TUESDAY: Politeness


Copyright is held by the author.

THERE WAS only one left. As if dinner at Sharon and Dean’s wasn’t arduous enough, it had now become abundantly clear to everybody that there was only one left. Gary was trying desperately not to be miserable, for Poppy’s sake, but the awkward silence and the modern-art floor lamp that was spraying light in no useful direction whatsoever were making it decidedly difficult.

Plus, his robe was itchy, and the moon part of the pattern seemed to be fading faster than the stars. Worse than that he now had fondue on his sleeve because Sharon apparently thought it was still the 1980s. Worse still was the unavoidable fact that in the middle of the round table that was in the middle of the rather-nice-size-for-a-two-bedroom-apartment living room that was in the middle of the rapidly gentrifying Gorsten Hill neighbourhood was a small, white plate. Sitting on that plate was the very last after-dinner chocolate-covered thin mint crème. And all four people sat at that round table were too annoyingly polite to take it.

Gary fidgeted with the glass of Gin and Orange he’d been nursing for the last couple of hours. He didn’t want the mint. He didn’t even like the mints. But now the only sound in the room was coming from a troublingly titled “World Music” playlist. Now the only movement in the room was a vanilla-bean candle flickering anxiously as if it was worried that maybe the pause in dinner-party action was due to it being too vanilla-ey, or perhaps not vanilla-ey enough. Now everyone had noticed that last mint that lay between them, and noticed each other noticing, and so now Gary was in the game whether he liked it or not. Someone was going to have to take the mint eventually, lest they all die of politeness induced old age.

He found himself hoping it would be Sharon.

Sharon looked kind, like a middle-aged librarian that walked elderly people’s dogs for them on spring evenings. She sounded warm, her voice like a down duvet fresh from the dryer. She even gave money to charity and genuinely didn’t talk about it. In fact, as Gary looked at Sharon staring at the thin mint with her incredibly symmetrical eyes, her bouncy bob cut, her soft, round face, and her rather pleasant, pastel, cashmere sweater, he found himself almost forgetting that every word that spilled out of her angular mouth was astoundingly unpleasant.    

“Oh, I’ve never met one of you before,” she’d said with disconcerting middle-class vigour when Poppy had first introduced them Cooper’s Bar. “Do a trick, go on, turn my cosmopolitan into a frog, or turn that chair into a dog, oh, oh, no, I’ve got it, make Dean’s sports car disappear, he’s only just got it, it’ll be hilarious I promise.”

“Sorry,” Gary had replied, fiddling with his sleeves while offering his best try-to-make-a-good-impression-even-though-this-is-now-incredibly-awkward smile, “that’s not the type of wizard I am. I like doing the small stuff; cactus blooms, kid’s light-up shoes, double-rainbows in the garden sprinkler, that sort of thing.”  

“Oh,” Sharon had responded huffily as she’d sipped her drink around a rather sad looking slice of lime that appeared ready to leap from the side of her glass and end it all, “well, not everyone is born for greatness.”

Gary had smiled and nodded and said nothing.  

But now, oh yes, now if Sharon took that last thin chocolate mint he could feel incredibly and justifiably smug knowing that she had broken first. And oh, how good that would feel. 

The scent of bubbling gruyere was still hanging heavy, and the last mint was still sat lonely. Gary felt his arm flinch a little. Was it? No, it couldn’t be, he thought. But then it twitched again. Was his arm going AWOL? Was it fed up with the uncomfortable silence? Was it going to grab the mint for itself and damn the consequences?

Probably not, but Gary sat on his hands anyway for good measure.

Across the table Dean was staring at the chocolate covered mint with cagey intent through his incredibly green, coloured contact lenses. A glint of light from Dean’s exceedingly shiny, chunky gold watch flashed into Gary’s eyes.  

“I work in money,” Dean had said when he introduced himself amidst the bustle of the after-work crowd at Cooper’s Bar, “and you?”

This opening to their first interaction had raised three serious questions for Gary.

The first was whether it was now okay to completely skip any hellos or how-are-yous, just jump the small-talk, and throw out a declarative statement? And if so, why had no one bothered to tell him about such a seismic shift in common courtesy?

The second, Gary had thought, was how does someone work in money? It couldn’t be done literally, and metaphorically would have been surprisingly Avant Garde. It could only have meant that Dean was facilitatory in nature, which in turn could have meant absolutely anything.

The third was that when faced with a person in robes covered in moons and stars with a floppy wizard’s hat in one hand and a half-a-pint of bitter in the other, shouldn’t it be easy enough to guess what they do for a living?

“Oh, I’m a wizard,” Gary had replied attempting to appear nonchalant and not at all like he was beginning to worry whether he should stop saying hello to people just in case no one was doing that anymore.

Dean had flashed his toothpaste-commercial smile. “So, you must know some of those really good wizards, the famous ones.”

Famous wizards, Gary had mused pointedly to himself, are not necessarily good.

At the dinner party table Dean’s silk shirt, unbuttoned too far down for anyone’s comfort, bellowed and danced delicately in the breeze from the ceiling fan. Gary looked up at the spinning blades and thought about how good it would feel if Dean took the last mint. That amount of feeling superior could last for weeks, maybe even months, maybe even all the way through Labour Day.

And then there was Poppy; her wonderfully pointy face, her chestnut hair that always retreated into a bowlesque shape no matter how it was coerced, delightfully clumsy, poetically sweet, slightly annoyed Poppy who was the only one not staring at the mint.

She was staring at Gary. 

Four hours earlier Poppy had tried hard not to sound negative as she had shouted over her shoulder while slapping on purple eyeliner with reckless abandon. “I understand you have to wear the robes all the time,” she’d said, “but the least you could do is tell those idiots at work you need new ones.”

Gary had stared anxiously into his mug of tepid tea and tried not to feel too disappointed with himself. The fact was he didn’t have to wear his robes all the time at all, but he hadn’t had time to get changed after work for their first date, and he had panicked, and then lied, and now five years later he was living in a two-up, two-down semi-detached stuck constantly wearing his slightly itchy robes.

What added that especially sharp, extra tinge of regret was his odd insistence over first date dessert, a surprisingly decent Crème Brule for a fast-casual chicken establishment on the high street, that getting new robes was like getting blood out of a stone, which it wasn’t, there were boxes full of robes everywhere at the office, which was in fact one of the perks the Wizard Union had fought particularly hard for.

He shook his head and poured what was left of his tea down the sink. “OK, I’ll ask about the robes again on Monday,” he retorted peacefully as he turned his attention to watering the little herb garden on the kitchen windowsill. 

Poppy had wrestled with an uncooperative bright red lipstick, nearly introduced her glass of chardonnay to the parquet flooring, and had begun tussling with a spirited, dangly earring. “You’re a wizard, Gary,” she’d said, trying to be upbeat, “can you please try to conjure some enthusiasm for Sharon’s dinner party?”

“OK,” Gary had replied while he plucked some particularly perky looking basil, “I’ll give it my best.”

“And please try to forget about that message my mum left,” she’d shouted as she rooted around looking for an umbrella, “I don’t think she ever meant for you to hear it.”

He had almost forgotten, and now he was going to have to start forgetting all over again.

Hi Poppy, it’s mom, checking to see if you’re still coming on Sunday. I suppose you’re bringing Gary. Please tell him to park around the back, but be delicate, and don’t tell him I asked, it’s just that horrible car of his, I don’t understand why he can’t just magic something better. I mean, what is the point of dating a wizard when he drives you around in lime-green Ford Fiesta with a clutch problem you can hear across the whole North Side. Anyway, I’ll call and leave a message on your home phone too. Oh, wait, actually, maybe this is your home number, well, must be getting on, bye love . . .

In Sharon and Dean’s flat that last after-dinner mint lay perfectly content on the plate, beginning to believe that no one was ever going to eat it, beginning to believe in a last-minute reprieve, beginning to sense freedom.  

The relentless beating of tablas from the World Music playlist grew louder, their rhythm pulsing with intent from the speakers and echoing around the coving, looping over and over and beating stronger and faster. No one dared move or speak for fear of being the first to break the minty stalemate. The air from the ceiling fan swooped down, floated back up, and spiraled back down again. The bodies around the table shivered a little, but none of them moved to turn the fan off for fear of breaking the thin, chocolatey tension.

Poppy was still staring, and Gary knew why — he could easily magic another mint or two.

Yes, he could magic a mint, but then where would it all end, he thought while he tried to avoid eye contact with Poppy. Today it’s a thin mint, tomorrow they ask very nicely for an apple pie or a scone, and in a few short months you’re in your garage all weekend every weekend because they could really do with a short break, I hear Budapest is nice this time of year, just to take the edge off with everything going on at the office, and if you could just magic that up for us that would be so great. People’s inability to respect a Wizard’s work-life balance could be decidedly depressing.

Although, not quite as depressing as the sound from the transparent carriage clock on the mantle as it chimed in bland, digital tones, announcing that they had now entered hour three of Sharon and Dean’s dinner party.    

“How about coffee and a game of charades? Let’s really get the party started,” Dean offered earnestly.

Gary panicked.

And 378 thin, chocolate, after-dinner mint crèmes appeared on the table.

A bout of synchronized nodding followed, almost as if a protocol had already been established for when an inordinate amount of thin mint chocolates suddenly exists. No one spoke, and coats were fetched and put on with absolutely no communication required. There was only a polite wave from the apartment’s front door as the lime-green Ford Fiesta lurched away. 

Outside the car the night sky was clear and there was a pleasant chill in the air. The headlights illuminated the quiet, clean pavement and the low, brick walls of well-kept front yards, while the Fiesta’s clutch groaned every time it was asked to do its job.

Inside the car all remained quiet until they turned the corner and could no longer be seen from Dean and Sharon’s doorway. 

“The look on their faces,” Poppy spurted out as she began giggling almost uncontrollably. “That was so awesome.”

She tried to take a breath, burst out laughing again, wiped her eyes with her sleeve, and gathered as much composure as she could. “Look,” she said through a broad smile, “I’m sorry I gave you a hard time about the robes and everything earlier.”

Gary smiled back, and Poppy thought it was time. It was finally time to come clean and tell him she was a Fairy; tell him she’d lied on their first date when she’d said she was an accountant because she was nervous, and she’d left her wings at the office, and she had panicked. She could finally stop hiding her little wand behind that stack of vinyl reggae records in the garage.

“I’m sorry I’ve been such a miserable bastard lately,” Gary said as he steered with one hand and reached for her with the other, “I’ll try harder to loosen up and have more fun. Let’s ditch the car and go get a drink somewhere. We could even call Sharon and Dean and see if they want to come. What do you think?”

Well, she thought, maybe I’ll tell him about the whole fairy thing tomorrow.

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