The sparkle-covered white birdies in their old-timey box suggest Victorian romance, simpler times, singing around fireplaces, kissing under mistletoe and other such nonsense which probably never was. It was probably invented in the marketing department of the Lenox Hallmark Dollar General Cartel by cynical youths fresh out of Columbia and already balding and playing golf. There was probably never any Currier and Ives cheer, just Victorian malaria, hysteria and leg paralysis. That’s old-timey charm for you.
The doughnut she is eating is covered in unhealthy goo, which may cause her leg paralysis unless sitting in this office chair for six hours causes it first.
Christmas has come way too early to Christie’s desk, but then again it does every year.
She stops surveying Christie’s treasures which include, but are not limited to, a snowman LED candle, a red jar of potpourri and candy canes in a Dixie cup with the company logo. She turns to her own desk and wipes the doughnut debris off the desk onto her skirt, then off her skirt onto the floor.
Back to the accruals.
She must make up a Christmas movie of her life.
A real feel-good film of the season.
She checks her Facebook page and refreshes it just in case.
She checks the profile of the hot new receptionist. Hello? Selfies, anyone? Selfies two for the price of one? How many selfies a week is one allowed?
Back to the accruals.
In the movie, it will be snowing and she will be working in a bookstore. No, she will be doing a reading in a bookstore. No, that’s Diane Keaton, that’s for her find-love-late-in-life Christmas movie, she will attend to it later if this one does not work out.
She will be walking past a bookstore decorated with glittery doves and expensive festive cedar roping which the PTO fundraiser bullies her into buying every effing year. Sixty bucks, ladies and gentlemen. Sixty bucks a rope. She would rather free leg paralysis, thank you.
She will be walking! Past the bookstore! Out in the moonlight! Patsy Cline is on soundtrack. She is freshly heartbroken and does not believe in love, no sir. Maybe she runs. Glittery tears freeze on her impeccably smooth cheeks. Glittery frost twinkles on his three-day-old stubble.
Flashback: cut to her high school gym. Some dance or something there. Some teenage humiliation.Some version of him, younger, possibly geek but maybe jock.
Cuts to several unrelated story lines about the lesser characters and their love hurdles; she does not care about the characters but they have to populate the movie or no one will watch, people cannot concentrate on just one thing anymore.
She checks her Facebook.
Back to accruals.
Anyway he will be handsome and walking by the bookstore. Some pratfall here. He helps her out, picks her up, takes her inside a nice warm glowy coffee shop. It has to be either a college town or something big and pretty like San Francisco, but with snow. They laugh, he wipes snow off her coat, doughnut glaze off her face. In addition to stubble he has hazel eyes and is a completely unknown yet gorgeous actor in the tradition of Bogart, not some fricking Bernal-type youth.
They laugh. He buys her coffee. He is handsome. He is warm. He is married.
Oops, not a Christmas movie anymore. An Antichristmas movie.
Back to the accruals.
“Tonight I want to be seduced! Seduce me, Brian Ferry!” she proclaims over the music. Everyone thinks she is so witty; there is appreciative laughter. She bumps and grinds to the right, to the left. She flips her hair. She makes big eyes at her girlfriends who are bopping in a circle. The sparkles on the long collar of her white shirt issue small radial rainbows. The floor is cruddy with something and she can feel the soles of her shoes do a little stick-and-peel with every step. Besides her small group, no one is dancing; somehow fun just does not catch on at this underwhelming seventies-themed New Year party.
She dances herself to Position Casual Brush, back to back with his long indifferent back, and casually brushes against him with her shoulder, a one-millimeter-deep impact. He turns his head and gives her a brief absent smile, then continues to talk to the guy behind him, holding his bottle of artisanal hoppy-pretentious micro-brew beer at half-mast. Should have pushed harder and spilled the beer. At least it would be an event, something to actually happen amid all this Midwestern standing, talking about goddamn jazz and not dancing. And not flirting with women who came to this party only on the strength of anticipation of flirting.
Off for a wine refill, she is charting a pain-free course through disappointment. She does not really know him, just met him twice, a few texts, seemed interested, seemed funny; he could well be an asshole. That’s her solution, then: he must be an asshole. She gives him lines in her mind, things to say in that educated jazz-discussing voice of his.
“I did not know there were still women who went without the Brazilian. I am not sure I want to look at it. Let’s turn off the lights, maybe I can get it up that way.”
Ugh! She nearly gags. That’s a good one.
“I have to sleep in complete darkness and silence. And I cannot sleep with another human being. Or dog, or cat.”
“I am surrounded by assholes. Such is my lot.”
She giggles at that one. She tweaks his voice in her mind, gives him the NPR twang.
“I am not REALLY going to strangle you; it’s just to expand your mind!”
A reveler in a Halloween-store afro hairpiece, covering a bald head, no doubt, reaches around her for another beer from the tub and gives her the circumspect tight smile. She evaluates: six, without the gut and the tonsure would be eight, no chance of anything, wife probably around the corner; that could be the wife over there, affecting the ironic hustle, making large invisible stitches in the air with her outstretched forefinger.
She gives him the minimum required smile and goes for another refill.
The soundtrack is now back to Roxy Music, this time it is her favorite, the eye patch one. Damn it, she’s gonna dance.
“I just want to sleep with someone whom I love, and who loves me!” she thinks. “And I want it to be satisfying. Is that too much to ask?”
Lum-ber up. Limbo down. Her Lycra-ed butt is all over the place.
There is polite woo-hooing, a few claps, a few “you-go-girl”s from the stand-arounders, the jazz discussers. She has manufactured an approximation of good old slightly dirty fun for them, while staying completely within the limits of safety and propriety. Now they can say it was indeed a party.
Woo-hoo, my ass.
“I don’t think you understand the importance of me in your life,” she says. He looks up from his hill of pistachio shells and then back down.
Saturday 11:00 a.m.; slept too late.
“God, on fucking mornings like this I swear. Look at this Mount Pistachio. It’s always the same. I’m gonna go have sex with someone at the mall.” She sits down on the couch and does nothing. She knows she should do something, clean, find her winter boots, answer the phone messages and she’ll feel better. Procrastination makes things worse; it makes her sour like over-proofed dough. Sitting motionless reminds her of being sent to her room as a child: not to spend time alone, but to feel shitty alone.
“I feel so shitty and alone. I am this small depressed orphan.”
Even brushing her teeth would help. Leaving the house. Leaving for good would be exciting. She’s on a mean trip. Why doesn’t he help.
“Why do you never help me?”
He looks up from the screen, bored of it all to death and many times over. “What, you mean like, around the house?”
She has to stop pressing “refresh” on this guy, but she keeps doing it, hoping that one day the blankness will go away and voila! You have sixteen new messages, each one more thrilling, emotional, hot, exotic than the previous. You have a package, you have a bouquet from your admirer, dahlias, the rare fragrant ones that do not exist outside of your fantastic love, you have deep and intense gazing, you have champagne that delivers the orgiastic élan of champagne ads, the gypsies are in town, you are talking to a Nobel prize-winner, you are sampling ambrosiac delicacies, you both are engaged in the performing arts and no one else can handle you, you live your lives in the dark under the heavy blue velour drama drape, you dance the sequined samba together like the most sex-crazed couple in Rio.
She says: “How do I survive marriage?”
He closes his laptop and leaves the room. There are pistachio shells on the desk and the carpet.
She follows him into the kitchen.
He is putting a wrinkled coffee filter into the yellow plastic coffeemaker, his shoulders broad and resigned.
She says: “Can you make enough coffee for me?”
She says: “I am such an asshole.”
He says: “What’s for lunch?”
She says: “Preparation H.”
She inhales the bitter cherry smoke of the cigarillo and it stoppers her throat. “Damn!” She gives him the cig back. “I don’t think I can teach myself to smoke again. Wouldn’t want to re-live the self-violence. How did you start?”
“Well, I was thirteen and my best friend dared me to steal my Dad’s smokes. My Dad smoked these vile things…”He launches into a three-passage-long story of his childhood, with footnotes. She half-listens, dangles her feet, studies the way her newly painted Chinese-red toenails peek from the new Greek sandals – adorably, if she has to say it herself. The tan skin of her feet contrasts with the silver leather of the straps, all too advantageously. “Anyway, it is a cigarillo; maybe you could just not inhale and keep the smoke in your mouth?”
“Nah. So what is this thing we are sitting on?”
“It’s a coal chute. They have them in older houses, sometimes. It does not work. I think they kept it for charm.”
“And how long are you going to be house-sitting here?”
“Two weeks. And then I don’t know where I’ll end up, actually.”
“So is it that bad?” The white paint is flaking off the coal chute onto her thigh; she brushes it off slowly, pressing on the skin deeply with her thumb and rubbing the flakes back and forth. Water from the recent rain is dripping down from the overgrown honeysuckle. She brushes the water off, too.
“Yeah, it is definitely over…You know what I mean.” He stomps on the cigarillo butt; it is now embalmed in brown squishy dirt. He wipes his hands on his jeans. His eyes dart around, empty and abject.
She says: “Do you know that when you are good your eyes are blue and when you are bad they are yellow?” His eyes wake, he smiles, excited yet not quite believing. She thinks – I threw the crumbs in the water and look how happy the fish.
“You know, I missed you so much.” His hands are uncertain. He touches her forearm and then draws back quickly.
“Yes, it has been hard on me, too.” It is all quiet behind her solar plexus. To think what sweetness and heat and wind and pain it had been over him, and now it is a cool calm pond with one cool, calm and slightly wicked koi. “So I started thinking recently…” She kicks her foot back and forth, keeps her eyes down, as if overcome with shyness. “Maybe I can think again about us getting back together, after all.”
“Really!?” His face jumps into delight, a relieved sunrise in his eyes beams happiness five feet around. “Yes, I think it is time! We have been stupid long enough! You know, there is nobody like you? You are so interesting, and so funny! There is nobody like you to talk to, that’s for sure! Far and away the best!”
“Wrong tack,” she says, sliding off the coal chute and dusting off her bottom.
“What do you mean?” He is prepared for this: she will tell him about her thoughts and feelings, he will argue with some things, admit his fault to a degree on others, they will go inside, they will have sex, they will get back together, the end.
“Wrong tack. Your marketing technique is for shit. You are telling me about the superb services I can provide for you. I am not here for your kind evaluation, you know. A different opener would be better.”
“So wait, are you leaving?”
“I need some time to think about things. It was just preliminary, about getting back together. It is still new to me; I’ll have to ponder it further. I’ll give you a call.”
She walks to her car on her tan, tan, long, bare brown legs, putting a little hip in her step, feeling a little like a slut and a little like a monstress. How mean, giving false hope to someone, even to a prime shithead who wiped the floor with your heart. She gets into her car, waves to his un-loved face, momentarily thinks about giving him the finger but stop herself. There is a giggly ripple in the koi pond.