She’s picking at her salad again, the way she always does, setting the olives off to the side. She’s particular about how she does it, how she pushes them to the edge of her plate. She turns her fork around and uses the handle to do this. You know what she’s thinking. How, if she used the other end of her fork, it would somehow become contaminated. Then everything she ate for the next two and a half days would taste like olives. Why she doesn’t simply order her salads without them is beyond you.
But it’s not her way. In the half-dozen years or so you’ve been together, you’ve learned that she has her ways about things. How laundry should be sorted, where things go in the refrigerator, what kind of wine goes best with which meal, and so on. In a sense, dinner is like that as well. Her concept of it, anyway. To her mind, it’s not so much a time for eating, but a time for conversation. Which explains why she brings up the thing about Woodstock, telling you how some local FM station has been having a Woodstock retrospective all week. You get the sense, though, that Woodstock isn’t really what she wants to talk about. In its way it’s like the olives. Soon enough she’ll brush it aside and get around to what she really wants to talk about. She’s so predictable.
“Do you ever wonder about people from your past?” she asks. “You know, what’s happened to them. What they’re doing. What they’re like now. That sort of thing.”
Why else would she ask such a thing?
But you can’t deal with it. Not now. Not here. Not in the restaurant. Not in public like this, with all these people around. No, you need time. Time to think.; Time to figure out how to weasel your way out of the situation.
You think maybe you can sidetrack her, get her to talking about something else. Her thing with the olives has bugged you long enough anyway, and this would be as good a time as any to bring it up. After all, it’d be conversation, right? And that’s what she wants — conversation. So you ignore the bit about Woodstock and people from the past. It’s as though she never even said the words. Instead you start babbling about her salad and the olives and how some little old Greek guy tending to some God-forsaken, rock-strewn farm on a hillside half a world away isn’t going to be all that offended just because some chef in Oklahoma City, which is a place he’s probably never even heard of anyway, doesn’t throw in one or two of his precious little olives when he makes up a salad.
And it works.
It works so well, in fact, that you almost forget that what she really wanted to talk about was Donna and not olives and Greeks and hillsides and all the other tangential things that came up like ouzo and Zorba and the uniquely blue color that is the Mediterranean.
But you didn’t forget.
So, the following week, when you went to the big sales convention in Dallas, you were a saint. All right, maybe not a saint, because that’s never been your style, but you did stay in and order dinner from room service every night. And you passed up the company’s golf outing. And you avoided the hotel bar, too, treating it as though the place was radioactive. It didn’t take long for people to begin wondering about you — asking if you were all right, if you were feeling well, wanting to know if there was something they could do to help, that sort of thing.
But you couldn’t take the chance of bumping into Donna. Not even accidentally. You knew she would be there. Hell, you’d been looking forward to it for a month. You know, getting together again. Just for old times’ sake. Just to see if maybe there was still a spark or two left over that maybe ought to be rekindled. But you resisted it. You resisted the temptation.
In the end, by the time Friday morning rolled around and you were checking out of your hotel, you found yourself feeling pretty good about yourself. Riding down in the elevator, you even relaxed enough to enjoy a silent little chuckle. How funny it was, you thought, that for weeks before the convention all you could think about was getting away and getting together with Donna. And now all you wanted to do was get back home. Truth was, you had a good thing going for you back there. It would have been foolish to have jeopardized it all for a three day fling with an old high school sweetheart.
For the life of you, though, you couldn’t figure out how she’d found out. How she knew what you’d been planning. But more than that, you were pleased by how she’d handled it. There was no confrontation. No hysterics. She didn’t even mention Donna by name. She didn’t have to, of course. The bit about Woodstock and people from the past was enough. How much more obvious could she have been? Only an idiot would have missed seeing what that was about.
Maybe that’s why the note she left for you on the refrigerator came as such a surprise. She’d run off with someone named Cliff, she said. Cliff, a guy she’d thumbed around the country with back in the 60’s. How she could do such a thing was beyond you. But then, you never did understand something as simple as why she wouldn’t order her salads without olives.
Michael Pelc‘s stories have appeared in various print and online publications, including Apollo’s Lyre, Long Story Short, Crimson Highway, and The Peppertree Literary Magazine.