Pixie cut looked up and smiled as Winnie stopped at the diner’s cash register. “Hey, Winnie,” she said, “how was everything?”
Winnie stood to the right of the cash register but I walked the additional four feet to the door where I leaned against the wall, suit jacket on but unfastened, hands shoved deeply into my pants pockets. My head was down but my eyes were up and in the mirror behind the counter I saw a reflection of a surly teenager masquerading as a grown man. The only thing I needed to complete my self-portrait of a juvenile delinquent was a dangling cigarette but smoking in restaurants is illegal in Iowa and I’d never picked up the habit anyway.
“Hey, Margaret. Dinner was fine, as usual, thanks. How are you?” she answered.
“Same old. Twenty-seven thirty-five? What did you eat?!” Margaret asked.
“Ha! Yeah, that would be a lot, wouldn’t it? No, I brought a date. Henry, this is Margaret; Margaret, Henry.”
Long ago my mother had taught me to be gracious when introduced to anyone. I responded to Winnie’s introduction by nodding my head minutely. I could feel my mom’s elbow in my side and her hand at my back pushing me toward the cash register, her voice harshly whispering for me to take Margaret’s hand and engage in some pleasantries. I paid no heed to Mom’s from beyond the grave upbraiding.
Winnie’s public chastisement concerning the inappropriateness of my 15% tip had reopened Pixie Cut’s, aka Margaret’s, earlier little ego prick and my petulance was bleeding fast enough to blanch my face. She had rubbed me the wrong way an hour ago, and any inner charity that my soul had built up over my pleasant dinner with winsome Winsome had evaporated with her admonishment. If Margaret had in any way indicated that she had an ounce of human kindness in her I would have walked over and made a little small talk but she had not and I was irked, not mollified. So, knowing full well that my churlishness would wedge Winnie and me even further apart, I chose to stay rooted where I was, hands in pockets, producing barely a nod from the doorway, thus intentionally causing our tiff created rift to grow.
It’s not that I didn’t know or care what I was doing; I knew and on one level I wanted it to happen. Tit for tat is not the best way to live one’s life but my urge to give to Winnie what she had earlier given me was too powerful a force for me to overcome. Even as I acted rudely I heard my mother remonstrating me; ‘You’re chopping off your nose to spite your face,’ she said. ‘Shove it, Mom,’ I thought, ‘she started it.’ ‘How clever. How mature. No wonder Anne left you.’ ‘Screw you!’
Winnie finished paying and turned from the cash register and toward me. Her eyes were narrowed, her lips tightly pursed. I pushed off from the wall that I leaned against, made sure to lock eyes with her, paused for half-a-second and then, after pushing open the Nighthawk’s inner door with far more power than was necessary, swept my hand toward the exit and gave Winnie a head tilted evil leer. ‘Stop it!’ hissed the voice in my head. ‘You’re going too far!’ I repeated my instruction of shoving it, before rushing forward and again opening the door for Winnie.
The speed with which my elation had turned to anger surprised me; I hadn’t been this volatile since the eighth grade. The eager anticipation that had defined my work day had been replaced by a desire to tell Winnie what I thought of her and to then head quickly back to my apartment.
Once we were both on the sidewalk I thrust my right hand toward her, arm at full extension wondering how long I’d have to wait for the next bus. It was my intention to give Winnie a perfunctory handshake, thank her for dinner and make a speedy retreat from her presence before my impulse to tell her how I felt overpowered my desire to be cordial; after all, I did share partial blame for our row and rehashing it now before I left would produce nothing but noxious noise. Again, Winnie refused to cooperate.
Instead of taking my hand and saying goodnight she stood before me with head down and shoulders stooped. “I’m sorry,” she said to my feet, “I’ve ruined a very nice first date over nothing but pride. If I had the power to undo what I’ve done, then I would, but I don’t. Do you really have to rush off?”
My mother was talking to me again but this time I was listening. ‘Did you hear what that poor girl just said? What a beautiful apology; she didn’t even muck it up with an explanation like so many people do when they say they’re sorry. Don’t you want to tell her that you forgive her? Come on, Henry, don’t go stomping off all angry; make up with the poor girl.’
Proverbs declares that a kind word turns away wrath. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Winnie had made me wrathful and I took a minute to regroup before responding.