On the fifteenth, I spent the day doing mundane chores to pass the time: I cleaned out the bird cage, sucked out the fish tank, scraped the allege, did a water change and put in a fresh carbon filter; I took the dead leaves off my plants and I even cleaned the grunge that seems to grow like magic from my table cracks. I cleaned out my car so she wouldn't think that I lived there. I spent a good deal of time spinning my brain over nit picky things. I wondered what we'd talk about...what if we had nothing to say and just sat there staring into our plates in uncomfortable silence. What would we have for dinner? She said it would be a grown up's dinner. What if it meant we were eating food that I couldn't pronounce much less identify? What if she was a lousy cook? What if she was a great cook? I hoped that it wouldn't show how long it had been since I'd eaten a home cooked meal.
After Max left, cooking for just me had seemed like a chore. It was much easier to open a can of Spaghetti O's or something, throw it into a bowl in the microwave, then grab a spoon and eat dinner with Dan Rather. Should I bring flowers...what if she thought I meant something by it? It was dinner and flowers are a nice gift to bring hosts. It was cold out and we were expecting some snow...flowers would bring a touch of summer back.... What if she was allergic to flowers? She had African Violets growing in her office; so, I figured the flowers were a safe bet. I wondered what to wear and ended up choosing clothes that brought out the blue grey in my eyes: a light blue and white striped shirt and my blue/grey pullover. I picked out some lightly faded jeans. I soaked in a hot bath and trimmed my nails. I spiffed up a bit-- it was the first time I'd really gone anywhere since Max left. Most of the people we had hung out with were her drinking buddies from work. I spent most of my time with my bird, the fish and the CBS line up. I don't know why I was unglued from a simple dinner invitation from a friend.
At 4:30, I went out to warm up my car. It was an '83 Subaru, blue with four-wheel drive and a turbo charger. The prototype for the wedged shaped Subarus that followed. Rather than swapping it in, I had had the engine rebuilt and most of the parts replaced. It was starting to rust out and I didn't know if I wanted to spend more money on body -work and a new paint job. The car ran beautifully. I drove to the florist's and chose the Friendship Bouquet. It was made up of wild flowers: Black-eyed Susans, Shasta Daisies and a spray of Cone Flowers... Looked like something that, had it been summer, I could have picked for her myself. Connie reminded me of autumn leaves with that cascading red hair. I drove over to her house. I had memorized her address and I had driven past her house several times... just so I knew where it was. I thought of her and those two little fire-haired children that lived with her. At 5:20, I pulled the car into her driveway and turned off its engine. I waited a couple of minutes before I grabbed the flowers and walked toward her light grey cape. I walked up the steps and rang the bell. A minute later I stood in a stupor when she answered the door. Of course she answered the door! She had invited me to dinner and this was her house... I rang the buzzer... Why wouldn't she answer the door?!
"Hey, there. Come in out of the cold." I entered her house and removed my boots. It felt warm and smelled of pine cleaner and she was definitely cooking up something wonderful.
"Hi. These are for you." I handed her the flowers.
"They're great. It's been a long time since anyone's brought me flowers. Let me take your coat and I'll go put these in some water." I fumbled with my coat's zipper and some how I managed to take the coat off and hand it to her. I got jittery when I touched her. If she had been my sweetheart, I'd have picked her flowers every day... just to see that smile. " Want anything to drink? Why don't you go have a seat in the living room? I'll be right in."
"Water's fine. Thanks." She wore a green sweater--exactly the shade of her eyes and beige slacks... Damn, I wished that I had dressed better. I went to the living room and sat on the couch. Pictures of her babies were everywhere. The bookshelves were filled with children's books, puzzles and games. The grown ups books were safely behind built in glass cabinets. Next to the couch, a wicker basket sat overflowing with toys and there was a pile of children's bakeware next to the entertainment center.
"Hi. Dinner's almost done." She handed me my glass and sat down beside me. She smelled like soap and shampoo. No perfume. "Can't tell I have kids. The youngest is Angie and the oldest is Louise. That pile of stuff over there is Angie's pizza parlor. She won't let us move it. You got kids?"
"Never wanted them?"
"Want kids just don't want to go through the pregnancy thing."
"Oh, ever been married?"
"Was in a relationship for six years...not any more."
"How long you been single?"
"A couple of months-- and you?"
" The divorce has been final for six months. Ian acted single since I was pregnant with Angie. He stayed until after her first birthday, wouldn't you know, touch me, then took off... got remarried as soon as the ink was dry on the papers." I thought what a fool Ian was. "Dinner's probably ready. I hope you like chicken pot pie-- it's my grandmother's recipe." My stomach growled.
"Love it." She led the way to the kitchen.
The table was set with ivy patterned Corelle Ware; the flatware matched. Connie had lit candles. She removed the potpie from the oven and placed it on a hot mat in the center of the table.
"Sit where you'd like. Could you pour the cider please? It's in the ice bucket on the counter." I walked over to the counter and poured the cider into the wine glasses that were set beside the ice bucket; then, I brought the glasses to the table and sat down. She cut the pie and served the first piece in one piece. She filled my bowl with salad and passed me the raspberry vinaigrette dressing.
"I'm impressed. I can never get that first slice out of the dish without making a mess."
"I'll let you pour that yourself. Now, I don't want you to be bashful. Eat all you want."
"This looks great, Connie." I was afraid she'd see that I was salivating. My stomach let me know that it had been a long time since I'd put a decent meal into it. I was starved.
"Be careful, it's hot. Wouldn't want you to burn your tongue." I flushed, and I squirmed in my seat as she smiled across the table at me. I could tell that she was used to cautioning her kids...but what she said...and that smile...oh my.
"Yes, Ma'am" I took a forkful of the pie and blew on it thoroughly before putting it into my mouth. "This is the best Chicken Pot Pie I've ever had. Thanks. Did your grandma teach you to be such a good cook?"
"She lived with us after grandpa died. I used to help her cook and she would tell the most wonderful stories about growing up in Nova Scotia. I miss her. My mom lives so far away, I feel bad that my girls are gonna miss out on the grandma experience. They see her a couple of times a year. There are the phone calls and cards and stuff. But not the memories like I have of my grandma."
"What about Ian's family?"
"Too many problems for him to get close to them. He won't take the kids to see them unless they're sober. It's a tough decision... The kids don't need to see them like that; Ian doesn't need to see them like that."
"Yeah, that can be tough. Your kids are lucky. After all, they have you for a Mom. They'll do great... You can teach them what your grandma taught you and share her stories. That way the tales will carry on."
"Grandma would like that. How'd you get to be so nice?"
"Who me? Don't let that get out at work." I laughed, and blushed at the complement. I wondered how she got to be so beautiful. I didn't ask. I didn't want her to get the wrong idea; I didn't want her to know what ideas were being squelched. If she'd been a lesbian, I'd have reached across the table and taken her hand. I took my glass and raised it to my mouth instead.
"Work is work... This is just us. You're secret's safe." She melted me with that smile.
"Ah um, I'm looking forward to this concert."
"It should be a fun time. I had a couple of her albums on 8-track. I played them to death. One was a greatest hits album and the other was a recording of some of her earlier work. She sang songs like The Wildwood Flower."
"I love to listen to her. When I heard she was coming I went out and got tickets months in advance."
"Well, I'm glad I lucked out and got the extra one. I know you were planning on taking someone else. Are you okay?"
"You kidding? I'm very happy that you're the one who's going to be sitting next to me."
"Good, I really like you."
"I like you too." I'm sure I was smiling so wide that my eyes had disappeared. REALITY CHECK: can you say friend, Robin? I stared down at my plate which had some how became empty.
"No thanks. This was plenty. I'm stuffed." I wanted more, more than this woman's chicken potpie.
"No room for the pineapple upside down cake I made for dessert?"
"Oh my. Yum."
"I suppose we could save dessert after the concert. I'll brew some coffee and we can talk more. I enjoy your company."
"We could come back after the concert." I sounded a little too agreeable. " I love pineapple upside down cake."
"Dinner was wonderful. It's been a while since I had a home cooked meal. Can I help clean up?"
" You can load the dishwasher if you want. Thanks." I brought the dishes to the sink and started rinsing them. " 'Scuse me." She came up behind me and brushed against me when she put a knife in the sink. For a second, I stopped breathing. I swallowed hard. She patted my back as she walked off. I concentrated very hard on those dishes...they were spotless before they went into the dishwasher. She hummed as she covered the leftovers and put them into the refrigerator. She came back and asked for the dish cloth. I rinsed it, wrung it out and handed it to her. She wiped the counters, the table and the stove and threw the rag into the sink.
"Looks like we're done. The bathroom's down the hall and to the right if you need to before we go."
"Thanks. It's a long drive. The car hasn't had a good run for a while, so this will be good for it." I left to use the bathroom. When I returned she handed me my coat and went to use the facilities.
"I'll go and start the car." I put on my boots and went outside. It was clouding up. She came out of the house and after checking the lock came to the car. I opened her door and she climbed in.
"Well, this is my car... welcome."
"It's an honor to be here." I put the car in gear and backed out of the driveway.
"Supposed to snow later."
"News says it's iffy how much we're gonna get."
"I heard. Hey, we've got 4 wheel drive."
"This is so much fun. I haven't been to a concert in years. Not since, Rod Stewart and I was pregnant with Louise then."
"I think the last one we saw was Holly Near."
"Do you still miss her?"
"Sometimes, it's the little things like Maxine was the gift wrapper in our house. I get all wrapped up in the tape. First time I had to send a package I almost panicked."
"How about Ian?"
"Yeah, found a bottle of his after shave behind the towels the other day and I opened the cap. I remembered lots of things. I think I'm better off without him. It was hard at first."
"How are the kids adjusting?"
"They see him a couple of times a week. He picks them up at daycare and takes them out to Mc Donalds. He spends as much time as he can with them; takes them on weekends. His new wife is good to them. I think they're doing okay. So, why'd you and Maxine split?"
"We hadn't been really a couple for some time.... We lived together; we slept together...not much else. Max got a chance to transfer to LA, and I wasn't invited."
"Owie, that's gotta smart. You two fight much?"
"We didn't do much of anything much. She didn't seem to want to spend time with me. She worked a lot and when she got home, she'd turn on the computer and I wouldn't see her again until bed time."
"I hope you took some ah recreation time...once she got to bed."
"We used to recreate. Then a year and a half ago, she decided that she didn't want that in her life anymore."
"You mean...never again...never. I can't imagine that. Ian just wanted someone else."
"I felt like garbage. Couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. Why I was so unlovable. It got to the point where she didn't even want to be touched. All I wanted to do was be close to her. Mostly it wasn't about the sex...I respected her decision...I just wanted to hold her. I don't believe I just told you this."
" It's okay. I really miss being held. Ian wouldn't/ couldn't hold me. He stayed because he wouldn't abandon me... I don't think he realized that he already had."
"This conversation is getting far too serious. Let's not let those party poopers put a damper on our fun." I wanted to pull the car over and take her into my arms...how could anyone not want to hold her. I continued to drive.
"That's a deal. From now on it's us together and having a blast."
When we got to the campus at Midiville, I parked the car and we went into the auditorium and found our seats. We were just about on time. We had managed to get settled in before the house lights dimmed.
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