“Pass the ketchup,” she said softly.
He did it without thinking anything of it. He did not pause in his soliloquy. He was talking about all of the things that he was good at. All of his accomplishments. His many awards and accolades, garnered at a young age. His large salary. His benefits package. His stock options and his 401k.
He flaunted his feathers. Preened his plumage. Peacocked to prove his superiority as a mate.
She casually opened the bottle and shook a couple of drops of ketchup into her cloth handkerchief. It was the old fashioned kind, trimmed with lace and embroidered with her initials. She always kept it with her, in her purse, for times like these.
She screwed the cap back on the bottle and returned it to its proper place on the table.
“Yes, Pretty Bird. You are the prettiest bird,” she cooed to see if he was paying attention to her. He was not.
“Oh dear,” she said in a detached monotone while she shook the handkerchief for added emphasis. “I’m coughing up blood in the first act. TV tropes indicate that I’ll be dead by the third.” And then she got up and left.
He watched her body as she walked away, assuming that she had just gone to the bathroom. His eyes were glued to her hips. Good birthing hips on that one. She didn’t come back, and then he remembered she said something about being sick. Not necessarily a deal-breaker. He did have a very nice health insurance package and he would have been able to put her on it after they got married. Then she could have that cough looked at.
“I’ll mention that on our next date,” he thought to himself.
Tonight it’s all about Netflix and chill. Inviting someone over with the pretense of watching a movie you have no intention of watching: a classic move.
Except this is a story from the past. “Netflix and chill” doesn’t quite exist yet. It’s the not-too distant past, in an uncomfortable time when internet video streaming isn’t quite a thing yet. In this story, Blockbuster is already dead and the DVD player is king. Unfortunately, this Pretty Bird blew it and forgot to mail back his DVDs in time to get the next one in his Netflix queue.
In a pinch, he’ll have to go out to Best Buy to get DVDs.
He’s got the basic idea for this date down. Get a movie that’s not great so he has all of her attention on him and his sweet moves. He’s promised her a double-feature, so he needs to find two movies that fit the criteria. He’s up for the challenge. He’s cruising the aisles. He sees the clearance bin. There they are.
David Schwimmer’s Breast Men will go over well because she said she likes Friends and who doesn’t like a movie about big, fake boobs? He picks Cobra because Stallone plus guns plus sunglasses equal big dick energy, and that’s what this date night needs. His picks are stronger than Stallone’s muscles. There’s no way this could go wrong.
She sits there uncomfortably. The movie choices are bad. Really, really bad. Deal-breaker bad. At first she thought he was joking. Or maybe trying to be ironic or something? But no. These are the movies he picked and proudly presented. Her stomach churns, and she wants to get out of there fast.
He makes his move. Gets closer on the couch. Reaches for her legs. Not tonight, buddy, not with Breast Men playing.
She rubs her knees together. The churning feeling in her stomach gets stronger. Her rage at being subjected to torture of the David Schwimmer kind becomes palpable. Her jaw clenches. Her knees rub faster. The friction becomes stronger. The heat builds. A plume of smoke appears.
She focuses all of her discomfort, all of her anger on that plume of smoke. “Stronger,” she thinks, “stronger.”
“What’s going on?” he asks, reaching out for her leg again. He’s confused. She’s not there.
She’s done a silent shoulder roll off the couch and is stealthily making her way to freedom, hidden inside her cloud of smoke. Just like the night ninjas do.
She’s at the club. She’s dancing. She’s sipping drinks full of tequila. She’s the Pretty Bird now.
This time, he’s the uncomfortable one. It’s loud. People are everywhere, touching each other and sweaty. The music is loud. How are you supposed to talk to anyone? He knows so much. He has so many things to say. He doesn’t realize the invitation is to communicate without using words.
“The club is for dancing. For moving. It’s salsa night. Come and dance with me,” she calls to him as she wiggles and giggles her way around him. She’s in her element. She’s feeling sexy and alive.
He’s not. He’s trying to explain to her why the loud music is going to damage her hearing. Why the shoes she’s wearing are going to damage her arches. Why live music is so much better than recorded music for dancing. Why they should just get out of here and go back to his place.
There’s that feeling again. The churning in her stomach. The rage that takes on a palpable feeling. This time it comes out as a sound.
It’s a sound that does not exist in this world or the next. It’s the sound of the Sirens. The wail of the Banshee. The scream of Medusa. It’s the sound of the repressed frustration of all women throughout human history coming out through this one woman who just wants to dance on her night out.
The floor splits open, swallows her up, and that’s the story of how the cough in act one led to the death in act three.
*Shout out to Lord Birthday, and this list of “8 ways to escape a painful conversation.” It became the perfect source of inspiration when my husband read it aloud to me while we were recently driving together.