Blame the Refill!

So I’ve been hanging out at this awesome message board for science-fiction and fantasy lovers (both readers and writers) called Fantasy Faction.  Interesting conversation, excellent reviews and like-minded writers in one spot.  They have a monthly writing challenge, open to all comers.  February, being full of hearts and romance, posed the following challenge: ‘Write a 500 word scene that involves romance. There must be fantasy and there must be at least one laugh.’

What follows is my entry.  Let me know what you think.  (And thanks to my lovely wife for help with the title and edits)

 

Blame the Refill by Matthew T Maenpaa

 

I struck the match against the side of the box, the sulfur mingling with the faint scent of sage burning in my bedroom as I lit the taper candles in the dining room. The overhead was turned down low, my attempt at creating a nice romantic atmosphere.

Talia and I had started as coworkers, then friends, and had been dating for a couple years now.  I had known right away that I loved her, but there were moments that seemed as if she were only biding her time.  Tonight would be the night though, when I would know for sure that she loved me.

I could hear the flush of the toilet and the tap turning on in the bathroom. With dinner on the table and the candles lit, there was only one thing left. After filling each of our glasses with pinot noir, I fished a vial of murky liquid from my jacket pocket. The gypsy woman had warned me that the potion would take a while to set in, at least an hour. I uncorked it and poured a splash into Talia’s wine glass. The love potion seemed like cheating but nothing wrong with giving Fate a hand, right?

The sound of running water ended and I could hear the bathroom door open, followed by the clatter of high-heels on hardwood. I replaced the cork and shoved the vial into my pocket, smiling at my future wife as she entered the kitchen. “The candles are really sweet, Marlon.  They make this place look cute.”

I offered her my most handsome grin as I pulled out her chair. “Thanks, Talia. It’s usually fine for Winston and me, but we wanted it to be special for you.”

She settled into the table, eying the meal. “Lamb chops! Marlon, these are my favorite!”

“How could I forget?”

We made small talk as we ate, a bit about work, a bit about our families. I kept waiting for our eyes to lock, to feel that spark between us. The gypsy had told me that the potion was simple. Mix it in her drink. Wait an hour. Make sure you two are absolutely alone in the room. She will only have eyes for you thereafter.

With the meal finished and the table cleared, Talia and I moved to the small sofa in my living room. Before leaving the kitchen, I refreshed our wine and added another splash of the potion to hers for good measure. The jangle of a collar told me that Winston, my French bulldog, had woken up and decided to visit with the company. Carrying both of our glasses in one hand, a plate of chocolate truffles in the other, I entered the living room.

Talia was on her knees petting the dog, their eyes locked. The tone in her voice made my heart sink. “Marlon, your dog is perfect.”

I tried to smile. “Isn’t he just?”

She glanced up at me, enough to see the glassy look of devotion in her eyes before she returned her gaze to my dog. “Winston, I could just love you forever.”

The Obligatory Holiday Post

The OHP is one of those unavoidable realities if you decide you want to share your opinions on the internet.  You must make a holiday post, wishing well and merry spirits to your loyal readership.  So the ten of you out there, happy holidays.

I’m one of those people that hates the holidays.  Oh yes, the crowds, the noise, the incessant Christmas music and the constant visual bombardment of Holiday Theme.  Sure I have fond childhood memories of Christmas Eve waiting for Santa, whom I knew to be my parents but was still exciting.  I remember riding in the back of my grandparent’s Ford Bronco on the way home from church.  I would look up at the stars, trying to spot Santa’s sleigh.  My uncle would point up in the sky at a flashing red light (satellite, plane, antennae, etc…) and say “Look Ralphie, its Rudolph leading Santa’s sleigh.”  I would get excited, and when we got home the presents would be under the tree.  Santa had been there!

Nevermind my dad packing me in with the relatives to drive back from church, so that he could rush home before us and pull out the ‘Santa’ presents.  I didn’t care.  I led the bizarre, present-rich life of a child with divorced parents.  After the Christmas Eve festivities, when all my presents were packed into my dad’s pickup and I was sleeping off a sugar coma, he would drive me to a mall.  This was the halfway point between where my parents lived.  My mom lived closer to Chicago, dad out in the western ‘burbs.  I would be sleepily transferred between vehicles, along with whatever presents I couldn’t live without until the following weekend.  My mom would ask me what I got, making me talk to her so that she would stay awake.  I remember being bundled into the puffy marshmallow coat, and that in collusion with the car heater, would put me right back to sleep.

The next morning I would wake up abominably early, as children are wont to do on Christmas Morning, scurrying to the living room to unwrap presents.  Only my mother was usually still sleeping.  Maybe I’m mixing memories here.  My parents divorced when I was 7, though my dad’s family always traditionally gathered on Christmas Eve and my mom’s family on Christmas Day.  The summer before 6th Grade, my mom and soon-to-be stepdad moved from Elgin to Oak Park.  So I was older, long past the age of caring about Santa, during most of these festivities.

Then, when I was 17, my father passed away from abdominal cancer and the whole holiday situation changed for me.  My dad always loved Christmas, would always get the biggest tree, would always decorate the house and have a swell party.  Christmas tunes would be heard in the house shortly after Thanksgiving.  My mother converted to Judaism when I was 12.  So then, I got Christmas and Hannukah.  But I started to lose the holiday cheer after he passed.  This post has become long and rambly, but I’m winding my way down to a point.  The point I mentioned earlier.  I hate the holidays.

Without my father’s enthusiasm for Christmas, I stopped caring.  All I could feel around the holidays was the hole in my life where he had been.  I went to celebrate the holidays with both families, but I was just going through the motions.  Instead of the time of joy and cheer, I could only think about the loss and grief.  I was too blinded by it to remember the family I still had.

That faded too.  Christmas is still rough.  I still miss my dad.   But now my reasons for disliking the holidays have changed.  Now I see Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving, here Christmas music before Thanksgiving and am bombarded by rampant, unwieldy commercialism.  Now its buy, buy, buy!  Christmas at a profit, and I’m not the first to make this rant so I’ll cut it short.  For me I feel that the holidays in general have lost their purpose.  For me, a holiday like Christmas is less about religion, less about buying things for other people and hoping I get some bitchin’ awesome presents.  Christmas to me is about family, about loving each other and caring, and taking a day out of the year to be with each other.

So what did I do to enforce that Christmas spirit in myself?  I moved a couple thousand miles away from my family.  Well, that wasn’t really my goal.  But it is an an unpleasant side effect.  I moved to California with my wife because we thought it was the best idea at the time.  But distant makes the heart grow fonder, and as the holidays roll through, I miss my family.  I miss those Christmas Eve nights, even if they were awkward and uncomfortable at times.  I miss the raucous and lively chaos of my mom’s family, 30 people filling my grandmother’s basement for 6 hours.

Once upon a time, maybe a couple years ago, I would’ve just been sad and depressed.  I would have most contentedly wallowed in the bleakness of the season, writing atrocious poetry about Santa’s helper, Black Peter, swapping my heart for a lump of coal.  Or something.  But as I attempt to build a family of my own, I must build a new tradition.  So often we cling to our past, lauding it as a golden time which will never be recaptured.  Half of that is right.  You don’t get to go back.  Instead, we build for the future.

This year I’ll spend Christmastime with my in-laws, who are kind enough to fly in and spend the holiday with us.  I can’t think of anything better than spending it with my wife and her parents.  That’s not entirely true, of course, but the holiday is still a time of joy.  Celebrate what you have, instead of mourning what you don’t.

 

Merry X-mas.