It would never have happened if I had an American Express card. Because Neiman’s only takes checks, cash, their own card, and Amex. It never would’ve happened if I hadn’t decided to go to the top floor in search of some form of house slippers for my hard to buy for grandma. But I did go to the top floor, riding the elevator among bouncing squares of reflected light from strings of plastic butterflies and mirrors, suspended emblems of spring hung in winter because snowflakes were oh so gauche. (I figured out their “use something springy in winter” trick because last year, they suspended strands of white feathers, causing me to glance about for Foghorn Leghorn, checking to see if they were numbered for just such an occasion. I suppose I’ve never noticed, but in high summer perhaps they have strands of icicles or Christmas ornaments in encomium of the cattywompus way high fashion operates.)

     Gliding along the white marble floors (hustling quickly to get something in the way of exercise today) and sweating, I spotted something my friend’s daughter would adore (a kind of paint by number, only with sparkly stickers you had to attach by number to pictures of fancy toy dogs), took it to the register and tried to pay. I was largely disregarded for some minutes, then my purchase was rung up and I was told of the inferiority of my dead common debit card (“We could try to get you a Neiman’s card,” she offered, arousing my ire – why do you doubt my ability to qualify for a department store credit card that doubtless charges 33% interest?). I was informed that there was an ATM at the bottom of the (3 flights of) escalators, and would I like to come back? “Let me think about it,” was my response as I leaned toward not returning just due to the inconvenience of it. I descended amongst the sparkly squares that mocked me, if I’d only had an Amex like any truly successful individual, I’d be walking away with a boxful of sparkly squares and Christmas joy, and perhaps I never should’ve walked in there below a certain cutoff of income level (and, might I add, above a certain weight limit – I’ve had occasion to walk among the rich, and rich women tend to be thin, their parsimony extending from pennies to their plates alike). I walked to the exit.

     Happening to look down as I was leaving, my eyes lit on the middle section of a bill on the ground, folded in at both ends. Was it? I stooped over, picking it up, and looked around, seeing only a hazed-over oblivion and not any panicked seeking in the faces that scurried past. Sorting of my moral dilemma went quickly – I had no way of knowing whose this was, and my only option was to turn it in to mall security, who would probably pocket it as I walked away. I looked around again and unfolded the bill – sure enough, $20.00, not a lottery win, but enough to add to the change I had in my purse to buy the toy for my friend’s kid, who, I justified, deserved it, having lost her dad at age 3 and whose mom was just getting back on her feet from a layoff… yes, oh, yes this was merely a donation to a needy kid. I turned on my heel and walked back into the store, up the escalators again (ha, ha, sparkly squares, who’s sparkling now?) and to the counter, where, I noted, the item hadn’t even had time to be put back on the shelf.

     “Change your mind?” the marginally helpful saleslady asked. I’d considered on the way, whether to say, “I found a $20,” “I located a $20,” or just say that I’d gone to the ATM. In the end, I merely nodded as she went through the carnal motions of commerce. As I turned away, that’s when it happened, the thing that wouldn’t have happened, if not for all these things leading up.

     I turned from the counter, happily swinging the silver, crocodile-printed shopping bag, when I saw him. Was it? Yes. It was him. He glanced one way, glanced another, saw out of the corner of my eye who I was in tandem with my recognition of who he was, and we both acquiesced to an unspoken rule of proximity and politeness that we’d have to speak, societal propriety billowing bigger and bigger between us until we were engulfed. He looked up and into my eyes. I don’t know why, or who began it, but my arms went up to hug him as we drew nearer, and I found something in myself looking forward to it, even though I’d deleted him from various electronic carrier pigeon platforms because he was too busy with work and not able to connect, and in my way, I moved on, rather than tarrying and hoping. (I don’t waste time with such na├»ve and youthful pursuits anymore: show interest consistently and soon, or I’ll flit my attentions elsewhere like a plastic butterfly or a sparkly square, always twirling to reflect different rays of sun that fall on it, and ignoring the shadowy absences of light.)

     He smiled, like he always did, his beautiful green eyes and silver hair still the same as they’d been when we’d dallied last summer in the back of a wine bistro, since my house wasn’t tidy enough to go there after an hour of drinking wine and having my foot stroked even though my shoe was on, while he looked burningly at me and I enjoyed frustrating him (despite not having the curriculum vitae of beauty to be able to do this… perhaps my cleverness sufficed). Something about a man getting impatient with me while touching me only with two fingers on the instep of my foot and looking at me like he wants to throw me on the floor and do me, right there in front of the sommelier, is wicked fun.

     He was in shorts and red plaid Ralph Lauren button down, apropos for the 75 degree Christmas weather we were having. I smiled big the whole time we talked. How’ve you been? What’ve you been up to? Just trying to get my Xmas shopping done, I’m behind, I pushed my sweaty hair back with one hand, today, today – observant as always, looks like you’ve been to 2 places already (he named them) hefting his big caramel and nut encrusted Christmas apple – apple, apple - a family tradition for 10 yrs or so, he said, aloft.

     The apple: what was done, what was given and taken and how I hugged, but then began to move away, bit by bit, quicker and quicker, as if he’d grab me or slap me, even though I knew he wouldn’t. And on to the escalator and bye and maybe that’s it, I’ll never see him again and then I began to think of things, like why he didn’t like me enough or maybe he did, and we did have a good time together even though it was incredibly stupid and then I had to go and text someone immediately and she said it was Fate but I think Fate has my phone number and email address and I haven’t heard from Fate. And even though he’s so successful and makes 3 times the money I do he’s unsatisfied in some respects and this isn’t a time for mistresses it’s a time for family but I was the one running, running away, even fearing maybe he followed me after I left but there was nothing to suggest that except maybe I wanted him to in some way, wanted him to express a desire, even though that was his particular struggle, his heart was on fire but other parts of him weren’t. But maybe it was me. Or him. Or it. I dunno. And wondering, will he think about me tonight? Will there be any dilemma, or will the eating of the apple erase all thoughts of before and after?


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