I couldn”t help but wonder at the irony of gas fireplaces. A closely monitored flame harmlessly enveloping ceramic “snow covered” logs, all nestled over a bed of some kind of rock that glows faintly to give the illusion of embers. My mind was called back to Christmas Eve … to chestnuts roasting on real embers surrounded by wood ash. But then, the heat remains obscured, like breaths of winter ruffling your hair on the playground in July so maybe it was just a back episode of “Family Ties” after all. Other people in the coffee shop seem unaware of the mountain of pertinent irony that refuses to crackle in it”s gaseous perfection … so I forget them, preferring my own thoughts to human companionship, anyway. My chair was pulled too close to the hearth: uncomfortable, like when you lock eyes with a stranger you know has been watching you. Elliot Smith played harmlessly over the loudspeaker, and “E.T.” danced gently on the crusty edges of my imagination. I made a mental note to get more than five hours of sleep that night, and continued drinking my Starbuck”s coffee my life depends on it.
She came in with a bag of Krispy Kream doughnuts, murdered snowflakes glistened in her hair.
“I hate doughnuts,” I said. She tossed the bag in my lap with acquired agility.
“They”re jelly filled,” she said, and I made a face. “They”ll sweeten your disposition.”
I grumbled my reply, and attempted to eat the doughnut around the filling. She sat slouched in the overstuffed velour chair next to me, oblivious to the gas fireplace and its loaded irony.
“It seems,” she began, from behind a newspaper barricade, “that the trash in the streets has finally succeeded in changing the migration patterns of birds.”
“How so?” I inquired absently, grape jelly consuming all but a small fraction of my attention.
“By providing a ready food source all year round … and who says human beings don”t do anything good for the environment?!”
“Sarcasm doesn”t become you,” I said, sipping black coffee to try erase the sweetness coating my mouth. “You aren”t going on another “spiritual cleansing by becoming vegan” are you? “Cause I”m not going to help you clean tofu out of the carpet if it doesn”t agree with you again.”
“You think too much,” she said. “I get a little moody, and you”re ready to pack my karma off to bible camp. How do you know I”m not just PMS-ing!”
“If you were PMS-ing you wouldn”t be sarcastic about the migration patterns of birds, you would have broken down in choked sobs about it.”
She grunted from behind her paper. “And you do realize,” I continued, “that I find it awkward to talk to you from behind your printed page, be it about PMS or otherwise.”
“Well … someone has to keep updated on current events in this relationship. I read the newspaper so that you don”t have to … just like you clean the bathroom so I don”t have to.” She was still holding the newspaper to her face, but I didn”t have to see her to know that she was smirking at this. I knew that she was just trying to light a match under my foot … but unbeknownst to her, I was wearing flame-proof socks that day.
“You know as well as I,” I said, folding the rest of the grape jelly into a napkin and putting it back in the bag, “that reading the newspaper and cleaning the bathroom are hardly comparable. Besides, if your job is to keep me updated on current events, you”re failing miserably. Current events consist of war and bloodshed, not the migration habits of sparrows.”
“Well … my current events are nicer,” she said sulkily. She”s cute when she does that, and if we had been alone, I would have shaken her and asked her why she needs to keep things in a constant state of sarcasm. But I hate confrontation, so I didn”t bring it up.
“Come on,” I pleaded. “Don”t sulk. Fold your paper up. I didn”t want to come all the way here to talk current events anyway … we can do that in bed.”
She let the paper slide down to the tip of her nose, her left eyebrow pushed up into her hair line. “Is that so?” she asked, her eyes smiling at me. “What did you want to talk about?”
“Anything is fine … but you can start with why you”re moody.”
“Ah,” she exclaimed, her paper and confrontation forgotten with the prospect of a good story. “I was on my way here … minding my own business with my peace-offering of Krispy Kream doughnuts and a smile, when some “future soccer mom of America” comes charging out of Hallmark and nearly kills me with her child”s stroller.”
“Did she have all the tell-tale signs?” I asked, my black coffee getting colder by the minute. I placed it nearer the fire in hope that
“Yeah … sex,” she spat. It stung. “Please …” she began, the shards of her voice melting into honey, “please don”t still be mad.”
“I”m not,” I relented. “But I didn”t know where you were. I sat up, worried that you were going to do something stupid and hurt yourself, and it”d be my fault.”
“Nothing did happen, though … and I did bring you peace offerings of a delicious, grape jelly filled doughnut and my sparkling smile.” She gave me one of her brilliant smiles then, and I really did forgive her.
“I wish you could promise me that it would never happen again… that you”d talk things out with me instead of running out with your alkie friends and getting trashed,” I said reproachfully.
“But if I promised that,” she began, “I”d be lying. And then you”d really have something to be angry with me about.”
“You have a point,” I said, and once again that day, I sat corrected.
I contemplated a third cup of coffee, but when my hand went to reach for the mug, I realized that it was shaking.
“Too much sugar and caffeine has given you the jitters bad,” she said, amused.
“The sugar wasn”t my fault,” I said.
“Do I look like Eve to you?!” She asked. “I just offered you the apple … I didn”t force it down your throat.”
“I”m sorry,” I said. “It must have been that “sparkling smile” that blinded my senses.”
She scowled in my direction. “Don”t make fun of me.”
“I can”t help it… you leave yourself wide open.”
Her eyebrows twitched, as if she just remembered something.
“Hey … what were you writing when I walked in?” she asked. Her gaze was fixed on me, otherwise I would have blushed. Half of me had hoped that I wouldn”t have the opportunity to bring it up … and the other half of me was aching to draw it into the light.
I cleared my throat.
“My my … ” she said, her eyebrows speaking of mock intrigue. “I get a full fledged production instead of a simple one word answer.”
“Hardly. I was just writing a poem.” My nervousness laughed before I could keep it in check. I watched as her eyebrows slid down her forehead and narrowed her eyes.
There was no going back, then.
“What about?”” she asked. She was on the defense, her arms folded so that her hands could warm themselves in her arm pits.
“About gas fireplaces,” I said. I hoped that she would give me a bewildered look … then I could have just laughed it off and told her not to worry about it. But nothing on her face moved except for the slow, methodical blinking of her eyes. I continued.
“Well … you know how you live with something everyday … and your present is colored with your past?! But your past is not only made up of what happened … but what you think happened,” I was stumbling over myself, and in my mind I cursed whichever deity was listening for creating emotions in the first place. “Like… take this fireplace, for instance.” I indicated, but she kept her eyes on me, and for the first time, I realized what she meant about a gaze that could set kindling on fire. “It”s like … we look at that gas fireplace, and our memory comes up with images of wood smoke and embers and chestnuts roasting at Christmas … but who ever really experiences that stuff?!”
“You”re speaking in metaphors,” she said. “I don”t understand you.” But she did understand, with a comprehension colder than the wind that was blowing outside.
“Not just a metaphor … it”s unforgiving irony. You understand irony better than anyone I know. It”s a metaphor that says sometimes what we have is based off of what we had … and we might not have had as much as we thought we did.”
Tears that she would never shed twinkled over her eyes liked murdered snowflakes. To break the stillness, she finished the last of her cold latte. She crumpled the paper cup in her hand, and placed it inside my empty coffee mug.
“Come on,” she said as she rose and took my hand. She looked me right in the forehead, and flashed me one of her most dazzling smiles. “Let”s go home and finish out Sunday morning alone,” she cooed, drawing me towards the door.
I probably should have stopped her. I probably should have made her face the skeletons that I uncovered in the closet we shared. But she can be very convincing in changing the subject when faced with a debate that she might lose … and I don”t like confrontation, anyway.