LO MEIN NOODLES
RED & GREEN PEPPER
Celia looked through the cabinets and continued listing the things absent from the cupboard. Not much there, but she only needed enough for dinner, dessert and breakfast. She had the perfect meal planned for their anniversary. They had been dating for two years now. She was proud of herself for not reminding him. That way, whatever he did would be unexpected and romantic, not something he did from obligation. She was looking forward to having a nice dinner with him tonight. They were in a rut. Dinner out and a movie on Friday. Go to a club on Saturday, usually to hear a band one of Rob’s friends played in, which meant complimentary tickets. They only saw each other once or twice during the week. Rob worked construction and was usually tired, and she liked the time to herself, to go out with her girlfriends, go to book groups, to do whatever she wanted.
When she got together with her friends, or talked to her coworkers, there usually seemed to be some kind of complaint about how much time they spent with their spouses or significant others: too much, I have no time for myself, she wants to be with me every second, etc. Or, she/he’s always too busy, it’s like we’re not even married. Celia and Rob had worked it out. So, having dinner together tonight, in the middle of the week, would be a treat.
Celia snapped her fingers and walked over to the phone. Just in case he did forget, she had better make sure he was coming over. “I’m going to go to all this work for nothing. He won’t even remember.” Her face felt hotter with each ring. “Calm down,” she reminded herself. “If he forgets, then this will be a nice surprise. One that I’m doing willingly.” She used to laugh at her psychobabble trendy friends, desperate for a disorder to be discussed and cured. But she had actually learned a few things from the “Co-Dependency” 12-Step Groups they had gone through in the late 80s. She cupped the phone between her head and her shoulder and continued looking through the freezer while the phone rang.
“This is Rob. Leave me a message.” BEEP.
“Hi, Honey. Celia. Just want to make sure you come by for dinner tonight. I know it’s the middle of the week and all, but I really want to see you. Come around 7, ok?”
I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never let you forget you’re a man.
Celia started to replay all of these ancient commercials that were on cable tv now. Everything old is new again!
Her friends were always ragging her back then about how she did too much for people (especially men) and then was resentful when they didn’t reciprocate. Of course, it took her five years to admit they might be onto something. Still, she refused to go as far as they did, putting up post-its around the house with affirming messages on them.
I am a good person.
She gathered her things together. Wallet, ID, checkbook. She could never find her keys. Celia sighed and began retracing her steps. She had taken off work a couple of hours early to pull everything together, but she did not have time to waste tearing the house apart to find her keys. She looked on the kitchen counter, the living room window sill, on top of the VCR. She tried to remember what shoes she wore, figuring she had probably set the keys down near the shoes. After a few minutes, she located her black pumps beneath the bathroom basin. There were the keys, sitting on the back of the toilet.
I am well-organized
She noticed a few more things that she was low on and made a mental note.
They say romance is back in style. I say it never went out.
Celia grunted sarcastically and headed out the door. She was cynical about romance, even though she loved to plan these romantic evenings. Not that any of her previous lovers had appreciated them. Maybe men and women were just too different for this romance thing to actually work.
People like me, no matter what I do for them.
She tried to stay upbeat. “Rob is different. He never leaves without helping with the dishes, and sometimes even invites me over for dinner”. Ok, it’s usually carryout. But she tried not to be critical, gift horses in the mouth and all.
Hooonnnnnk! Celia slammed her hand down on the steering wheel and gestured at the woman who had pulled out in front of her. The woman didn’t even seem to notice. She was too busy trying to maintain herself at a breakneck speed. Twenty. Celia sped past her on the right and turned off into the shopping center.
Special gifts for that special someone.
Hmmmpf. “It’s ok if he forgets” she chanted, trying to calm herself with this mantra. She didn’t have time to search for a close parking spot. She slammed the door behind her and threw her purse over her shoulder. At the door, her usual knack for shopping carts kicked in, and she wheeled around a limping squeaky cart, with one wheel at the front that spun in the opposite direction from the other three. She pulled out her shopping list and began down the aisles, methodically.
They weren’t on her list, but a box of deep red tapers drew her attention. Her spirits picked up as she wheeled through the store, acquiring the ingredients for a wonderful evening, this celebration of their time together. In the cereal aisle there was a battle going on between several screaming children and an exasperated mother trying to pull an over-teeming basket behind her. One of the toddlers was clutching a colorful box of sugary-looking squares, and when his mother tried to pick him up and put the box away, his legs went limp beneath him and he began screaming as if he were being beaten by the Grand Inquisitor. Celia turned her cart around quickly and decided on bagels or english muffins instead. They were three aisles over.
Finally, she turned down the fragrance aisle to find a gift.
All my men wear English Leather, or they wear nothing at all.
Celia put the bottle back. The alternative seemed more appealing. All your men? Maybe Celia was slacking off. She just had the one. She looked through both the men’s and women’s colognes, wondering what Rob might pick out for her.
Tell her she’s Heaven Scent.
I can’t seem to forget you. Your Windsong stays on my mind.
Brut smells like a man.
“Ow! Mom! Tell him to quit it!”
“She hit me first!”
The screaming child entourage was coming toward Celia, snapping her out of her daydream. . . . smells like a man. She pictured him coming over after work. Sweat socks. Smelly armpits. Parked on the sofa, remote in hand, arm stuck straight out like a Ken doll, pointed at the television, running the channels.
“Mom! Tell her to quit it!”
Celia looked down in the basket. The children were screaming and running up and down the aisle. She had to get out of there. She wheeled the cart around, retracing her steps, and put everything back, abandoning the cart next to the frozen foods. She grabbed a “gourmet” frozen pizza with everything.
You’ve come a long way, Baby.
She picked up her blue dress at the cleaners. R147. At home, she hung it up carefully in the closet and pulled down a pink sweater and a pair of jeans. She put the pizza in the oven and sat down with a beer.
I’m not in love. So don’t forget it. It’s just a silly phase I’m going through.
At 7:15 the doorbell rang. “Hey, Babe. Got your message. What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing. Just thought it’d be nice to have dinner together in the middle of the week. That ok?”
“Sure. What’s on?”
“Cool.” He said, picking up the remote and dropping limply onto the couch. Celia followed Rob into the living room, wearing a flowered oven mitt and carrying the pizza tray. She grabbed some plates and beers and snuggled in beside him. Rob put his arm around her and kissed her. Then they sank down into the sofa cushions, their bodies cupped beside each other, and ate. “This is nice,” he said. “We should do this more often.”
A circle of children danced on the television screen, chanting shrilly, like the screaming supermarket clan.
You’ve got ring around-the-collar.
“Yeah.” Celia smiled and set her head against his arm. “We should.”