“I can’t look,” she said and covered her eyes.
They both knew that was a lie. Of course she could look. There was nothing Veronica didn’t see. Nothing escaped her notice. A point of pride. “Nothing escapes my notice,” she said at least once a day.
So when she covered her eyes and said she couldn’t look, Paul fell into his usual charade. He stretched his arms wide, did a little abracadabra dance with his hands, did it so beautifully that she gasped as if an elf or genie were about to appear on the rug.
Then in a flash, hands moving so fast that Veronica really didn’t see (she was still focused on the rug where the genie would appear), Paul produced the box. “Ta dah!” he said.
It wasn’t a small box. It wasn’t a large box. It was an average size box, cube shaped, maybe twelve by twelve, beautifully wrapped, but the size box that nothing interesting or expensive comes in.
Although . . .
Perhaps . . .
Well . . .
It might be nested like Russian dolls, with a jewel in the tiny box at the end or car keys or airplane tickets. Of course, how perfect for her. She did like being adored.
She was still staring at the box, not smiling, but thinking these thoughts when he said, “Well, aren’t you going to open it?”
“Oh, Paul, you shouldn’t have,” she said.
He almost said, and what would have happened if I didn’t—tears, accusatory sulks. He knew what was expected. “Open it,” he said again.
She pulled the gold bow open, flung the ribbon aside and delicately, using a sharp, red fingernail, cut the tape at either end. Watching her he realized that the daintiness that had so charmed him at first came from not wanting to damage or use her nails or her hands or much of anything else. Walking provoked a sigh, Oh, it’s so far. Stairs, a search for an elevator. And once she cried because her favorite restaurant, the over-priced Chez Nous, was closed.
“It’s Monday,” he had said. “A lot of restaurants are closed on Monday.”
“People still eat on Mondays,” she’d said.
“At home,” he said.
Wide-eyed look at that. “We don’t,” she said.
He was grateful for that encounter. She’d wiped Chez Nous off their list of acceptable destinations and inspired the birthday gift that she was now opening.
“Oh,” she was saying, “Nice,” but it was as if a small animal was living in her throat as she spoke. “What is it?”
“Dishes. See—plates, cups, bowls. You know? Dishes. For eating on.”
“But we don’t . . .”
“Voila!” he said and pulled flatware out of his jacket pocket—knives, forks spoons, service for four.
She was crying, huge tears flooding her eyes and running down her cheeks. She struggled to get the lid back on, couldn’t make it fit, then slung it across the room at him. “You’re breaking up with me!”
He caught the lid with one hand, raised his eyebrows as if he didn’t understand, and waited for her to go on, which she did. “We are through, really done this time.” She was at the door, sobbing so hard that her mascara formed dark pools under each eye, highlighting her wretched victim pose. She’d be pleased when she saw herself in a mirror.
“Don’t ever call me again,” she said and slammed the door so hard his new dishes rattled in the box.
© 2012 Kathleen Coskran