that the only reason he had even attempted moving to the continent was for a dame. When she bailed on him, he didn’t see the point of staying there anymore. He was in London when Jessminda disappeared, left him to his own devices in the apartment (or flat, a word Henry despised) they had been renting in the Chalk Farm area. Somehow, he knew that she was going to bail, that she was too much of what she considered to be a “free spirit” to be “tied down.”
In the weeks leading up to her vanishing act, all the signs had been present, but Henry chose to ignore them. She began to speak even less to him, stopped bothering to engage with him on a conversational level–even during meals. The only person she seemed interested in talking to was a man by the name of Alex Helders, a thirty-something who she thought was an “extremely intelligent” writer, but had never actually published anything that could be found in a location other than his own apartment.
Jessminda and Henry had met him at a salon (the literary kind, not the hair kind–which, apparently, needs constant distinction in this modern era of philistinism) in Mayfair, where Jessminda was only really interested in attending because it had been rumored that Guy Ritchie would be in attendance and, in retrospect, it was clear to Henry that Jessminda had always been something of a star fucker. This was, in part, also why she abandoned him in his vulnerable state, discarded him in a foreign country that Americans only felt compelled to move to because people spoke “English” there. The English in question, however, was tantamount to gibberish as far as Henry was concerned.
As he found himself trying to interpret what a plump, pasty woman in her early forties named Bridget (yes, images of Bridget Jones were conjured to Henry’s mind) was saying to him in her strange brogue, Henry couldn’t help but notice the way Jessminda was getting unnecessarily close to Alex, who he wouldn’t be introduced to until the end of the night. Already a knotted ball of insecurities not just when it came to himself, but his relationship, Henry felt compelled to fold up his body and shove it into a closet at the sight of this overt flirtation. Then again, his strongest superpower was denial, and he could chalk it up to any number of things rather than admit that Jessminda was playing him for a fool. Which is exactly what he did when she finally made the introduction to Alex at the close of the night.
“Henry, this is Alex. He’s the most brilliant writer in all of London,” Jessminda asserted with nauseating obsequiousness.
“Pleased to meet you,” Henry lied.
Alex shook his hand with the commitment of a jellyfish and could barely look him in the eye as he did so. One imagines it’s hard to look someone in the eye when your intent is to fuck his girlfriend. And that’s just what Alex ended up doing in the coming weeks, though Henry wouldn’t find out about it until around the period he was packing up his things at the Chalk Farm flat, saddled with some of Jessminda’s personal effects as well–adding great insult to even greater injury.
He heard the news from Bridget, as it were, who he ran into during an intermission at the National Theater, where he decided to indulge one last time in British culture by seeing the Damon Albarn-infused production, Wonder.land. Bridget honed in on him like a stoner to a head shop.
“Henry! How are you?” she shouted from across the room as she careened over to him.
Henry waved dumbly, saying nothing in return.
“I’m so sorry to hear about you and Jessminda. I mean honestly though, who can stand a chance against Alex’s good looks and charm? It’s not your fault,” she cooed.
Henry felt sick to his stomach, managing to squeeze out the words, “I’m sorry Bridget, you’ll have to excuse me.”
That was the last exchange he had with a human soul (we all know TSA employees talk at you without letting you speak in return, so the airport really didn’t count) before returning to New York again. But, oh, how New York tortured him too. For as much as it was his home, it also represented the home he once shared with Jessminda, every street corner, every business an agonizing reminder of her.
And no, it didn’t help that people like George were incessantly bombarding him with that same damn comment, “I thought you were moving to Europe.”
Now, it seemed there was nowhere he could go–New York or otherwise. It would all remind him of his failed attempt at geographical evolution, a direct result of his relationship devolution.