Having a sweet spot for someone isn’t the same as being in love
It’s cooling on a rack on the kitchen counter. David sits on the couch, cleaning under his fingernails with a corner of his Safeway card, and I fuss with the flowers in the kitchen. We’re both getting ready, in our own ways. I’ll say this now: we love Milt and Janey. They are our best friends and they are getting married. David is particularly affected by the news, because of his history with Janey. They aren’t in love any more, but I know he has a sweet spot for her. He still wears that old sweater of hers, the JCrew with the holes at the wrists. It’s so old it’s just falling apart. Last week he worked on it after dinner, bent over the sleeves, sewing the frayed edges together.
Milt has a black eye. Some skinny guy wearing a leather jacket with inappropriate zippers punched him in the face outside the Tudor House in Esquimalt two nights ago, because Milt came in wearing a brand-new moustache and a bright red jacket. A table thought he was trying to be funny and the guy punched him so Milt would know they didn’t like the joke.
The truth is, Milt was trying to be funny. The moustache was a dare, the jacket was a dare, the whole night out was a dare. He teaches English at Raymond Secondary and his Shakespeare class dared him. Milt got a kick out of it. The kids loved him. Growing the moustache for weeks, grooming it. He bought a kit with a tiny comb and a little pot of wax. There was that kid in the park last year, wearing the red jacket, he was nearly killed. The court case all over the news. But Milt didn’t know that. Milt plays the mandolin at the Teahouse Café on Friday nights. What does he know about gang violence in the town across the bridge?
We haven’t seen Milt yet, but Janey says his eye looks ugly. The other teachers have started asking questions. The principal is going to find out about the dare, she just knows it. He’s such an idiot, she said. I love him so much. On the phone her voice sounded squeaky. What do you do for a bruise like that?
I don’t know, I said. Ice it.
I thought maybe lemon juice, she said. I use it for my dark circles.
David had a nightmare after I left the house this morning. You dove into the water, he tells me from the couch, and the current took you. I could see it. You disappeared. He says, I woke up and you were gone.
I can hear his voice around the corner but I can’t see him. I’m washing strawberries in the kitchen. They tumble over each other like drumbeats in the silver colander. When I turn the taps off, I can see that each berry is really a small heart.
Do we have to go there tonight? he asks. Did you already tell them we were on our way?
I reach for the paring knife, slice each strawberry neatly at the top. I lick the puddles of red juice off my fingers and wipe my hands on my jeans and then he’s standing up, behind me.
Let’s stay home, he says.
I want to see his eye, I say. Don’t you want to know how he’s doing?
David lifts the hair off my neck and kisses the skin behind my ears. I can smell cigarette smoke, sandalwood soap. Milt is an idiot, he says into my hair.
Milt and Janey are getting married in four months. I have made an angel food cake. I’ve covered it with swirls of whipped cream. I’ve sprinkled flower petals on top, sliced strawberries. Did you pick up champagne? I ask.
On our way to the party I notice that the crocuses have started to come up in fistfuls. It’s January, can you believe it, I say to David. We had walked through the neighbourhood to Dallas Road and reached that point where the hill levels out and you can see the ocean and the mountains all at once, with joggers crossing the foreground. It’s the view that makes people who move here happy they moved here. In a moment I decide that I will never leave this place. Then David says, What’s to believe about it?
He’s wearing a blue snowboarder hat with orange stripes and trim. The tag sewn into the seam sticks out over his eyebrow. Fix your hat, I tell him.
The Olympic range in front of us, jagged, snowcapped. Mountains so clear they look like a backdrop.
There’s nothing wrong with my hat.
The woman walking behind us has a Jack Russell terrier on a black leash with silver studs. The dog strains and strains, pulling with his neck. She drags him away from us, trying to get him across the street. He sees the cake. Up on his hind legs, like a circus trick. He is remarkably balanced on two legs. I raise the cake slightly, in case he jumps for it.
He’s not going to get it, David tells me. Relax.
I am relaxed, I say.
Hi, little guy. David squats down on the sidewalk and holds out his hand. The dog licks it.
Oh, you gotta watch him, he’ll eat anything, the woman says. She’s standing on the curb in hiking boots and leggings, with the black leash wrapped around one fist. Even seaweed, she adds. I’ve seen him try to eat sand.
David: Maybe there was something in the sand he wanted.
Me: Maybe it’s the texture.
Woman: The texture of sand?
David: No, like a bug, or a crab.
Me: You know, the feeling of it in his teeth. I mean, just to bite it.
David: Dogs are all about the smell. He’d have to smell something in the sand first.
Me: Couldn’t he just bite for the pleasure of biting?
David: Would you eat sand for the texture?
Me: Did he eat it, or just bite it?
Woman: Who knows?
He’s cute, I say, still holding the cake up in the sky.
The woman and the dog cross the street and head down to the beach, where I imagine the dog will bite at the waves and chase his own shadow.
We watch for a pause in the traffic. I am carrying my cake with two hands.
What are you waiting for? David asks me.
To cross the road, I say.
Let’s go, then. And he starts walking. A yellow Miata has to slow down for him. The driver wears mirrored sunglasses and black leather driving gloves. She honks twice. Two short blasts, and then she’s gone.
But David turns around, pissed off, and flicks his finger. He may have been aiming at the driver, who is already around the second bend in the road by now. I think: that may have been aimed at the driver.
Cars are parked all along the ocean side of Dallas Road. People sit in the front seats with their radios on, listening to the cbc and watching the freighters sail to Seattle. Most of the guests will have arrived at Milt and Janey’s house by now. I imagine the scene: Milt wearing an eye patch, tugging at Janey, trying to get her to dance. Janey with her lips pressed into a pink rosette: Stop it, Mil, stop it. David’s waiting for me to cross the street now and this cake feels heavy in my hands. The lightest one I could make. It’s mostly air, this cake. And I’m tired of it already.