In The Rain

Water drips from my hair, my cheek, and the end of my nose. Where’s my umbrella?

“Why do you walk so far?” Marie asks. Then she blurts out, “Parking’s available closer to the office.”

Should I tell her? Or will it create a moment of: I can hear a paper clip hit the carpeting on the other side of the floor?

My friend slipped off a stool. It wasn’t a bungee jumping incident or skydiving accident. She’s short, and wanted to get oregano from the top shelf.

“It’s a good form of exercise,” I say.

Part II: If I Could Only Breathe

Part II:

What a mess.

Beth was always a slob who never took her domestic responsibilities seriously. But then again, she never took anything seriously: not cleaning our home, not as my wife, or our wedding vows. Selfish. High-maintenance. Drama Queen. Those are the best words I can think of to describe my “beloved”.

“Beth?”

Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, Gulliver’s Travels, Outlander, 50 Shades of Grey, The Alchemist. Her books are recklessly spread across the floor as if she’s had a temper tantrum and tossed them across the room.  That wouldn’t bother me if it were just her stuff. But my reading material is twisted together with her garbage: The Wealthy Barber, MONEY Master the Game by Tony Robbins, Losing my Virginity by Richard Branson to name a few.  I’ve never realized until now how different we are.  I’m made of the real stuff. I work hard to get things done. Beth is all about the fluff.

“Beth?” I say more impatiently. My wife dislikes me. But she normally at least shakes her head with annoyance in my direction when I say her name. Or for that matter, ask her any question.  I stop. Not one muscle flinches from her body. Not one hair moves on her head.

It’s quiet.

If there’s humming from the lights, I don’t hear it. If there’s a fly bumping along inside of a light fixture, I don’t hear that either.  My fists open and close. Trying to do what? Pump fuel to my heart?  I don’t know. Why am I panicking? I’m sure she’s fine.

“Beth, stop playing games!” I shriek at her uncontrollably. Her body is spread out on the multi-coloured Persian rug we purchased from Turkey a couple of years ago when things were still good between us.  There’s no response from her.

Weird.

My heart thumps like lightning does igniting fear in me.   I stumble over our books that impede my way as I scramble to Beth’s side.

“Beth!” I scream. My hands shake her limp body.

Wide-eyed, terrified eyes peer back at me. Beth’s skin is blanched like chalk. Her eyes remind me of a woman I pulled from a car at an accident a few months ago. It was the same night that Beth told me about her affair with Ross.

“Beth, hang on!” My voice shakes with terror as I fumble for my phone. It tumbles out of my hand and lands on The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. I grab my cell and punch at the keys mumbling, “Goddammit, it’s three numbers! How can dialing 911 be so difficult?”

“Momma!” Alvina screams as she enters through the wooden doors of the den.

No, no, no, no! Alvina, don’t see this! “Alvina, please stay back, honey!” I bellow to her.

Like mother, like daughter, she disregards what I’ve said. Now, she’s sobbing while holding Beth’s hand looking up at me with tears galloping down her round cheeks as her lower lip trembles whimpering, “mommy, mommy, mommy…”.  I could barely stand to see Beth’s wide, terrified eyes staring back at me. To see Alvina, my only daughter, like this –

“Police, fire, ambulance?” a controlled voice says through my cell phone.

“Ambulance!” I shriek.

One Moment, Please

“I’m suffocating.” Her eyes are wide. Hands rest limply by her side. She’s taken on the “look” as if she’s nearly drowned and was saved by some heroic passerby.

The man seated across from her scribbles something into his notebook. One eyebrow arched, like he does, he asks, “Physically, or figuratively?”

“Both,” she answers swiftly. Her voice is thick like overgrown trees and shrubs that will slow a hiker down in the woods.

His eyebrows arch towards the ceiling. He asks, “What do you think is causing you to suffocate?”

“The pace. The rat race. Crushing responsibilities.”

“Responsibilities? Such as your job?”

“Yeah,” her voice wavers. Quietly, she ponders how much more to say.  Of course, he picked up on the job immediately.  But there are other things. Responsibilities don’t only lie in a job. It’s everything, and at the same time, nothing at all. Will he think her a selfish whiner? One of those petulant children stomping their feet, screaming, “GIVE ME THAT! I DESERVE IT!”

This is a safe place, where she can say anything, right? That’s what she’s been told by him, and by others. With a sigh, her words tumble out in a rush, “I worry about being late for work, my boss thinking I’m slacking off, my neighbours thinking I’m lazy because I don’t garden more.”

“Are you slacking off at work?” His voice is a rhythmic hum as small dots of dust float up in the air as if there has suddenly been a gust of wind knocking them off of the bookshelf, books, or the oak coffee table in front of her.  But the two of them are barely moving. They sit there, talking. The shared words may mean something, or nothing. They’re digging, trying to get to the root of the problem. The thought comes to her of things she’s read about London and Rome where construction workers begin to dig and find burial sites, or ancient Roman ruins.  Who wins? Does the past get to keep the space? Or does the future, knock over the past?

She snaps herself back to the now.  “No, I don’t think I’m slacking off. I mean, I have days when I could do better.” There’s a pause as she waits for the moment of judgement to pass. She’s certain that’s the case. Will it matter if she says one more thing? She decides, why not? Finally, she adds, “I’m just so tired sometimes.”

His eyebrows knit together. Index finger rises, and pushes his eyeglasses up to the bridge of his nose.  “I think we all have days we can do better. After all, we’re human.” He stops talking for a moment. It’s a tactic of his to force her to consider the words he said.  “So, you’re not slacking off at work. Is there anything else you can do differently in the morning?  Maybe, leave earlier so you’ll have more time to commute to work?”

“I try to leave earlier most days.” She bristles as her arms fold defensively in front of her.  “I could skip my Starbucks run, but I don’t want to.” Eyes suddenly fill with tears. She knows what he’ll say next. He won’t get it, and will try to reason with her. Explain to her that it’s the most rational decision.

“You go to Starbucks every day?” His voice seeps with an incredulous tone as his hand begins to swivel and swirl around as the pen he’s holding stops and starts, racing from left to right, jotting notes down in his notebook.

“Yes, even if I really don’t have the time, and I’m already running late.” Stopping herself, she breathes out and then adds, “because I want just 30 seconds, maybe a minute of relaxing.” Her words rush out in a flurry. She needs to explain herself before he stops her. Make him try to understand her position. “I do the mobile order every day. But it’s the 30 seconds of running in and I hear the old time music, and the baristas are SUPER busy, but they’ll still take a moment to acknowledge me with a smile, or a hello. Then, sometimes all these people are in the coffee shop who are having conversations, reading their books, or sitting and sipping their coffee. All I think, I would love that. That’s how life should be.”

“How life should be?” He peers at her through his spectacles as wisps of hair fall forward onto his forehead.

“Yes,” her voice is emphatic. Hands wave in the air making small circles, “life should be full with books to read, feeling the warmth of sunshine and heat on your face….You know – sipping beverages and chewing your food properly, and when you have an indulgent delicious dessert savouring the lemon, chocolate, or cinnamon taste in every bite.  Versus shoving food into your mouth in between stop lights, while eyeing other cars suspiciously as if they’ve all conspired together to leave at the exact time you did, because they want you to be late for work.”

“Do you believe that?” His pen pauses on the paper. He reclines back and uncrosses and then crosses his legs waiting for an answer.

Paranoid, she imagines him writing.

She throws her head back, laughing at the question.  “No,” she answers.  “But it feel like I’m in a race with everyone else, and I need to get as far as I can quickly, to give myself the best chance of making it to work on time.”

“Have you thought about going to Starbucks after work?”

She snaps, “I’ll never go.” More than ready for that question, she didn’t hesitate. He’s not the first one to ask her that.

Eyebrows furrowing together, he remembers back to another conversation they had, and asks, “Is that why you take short trips?  Because you think you’ll never have the time to take longer vacations?”

Nodding her head, voice rattling a bit, she answers, “I know I won’t.  So many people say: I can’t go now because I don’t have the time or money.  I’ll go later, when the time’s right and I can do a bigger trip.  But for a lot of people, it never happens. I’d prefer one minute at Starbucks if that’s all I could have. I would prefer two days in New York, if I can’t afford five days. And if I never have two weeks off to go to Australia, I’ll do one week. I don’t want to wait for the perfect time, because one day, I won’t have any time left.”

Deconstructing Stupid

“Alright everyone, take your seats.” It’s said with a certain level of gravity Mr. Bryson seldom uses.

The kids wiggle into their seats as a quick hush descends over the classroom. There’s an unending pause that lingers in the air -; it’s the same weightiness found in churches when members of a congregation perched on wooden benches wait for an inspirational sermon to be given by a priest or a minister.

“Tom,” Mr. Bryson says. “Are you on your phone?”

“No, Mr. Bryson,” Tom lies as he casually scoops his phone into his Under Armour sweatshirt pocket.

“Well, if it’s already away, there’s no point getting it out for this exercise. Everyone else, get your phones out.”

The students wonder: is this a joke? They glance around at each other waiting for someone else to make the first move. After a few moments, someone grabs their knapsack, and there’s an echo of rustling bags being shuffled around as other kids slowly reach for their cell phones. Once found, twitching fingers are poised and rest lightly on their telephone keypads as they wait for further instructions.

Tom casually removes his mobile phone from his pocket. Mr. Bryson stares at him. There’s an exchange of glances between them. After he can’t handle it anymore, the boy averts his eyes and focuses on the desktop in front of him.

“I can’t believe he’s letting us use our phones!” Jenna whispers to her friend Beth who’s seated in the desk beside her.

“Yes, I am,” Mr. Bryson answers. His voice cracks through the noise that consumed the air with the movement of books, bags, and low murmuring of voices. Everything halts instantly.

“We were going to continue to talk about The Giver today. But I’ve decided to do something different.”

The tranquility returns. It lasts so long a buzzing fly’s zzzz is loud and long enough several children spin their heads around in search of the annoying insect.

“As everyone knows, I was a monitor in the schoolyard at break today. When I was outside, I heard a word that I feel should never be used.  The word was…”

Mr. Bryson’s arms were protectively folded in front of him as he casually leaned against a wall in conservative “teacher dress” of beige dress pants, and a short-sleeved plaid shirt. But he breaks away from the standard dress code with his funky red tie with Rubik’s Cubes on it. His attire is a reflection of his teaching style: strict when required, but otherwise, cool and jovial.

With the incomplete, unspoken word that hangs on tethers in space, he turns his back towards the class and grabs a piece of chalk. He scribbles STUPID on the chalkboard.  Once he’s finished writing the word, he tosses the chalk and it hits the ledge with a gentle thud.  The sound ricochets throughout the room. It’s louder than Mr. Bryson intended.

“Okay, that’s the word that was used in the schoolyard. Does anyone know the meaning of it?”  Mr. Bryson asks as he paces back and forth with uneasiness like a caged lion at a zoo.

Sixty-two dilated pupils stare at him.  Heads begin to turn in all directions. A low-level whisper begins as everyone poses the same question, “was it you?”

Mr. Bryson nods his head in answer to the question no one will ask him directly. He leans backwards and adjusts his tie. Quietly he says, “It was no one in this room. Thank goodness.”

Silence.

Time passes.

There’s a small cough.

Otherwise, nothing else is said.

Not one child raises their hand.

Finally, Mr. Bryson says, “If you don’t know the exact definition, that’s okay. Let’s brainstorm together.” He spins on his heel and snatches up a piece of chalk. With impatient fingers, he stands ready to write.

Hailey’s hand shoots up into the air.

Mr. Bryson points at her and says, “Okay, Hailey. What am I writing?”

“People say it when you’ve done something wrong.”

Done something wrong, Mr. Bryson writes, “such as?” He asks Hailey.

“If you… Spill your drink!” She offers.

“Well, that sounds like an accident to me. But we’ll put it down. Because you’re right – people say it in those situations.”

“Okay class, let’s go! You can just shout out your answers. Better yet…” He faces the students. Placing the piece of calcite down he continues, “I’ll give you five minutes. Just come up and write on the board what you think the word means. Or, you can also provide examples of where you’ve heard it said before. The examples might help us figure out the definition. ”

A line forms and the students write:

When another person in a car cuts you off in traffic.

When you don’t know the answer to a question.

When you chase your ball into the street, and forget to look both ways for cars.

When you forget your gym clothes. 

It’s a name that’s called.

They call you stupid when you talk about becoming an Olympic Figure Skater when you grow up.

Stupid is the opposite of smart.

When you tell somebody something, like a fact, and it’s wrong.   

When you wake up late for school.

When you fail a test.

When you trip on a curb…

***

Mr. Bryson quietly skims some of the sentences written on the chalkboard. It’s obvious to him these were things either said to the kids, or that they’ve heard.

“Wow,” Mr. Bryson says as the last student places the chalk down and returns to his seat. “We’ve filled up the board. Okay Tom, do you have your phone out?”

Tom stares out the window for a second. When he faces Mr. Bryson again, his cheeks are crimson. With a snort of laughter, Tom answers, “yeah.”

“Okay, can you look up the definition of the word for us?”

“Already, did it,” Tom says raising his chin proudly.

“Great!” Mr. Bryson’s head is bent downwards as he grins at Tom. “Can you read it to us?”

“It says, having or showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense,”[i]  with hands over his mouth he says in a muffled voice.

“Okay,” Mr. Bryson responds. He quietly stands in front of the chalkboard and writes the words Tom said.

Mr. Bryson walks to the middle of the room with rows of desks on each side. He turns to the right, waves his arms at the students seated there and says, “You guys, google the definition for intelligence. And you guys,” he says turning to the left and motions to them, “look up the definition of common sense. As soon as you find it, raise your hands.”

Tap, tap, tap…..

There’s a steady clicking sound of buttons being punched into phones. Moments later, several hands rise up into the air.

“Brianna, give us the definition of intelligence!” Mr. Bryson shouts.

“It says the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.”[ii]

Mr. Bryson races to the board and scratches the words onto it.  “Okay,” he says with his back to the room as he casually spins his white flaky writing instrument around between his fingers reminiscent of baton-twirling girls at parades. Without turning around, Mr. Bryson says, “Liam, I think you were first? What’s the definition of common sense?”

Liam nearly drops his phone when he hears his name. The poor kid stutters, “ah sorry….okay, it says, good sense and sound judgement in practical matters.”[iii]

“Excellent!” Mr. Bryson says. He scrawls the definition onto the board. When he’s done, Mr. Bryson drops his white scribbling stick on the ledge. Facing his students he asks, “Does anyone see a problem with the definition of stupid?”

There’s no sound except for the steady hum of lights above them. Everyone holds their breath as they wait for the answer.

Mr. Bryson stares at the sea of wide-eyed blank faces.

“Intelligence is something you acquire over time. Some people have a natural ability in certain areas such as art, mathematics, or maybe science. But in order to develop a natural ability,” Mr. Bryson starts to walk up and down the rows of desks and continues, “you need to have access to education and the right teachers. Any ideas where this might not happen? Where kids might not get a chance to learn?”

“Third world countries,” James announces.

“Right again! Third world countries! Do you think it’s fair to use that word to describe people in those situations?” Mr. Bryson asks.

Each student’s head moves from right to left, signalling, no.

“Good. We all agree to that.” Mr. Bryson’s words are slower now as he considers each one carefully. He places his hands in his pockets and calmly strolls the wooden floor of the room as if he’s in a park on a warm summer’s day and says, “but what about when someone can’t learn because they’ve had a terrible teacher?”

Small snorts of snickering reverberate throughout the room.

Mr. Bryson’s eyes glisten in recognition of his joke. He waits to see if anyone is brave enough to answer the question.

No one says a word.

Finally he says, “No, it’s true. Just like in any job, we have some mediocre teachers. I try not to be one of those.”

A low chuckling sound quietly sweeps across the room. Some kids nod their heads in Mr. Bryson’s direction. The students are thankful for Mr. Bryson’s honesty: no one else, not another teacher, principal or parent – has ever admitted such a thing before.

After everyone stops laughing, Mr. Bryson says, “Here’s something else for you to consider… What happens when a good teacher who’s used a method for a long time, still can’t teach a kid something? Any ideas?”

Samuel says, “You need to change your teaching methods.”

“We sure do. Sometimes teachers don’t realize how they’re teaching might be wrong for a particular student. So we need to adapt our methods in order to help those kids. Is it fair to use that word to describe someone, when the person may learn things differently?”

“No,” the kids whisper together.

Mr. Bryson calmly walks back to the chalkboard and places a hand underneath the word saying, “words matter.”

He states it as a fact. It’s not a point to be debated.  

He waits a second and adds, “This word – is a value-based judgement word. It’s dependent on any number of factors. Who taught the person? Where the person lived? What kind of teacher they had?”

“Even the common sense factor in the definition of the word can be argued. It might be common sense in North America to look both ways before you cross the street, so you don’t get hit by a car. But in some countries, where there are few cars, maybe you need to be more aware of hippos hiding in lakes that want to trample you.”

Laughter bounces across the room.

Mr. Bryson waits a moment, and then continues, “I’m being somewhat funny. But I’m serious too. What you think is common sense and matters here, might not be important if you live somewhere else.”

“As for this one,” Mr. Bryson says pointing to the figure skating line, “sometimes people will use name-calling as a way to force another person to conform. They want the person to pick a reasonable career because the chance of success might be low, and if they do succeed, they will have done something that seemed impossible. But you can’t let their negative comments stop you. People dreamed of travelling to the moon, and wrote about it, way before it happened and were ridiculed for it. Without those dreams, without those books, without those scientists – we as a world may never have gone to space, to the moon, and now we’re looking at going further into the universe.”

Mr. Bryson gingerly picks up a chalkboard brush, and using his other hand he places a finger beneath the word and quietly says, “This word… is a word…that should be erased from our vocabulary.”

With a slow wipe of the brush, Mr. Bryson, makes stupid disappear.

[i]  Stupid. Retrieved October 5th 2017, from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/stupid

[ii]  Intelligence. Retrieved October 5th, 2017, from  https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/intelligence

[iii]  Common Sense. Retrieved October 5th, 2017, from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/common_sense

The Sum of All Parts

I prop myself up on my elbow leaning heavily into the mattress. A second later, I slump down onto my bed as if my elbow were a car jack hoisting the rest of me up, until some malicious person came along and kicked at it, and the whole car came crashing down. It’s important to fix the wheel, because without it, the car won’t roll.

My head and right hand dangle over the edge of the bed. Eyes glaze over staring at a mixture of clothes littered on my floor: blue jeans, black and grey dress pants, a rainbow assortment of long-sleeved blouses, and rock t-shirts. Too weak to stand, too exhausted to sit up, and I can’t do anything about the mess. The pungent smell of three day coffee-booze mixture envelopes my nose. Here I lie, helplessly stuck gazing into the pile of too many unwanted clothes, while my aged favorite drinks that no longer smell the same, conspire to offend my olfactory senses. A burning sensation begins in my chest, spills into my throat, and spreads so far it pushes into my ears.

Who knew burning could last so long?

Do You See Me?

***

This short story was originally published online with Potluck Magazine in July 2015. The link can be found below:

http://potluckmag.com/july-2015/2015/7/19/do-you-see-me

It was also my very first publication in a literary journal.  Start the dance music.

***

My two day unwashed hair is greasy, face dotted in red and white pimples as I stand at the counter with yellow-egg splotches dribbled down my white t-shirt, combined with brown dusty crumbs from the last customer’s toast. I push my black, grease-stained skirt, apron-wearing-hip against the counter. The pocket of my apron holds runaway home fries, escapees from a plate earlier this morning. On my uniform I have all the essential elements of a great Canadian breakfast. If I get hungry later, I can snack on my clothes. I grab the coffee pot that contains the steaming black tar, lean in to ask a customer in my soft spoken, customer-oriented voice, “More coffee?”

I come from a large family consisting of me and my five siblings: Debra, Rob, Joseph, Cynthia, and Brad.  I am one of the middle children. Last Saturday night, I spent the evening scrubbing my mother’s bathtub, sinks, and toilets. My mother has been recently diagnosed with colon cancer and is in treatment. Cancer and chemo stole my mother’s energy. Cleaning is now an impossible task for her. Our father is gone; the victim of a Christmas heart attack last year.

My sister, Cynthia, called as I was leaving the house to ask a favour.  Cynthia is divorced and has crossed the eight-month line. She has started to shop for a new husband. Her husband, after six years of marriage, decided one night he didn’t want to be married anymore and left. It was that simple for him.

Cynthia is convinced that this new guy is “the one” and begged me through desperate tears to babysit her daughter, Kendra. As I hesitated in providing her with an affirmative answer she began rambling about the unfairness of life: a husband who abandoned her and their child, changing his mind without warning after an agreement was made in marriage and words. Cynthia proceeded to paint a picture of her date, Henry, like this: countless child-friendly dinners out with Kendra, trips to museums as a family, and she spoke at length about a planned trip to New York which Henry will finance. But, on that particular Saturday night, it was just to be the two of them at the Keg Steakhouse. Unfortunately, the babysitter that Cynthia booked for the evening developed a spontaneous case of the stomach flu, a common occurrence for THAT babysitter.

Cynthia’s daughter, Kendra, is a five-year-old, adorable little girl. According to Cynthia, all of my other siblings were busy. Rob was swamped at work managing competing projects for his company; Joseph had a date with his model-girlfriend. The hand model demands Joseph be on time, must not cancel scheduled dates under any circumstances, and Joseph pays for all their outings even though they are not in a committed relationship. The youngest in our family, Brad, broke his leg two weeks ago riding his motorcycle on slippery streets which were covered in rain that later froze when the temperature plummeted in the evening. Brad said he wanted just one more ride before the season ended. He can barely walk to the fridge. But, he’s lucky to be alive. That reminds me – I need to make Brad some food. McDonald’s wrappers littered his apartment intermingled with the odd empty potato chip bag when I saw him on Tuesday. His friends think they are helping. He will be three hundred pounds before that cast comes off.

Debra never picked up the phone when Cynthia called. She never does. To be fair, she works full time as an administrative assistant at a hospital and has two children. Debra is constantly shuttling her children to various extra-curricular activities: piano lessons, guitar lessons, volleyball, basketball or swimming – the list is endless.   After shuttling, Debra can be found up to her elbows in soap suds scrubbing the pots and pans from dinner. Kevin, her husband, works full time too, but prepares healthy dinners for his team. That’s what he calls them – a team. After the children are in bed, Kevin will help Deb clean the kitchen.

I secretly think Kevin uses the time in the kitchen as an excuse to be with Debra. I’ve witnessed on numerous occasions, Kevin whistling while wiping counters down or drying dishes. (No man is ever that happy to do housework.) But, he will also make soap boobies or a penis in the dish water when Debra isn’t looking. When he has built a sudsy penis, inevitably, Debra will stick her hands in the water breaking the penis in two. On cue, Kevin winces and screams, cradling his private parts in horror. A small smile crosses my face. What a clown – and a good guy.

That left me to babysit. Babysitting and cleaning toilets on a Saturday. I love Kendra, but sometimes I just want to stop. Stop it all. No more working, cleaning, cooking, or babysitting. But, I know what will happen at work if I stopped. Grumpy, old, grey-haired, wrinkled, cane-wielding-Gertrude will have me fired.  She will stroll into this diner, demand her coffee, and when I don’t respond, will tap her cane three times on this black, slippery floor (she says she does it to get my attention) and scowl demanding to speak to Rudy, the manager. Words like incompetent and inefficient will roll off of Gertrude’s tongue. I’ve heard it before.

I’m sure Gertrude doesn’t really need the cane. I suspect she carries it as a weapon to beat unsuspecting victims, (no one would be suspicious of an old, defenceless woman) or to trip innocent people as they walk down the streets for malicious fun.

Does anyone see me?

I am a thirty-six year old, University-educated woman. I only completed University through student loans and hard work. I am not smart. I’ve been told. While the other wealthier, brilliant, students clubbed on weekday and weekend nights, I sat in my room studying text books convinced it would get me somewhere. And here it is. I am like the 1980’s, red rose wallpaper on these walls.

I am just part of the old decor.

I’m circling the black, grunge-ridden floor of this diner with red sticky booth seats. I watch as Allison wipes the syrup from her blonde, blue-eyed, toddler daughter’s face.  I check my other customers; Brian and Dan are in expensive grey business suits today and both wear their lucky Italian ties. They discuss another sub division planned in the area. Family and careers are juxtaposed in this world. I have neither.

Am I just a waitress, cleaner, cook, babysitter? I’ve covered all the domestic roles except the one I really wanted:  to be a mother.  After multiple miscarriages and a visit to a fertility specialist she said your odds of successfully conceiving a child and carrying it to term are less than 20 percent.  

I’m losing on all the front lines.  

In terms of career, how did I end up here? Failure again, is the correct word. In my past, I have held several administrative positions at companies with each company folding faster than the one before. There are signs when a company is in a downward spiral: employees diminish through lay-offs or resignation, vacant offices increase, funds for necessities such as office supplies decrease, and there are many, many, closed door meetings. I bounced out of each company quickly, locating a new opportunity shortly before my pink slip arrived. The last time, I was not so lucky.

Unemployed. It sounds like a dirty word: worthless, undesirable, down-sized. I was off for a few months and then everyone, with the exception of my husband, told me I should just take anything. Family and friends said: certainly you can wait tables as you did in University. Some money coming in is better than no money. My husband was the exception, encouraging me not to settle too quickly. But, after a few months enduring relentless, you could always work at McDonald’s jokes (why does everyone think that joke is so damn funny?) I took a waitressing job. Here I circle, one year later.

This is the middle of my life where I should have most of my shit together. And yet, I have nothing; no career, no children, and no house. I am biologically deficient in every way – not smart, and unable to reproduce. If natural selection is always at play, it has determined my genes to be inferior. How can I argue?      

I circle. If this were the end of my life, I would hope at my eulogy, I would be described as a good and kind daughter, wife, sister and friend. Oh God – please don’t say, what made her really happy was cleaning, cooking and serving. I swear, I will come back and haunt that person. All joking aside, my real concern is this: does anyone know who I am?

I blink back tears as I place the coffee pot back on the burner. I want a different life, but how do I make it happen? There are bills to pay, family and friends that depend on me. I want to change my life, but how? How much of my life do I give to others, and how much am I entitled to? What is the ratio?  90/10? 50/50? 30/70?

I know part of how much I give depends on how much I offer. But, I wonder – if I took care of me first, was happier, healthier and less resentful, wouldn’t I be able to help others more?

Or is that just the selfish?  What happens if I took the $15,000 in my RRSP’s and travelled for a few months to relax and think about what I want to do with my life? I hang my head down and put my hands on my face in an effort to hide the tears that swell in my eyes. Physically, emotionally, and financially bankrupt; I am spent. 

I have other plans. Here’s an example. What if I used the $15,000 in RRSP’s to buy property on the outskirts of the city in the hopes in ten or twenty years a developer will purchase it for a subdivision?  As already proven, the area is in a boom phase for residential building. It would be a long shot. I know. But I might be financially secure in my later years.

I hate this job.  I should quit right now. Walk out those doors today and find a Monday to Friday job that pays more than the $19,000 I made last year, tips included.

If I quit, do I include the waitress position on my resume if I want another administrative role? Is it true that it’s better to do something versus nothing? Or, if I left it on my resume, does it demonstrate to potential employers that I lack ambition?

Who am I kidding though? I wouldn’t quit on Rudy. Rudy, the owner, defended me against cantankerous Gertrude when she declared me incompetent, shuffled my shifts around to accommodate my mother’s sudden and various medical appointments, and I am always called in first if another waitress calls in sick. He’s a wonderful boss. I know I’m lucky in some ways.

As I uncover my face, I see her white hair. GERTRUDE. How long has she been sitting there? 

“Hello dearie,” she says as her head is tilted and she taps her cane three times on the floor. “Where’s my coffee?”

I grab a cup and saucer and pour the morning brew.

“Is there something wrong?” She asks in her squeaky, kind, grandmother voice.

It’s just a trick, I tell myself. Don’t fall for it. She doesn’t care. “Absolutely nothing,” I say with my head raised and a reassuring smile.

“Good. I was concerned I would lose the worst waitress that I’ve ever met.”

I stare at her dumbfounded, purse my lips together as my jaw locks up. God, I hate her.

Gertrude smiles at me, her eyebrows are raised as she tastes the black, caffeinated, poison.

Now that her brain is on, there will be no end to her comments. Trust me, I know what I am. She doesn’t need to point it out.

Gertrude places her coffee cup down on the saucer and stares at me for a long moment. The smile evaporates from her face as she drops a card on the counter and pushes it across to me.

“I give you a hard time Tammy, because I know you can do more than this. Maybe you’re tired or lazy, or possibly both, beaten down by life’s complications. But, don’t waste your life away. My daughter, Pamela Radder, works for an employment agency. You should call her. I’m sure she can find you another job better suited to your education and skills.”

My mouth gapes open as I stare at her in disbelief.    I hesitate for a moment wondering if she is playing some awful joke on me.

Gertrude’s eyes are steady, lips have narrowed, shoulders and jaw have tightened. She looks serious.

Softly she says, “Listen, I’ve lived a long life – and mostly a good one. I was married to a wonderful man for forty years.” Gertrude take’s a deep breath as if she’s about to go under water. I watch her grey eyes get misty like a foggy day. Then, she exhales and the fog dissipates.

She continues, “We have two beautiful, successful children who take care of me now. I am also blessed with three grandchildren. But, just like you, I went to University then settled into low-paying jobs after graduation. My husband, Daniel, was in a car accident shortly after we were married and we had two small children to feed at the time. I worked anywhere to pay the bills.”

Gertrude chokes on more tears that have gathered again at this memory. Her voice is thick. She is drowning. The tears fill her lungs making it difficult for her to breathe, let alone talk. I know. The same thing happens to me when I talk about Dad.

With more determination she clears her throat with greater force, sits erect, pushing the painful memory back.  She continues, “Daniel eventually recovered and became a successful businessman. After he was better, I gave up on any chance of having a career, too tired by footsteps I had already taken. My husband was a modern man for our time and he encouraged me to pursue the things I talked about when we first met.”

“He sounds like a wonderful man,” I say, not knowing what else to say.

For a moment I think about my husband. He was the only one who told me not to go back to waitressing. He said I could do more.

“Yes,” she says. “He knew me better than I knew myself. I was a fool who flatly refused to think outside the box, as the saying goes nowadays. I regret not listening to him. Life is short and time is finite. You will eventually run out of time.”  I am experiencing too many feelings in this conversation: confusion, anger, sympathy and sadness. Just like Mount Vesuvius, there is red hot lava boiling up in my head. An eruption is inevitable. I suddenly snap at her, “You said I was incompetent!”

“You’re alright as a waitress. But I know you’re unhappy. I wanted to give you some incentive to find a better job!”

Gertrude pauses and looks down at the counter for a moment. Then, she raises her head, as her eyes meet mine, she sighs, and says, “I was trying to get you fired. If you lost this job you would be forced to find something better. I’m sorry, I was wrong. I should have just told you that you could do better. You’re a smart girl Tammy. You deserve more.”

She pauses, eyes locked on me. “I heard about your father, your mother’s illness, and your brother’s accident. It’s a small town and everyone talks. But no matter how hard it is, you should always push forward even when the deck is stacked against you.”

With a sudden, widening, lop-sided smile, she adds, “You don’t want to turn out like me, do you?

A snort of laughter erupts from me. Then, my face flushes hot with embarrassment. My laughter is an admission of guilt; all those unkind thoughts that I had towards Gertrude. Oh god, I’m an ass.

I place my hand on top of hers and quietly say, “No, I wouldn’t want that.”

I bite my lower lip and pause for a moment to consider her words. I hesitate as the card stares back at me, beckoning me to take a chance. I consider my other options. They are zero. I pick the card up and slide it into my apron.

I turn around and reach for the coffee pot on the burner. I ask Gertrude, more gently than ever before, “More coffee?”

“Yes, please.” Gertrude says with her chin raised, sparkle in her eye, as she beams at me with a look of satisfaction.

Happy

The company Clinique offers the following two scents: Happy and Happy to Be.

My pointed elbows swinging around in my haste to get ready one morning, I bump Happy off the counter and watch as he topples off, onto my square-tiled ceramic bathroom floor. In the few seconds before impact, I secretly pray that Happy might make it.  Maybe, the bottle won’t break. Catastrophe averted, I will smile and think: yeah, how lucky am I?

The glass smacks to the floor and I watch as the bottle splinters into a jigsaw puzzle of bits of smaller and larger pieces.     

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

Sadly, Happy to Be suffered a similar fate months earlier.  

The overwhelming scent of too much Happy burns my olfactory senses, smothering me.

I see my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Lines cross my forehead, laugh lines flatten, nostrils burn, eyes run cold with this thought:  I’m not even allowed to own a bottle of perfume called Happy!  I am pissed with the irony of it all.

This reckoning causes the image in the mirror to begin another transformation. A new set of lines map a different network on my face. I break into pieces like Happy, scattered at my feet. I can’t watch it happen and for my own protection; my head falls forward avoiding my reflection.

I sob, wishing for happiness instead.     

***

First published in The Commonline Journal. 

http://www.commonlinejournal.com/2016/03/happy-by-penelope-s-hawtrey.html

Light

In the darkness below her winged bird there are flickers of white dots here and there.  They may be a street light, the eyes of a car, or perhaps the larger patches to the west are an illuminated soccer or baseball field. If it’s one of the larger baseball games – those who attend might be able to get a mustard drenched hot dog and some fizzy beer that tickles their noses.

A drink would be good right about now. 

Through the window she glances at red lights pulsing back and forth signalling a sister plane is close by, although, not that close. It only seems like it is. In truth, she knows the plane is quite a distance apart. Or so, that’s what someone once told her.

She wonders if there’s another person who looks through their small round window and sees her, and if they wonder the same thing she does. The question: where are all those people going?

Are they going to tropical destinations, where they can get pineapple drinks adorned with little umbrellas that signal the commencement of a vacation?  Or is there a sombre individual who is wedged in his cramped seat wearing a starched white-sleeved shirt, black pants, and jacket hunched forward with his laptop perched on his fold-out tray table? It would be a last attempt by a businessman to complete some final work before he lands and attends his next big meeting.

Then again, she wonders why there’s an assumption by her that other people are travelling for enjoyment or money. There might be another reason: a loved one who is newly diagnosed with some disease and family and friends, in a show of support, flock to them to lift their spirits. But for some passengers on those flights, they may already travel with red-rimmed eyes and dark clothes so they may say their final farewells to someone special they have lost. You miss the little things: the tilt of their head when they talked; their hand clapping when they spoke with excitement about something; or perhaps an annoyance you never thought you would miss, such as the way they never let you get a word into a conversation.

The small things. Dots. Flickers. Ended. Before we even realize it.

But not everyone is lost when faced with a grim prognosis. She knows this to be true. Sometimes surprisingly, and to the delight of family and friends, a loved one will rally back from sickness that forced them into hospitals with white scratchy linen sheets, and ammonia-scented rooms, where clipboard-carrying doctors  dispense medication in the hopes of saving a person’s life.

And it works.

Sunshine returns.

Light carries us home. With lights on cars, boats, and planes it helps the pilot avoid disaster. Then there are beacons of light from lighthouses and red dots from airport runways that helps Captains navigate and bring passengers and crew back to land safely. It’s as if those signals of  light are waving an exuberant hand saying, “Come, this way!”

Among the red blinking lights in the darkness around her, there are smaller dots of white.

Stars, fixed and steady, illuminate the darkness and were the first navigational system that ships used as their compass to bring them to a selected destination. But a miss calculation on the part of the crew would bring them somewhere completely different.

Suddenly – there’s a shuddering, followed swiftly by a red flash! She jolts from her seat. There’s a faintly heard sound of twisting metal as air rushes and howls around her. Foolishly, she always believed in the last few moments of her life there would be a serene darkness that would descend. It would be as if death’s hands would wrap themselves tightly around her throat squeezing out her last breath.

The greeting of the explosion of brightness reminds her of the energy found in parades with thumping marching bands, comical clowns, and bedazzled floats draped heavily with white, orange, purple, and red flowers.  It’s an intense last spark, a final hurrah! It’s as if the spark were attempting to ignite one more time, with only the last embers of a tired flame. In that final burst of energy, of light, it ends.

What She Says To Me

“What are you doing?” She asks in a derisive tone. Standing above me, she hangs over my shoulder, staring at my computer screen.

“What does it look like I’m doing?” After a brief pause I add, “working.”

“Why? You know you’ll never get anywhere.  I can see you now – a pathetic, decrepit woman, with scraggly white hair in her 80’s, hunched over her computer saying, oh, if I just keep working, maybe I’ll become a successful writer.” And then if you still haven’t convinced yourself, you’ll say with a last hurrah, “It’s never too late!”  

“You don’t understand. It’s a part of who I am now. Even if I wanted to stop, I can’t.”

“That’s your obsessive-compulsive disorder kicking in. That’s all.” She says it in her VERY familiar authoritative voice. A few seconds later, she adds, “you’re unsuccessful at everything you do. Capital L-O-S-E-R, loser!” She screeches the last word at me as if she were stabbing me in the heart.

“I can spell,” I answer.

“I should hope so. How do you even get up in the mornings? Or,” she tilts her head back, claps her hands together, and says, “Why do you get up in the mornings?”

I sigh, and ask, “Are you done, yet?”

“Not yet. Shall I list our failures?”

“No, thanks,” I answer sticking my hand up in front of her. “I have that list too.”

“Listen, I don’t mean to be so negative…”

“Really? You don’t?” I say swinging my head in her direction with a mix of frustration and sadness in my voice.

I must get my emotions in check. I can’t let her know she’s winning.

She shrugs her shoulders, and says, “One of us needs to be the realist, the sensible one.” She paces around my office, touches my stuff, and continues saying, “listen, if you keep working at just your real job, you’ll probably make it to retirement, and won’t end up broke and homeless. Maybe you’ll even make it to old age.  You can’t keep working and writing at the same time. Your body is showing the signs it can’t handle much more. Give up, and you’ll be buried an old woman.”

“You’re so much fun. You should stop by more often.” I say sarcastically.

“Well,” she says, “if you keep up with this nonsense, no one will come to your funeral because you were too busy…” There’s a short pause, and then her fingers rise up in the air, and she makes the quote signs, and continues saying, “working all the time.” She huffs, stomps around a little, swings her head in my direction and with her nose in the air adds, “no one will care that you’re dead because when you were alive, you never made time for them.”

“Can you stop talking?” I say as I face the white glow from my screen.

“No,” she says inching her way closer to me until she’s standing to my left side. And of course – she’s still standing above me.

“Accept your fate.”

“Stop it.” My voice wobbles with weariness. She’s crushing me. We both know it.

“Why do you think you’re so special?”

“Oh, come on,” I huff in frustration. “I don’t think I’m special! I just feel like I need to try, to make an attempt!” A cliché spins to the top of my mind and before I can stop myself I use it saying, “I would prefer to try and fail, than never to try at all.”

“Cliché,” she announces to me in that dismissive, superior tone.

“I knew you were going to say that. Sometimes clichés last because they’re true.”

“Or, maybe they’re lies that continue to linger because people want to believe them.”

“Fine. Maybe. Are you done?” If I give her a victory, make her believe she’s won, she might go away, and I can get back to work.

“What’s that line that we laugh about? It’s the opposite of an inspirational quote. Was it, failure, when you’re best just isn’t good enough? Was that it? She says scrunching her eyes at me like a cat does when their plotting to trip you at the top of the staircase so the feline can  get their inheritance.

I snort with laughter. Okay, sometimes she’s pretty funny.  “Yes, that was it.”

I remember the quote so well, by a company called Despair Inc. I get their sense of humour. They have multiple posters with similarly sarcastic quotes. But that one stuck with me, with us, for a long time. I remember the photo they used: a runner sitting on a bench, hands on top of his bowed head. It was an image of utter defeat.  The whole thing was perfectly packaged encompassing a huge range of emotions; sadness, humor, and accented with a heavy dose of honesty.

“That’s you,” she says gleefully.

I pause.

I know how to get rid of her.

I stand up from my desk, and I’m finally at eye level with her. It’s just the two of us.

“Are you ready to accept defeat?” She asks with one eyebrow raised, jaw is locked, eyes are fixed on me.

“No,” I say stubbornly. “Did you know that some people say that failing is necessary? That so long as you learn something from the experience, it might make you better? I’ve heard of people who were fired from their jobs that went on to start their own successful businesses.”

“You’re not them,” she says as her eyes shift from side to side with uncertainty.

“I’m going for a run,” I announce.

“You’re running away from your problems.”

“Nope, that’s not it. You’ve used everything from name-calling, to my concern that I’m being neglectful to my family and friends by pursuing my passion to try bully me to stop me from writing. Then when that didn’t work, you started to discuss what my funeral might look like. Who does that? I need to get away from you.”

“You can’t get away from me. Not permanently,” she whispers in my ear as I change as quickly as I can into my sports bra, running pants, and sweatshirt. “I’ll be back,” she says finally.

I yank my sports watch on, run down the stairs clasping my MP3 player, and pull my running shoes on.

“DO YOU HEAR ME? I’ll be back!” She screams at me as a last effort to be heard.

“I have no doubt,” I answer just before I slip my headphones over my ears. “But when I get back, you’ll most likely be gone, and I can finally get some work done.”

She leans over the railing staring down at me. “Fine. Go then. I still think you’ll never amount to anything.”

My eyes flutter as I look up to the woman at the railing. I smile. I say nothing else, and won’t even acknowledge her existence with a good-bye wave. I turn the door knob, set my running watch, and my legs slowly begin to move from a walk, to a trot, until I’m clipping along at my fastest speed – which in truth, is terribly slow. It’s a race pace that translates to a 6 hour marathon.

But, I don’t care about how fast I go. Because right now, I can’t hear her scolding, hateful, bullying words, anymore.

Part II: If You Asked Me To…

“Hello, Beth,” a familiar voice says from behind me. After the last few days of many encounters, I know who it is, before I turn around.

“Hello,” I answer swiveling around confirming my suspicions.

“Did you have breakfast there?” He asks as his nose crinkles. His eyes squint together from either the sun or the sub-zero temperatures. I’m surprised he’s not wearing a hat and notice his ears are glowing red most likely stinging from the brisk wind.  Despite the arctic temperatures his arms are crossed in front of him, and his hands are clasped together in a relaxed manner as if he could stand there all day.

“Yes,” I answer facing Evan.  “It’s a nice place. The breakfast was wonderful. But I wasn’t adventurous enough to try anything really different, just the regular eggs benedict. A friend of mine suggested the place.” I can’t help myself as my lips curl upwards. I glance up to Evan who stands a good foot above me.

Briefly, his gaze shifts and he watches the rush of cars criss-cross the streets.  When he faces me again, there’s a gentle nod of his head and a knowing grin.

Evan’s wearing a long wool winter coat, leather gloves, and a plaid brown scarf that’s bundled around his neck to protect him from the unusual cold weather this time of year.  White wisps of air swirl around in front of him as he says in a gentle river of a voice, “I’m headed to the hotel.  Starting my shift.”

“Oh, I’m headed in that direction too,” I say dropping my eyes to the pavement.

Is that me leading him on? I don’t know. Should I have drawn a line by now?

I push the thought aside. Nice guy like him, I’m sure he has a girlfriend. I didn’t notice a ring. He’s probably being extra kind to me, pities me really, because I’m alone in this big beautiful city. I shouldn’t read too much into his words, mannerisms, and gestures. He probably acts the same way when he meets anyone.

“If you asked me to…”

My mouth opens and then closes. Lines shape my mouth to form the well-known friendly greeting of a smile.  This is our dance. Mine and Evan’s. I’ve been in this spinning, whirl of a city that holds a flood of shops, markets, and tickets for all the big Broadway shows, and through it all Evan disappears and reappears when I need him; and whenever we see each other he will find an opportunity to say at the beginning of the encounter, or at some point later, if you asked me to….

Evan said it when I stood blankly at the front entrance to the hotel swinging my head from right to left, while simultaneously spinning my phone in all directions, trying to figure out what street to take to get to Times Square. I figured it wouldn’t be that hard – look for the brightly lit neon sign! But oh, tall buildings are everywhere and conceal that which should be obvious! And the shadows from the skyscrapers hide everything else.

It was only when Evan appeared, glimpsed over my shoulder at my phone, and then pointed and said, over, yonder! – I had a clue in which direction I might find that amazing place I’d seen only on TV. Then he said with a wink, Dorothy, just follow the blue dotted trail….

Playing along I nodded, and while holding my phone in front of me, stepped one foot in front of the other and began skipping down the pavement as if I were Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Then a couple of days ago, I was returning to my hotel with feet and calves that burned.  I had spent the day exploring some of the boroughs of NY, and my body punished me for it. Prior to my trip, I spent most nights binge-watching Netflex while eating ice cream; and then asked the same body to run a marathon (of sorts) in Miu Miu boots with no training. That’s the reason I didn’t notice the man who lunged at me and reached for my handbag a few meters from the hotel. As I had the strap of the purse looped through my shoulder it escalated into a tug of war between me and the thief, with me refusing to let go of my Coach baby as if it were something precious and irreplaceable like a child. The man out of frustration raised his hand to me, and I was certain his intention was to hit me. But before he made contact, Evan appeared in front of me and with a left hook punched the thug to the ground. The assaulted thief quickly recovered, and sprang to his feet. Evan chased him until I yelled, Evan don’t! Leave it!

Once we were inside the hotel we called the police. Evan said, we have to tell them because the man may try it again. I used the opportunity to give Evan a scolding for risking his life for a handbag. Facing me he said, it wasn’t the handbag, it was the person. Then he said, if you asked me to, I wouldn’t mind getting you a coffee while we wait for the police to come. 

“I wouldn’t mind walking with you to the hotel. You can protect me, in case someone tries to steal my scarf.” He says with a thin smile while clapping his hands together again.

I nod and say, “I would like that.” I can’t face Evan. I enjoy this man’s quietness, his calmness, and his energy all rolled into one.  My eyes are fixed on the pavement as my hands grip the small wallet I carry tighter.  The wind clips my cheeks and forehead. It causes tears to gather in my eyes because of the brisk slap from Mother Earth.

Is it the cold that causes me to tear up? Or is it emotional pain? My lower lip begins to pull towards the pavement. If it is emotional pain, is it because of what happened over a month ago? Or is it guilt that’s sweeping across my body like a virus making me feel a little worse each day; I ignore the signs and push aside the dizziness, nausea, and headaches  and explain to others I’m sure it’s just because I’m tired. Until in a final moment of outrage by my body for not noticing the subtle signals, it burns up from the inside. A fever takes hold of me signalling a virus was plaguing me. It leaves me so weak I can’t even get out of bed to get a glass of water.

As we begin walking Evan says, “how many days do you have left here?”

“I leave tomorrow,” I announce while shrugging my shoulders. It shouldn’t matter to either of us. I’m an insignificant tourist who booked a room at the hotel that Evan just happens to work at in the heart of this bustling city. Millions of people travel here every year.

“Oh well…” his voice disappears and is carried off by the wind.

I tug at my red hat and pull it down a little further to block out the cold. Once that’s done, I place my hand over my scarf to protect my chest. The frigid air is punching me in the throat.  For a moment, I can’t breathe.

Gone is Evan’s smile. “If you asked me to, I wouldn’t mind taking you out for dinner?” He says with hurried words.

My husband loves to watch boxing. I think of the man who tried to steal my purse and wanted to strike me. With the question Evan asked me, I see myself hit. Blindsided and surprised, my arms and legs stretch out in all directions as I am tossed to the ground.

Small convulsions begin to erupt throughout me. My hands shake, eyes twitch, knees rattle together as I realize my mistake.  The only words I begin to mumble are, “shit, shit, shit…”

“It’s ok,” Evan says somewhat defensively. “I just thought we had a connection.”

“I’m married!” I blurt out as I begin to whimper.

“Oh!” Evan says. “Oh Christ! You must think I’m the worst kind of man? Asking out a married woman? Geez, I didn’t know.” He says touching my arm gently and at the same time backing away.

So many emotions. “I didn’t know you thought of me like that. It’s been so long. Even when I was younger, I never saw myself as attractive. And now, even less so.”

“What?” He asks as his mouth opens in awe. “You’re lovely.” He quickly releases my arm and says, “Oh no, sorry. Should I say that? Can I say that? What are the rules?”

I’m still crying, but then I begin giggling at the incredible level of awkwardness. Throwing my hands up in the air I say, “Don’t ask me, I don’t know!”

“Well,” Evan says, “if your husband doesn’t say it to you, someone else should. Just this once.”

“My husband’s a good guy. He tells me all the time, but I never believe him – ” I pause and add, “he paid for this trip for me. Spencer thought I needed a break from everything.”

“Oh,” is Evan’s first response. Then he asks, “did something bad happen?” As if to give me some space, he takes a step backwards.

My tummy tightens. It’s the barren spot, where no fetus will ever grow. “I can’t have children. We just found out.” I say adding, “after we found out, I wanted to go away and he wanted to come too, but Spencer couldn’t get the time off.  I opted to come by myself. Give me a chance to clear my head. He thought it was a good idea too. ”

“Well, that’s shitty.” Evan says.

I laugh so hard at his bluntness. And I can’t stop myself.  Tears flow from my eyes and I quickly brush them away. I stutter, “yu-up” while blowing bubbles of mucus at him.

Evan pulls out a handkerchief, hands it to me, and says, “I don’t expect anything from you. But would you have dinner with me? Just as friends. I don’t think there’s anything taboo about me buying you a Big Mac in Times Square on your last night here.”

“That would be nice. Or maybe a hot dog in Central Park,” I offer as a second option. “And maybe I could pay, for all your kindness.”

“Okay,” he says. “It’s a meal together at one of them high end places,” he says pulling his scarf tighter. He shivers and adds, “we should keep walking. I’m going to lose my ears soon.”

We turn and walk down the street together. I blow my nose one more time into the handkerchief. I glance up to him and say, “I’m sorry for leading you on.”

“You never lead me on,” he says. Then a few seconds later he adds, “you know what I just realized – I never saw you without your gloves.”

“Oh no!” I say throwing my hands up. I pull the gloves off revealing my diamond engagement ring and wedding band.

Evan laughs, gently touches my ungloved hand, and gives it one quick kiss and says, “Don’t be sorry. I never minded.”