Light On Ice

Everything was ordinary when the morning in question appeared, new and bright with a faint layer of fallen snow. December days in Manhattan were sometimes like that though, routine at first glance then cold and tricky as the sun settled down.

“A day off is a day wasted,” her boss told her late in the afternoon, his right hand splattered wide on her desk, the other clasping a phone for dear life. This was a warning, she knew, to refrain from ticking off that small VACATION REQUESTED box blinking red on her computer screen, beckoning for her touch.

So what if she was here for it all? So what if she was typing memos and filing reports for McMillian Architecture & Design when turkeys were supposed to be carved then glopped with gravy? Or when gifts were meant to be torn open to the smell of cinnamon french toast and the music of Nat King Cole? Or when passionate kisses were exchanged between strangers as a midnight hour struck the year anew? So what?

She didn’t eat turkey and she didn’t have a boyfriend, two facts she was reminded of by her 76-year-old Aunt Gladys in an hour-long conversation last week. “You’re getting older and boring and vegetarian,” Gladys squawked.

Instead of providing any explanation of her terrible date last month with the ventriloquist or launching into gory details from her recent re-read of The Jungle, she watched the snow dance outside her window and put Aunt Gladys on mute as her elderly relation squawked on.

“You’ll be at the holiday party tonight and make sure you look good,” her boss said, a warning she must wear something short and tempting enough to entice any boozy clients with contracts set to expire. She often thought of these men – because they were almost always men – as a human deck of cards, fanned out just enough to tell their rank, with machine-cut, suit-jacket corners perfectly and humdrummingly aligned. Blah.

But such was her life these final days in December, nothing but a muted study in shades of blah-ness and snow.

“I’ll have a vodka tonic,” she told the rumply haired, short bartender tending to the McMillian Architecture & Design holiday party that night, who looked like he wished he cared. “Light on ice, please.”

“Here,” the bartender replied, handing her a glass filled to the rim with ice cubes.

Oh, the pitfalls of an open bar.

She smiled, fumbling in her bag for a dollar bill. The bartender watched, suddenly more interested now that he saw her face. In truth, she knew she wasn’t terrible to look at, even if whatever men found attractive about her deeply green eyes or well-proportioned features usually wore off after a first date. The bartender poured an extra shot of vodka in her glass with a wink.

So came and went the next two hours, a decoupage of extra-strong vodka tonics and drunk architects draped in wives with overly sparkled cocktail dresses that come January would never be worn again. 

Then, it happened, almost in slow motion and with enough drama for her to think it wasn’t real, to imagine him as something entirely imagined and not a living, disarmingly handsome thing who unfaded into brown-haired brightness right before her green eyes.

“Hey.”

His smile was confident and nervous; he mumbled something about watching her look bored all night.

She wanted to make a joke about how that might be creepy, or say something hilarious to dazzle him with her unending wit but these were the only words her mouth would allow: “What’s your name?”

To her surprise, he answered without hesitation.

“Matt.”

Matt. She had never met a Matt before. Would she ever need to meet another Matt again?

He spoke easily about his childhood growing up in Minnesota, about his crazy roommate who dragged him to this party, about his deep and strange love for the New York Knicks and how they’ll never be a winning team until they beef up their defense …

And she thought about turkeys and Nat King Cole, about what would’ve happened if she went home for the week – as Aunt Gladys suggested – to eat meat with her family who would’ve asked why she didn’t bring a date. Or what life would have been like tomorrow if she hadn’t just looked up in exactly the right place to find Matt meeting her gaze, his expression an answer to a question she dared never ask before.

“Do you want to grab something to eat?” Matt asked. “I know a place on the next block …”

Yes, she would like that very much, she said with a glance toward the front window, frosted and winking with holiday lights and snow. 

Melissa Kandel is a Southern California-based writer and the founder/president of little word studio. If you really want, you can follow little word studio on Instagram here.