One of the glories of writing for the company (and they are manifold: Chris bringing me cups of tea, hovering over my shoulder saying “Oh, he wouldn’t do that” with a smile that says I can fix it now or wait until she writes 'He wouldn't do that' in the margin being just one of them) is that all experience is grist for the artistic mill.
Last Christmas, for instance, I found myself in a seemingly ordinary but deceptively dramatic situation that in the movie version would be enacted by two women over 35 (Gilian Anderson and Gwyneth Paltrow I’m thinking), featuring, as it did, my sister and me.
This high octane story unfolded in the local strip mall of an Ottawa suburb, a prime location for last minute shopping. I wanted soapy, lotion-y, bath oil for my sister-in-law and a film voucher for my nephew. Catherine ably escorted me to a spacious gift shop, luxurious with towels, creams, jumpers and slippers - a seasonal cornucopia. I bypassed the rabbit-fur mitts and eye-lash curlers and followed my nose to a fragrant cloud of bath accessories - Avocado, Mint & Mango, Lemon Flavoured Honey. If a woman wanted to eat her soap it was perfect. I was delighted by the teeming choice then overwhelmed by it. Which was best? I inhaled, compared and re-shelved salts, suds and oils as Christmas galloped closer. Just before my pension kicked in I settled on ‘lime’ and we headed to the till.
There was someone in the queue beside us, not moving, gazing down. My sister, very polite, said 'Excuse us..?'
He waved a courteous hand. 'No, no. I've been here most of the evening already. Don't wait for me.' He stood in front of a pile of scarves, hats and gloves.
We looked at him and the pile.
'I can't decide,' he said.
We were sympathetic. We probably said 'Ohh, that's too bad' or 'We know how you feel' – the trauma of rejecting Succulent Peach-Melon was haunting me still - and he said 'Yes.' He pulled out a non-descript black-and-white wool scarf.
'My sister. She's 26 and artsy..'
Catherine, not missing a beat - he was about 5'11", brown hair, straight, falling into his eyes, glasses, nice face - mid 30s - , turned to me. She smiled and held her arm out in my direction. 'Hey!' she shouted. 'You're 26! And definitely artsy.'
I stared at her, motionless. Speechless. The gall of her suggesting I was hovering near the same decade as a 26-year old sucked the breath out of my thorax. I recovered enough to say 'Yes - ' and, desperate to find something I could sign up to exclaimed ‘ - I'm artsy!'
I turned to the scarf. It was nothing near what a 26 year old 'arsty' person would like and I was about to disabuse him when he said
'I know that's right for her.'
I paused and regrouped. Catherine, still on track, said 'So, what's the problem?'
'I'm buying this for my brother-in-law,' he said. He pulled out another scarf (much nicer than the one for his sister). 'I'm sending these both a long way away and they're going to open them at the same time. They'll both open their presents and they'll both get - '
'Scarves,' Catherine said.
'Exactly,' he said.
I nodded, looking at him. 'And then they'll think "Hey - what is wrong with – “‘ I studied his face. ‘Tim - Bill - ?'
'Close,' he said.
'Darryl,' he said.
' " - what is wrong with Darryl that he is so devoid of imagination that he gets us both the same stupid thing."'
'Exactly. And what's worse, what I really like are these expensive gloves. That I want for myself.'
'They're the nicest thing in the pile,' Catherine observed.
I turned to pay for my lime-scented bath beads and body butter.
'Maybe you should make something, Darryl,' I said.
I heard Catherine snort behind me. Darryl looked up.
'Something out of macaroni,' I continued. 'We all like to get things made of macaroni.' I consulted the 15-year old cashier. 'Don't we? Maybe macaroni in the shape of - Celine Dion.'
'Maybe Celine in sea-shells. Shellaqued,' Catherine offered.
Darryl looked at us. I noticed he was really - very - cute.
'Too much like what I got them last year,' he said.
He became much cuter. I shrugged.
'Put lights on it.'
'Maybe I should just follow you two around.'
I got my change from the cashier who said 'You guys are crackin' me up' from behind his acne.
We were cracking us up but we had already out-stayed the amount of time you can reasonably-spend-at-a-till-with-a-stranger. It wasn't as though we could offer to buy him a pair of nail clippers or socks in the hopes of continuing conversation. We couldn't say ‘Let me top you up. Burberry? Hermes?’
We all paused in our no-man’s-land of social exchange. I almost asked 'Do you come here often?' but what would that yield? It was a shop in a strip mall. He probably came every week. So what? We didn't.
We wished him good luck and a merry Christmas.
'I'll probably still be here at that point,' he said, gazing back down.
'We'll toast you,' Catherine said. 'We'll say "To Darryl" on Christmas Day.'
We de-briefed in the parking lot.
'We should have got his number,' she said. 'Or given him yours.'
It was cold; the wind chill made it twenty below. We walked fast, dodging cars at very dangerous intersections to get to another shop in the mall. I felt hounded by a large van that seemed to be closing in on us.
'It's okay,' I said. 'These things either work or they don't.'
Catherine sped up to join me. I thought we’d cleared the van when suddenly it pulled up beside us and the electronic window buzzed down. A young man in a beard and winter hat leaned forward and smiled.
'Sorry. I wouldn't run you down so close to Christmas.'
I gave him the thumbs up. We saw him stop and park.
'Let's walk faster,' Catherine said. 'In case he tries to get us on foot.'
'If I'm supposed to see Darryl again,' I said, panting with the exertion of avoiding the potentially-dangerous-guy-from-the van, 'he'll appear, Poof! in front of your car, just as we're leaving.'
'And then we'll run him over,' she said.
'And at least I'll know - '
' - it wasn't meant to be,' she added.
' -as he flies over the hood.’ I was suddenly saddened at the thought of accidentally flattening my one viable option for a Christmas drink in town.
We got the gift certificate for my nephew and returned to her van. No sign of Darryl.
'You're better off,' she said as we motored quietly home, thinking of the pile of gloves and scarves. 'He obviously had trouble with commitment.'
Of course the real gift in writing the life you live, besides offering material for your producer to hawk around the theatres in central London, is that there is a chance, there is a real and serious chance – work with me here – that Darryl is at his computer as we speak.
That now, right now, glancing out the snowy window of his Toronto office (he’s Canadian but very urban), he is remembering the odd exchange with the friendly sisters at the cash register in the Ottawa gift shop on the blue-cold Christmas Eve last year. He lifts his Conran Shop mug, full of fennel tea. He puts down the mechanical pencil with which he is designing the new Gallery of Art and Artists for the Aix-en-Provence Conservatoire des Intellectuels et Poseurs.
‘They know my name’ he thinks to himself and swiftly he searches. ‘Darryl. Scarves. Macaroni’.
The engine hums and he is moments away from landing on this page, on these words, on this story of our meeting. Brief keystrokes will lead us back into the conversation we never finished as Christmas was dropping from the frozen sky into our waiting hearts.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that would be a miracle.
Well, gentle readers.
‘Tis the season.
|Stephanie anticipates the miracle...|