By Ahmed Latif
The banana basket was an ironic reminder of his idyllic relationship with his father; still, he never appreciated irony. His ex-wife though always appreciated irony and alimony; she hated him for being a professional roulette player. She called him a ‘successful degenerate’. He put the greasy takeout bag on the ugliest chiffonier ever, right between the domino he stole when he helped his uncle beat a neighbour in Harlem and a pack of Imodium; he always had to go.
He wanted to brood but he didn’t know how. He scrunched up his face and made a hateful sucking noise with his mouth. He pursed his lips and pretended that they were puckered; it was all to no avail. So instead he watched TV naked, sprawled on the couch that his ex-mother-in-law insisted he ought to buy if he knew anything about interior décor. He was going to watch a Dutch remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, the one made by the director who has a morbid fear of birds. Generally he wasn’t afraid of birds, just petulant ones; and flamingoes, they terrified him to a sarcastic death.
The phone rang it was Cookie, “Hey you aren’t doing anything important right?”
“Perfect, so let’s grab a bite and talk a bit.”
“Do I have to?” He asked reluctantly as getting redressed was the worst possible scenario right now.
“Don’t be crass; I haven’t seen you in forever.” He knew that she clearly enjoyed hyperboles. He thought she was being crass. He knew that their family loved nothing more than the using the word crass; the only thing they loved more was criticising contestants on Jeopardy for their appearance.
“Alright fine!” He accepted seeing as he could not say no to his sister.
They met in a Parisian Café, only this was Ottawa. The place possessed the stench of barbeque, which they did not serve, and smelting. Indeed it smelt of smelting. They sat at a table outside. It was a delightful evening, with a high of -2°C and a low pressure front moving in from the East; but don’t worry we aren’t expecting more than a few late evening flurries. She ordered the ‘fish taco-wich’. He went straight for the banana cream pie. He thought the waiter looked like Dustin Hoffman; he thought everybody looked like Dustin Hoffman. She started the conversation which was even more awkward than the silence.
“So, how have you been holding up?”
“Well, I have started smoking in the closet.” He missed the silence already.
“To kill yourself?”
“No! Because I hate all inanimate objects.” His arbitrary and highly stylized wit was not her cup of tea, he knew that. He also knew that it was not her cup of mocha-caramel almond latte, or even chai tea.
“I have something to tell you.” She started again but he couldn’t care less, or maybe he could.
“I am engaged, to Hayden the lawyer from the Labour Day party. For two months now. We wanted to tell you but with your divorce and time away, we decided to wait. But you’re back now, so that’s great right?”
He looked like a culture-shocked illegal immigrant trying to appear inconspicuous. “All you Pisces, you’re all the same. You tell me now, one day home from the loony bin!”
“Harry it was a psychiatric clinic and you were only there on a free trial basis!”
“What else would you like to tell me, please go on?” He paused for dramatic effect but got carried away in a very theatrical manner. “Go ahead bring up all my insecurities, feelings of inadequacy, and my superiority complex.”
“I am sorry Harry, but it can’t be about you all the time. We can’t talk about you forever! Or the ridiculous topics you want us to talk about.”
“We should certainly try. I want to talk about Prague in the spring.”
“Oh my God! Harry, normal people can’t just have arbitrary conversations for a life.”
“Why are you belittling my feelings?”
“I am not! You are just too caught up in …”
He interrupted and was being bombastic now, “Of course blame Harry, he is crazy! I am an artist!”
“Harry you are a butcher!”
“And my canvas is meat!”
With his arms flailing as he was relishing another mini-identity crisis, he started staring at the tattoo of a Twinkie on Cookie’s knee. As he continued to stare at the tattoo he became visibly calm. She opportunistically changed topics. She was so opportunistic, he thought as he complied with her lobbying for a new topic.
“So did you hear about the new income tax?”
“We don’t discuss politics over dinner.” He said coldly.
“Since Tiananmen Square led to Dad throwing mashed potatoes at Uncle Tom!”