A lifelong resident of Minnesota, Bonnie Oldre is a writer who lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Randy Oldre. She has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Minnesota, and an M.L.I.S. degree from Dominican University. Her short stories and articles have been published in small journals and newspapers, and in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She is working on a novel while enrolled in The Novel Project, a year-long course taught by the author, Peter Geye, at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.
Bonnie is a retired librarian, wife, mother and grandmother. In her spare time, she enjoys a variety of activities including reading, singing in a chorale, gardening, travel, swimming, biking, and camping.
NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS
You come to certain realizations when you’re sitting on the ice, after falling flat on your rear end on a cold and clear New Year’s Day. One is that if you haven’t skated it 15 years, it might take awhile to relearn how to do it. The other is that a little extra padding is not necessarily a bad thing.
The skates were a gift from her boyfriend, Alan. She smiled wryly as she recalled his enigmatic smile when he handed her the large gift wrapped in red foil paper and tied with a bright green ribbon. It was an uncharacteristic gift for him to give to her. For their two previous Christmases as a couple, he’d selected practical gifts. He’d gotten her a vacuum cleaner last Christmas, to encourage her to be neat; and a watch (guaranteed accurate for life) the year before, to encourage her to be prompt.
She’d called the warming house before she came, half hoping that they’d be closed for the holiday, and she would have an excuse to stay home, but they were open, so here she was. She took a deep breath of cold air and stepped out onto the ice. Her skates slid out from under her, and she sat down hard.
The extra twenty pounds of padding she carried bothered Alan a lot more than it bothered her. Still, like many other women, she wouldn’t mind being slimmer. For the past three years, her New Year’s resolution had been to lose weight. The first year that they were together, she’d mentioned her resolution to Alan. He had been very enthusiastic. He’d gotten her a food scale, and fixed gourmet diet meals for them, but the pounds had refused to budge, and after a few weeks, they stopped talking about it. Since then, if she mentioned she’d like to lose weight, he pursed his lips and looked away. He’d been pursing his lips a lot, lately. Marie hated it when he did that.
Marie started skating around the rink, feeling like an uncoordinated robot trying to walk. She flailed her arms to keep her balance. Suddenly, she fell again and hit the ice with one knee. Sharp stabs of pain brought hot, stinging tears to her eyes.
“This was a lousy idea,” she thought, “just one of a series of lousy ideas, like wasting the last two-and-a-half years of my life on Alan.”
He said goodbye a couple of days after Christmas. The skates had been a farewell gift. He told her there was someone else, a woman from the bank where he worked. He’d said, “he hoped they could still be friends.”
Since then, when she wasn’t at work, she ate everything she could get her hands on and cried herself to sleep at night. This morning she’d woke up, sick of the whole thing, and had decided she needed some fresh air. So here she was, her knee hurt, and she felt worse than ever. Marie started, half skating and half limping, back towards the warming house. Suddenly a large man hurtled towards her.
“Help! Help! Get out of the way! I don’t know how to stop!” he yelled.
Before she could react, he had grabbed hold of her, and they both slid, helplessly, across the ice and landed in a pile of snow. He jumped back to his feet, slipped around crazily, sputtered, and alternated between brushing snow off of himself and swinging his arms wildly to maintain his balance. After he’d achieved a tenuous balance, he held out a mittened hand to Marie.
“I’m so sorry, let me help you up,” he said.
“Newer mind, I think I’m better off getting up on my own,” she said.
Marie crawled up on her hands and knees and then slowly stood upright.
“Oh, I am so sorry! I hope you’re not hurt,” he said.
Marie looked into the concerned brown eyes behind the round glasses slipping down his nose and smiled in spite of herself.
“No, I’m all right, but I think I’ve had enough for one day. Goodbye, I would say it was nice bumping into you, but, you know.”
She turned and started back to the arming house. He staggered up alongside her. “Do you need any help? I mean, are you sure you’re okay?”
Marie laughed. “Are you offering to help me get off the ice? I think you’d better concentrate on helping yourself.”
“I guess you’re right about that. I think I’ll call it quits, too, before I kill somebody,” he said.
Marie struggled off the ice, walking on the sides of her feet, up the ramp, and into the warming house. He followed her. She plopped down on the first bench. He sat down next to her.
“I’m not trying to be a pest,” he said. “I just couldn’t go any further.”
When he pulled off his stocking cap, static electricity made some of his shaggy brown hair. He was a big man. Marie was glad that he hadn’t landed on top of her.
She unlaced her skates quickly, trying not to look at him again. She had no desire to prolong a relationship that had gotten off to such a bad start. She quickly crammed her feet into her boots and left. Her boots felt wonderfully comfortable, compared to the skates, as she walked to the parking lot.
It had only been about a half-hour since she’d parked her car, but the windows have been fully covered with a thin coating of frost. She would have to scrape it off while the car warmed up.
She threw her skates into the car, climbed in, and fumbled the key into the ignition. The cold penetrated through her parka, and her teeth started to chatter. Staring at the blank white windshield, she turned the key and stepped on the gas. The engine whined, coughed, and died. She tried again but still had no luck. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket, pulled off a mitten and, after blowing on her fingers, tried to call her sister, but the phone didn’t work. Either it was too cold, or there wasn’t any coverage. Marie swore and pounded on the steering wheel in frustration.
She jerked the key out of the ignition, jumped out of the car, slammed the door, and kicked it.
“Having trouble?” a man asked.
She turned and saw the man who’d run into her on the ice rink walking towards her, his skates hanging over one shoulder.
“It’s this rotten car. I need a jump start. I tried to call for help, but my phone doesn’t work, either. Maybe it’s too cold,” she said. “You don’t have jumper cables, do you?”
“No, I don’t even have a car, at the moment. I loaned it to a friend for the weekend, but I live right over there.” He pointed to a green house across the street. “You can use my phone, and warm up while you call someone for help.”
Marie hesitated a moment, but then decided he was harmless. They trudged across the street and after peeling off layers of jackets, mittens, and scarves, she tried again to call her sister. She got a signal, but her sister wasn’t answering her phone, so she tow truck for a jump.
“It’s going to be a wait,” she said. The towing companies are all busy because of the holiday and the cold weather. If you have things to do, I can go back to the warming house to wait. I don’t want to be in the way.”
“No, I don’t mind,” he said. “We’ll have time to get acquainted. I’m Mike Anderson.” He’d made some cocoa for them while she was on the phone. He handed her a mug, and then transferred his mug of cocoa to his left hand, to shake her hand. Several marshmallows rolled out, unnoticed.
“I’m Marie Sterling,” she said, as she shook his hand. It was big, warm, and firm.
“Come into the living room, and we can get comfortable,” he said.
She followed him, her eye level at his flannel-shirted shoulder level. She settled down on the opposite end of his old brown sofa and found a spot on the coffee table between stacks of newspapers, books, and magazines for her mug.
The room had a bachelor look. The floor was bare wood, and the furniture was old, but sturdy looking. A bookshelf lined the wall across from the coach. I contained a mix of books, CDs, magazines, games, a stereo, and a TV. Marie spotted a Scrabble game, which she pointed out, and they decided to play a game, while they waited. He was as good of a player as she was and the time passed quickly while they played and talked.
He told her he was 34 years old and had grown up in northern Minnesota. He talked about his childhood in Bemidji and laughed about being one of the few boys in northern Minnesota who wasn’t an ice-skater. “I noticed the ice-rink in the park, and decided to give it another try,” he said. He’d moved to Minneapolis several years ago. He was a high-school math teacher at Central High.
Marie told him she was in her late twenties, had grown up in the suburbs, and worked in a bookstore. She’d started working there, part-time, while she was in college, continued full-time after she graduated, and eventually had been promoted to store manager. She didn’t mention Alan.
Marie felt very comfortable talking to Mike, and it seemed only a short time before the tow truck was honking outside of the house before they finished their Scrabble game.
“Can I see you again?” Mike asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think so,” she said, furiously tugging at the zipper of her jacket.
“The last thing she needed was a romantic complication in her life,” she thought.
“Why not?” he asked.
“It’s just not the right time.”
“Not even just to finish our game?”
“No, I’m sorry.”
Marie crammed her hat down on her head, threw her scarf around her neck, and stomped her feet into her boots.
“Thanks for the cocoa, and everything. Goodbye,” she said.
A couple of weeks later, on a Friday, Marie sat behind the counter in the bookstore, catching up on some paperwork. It had been a slow week, and the day was dragging. The Christmas rush was behind them, and the weather was bad enough to keep people home.
Marie heard the door open as a customer entered, when she looked up, Mike Anderson standing in front of her. Her heart skipped a beat and then started thumping loudly in her chest. He just nodded, walked past, and started browsing the shelves. She bent back over her work and tried to concentrate.
“Don’t’ be so silly,” she thought, “you’re a grown woman, and you hardly know the man.”
After a few minutes he walked over to her and said, “Hi, I wonder if you could help me.”
“Certainly, what is it that you’re looking for?” she said, keeping her voice professionally polite.
“A Scrabble dictionary. I’ve recently developed a keen interest in the game. Do you have one?”
“Oh, yes. I’ll show you where they are.” She led him over to the reference section and handed him one. As she gave it to him, her fingertips brushed his hand. A surge of electricity passed between them. She pulled her hand away, sharply, hoping he hadn’t noticed. He followed her back to the cash register.
“Will there be anything else?” she asked, maintaining a cool and polite tone.
“There is one other thing.”
“And what is that?”
“An opponent. Would you play a game with me? I still don’t know if you can beat me, or not.”
Marie couldn’t repress a smile, “I can’t pass up a challenge. Sure, why not? Shall we make it my house, this time? Be sure to bring your new dictionary.”
The next evening Marie was pouring chips into a bowl when the door bell rang. She glanced at the clock.
“He’s early,” she thought.
She patted her hair, wishing she had time to check it, and opened the door.
“Hi,” she said, smiling, then her smile faded when she saw that it was Alan.
“Hi, can I come in?” Alan asked. “Just for a minute, I want to talk to you,” he pleaded when she hesitated.
Marie reluctantly let him pass. He went into the living room and sat down, while she remained standing.
“What is it, Alan? Someone is coming over in a few minutes. I don’t have time to talk to you now.”
“Who’s coming?” he asked.
“That’s none of your business.”
“It’s only been a few weeks since we broke up. Are you seeing someone already?”
“As I recall, ‘we’ didn’t break up. You broke it off. You said you’d met someone new.”
Alan smoothed back is already smooth blond hair. “That’s what I want to talk to you about. I made a mistake. I want us to get back together.”
“Will you please leave? We’ll talk another time.”
“Is that all I mean to you after over two years together?”
There was a knock on the door, and when she went to open it, Alan followed her.
“Hi Mike, come in,” she said.
He stepped in and stood on the rug in front of the door, wiping the steam off of his glasses.
“Hi, Marie.” He squinted at Alan. “Oh, hi there.”
“Mike, this is Alan Portice. He was just leaving. Alan, this is Mike Anderson.”
“Nice to meet you.” Mike held out his hand to Alan, and they shook hands. “Are you a friend of Marie’s?”
“More than friends, we’ve been going together for years.”
“Oh, is that so?” Mike looked at Marie.
“No, not really,” Marie said. “We were going together, but now we’re just friends. Isn’t that right Alan?”
“No, I wouldn’t say that was right, at all,” Alan said and pursed his lips.
“I’ll talk to you later,” she said to Alan.
“Why don’t you get rid of this guy, and we’ll talk now,” Alan said.
“Because I invited him over, and I didn’t invite you!” Marie said.
“Maybe I should go,” Mike said.
“Good idea, why don’t you do that,” Alan said.
“Alan, go!” Marie said, and grabbed hold of his arm and started to pull him towards the door.
“Let go of me!” he said and jerked his arm free.
Mike stepped between them. “If she wants you to go, you should go,” he said.
Alan looked Mike up and down, and then walked around him and out the door. “I’ll call you,” he called over his shoulder to Marie.
Marie was shaking. “Oh, that man! I’m sorry that happened, Mike. I had no idea he was coming over. We broke up a few weeks ago, and I haven’t seen, or heard from him, since, until tonight.”
“It’s not your fault. I don’t blame him for being jealous.”
“You’re too nice for your own good,” she said, with a little chuckle. “Would you like a glass of wine? I feel like I could use one.”
“Sure, that would be nice. Let’s not let this spoil our evening,” Mike said. “I brought the book,” he held up the Scrabble dictionary, “and I’m ready to play.”
While eating pizza and drinking wine, they played. It was a furiously fought game. First one, and then the other, was in the lead. Mike was stuck with the Q late in the game, and Marie beat him by a few points. By the time they’d finished the game, they’d also finished the bottle of wine.
“I win, I win!” Marie gloated, and jumped up and did a little victory dance.
Mike laughed at her antics and then, suddenly became serious, took her hand and gently pulled her down to sit next to him on the sofa. He leaned over and kissed her softly. His lips were warm and sensuous. Marie felt dizzy from the wine and the kiss. She pulled away and took a deep breath.
“I’m not sure I’m ready for this,” she said.
“Sure, I understand. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to rush you. I’ll call you in a few days, okay?”
“Okay,” she said.
After Mike had left, Marie sat staring at the Scrabble board, thinking about Alan and Mike. Finally, she decided she would call Alan tomorrow, and meet him for lunch to talk about their relationship. He deserved one last chance.
A few days later, she sat in a restaurant with Alan. The conversation had been awkward, and she wished that she were anywhere else but here.
“I think you were right when you said we should just be friends,” she said after a tension-filled pause. “I think we should date other people until we’re sure how we feel about each other.”
“All right,” Alan said, “If that’s what you want. I guess you have to have your little fling to get even. I know the better man will win.” He smoothed back his hair.
The waitress came to the table, and Marie ordered her favorite dessert, the white chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce. Allan didn’t order dessert. After it had been served, he sat watching her eat, his lips pursed.
“What’s the matter?” Marie asked.
“Do you think you should be eating that?” he asked.
“Well, all the calories…” he began.
“Alan,” she threw her spoon down in disgust, “I have come to a momentous decision. I never want to see you again!” she said.
“What? Why? Just because I…”
“Because I’ve wasted enough of my time on you. You are a twit!”
“I don’t have to sit here and be insulted by you!” he said. “When you come to your senses, you can come crawling back to me. I’m leaving.”
He got up and stormed out, leaving her with the bill. “A small price to pay to get rid of him,” she thought. She picked up her spoon and finished eating her dessert with relish.
A few days later Mike called to ask if she wanted to see him.
“Yes, I’d like that,” she said.
“Did you work things out with Alan?”
“In a way. I broke it off with him, for good.”
“That’s terrific, for me, anyway.”
“I think it will be terrific for me, too,” Marie said.
“Would you like to go out this weekend? I’m not sure I’m quite ready to lose another Scrabble game. Maybe we could go out to eat,” he said.
I’d love to. I know a place where they serve the best white chocolate mousse,” she said.