AN EXCERPT from a short story published in the anthology, Robot Hearts. (A woman performs the Heimlich Maneuver and goes out on a date with the man she saved.)
This month has been hard. My clients are doing the usual two-week ramp up before the Christmas holidays. They talk about their parties, hangovers, family brouhahas, and impulsive sexual escapades. The entire month makes me want to act out with them. So I did.
My holiday escapade began when I made an awkward phone call to the man from synagogue that went something like this:
“Hello. I’m the woman from Friday night services.”
“Oh, I didn’t think you would call.”
“Well, it was sweet of you to come out to my car and say thank you.”
“It was amazing how far the ruggelah flew.”
“Yes. The rabbi was surprised.”
I tapped my fingers. Reconnected with my eye twitch. Good bloody grief. I cut to the chase. “What do you think about dinner?”
“I like dinner,” he said.
“You had suggested we go to dinner.”
“Oh yes, I forgot.”
“What kind of food do you like?” I asked.
“Oh most things. Hamburgers, meatloaf, chicken soup, ice cream.”
I had a moment – a long moment of wondering, “Is this worth it?” I decided to carry on.
“Do you know Mitch’s Tavern?” I asked.
“Well. I know Mitch and he can make some great chilli and sandwiches but not hamburgers.”
“I don’t like spicy food.”
“What, never mind. When are you thinking?” I said.
“Do you have a date, a time in mind?”
“No. Do you?”
“How about Tuesday?”
“So we have the date?”
“Good. I’ll be there,” he said.
“Good. But what time?”
“Okay, let’s pull this together. Tuesday at 7 pm at Mitch’s Tavern?”
“How will I know you?”
“I’m the one who saved your life.”
“Oh yeah. Short, skinny, red hair, but God you were strong.”
“Looking forward to it,” I said.
I was sitting at the bar, talking with Mitch, the owner when a series of clunks echoed up the gloomy staircase. David clomped his way over. “It’s good to see you getting out,” said Mitch and winked before strolling off.
A cute, college waitress showed us to our booth. She smiled in first date sympathy as she handed over the menus.
“I’ll give you a few minutes to figure out your order. What would you like to drink?”
“Knob Creek. A few ice cubes.”
David’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline.
I smiled at him. He did not smile back.
“You’re prettier than I remembered.”
“Thanks. It must be the lighting.”
We studied our menus like college students cramming that last little factoid before a history exam.
The waitress appeared with my bourbon, two waters, and his beer. “Mitch said it’s on the house. What would you like to eat?”
“A Rueben with fries,” I said.
“Ham and cheese. Hold the pickle. I don’t eat pickles,” he said.
“I’ll eat your pickle. No, no wait. I won’t eat your pickle. Well not tonight. Maybe later. Another time? NO. Keep your pickle. Not that there’s anything wrong with your pickle. I’m sure it’s a perfectly fine pickle, just not a pickle for me tonight. No, no pickle for me. I gave them up. All that brine has got to bad for the mucous membranes.” I sputtered, feeling this deep pull in my belly. A spasm, a fit, a seizure, a visceral understanding of the absurdity of the situation. I started to laugh. Really laugh like I hadn’t in a long time. The waitress and I were rolling, wiping tears out of our eyes. The table shook with us. She had to sit down. I offered her my bourbon.
David locked eyes with me. His gaze suggested I had disemboweled his dog. The waitress moved away. The table was cocooned in a judgmental silence.
Dinner was fast. We politely shook hands. David walked away. I went back to Mitch’s Tavern. The waitress and I stayed up late drinking bourbon and trading war stories. We decided to just walk away the next time someone chokes.
Lying face up on my bed sifting through the night’s events, I watched the first apricot rays of dawn dance across the floor. Rod would have understood the pickle story. He would have fed me the pickle, spending our last twenty bucks to buy bourbons for the four of us (me, him, the waitress, Mitch). He would have made crude remarks for years about green vegetables. The pickle fiasco would have become a little tease, a pickle tickle about the connection between sex and love and laughter, another little curlicue in our goofy love story.