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“Pass the ketchup,” she said softly. And in the time it took the statement to leave her lips, she knew their relationship was over.

The increased silences, and the mood they set, should’ve been a clue.

But she’d read plenty of articles that said couples who are happy and comfortable with each other can spend hours together not saying a word. It sounded like a good thing, so she ignored how the quiet would eat away at her nerves until she could practically hear the chewing.

They were still intimate, though it had, admittedly, taken on a bit of a perfunctory quality.

It was almost like factory work: Insert A into B, tickle/nibble C, flip over, engage D and F, then apply focused pressure on E till the bell signals a union-mandated break. Romantic spontaneity was gone, but this routine got the job done, so what of it? Certainly not the “bed death” people warned about.

Sure, she was having more and more frequent fantasies about just getting in her car and driving… anywhere. Most recently, she’d dreamed that she had vanished from their apartment in a poof of smoke, only to reappear on a villa terrace in Spain. She lived a whole life there, drinking wine and eating tapas with strangers in cafes, before she woke up. And she’d been a little disappointed to find herself back in her real life, where the sheets needed replacing and the sink dripped and nothing seemed to excite her anymore. But that was just a normal, everyday rut. It didn’t mean anything serious.

But, this did.

Because when was the last time she’d had to ask for the ketchup?

There was a time when her needs were anticipated—when a tissue appeared before the sneeze or a cup of tea was waiting after a hard day or the birthday card for her mother was taken to the post office for her because she’d forgotten they were out of stamps. But as she held the ketchup bottle in her hand, every sign from the past few weeks flooded her brain. She was practically drowning in the realization that they weren’t really people in love anymore. They were two people in an emotional staring contest.

And she was ready to blink.

N. Alysha Lewis

N. Alysha Lewis is an editor and blogger with author aspirations whose love can absolutely be bought with french fries.

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