Tête-à-tête

Fiction by Matthew Baker

It’s not like the ice rink downtown is a private establishment for members only with plastic membership cards that get scanned at the door, it’s a public rink that anyone can go to who owns a pair of skates, or even anyone who doesn’t, because if you want you can rent them at a window inside, and anyway you don’t even have to skate, it’s totally normal just to come and order one of the concession stand’s city-renowned pretzels and sit at one of the tables along the edge of the rink and just watch everyone, or play videogames at the arcade next to the bathrooms by yourself having a good time, and if my boyfriend was going to take out some bimbo with a fur jacket and her own ice skates instead of yours truly on a super romantic date where they’re wearing mittens and holding hands and are more snuggling than even skating out on the ice, he could at least have had the decency to take her to a private rink, am I right? Where I’m not going to happen by the rink on that very same night of their super romantic date, just planning on getting a pretzel and maybe a soda before going out to one of the many costume parties and ballroom galas to which I’m frequently invited, and to which my boyfriend could not garner even a single invitation unless he happened to be dating yours truly, as he’s not even that cute and is an economics major which is considered très boring among the playwrights and trombonists and escape artists with whom I tend to hang? So what am I to do, but wait until my boyfriend and the bimbo part ways, my boyfriend skating off toward the concession-stand side of the rink, the bimbo skating off toward the arcade-and-bathroom side, or, at this point, my side, as I happen to be heading toward the women’s bathroom at that very moment?

In the bathroom the bimbo takes the extra large handicapped stall, despite the fact that she exhibits not even a single physical handicap, and the additional fact that all of the normal-sized stalls are also unoccupied, and when I hunch down on my knees outside of her stall, I see that she’s already tugged her super ugly black jeans down around her super dumb ankles. All the better—I’d rather not do this face to face.

I knock on the door of her stall, and she says, “Someone’s in here,” which obviously I am already very aware of, and which I think is exactly what I should be saying to her about my life and my boyfriend. Instead I say, “That guy you’re with has a girlfriend.” Then, of course, from pants-around-her-ankles, the expected, “Excuse me?” I reexplain the situation: man, extant girlfriend, you’re a bitch.

Then things get très freaky, because I hear the lock on the stall door snap open, and then pants-around-her-ankles tries to open the door—pants still around her ankles! Which, does she think I really want to see that? Thanks but no thanks. So now I’m holding the door shut, and she’s inside trying to kick it open with her pants-around-ankles monoleg, and that’s when a mom with a saggy face and a twin kid attached to each hand comes swinging through the bathroom door, looking at me like, Jesus, this goddamn city.

Inside her stall the bimbo’s saying, “Prove it,” and I say, “His name is Peter Inconnu and he likes cop movies and no sugar in his coffee,” but then before I have a chance to present any additional compelling evidence I see through the crack in the door that pants-around-her-ankles is in the process of transforming into a fully mobile pants-pulled-up-onto-her-hips, so I run past the saggy-faced mom and her twins and out the door back into the rink proper. Then I get my coat from my table and zip it up to my chin and tug my hood over my face and decide I’ve suffered enough shock and humiliation and outright degradation for one night, merci beaucoup. But after I leave, I wait outside the front entrance of the rink, peeking in through the windows, until I’ve seen bimbo skate back out to my boyfriend at the center of the ice, where he’s waiting for her with a cup of something warm, and from the way they start swinging their arms around, I can tell that bimbo’s asking him about me, and now they’re fighting, and everything is good, so good.

*

Back at my studio I find a note from my landlord reminding me that exterminators are coming in the a.m., the necessity of which seems iffy to me, as I haven’t seen a single insect or rodent or even nonhuman in my apartment since moving in a year ago, and as I am a private person who doesn’t like having her apartment exhibited or her belongings trifled with, I call my landlord’s office number and leave a message saying that I do ever so appreciate his offer to send a number of strangers with foul-smelling sprays to come visit my digs, but as I’m currently caring for my great-aunt, a great-aunt who’s just recently been confined to bed, a bed located in this very same studio he’s planning to fumigate in the morning with black-market toxins, I’ll definitely have to pass.

Then I call my sister to tell her the latest about my supposed-to-be-perfect boyfriend, and of course she doesn’t answer, as she’s probably either mad at me or busy getting skewered by her super nice husband on one of the counters of their super expensive flat. To which I would say—mad at me? Whilst thou are skewered by a dreamboat husband, and thy unfortunate sister doth suffer outrage after outrage at the hands of lesser men? My sister’s husband is only so nice because he’s from Canada, and in Canada they don’t know how to be anything but. He and my sister work at an advertising company downtown, whose job it is to make people believe that toothpaste is so much better than just toothpaste. She’s always mad at me for things I didn’t actually do. Like when we were younger and our father went off to Paris with someone we’d never met and left my sister in charge for an entire week, and the other fifth graders on my bus asked why I was riding the bus instead of our father driving us like always, and I told them that my father had gone off to Paris with someone we’d never met and had left my sister in charge for  an entire week, but when my sister heard she got mad at me for being what she thought was très untrustworthy and jejune, because all she’d told the ninth graders was that our father was busy and couldn’t drive us, because she was afraid of kidnappers and burglars and also our father who apparently had specifically said that we weren’t allowed to tell anyone about how he’d left us alone for the week, or alone at least except for the credit card he’d given my sister in case we wanted to order pizza or rent movies, which even though she hadn’t told the ninth graders about Paris, she’d already shown them and the fifth graders and even the bus driver that. My sister has also gotten mad at me for flirting with her husband who was then just her boyfriend and who was actually flirting with me, for wearing an orange dress to her college graduation party when I knew she was planning on wearing an orange dress except that I didn’t, and for entirely forgetting about her twenty-ninth birthday and not sending her a present or a card or even calling her except that I was super unwell at the time and basically just throwing up and vomiting and retching and dry heaving her entire birthday weekend, and how is one supposed to put together the customary birthday tribute for one’s sister when one is more or less on one’s deathbed at the time of the birthday in question? Moreover, does a twenty-ninth birthday really merit that much fuss to begin with? Wouldn’t one think one’s sister would prefer not to commemorate her being on the brink of middle-ageness, cultural irrelevance, and the general loss of good looks?