She found B right where he said he’d be–at 9:00 in the evening of December 23 in front of the music magazines at the book store. He was wearing big headphones and a feminine-looking leather jacket. This made her grin.
“Hello there,” she said.
“Listen to this,” B said as he removed his headphones and put them over top of F’s ears. She wasn’t exactly sure what was playing. It sounded like music you might here playing in a taxi cab. F nodded approvingly and then removed the headphones. “Isn’t it just great?” Asked B.
“It’s amazing. Do you know what I just did? Not two minutes ago this kid–this punk kid–dressed in nice jeans, a nice leather jacket, brand-new Converse sneakers and carrying a Starbucks cup came up to me on John Street and asked if I could spare any change. I suspected he was being a joker but I still politely said, ‘Sorry, no–” and then that fucking little cock sucker, he looks at me and says, ‘You selfish bitch.” Then he walked away.
B stood there listening. He looked slightly nervous. He hadn’t seen such anger in F’s eyes before.
“But that’s not the crazy part,” continued F. “Do you know what I did then? I kept walking towards the book store to meet you and then all of a sudden I turned around and walked back towards Queen Street to find that fucking kid. I was shaking. I didn’t know what I was going to do if I caught up to him but I had to look him in the eyes so he knew that I knew that he was just being a prick. A little fucking prick who was going around the night before Christmas Eve just ruining the shit out of people’s nights. I didn’t want that smug fuck to have the satisfaction of thinking he was being so clever or making some sort of point about some sort of small idea he had floating around in his little prick mind.”
F kept looking over her shoulder while she told B her story and B kept looking behind F trying to figure out what she was looking for.
“Sorry, I’m just nervous he might have followed me back here,” she said.
“You’re acting like a fucking psycho right now,” said B.
“You’re telling me! I haven’t got to the crazy part yet. So I’m walking–practically running towards Queen Street and there is fire in my eyes and I round the corner and I see him. I see him go up some stairs to a skateboard shop just east of The Gap. And I follow him up the stairs and I’m not shaking anymore and I still don’t know what I’m going to do. And there he is, standing at the counter talking to the girls behind the cash and ordering a drink.”
“Ordering a drink from a skateboard shop?” Asked B.
“I guess it’s also a bar or something. I don’t know. But he turns and he sees me standing at the door. I’m three feet away. I take off my hat and just stand there. He does a double-take and he knows who I am and he stops talking for a brief moment but it was long enough for me to smell how nervous he was. I just stood there and stared at him, waiting for him to look me in the eyes. He was telling the girl that his buddy used to work at this store. She pretended to be interested. Then, after a few seconds he turned and looked at me again and it was like everything went into slow motion. And I looked him in his eyes and slowly shook my head as if to say, ‘Fuck you buddy,’ and then I put on my hat and left and here I am.”
B had a look of genuine concern on his face. F recognized it, and after recounting the events of the last five minutes out loud, she realized how erratically she had behaved.
“I already bought the movie tickets. We should go to the theatre now. You know I don’t like missing the trailers,” F said.
“Thanks for buying the tickets,” said B as they made their way through the holiday crowds. F was still nervously turning around every few steps. “I’m with you now so don’t worry about running into him,” he continued. “Hey, are you okay?”
“Yeah, sure I am. I think so.”
Truth was F had been acting out of sorts for a while now. It was hard to pin point the exact moment–and not within her character to care–but there was a night just last week when B was really sick and he called her just as she was walking up their apartments steps to ask if she could pick him up the John Adams miniseries on DVD. F didn’t even go inside: she got right on her bike and road down slushy streets to the video store. It was rented at the shop so she biked to another one where, luckily, she found it. As F rode home, her eyes teared up as she caught glimpses of Christmas trees through windows. “I would have ridden to the end of the earth to get those videos for him,” she thought.
At home and in from the cold, F heated up the Rajma Chawal (kidney beans and rice) that she’d made on the weekend. The recipe came from a book called Vij’s at Home written by Vikram Vij, a famous Indian-Canadian chef with restaurants in Vancouver. Cooking Indian food was new territory for her.
When B got home he immediately filled up his plate.
“This smells amazing,” he said.
“I have trouble cooking rice,” she replied. “I think I’m the worst rice cooker I know. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever made really good rice ever. Can you cook rice?”
“I think so,” he replied. “This sort of tastes like chili, don’t you think?”
“Yes, it does tastes like chili,” she said, with a hint of disappointment.
They ate their Indian chili in front of the Christmas tree and without B seeing, F’s eyes teared up again.
The next morning, F was waiting for the bus in front of the corner green grocery store when she heard someone yell hello. It was the cashier who worked there, and who F saw nearly every day. She was waiting outside for the boss to come and unlock the shop.
“Hello,” said F, her voice a little husky from an old cold.
“You sick? I never see you now! You sick so you don’t eat? That’s why you so skinny now! Look at you! So skinny!”
F looked down at her legs–the only part of her body not thickened with winter wear–and wondered how the Chinese cashier concluded she was skinnier with so little evidence.
“I’m all better now. My voice just sounds a little funny is all,” said F.
“If you don’t eat, you get sick! You eat!” Just then, the second cashier from the green grocer joined them and the two of them started speaking Chinese while F stood there smiling. Then the two cashiers starting laughing, really laughing, and it occurred to F that maybe she’d lost her good-humour with the few pounds she’d shed. She tried to think of funny skinny women and a few faces came to mind–ladies from Saturday Night Live, and Carol Channing. But skinny people aren’t all that funny. Maybe she could plan on gaining back five pounds or so over the holidays as an experiment. Maybe those five pounds would improve her mood.
As the bus came, F waved good-bye to the two cashiers and sat down in a window seat. She looked out and saw them still laughing; their two beautiful faces, beaming in the cold. As the bus pulled away, F wiped hot tears from her cold cheeks. I’ve got to stop doing this, she thought to herself.
With a week off from work, two new cookbooks and the third season of Friday Night Lights to watch, F was certain she could shake her Christmas coma.
In two days, she finished watching the entire season and did her holiday baking. She did this without ever changing out of her pajamas.
The bittersweet truffles turned out nicely.
So too did the ginger cookies, although the recipe promised that they’d come out chewy but they came out crunchy. Maybe it was because F, who was running back and forth between the kitchen and the living room–where she was obsessively watching Friday Night Lights–had let them cook too long.
Fearful that she’d overcook the shortbread as well, F took them out of the oven too early.
She wondered if she could still eat them, despite their raw centers. What’s the worst thing that could happen? F thought about this on the couch, where she quickly returned after doing up all the baking dishes in order to finish her show.
When it was done, rather than feeling a sense of accomplishment after watching so much TV in so little time, F felt empty. Maybe this is menopause, she thought as she turned off the TV and stood in front of the Christmas tree. Maybe I need to start having estrogen injections. F was staring at her reflection in the glass ornaments. She couldn’t get over how much she looked like a character from Fraggle Rock. Or maybe it was The Dark Crystal.
Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis. I have been obsessing about getting a new bike. Maybe the new bike represents my lost youth just like a sports car represents virility for old men. F was thinking of a night not that long ago when she pressed her face up against a bike shop window in order to look at the merchandise. The shop was closed, but she spotted a real beauty–a road bike that had a nice old-looking seat and a toothpaste-coloured frame. I am going to get a toothpaste coloured bike in the spring and I will ride like the wind.
The day after F acted like a psycho, she woke up early with B who had to work. It was Christmas Eve day. They’d meet at his parents’ place that evening. B dressed accordingly.
After B left, F got to work in the kitchen. There were cabbage rolls to make for Christmas dinner at her mom’s tomorrow and a cardamom streusel coffee cake for Boxing Day breakfast. Maybe I’m so blue because I haven’t watched any Christmas movies this year, save for Die Hard, thought F. I wish I could watch a movie in the kitchen. Wait a second. I’ve got a MacBook! I can watch a movie in the kitchen!
F chose A Christmas Story. As she inserted the DVD, she felt both a little proud for coming up with such a genius idea of putting her computer on the kitchen countertop and a little silly for never thinking of doing it before. I could have saved so many cookies, she thought.
F had the cabbage rolls made by 10:30 in the morning, and the coffee cake was finished not long after that. It turned out beautifully.
F paused to look at the cake. How the hell do I get it out of this pan? She dug up the recipe: it said to remove the bottom of the angel food cake pan to get the cake out. Oh fuck. This is not an angel food cake pan.
F turned her attention to the computer screen. Ralphie’s dad was accusing the mom of using up all the tape on purpose so he couldn’t repair his leg lamp. “Not a finger!” He yells. Despite having seen that part a couple dozen times, it still made her smile.
What kind of fucking pan is this then? This cake is upside down now and all the streusel part is actually on the bottom. F decided she’d leave the cake in the pan and just cut wedges out. No one would be the wiser.
And after eating a wedge of chocolate Guiness cake, F decided it might be a good idea to go for a run.
It was bright and crisp out as F jogged on the boardwalk. There was a lot of goose and duck shit which she tried to avoid stepping in.
Just snap out of it goddamnit. It’s Christmas for crying out loud! I’m sick of my sad state, she thought. That kid was right. I am a selfish bitch. I am. And I’m sick of my own voice. I’m sick of me.
She jogged down neighbourhood streets towards home. As she approached Virtue Street, she passed an older man bundled up in a brown duffle coat and a red scarf. He was carrying a paper plate of Christmas dinner. It was covered in plastic wrap and there were toothpicks stuck into the potatoes so the wrap wouldn’t stick to the food. Maybe the dinner was for him or maybe he was bringing it back to his wife. F slowed down and looked over her shoulder. The man smiled. She waved and kept running.
Oh Christ. Here it comes. Hot tears down cold cheeks. F ran faster now. It’s the goddamn faces, she thought. All these beautiful faces.
At home, F headed straight for the kitchen and drank a tall glass of cold water. She looked at the coffee cake cooling on the counter. That’s a fucking bundt pan, she thought.
Smiling now, F prepared for the holidays.