And he was shocked that Gilda was not banging down the door to be his date for the dance tonight. He had everything. He worked for her father, he was trustworthy; clearly they were dazzled by his mechanical prowess. (Why else would they put him to work the moment he entered the house?) Fastening the door, un-wobbling the table, shining the roof, taking out garbage, and suddenly it occurred to him—everyone’s simultaneous stop then exodus to the backyard to observe him chop down an errant tree. That was strange. He was drenched, completely out of breath, hacking away, while the family stood watching, but for Gilda, who sat drawing into her sketch pad. Even passing the paper around for her sisters to see as they all doubled over in laughter. Laughs of joy, Criterion thought. Joy at the prospect of husbandry. Ah, to be young and in love!
Sharing a moment together in the moonlight, Criterion figured he’d let her down easy. It’s not that Gilda wasn’t beautiful and engaging, or smart and serious, or determined and focused—she was. It was Criterion’s over-compensation, incomprehension, and complete disbelief that a girl like her would ever choose a fat-burger like him, that made him act as though he were in a position of power. He put out the last few embers in the fire, made his way to the empty straw seat beside her, and leaned down to sit.
“Gilda, the poet once said-”
He fell through the chair, splinters of wood flying in every direction. Gilda turned left so as not to laugh in his face while he slid on his back down the gravel path. Finally coming to a stop, he popped up, wiped his hands on his pants, and walked back up the path.
“Trick chair. Pretty much about to fall over, and you let me sit down.”
“Gilda, I noticed you drawing a picture.”
“I threw it out.”
“You don’t have to be embarrassed—I know.”
“It makes perfect sense. How it eluded me in the past is a travesty of unparalleled intoxication. You’re in love.”
“Do we have to play these games? Must we deceive one another? Let’s scream it out to the trees. Gilda loves me!”
The forest echoed the pronouncement, but the silence that ensued did nothing to confirm.
“Time on this earth is but short, Gilda. We must not hold our tongues.”
“Criterion, you’re a nice guy.”
“When I think of you—”
“You think of me! Wow. Better than I imagined.”
“Wrong way to begin. I never think of you. I am thinking of you now, because you’re bringing all this up.”
“I get it.”
“Now that I am thinking of you; what I’m thinking is: you work for my father, are a nice enough guy, and I hope you have a nice life.”
“Not with me.”
“But the picture?”
“Forget the picture.”
“Let me see.”
“A little peek.”
“I don’t have it.”
“If you don’t try in life you get nothing. Why hide what you feel?”
Criterion ripped the paper from out of her hands and rested his eyes on a dynamic portrait of a monster eating a tree as if it were corn on the cob. She grabbed the portrait back and said ‘sorry,’ but Criterion didn’t hear her, he was listening to the echo in the forest. And ‘get off’ seemed to confirm everything.