NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,719
He couldn’t get Miriam out of his thoughts. Polishing off the last of a tall peppermint mocha latte, Dagen handed the paper cup to the flight attendant and cringed inwardly, thinking that Miriam would have chastised him thoroughly for not using his own travel mug. He did have one, but it was probably in Canada by now in a duffel bag. In the past few day he had learned that her favorite phrase was, “If people would just make one change…” Yet, he realized that her list of one-changes would use up at least an eighth of a tree to spell out. And he wasn’t sure which one change he would make so that he could start telling her, “Hey, I’m already not flushing the toilet after every use or I’m vegan now, so back off.”
No, she wouldn’t buy the vegan excuse. She already witnessed him devour an entire plate of steak and fries at the Dakota Jazz Club the other night. It was a beastly meal with slices of hanger steak layered across thick-cut fries and cheese curds and then topped with rich brown-gravy. But it turns out she’s not really vegan, either which Dagen realized as she ordered the Baked Feta Ravioli. He was only trying to help, pointing out to her that it had cheese and egg. She had stared steadily at him before saying, “I know.”
“I thought you were vegan,” he had said.
To which she smiled just enough to turn up the corners of her full pink lips as she told him, “Not really.”
“Well, it has baby spinach in the dish, too, in case you want to make one change in your life and stop the madness of harvesters ripping baby spinach from their hydroponic cradles.” He realized in that moment that he liked watching her laugh. Her eyes really did shine a brighter blue.
Dagen tried to adjust his plane seat back without disturbing the four-year old tucked up to his mother in the two seats behind him. The child seemed asleep, and that was the best way to travel with a kid, in his opinion anyhow. He also understood, from a mother on another plane flight, that little ears were sensitive to the popping all passengers felt with the cabin pressurization. It had been on a long international flight and that mother had apologized in advance to those nearest her seat, but no one fussed when her baby did. Maybe it was the bite-sized Milky Way chocolates she shared from a bag that kept her fellow passengers from grumbling. For Dagen, it had more to do with understanding. Working with dogs taught him that behavior had a cause and some causes couldn’t be helped; like little ears hurting on an airplane flight. But for now, he just wanted to get his seat back for a little nap before his plane landed in Toronto where he’d catch his flight to Ottawa.
Dagen’s gear and supplies had left Minneapolis the day before on a chartered Green Global plane. He was supposed to be on that flight, too, but some seating snafu left him behind and scrambling to get an Air Canada ticket. As soon as possible was six a.m. the next day. The plane, was a CRJ 200ER; a tight fit, but a solid, fast plane. Four hours might not be fast enough though if Dagen couldn’t get his legs stretched out enough or if the toddler awoke. At least it had given him one more night in Minneapolis.
Settling back, Dagen thought about how intense their food conversation got at the jazz club despite the ribbing. She actually understood what he was saying. Co-op Girl was a tad deeper than he presumed. He had explained to her how superficial many people were when it came to food, wielding diets and organic labels like weapons, as if eating raw black tahini or drinking beet juice smoothies three times a day made you elite. It was an attitude that grated against Dagen’s natural inclination to find satisfaction in food raised or prepared by people he knew or was learning about.
He told her, “One day on the set in Norway, I see this crew tech pull out a package of Twinkies and eat them. Twinkies! Not that I like Twinkies, I was always more of a Susie-Q kind of kid, but it opened the door to a great conversation about food that had nothing to do with any fad or had Oprah-backing.”
“Susie-Qs,” she had asked. “How does a Finnish kid in the Iron Range get a hold of Susie-Qs?”
“See, that’s it. Some foods are just so pervasive that we’ve all experienced them. But let me set the record straight—Brimson was not an Iron Range town. My family was part of the Finns that got kicked out of the mines back in the 1920s because they were organizing a communist party. Brinsom is the place where they jumped the train before Two Harbors and settled on the land as homesteaders. And, once in a great while, my parents would drive me to Duluth with my two older sisters and I’d get a Susie-Q at the Phillips 66 gas station.”
“I see,” Miriam had said. “And what was the Susie-Q allure?”
“That thick bank of cream in the middle. I’d split open the cake and there’d be enough cream for each side. I felt like I was doubling the treat. Loved that cream!”
Miriam laughed, shaking her head. That night she had her dreadlocks down, about shoulder length with a few blue and red beads crimped randomly along the right side of her face. “I liked jello, and not prepared, from the box. I shudder to think that my friends and I actually dipped our wet fingers into the sugary-pink mass and licked it off. It was sweet and tart all at once and our fingers and tongues would turn red. Hideous.”
“And that’s how my conversation went with this tech. He was from Iowa and we named off forgotten foods of childhood. Like Vienna Sausages. I think my Dad would buy those things by the case. He’d heat up the whole can in hot water and boil those thumb-sized chunks of who-knows-what-kind-of-meat after it bathed in its own bath of gelatinous goo. Maybe it was pork fat, but maybe it was axle-grease. Who knows. My point is, we have memory and emotions wrapped around food and that is real. So much more real than the waif-like actress who calls herself a fruitatarrian and passes out half-way through a morning’s shoot.”
“But food is also choice and healthy choices are important,” Miriam had said.
“I know, but we’re people and food is more than some George Jetson nutrient pack that simply sustains us. Food is about who we are, too.”
“What about kids who are…” but Dagen cut her off before she could finish that thought.
“Ah, Miriam, I know there are social issues, too but just let me dig into these curds and gravy because you can’t find anything like this in California and it’s survivalist food for the next two months.”
When their food arrived, two eastern European cellists took the stage and rocked the jazz club. It ended the conversation, but they listened to the music together without needing words. It had been the most relaxing evening Dagen had had in a long while.
Later that night they threw snowballs at each other, chasing one another through the drifts of snow piled around the Walker Sculpture Gardens. They made footprints in the snow around the huge spoon with a red cherry, the most famous icon of the park. The pond it sat in during the summer was now reedy with blond stubble that poked a foot above the ice and snow. It had been a brisk walk from the downtown jazz club, beautiful with light snow twinkling in the street lights and a pink glow emanating from all the high-rise buildings of the cityscape.
Miriam lived in an older apartment complex nearby with hardwood floors and a huge picture window that overlooked Loring Park. Cars were parked along one side of the street, a system used for snow removal. Miriam said she was glad not to have a car. People she knew had their cars impounded because they forgot which side of the street to park after a snow storm.
They walked up creaky wooden steps in a narrow stairwell. She unlocked the door and greeted her roommates who all seemed to be chilling in front of a television screen hooked up to someone’s laptop. Radiators heated the three-bedroom place she shared with three other people and two cats and it felt like a blast of tropical air when they walked in. Miriam seemed shy about introducing Dagen which made him want to tease her, but her refrained.
“The cats aren’t mine,” she told him as one pressed against his lower leg, loudly purring.
“Oh, good,” he had replied, “Cause I didn’t want to have to change nicknames from Co-op Girl to Crazy Cat Lady.” She grinned.
Her roommates were watching ‘Fringe’ on Netficks, so they sat at the small kitchen table that had two mismatched chairs, and drank hibiscus tea she made after boiling water in a bright yellow tea kettle on the narrow white stove that was pressed against the refrigerator on one side and the sink on the other. Miriam called the tea the finest from her “cellar.” Dagen told her that she needed to get out more and try wine. But it was the company that made the tea finer than any Rhone varietal from the coastal vineyards of Santa Barbara. He stayed long enough to drink three cups and play a game of Scrabble. He lost so he told her she owed him a rematch after his arctic trip. He now knew he’d come back through Minneapolis again. And he wondered how good the communication systems would be on Baffin Island. Something he hadn’t cared about before that night.
As the Air Canada plane flew over lakes and then endless miles of flat snow-covered prairie, Dagen fell asleep to that warm image of drinking tea with Miriam in her tiny communal kitchen. He awoke as the flight attendant nudged his elbow to ask him to pull his seat upright. They were preparing to land, and the toddler behind him was barely whimpering. His own ears were popping slightly.