Literary Orphans

How to Break an Engagement by Jennifer Marie Donahue


  1. Put an advertisement in the personal section of the newspaper: Julie there isn’t any depth to you, you’ve never done a thing wrong in your whole life. You are as shallow as a rain puddle that dries up by afternoon. How can I marry someone who doesn’t have any secrets, who is unblemished by the world?
  2. Go to her house at Thanksgiving and get her step-father drunk on gin and tonics. Make him as many drinks as it takes for him to either throw up or turn so red in the face that Julie’s mother says in that beautiful Virginia drawl, “Honey, you better go lay down.” Make sure you loudly proclaim that you can’t eat anything with chicken stock in it because you are allergic, and when pressed insist that this is something you’ve discussed with them numerous times. Say, “Are you trying to kill me?” Get belligerent.
  3. Take a picture of the old pair of shoes and Orioles hat you found in the trashcan when you came home from work. Make sure and get the smear of the black coffee grounds that was rubbed into the white laces and the strip of banana peel you found inside the hat. Write on the photograph, You have no authority to throw away my things. Make a thousand copies and paste them all over your apartment. Put them on her car. Put them in her purse. Paste them on the bulletin board at work.
  4. Call your brother, Sean, tell him that you want to fake your own death. Could he run away with you? When he asks, tell him you can’t get married because Julie is great. Better than great. A paragon of what you want in a wife, but you are fairly certain that she would never steal anything for you.
  5. Box up everything you own. Rent a u-haul and ignore the fact that they gave you one with a giant spider on the side of it. Pack up all the boxes and decide at the last minute to let Julie keep all the dishes and all the glasses you bought together last summer. You don’t want those dishes reminding you of anything like brunches and dinner parties and wearing shirts that feel too tight around your neck or lipstick smeared on the side of the glass you have to scrub off because the dishwasher won’t make it clean.
  6. Start feeding your tuxedo to the dog, a little piece at a time until it is gone.
  7. Buy a guitar. Go to that place you walk by nearly everyday called “School of Rock.” Learn to play at least five chords, enough that you could half-ass it through a whole song. Write a song, a break-up song and be honest about how beautiful she is, Julie is like a sun or maybe like that devouring spider on the side of u-haul. Spend a few hours thinking of what word best rhymes with spider.
  8. Go to the Casino and spend all the money you will ever have. Play black jack and keep saying “hit me” when you have no more room in your numbers. Move to another game when the manager comes over to see if you are crazy. Go to the slot machine and feel automated when you pull the lever down over and over again. Stay there all day and all night until you run out of money. Curse the luck that has you win. Bankrupt men can’t get married. Curse the fate that won’t let you lose.
  9. Write her a letter, one that explains the thousand copies of the picture of the shoes and the hat. Tell her you understand she didn’t realize the significance of your things, but you don’t want to get married and seeing those items in the trash was like an epiphany, like a moment of absolute clarity, like being at the black jack table when the cards glow with a message from beyond the ether. HIT ME. Tell her you are letting her keep all the dishes, the glasses and even the silverware. Tell her you wish her well. Tell her you are moving back home and you hope to find a girl that was all wrong but all right for you at the same exact time. Tell her she should marry a dentist because somebody like that would appreciate all her flossing, all her meticulous attention to details, the way she can wipe away the residue that others cling to.

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Jennifer Marie Donahue’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Nailed Magazine, Corium, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. She has attended the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the Tin House Writing Workshop. A native of Virginia, she currently lives in Massachusetts where she is hard at work on a novel-in-stories and a collection of essays.

jmd photo

Art by Marja van den Hurk and Stephanie Ann

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