“Winter” by Aimee Bender

Oh PLEASE.  Says the man to the woman.  Oh PLEASE.

What? she replies.

He stirs his melted ice cream with a metal spoon.  The waiter returns with the card printout and a pen from another restaurant and gives the check to the wrong person.

Thank you, says the waiter to their profiles.

WHAT?

Someone removes the melted ice cream bowl.  There are little droplets congealing on the placemat, white-yellow.

Add a tip.  Sign the name.  Flourish.  Take the yellow slip and leave the white one.  Put it in the coat pocket.  Get up.  Locate the rest of the coat under the seat; slide it on.  Button all four buttons.  Flip the collar.

Thank you, says the maitre d’ before the door that leads outside.

The man: straight ahead, no response.  The woman: nods.  Rolls a toothpick out of the turning plastic toothpick holder.

On the street the air is fifty knives of cold.  This is not Alaska.  Why did we move here?  I thought it would be warmer here, one of them thinks.  The weather reports say records are breaking, daily; usually it’s balmy this time of year.  Some of the kids are building sleds, hopeful.

Her collar up around her ears.  His hands deep in his pockets.  She is walking slower, toothpicking, and finally stops.  He keeps going, swift.  Each of his lower teeth is nestled in line with its upper neighbor.

She sees a window full of coats.  For every season.  She is all coat right now.  Fake fur collar and deep wool pockets.  Inside her pockets, you can find lipstick, some tissue, a restaurant yellow slip, and several candy wrappers.  Soon, a used toothpick.  Inside his coat pockets are a folded-up piece of notebook paper, two old mints, keys, a five dollar bill, a smooth stone.  Inside the coats in the window, all the pockets are empty.  She is dreaming into them.  How strange it would be to have a coat with empty pockets.  You could spend a whole lifetime and put nothing in them, ever, hands without obstruction, obligation, memory.

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Aimee Bender is the author of four books: The Girl in the Flammable Skirt (1998) which was a NY Times Notable Book, An Invisible Sign of My Own (2000) which was an L.A. Times pick of the year, Willful Creatures (2005) which was nominated by The Believer as one of the best books of the year, and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (2010) which recently won the SCIBA award for best fiction, and an Alex Award.

Her short fiction has been published in Granta,GQHarper’sTin House, McSweeney’sThe Paris Review, and many more places, as well as heard on PRI’s This American Life and Selected Shorts. She has received two Pushcart prizes, and was nominated for the TipTree award in 2005, and the Shirley Jackson short story award in 2010. Her fiction has been translated into sixteen languages.

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