“I say Taco. You say Taco. Taco. Taco. Taco.”
I grinned at Damon as he tried to engage the parakeets at the pet shop in some form of conversation. The other customers looked queerly at my boyfriend as he bobbed his head up and down, repeating taco in a high-pitched voice. He’s received stranger looks, so I don’t think he notices anymore. I must admit, I’m barely noticing them now either.
We’ve been searching for a birthday present for my sister, Debra. I’m fairly sure we won’t find anything for her in a pet shop, but Damon couldn’t resist the squawking as we walked past. It is our first ‘couple’ present. He really wants to find something perfect. I’m afraid my sister doesn’t like him very much. Nor do the rest of my family and friends, but that is their problem not ours. They can’t see what I can.
We met at Woolworths on Christmas Eve. Last minute shopping. I’d spend most of December, like most of every other month, lost in deadlines and high-profile projects. I’d ordered most of my Christmas presents online, but for some reason, only known to my mother, I was meant to bring apple sauce to our family dinner. Who buys these things in advance? I was dutifully pushing my way past acres of screaming kids and harassed mommies to get to the canned goods section, when I noticed an alarming trend. One woman and her tribe were quite literally taking all the apple sauce cans off the shelf and depositing them in a trolley that was groaning for mercy. Soon there were only three cans on the shelf, which thankfully the hoarder left untouched. My hand reached for one, as it seemed, so did fifty other desperate hands. The hand I began to play tug of war with was attached to a very green arm. My wrestling partner was an elf. Complete with tight green leggings and a silver bell clanging at the end of his very large hat.
I must have given my very best impression of an awe-struck idiot because the elf stopped tugging at my can and just stared right back at me. I remember that I wasn’t actually sure what to do. The staring contest continued until he gave me one of the goofiest grins I had ever seen on another human being. It really enforced my belief that he actually might be one of Santa’s elves. I laughed. Then choked on it because laughter was not one of my common behaviours. Never letting go of the can, the man patted me on my back.
“Do you need a drink?” he’d said, pointing at the fruit juice section. I shook my head and stared at the can again. We both looked at the empty shelf and realised that no solution could be found there.
“Uhm. If I let go of the can are you going to run away with it?” he’d asked finally. Feeling guilty because that was indeed the first thought that had run through my head, I agreed to stay put so that we could work on a compromise.
“Okay, options!” he’d hopped over to the shelf and began emphatically reading all the can labels. He’d grabbed two cans and held them in front of me. “Are you perhaps interested in this lovely apricot… uh stuff?”
I shook my head. Dad hated apricots. The smiling elf turned and showed the other option. Rhubarb.
“This stuff is great. My gran makes a really good rhubarb crumble. Want it?”
The little boy grin was, at that point, beginning to get to me, but the face of my mother still loomed.
“I don’t think so. I’ve never had it before, and my family doesn’t really like… new things.”
He’d put the cans back, stared around him and ran over to one of the display corners. He came back with two Tupperware dishes.
“I only need, like, three maybe five spoonfuls. How about we go halfers?”
“Five spoons isn’t half the can. How about I just buy it and give you an early Christmas present?”
“Or how about, you buy it and I buy you a drink at O’Hagans?”
“Dressed like that?”
“It’s an Irish pub. They like green.”
I liked the way he smiled. I still do. Neither one of us made it to our dinner parties that night. The can of apple sauce had remained unopened. He’d put it on the shelf of our new apartment. The centre piece in between to my mother’s god-ugly, but very expensive, house-warming sculpture and his grandmother’s beautiful, but very cheap, flower-vase. The best of three worlds. He was never something I wanted, but he was what I needed. I like laughing.
I blink back to the present and quickly thread my fingers through his before he pokes his fingers into a particularly grumpy looking African Grey’s cage.
“We should go to Mexico,” he blurts.
“Yes, I suppose we should,” I agree.
“We should get Debbie a bird. This one is cute. It almost said Taco. I’m sure I can teach it.”
I look at the yellow, green and orange thing and try and imagine Debra’s face. Debbie doesn’t do pets. And she sure as hell wouldn’t enjoy Damon visiting her everyday just to teach it how to say Taco.
“Yes, I’m sure you will.”