It was Saturday night and my friend Jason and I were at a bar sharing a pitcher of beer. We were talking about records when a woman came up to our table and held her arm over our heads.
“Yes?” Jason said.
The woman shook her arm. “Mistletoe.” she said.
Jason and I looked up. She was, indeed, holding mistletoe.
“But, we’re not a couple.” said Jason.
The woman shook the mistletoe again and looked at us.
“We are not going to kiss,” I said.
“Um, we’re related?” said Jason, obviously lying.
I could see that the woman was not going to leave until she got what she wanted, so I leaned over the table and gave Jason a kiss on the cheek. The woman looked unsatisfied. I was afraid she was going to stick around and try to make things get more personal, but she moved her arm from above our heads and went to another table.
The table she chose was occupied by three people. The two people sitting on one side of the table were a couple, and so when the mistletoe was held above them, they kissed each other without hesitation. The third person, a man, smiled at the couple and waited for the woman to leave. She did not. Instead, she wagged the mistletoe at him, grabbed him by the arm, and dragged him to another table where there was a woman who appeared to be dateless. She sat the man down at the woman’s table and held out the mistletoe.
I watched the two people look at each other and smile weakly. The man tried to get up from the table, but the mistletoe lady gave him a look and kept standing there with her arm held above them.
It was agonizing to watch. I was really glad that I was not either of those people.
I went to the store on Sunday night to buy eye drops. As I was walking in, I heard someone call my name. I looked behind me. I saw a man wearing a blue hoodie and old Vans.
“Do you remember me?” he asked.
“Um, no?” I said.
I looked at him, clueless.
“All right. Hi, Bob.”
“Bob, your old housemate’s friend.” he said. “I worked on Mt. Hood and took you snowboarding and you spent the whole afternoon falling over.”
“Oh!” I said. “Bob!”
Bob and I spent the next few minutes catching up. We talked about what we had been doing for the past six years. Bob told me he had moved to California and then moved back. He recently bought a car that had a dead battery so he was buying a new one at the store.
Bob asked me what I had been doing. I didn’t tell him that a week before I was supposed to leave for a trip to India to meet my family the very housemate who introduced me to Bob gave notice on our apartment without telling me. I had called our landlord to ask if someone could sublet my room while I was gone, and that’s when she told me about my housemate. She thought I knew. She was really embarrassed. I didn’t tell him the part about spending the last seven days before my trip packing up all my things and finding a new place to live. I also neglected to mention how after I got back from India I discovered that my old housemate had left me a phone bill with $200 worth of calls to Florida, to her ex-boyfriend. When I called her mom to find out where she was living, her mom spoke very tersely on the telephone and then hung up on me. I never got my money back. I also never got back my deposit on that apartment. A few months after the phone call to her mom I found out that my old housemate had moved to New York.
Later, my boyfriend ended up renting the same apartment with two friends. He lived there for a year, until the night he woke me up to tell me that he was leaving me and moving to New Hampshire. We were sleeping in his bedroom, in my old bedroom. After being dumped I got up, put my contact lenses on, and drove home. It was two o’clock in the morning. I didn’t see him again until two and a half years later, when he showed up where I worked to tell me that he had moved back and was curious about what I had been up to. I talked to him in a daze, forcing myself to be polite and not ask the thousands of questions that had plagued me for an entire year after he left.
But I left all that stuff out. Instead I told Bob that I had gone to India, bought a house, and played in a Patsy Cline cover band.
When we were done talking, Bob said he had to leave and put the new battery in his car. He gave me a hug, and we said goodbye. He didn’t suggest we exchange phone numbers and try to get together for beers sometime, and I was so glad that he didn’t, because so often people say that just to leave conversations on a good note even though both people involved know that there will never be any calling or beer drinking.
I was relieved. It made me really happy. It was really good running into Bob.
I was waiting in line at the deli around the corner from where I work.
In front of me was a woman wearing a pink pea coat with a matching wool hat.
She was ordering a sandwich.
“I’ll have a chicken chest sandwich,” she said.
“You mean ‘chicken breast’?” asked the man behind the counter.
“I don’t like that word,” said the woman.
“What word?” the man said. “Chicken?”