Wedding Anniversary Gift List

(A Modern Revision for Dating Couples

The first date is paper, a heavy bond page, creamy and smooth and pristine (even if recycled), watermark hidden until held up to the light, perfect for taking notes to be studied later.

            He sweeps the check from the counter before she has a chance, pays with plastic. 

            She tries to catch sight of his last name, but the raised print on the card is as tiny as Braille and his signature is a scrawl.

*

            The second date is cotton.  High thread count sheets stretched taut and expectant on the bed, destined to end twisted, under, over, around.  The tangible vestiges of making something called love.

            If this were summer camp, she thinks, she might glimpse his full name on a tag sewn inside the blue and white checked boxers he’d tossed on the floor.  But they weren't children waiting in their separate bunks for adults to direct their play.

            He thinks nothing. His brain is full of cotton fluff such as they stuff into the tops of pill bottles to keep the capsules still during transit.  He thinks, Ahhhh.

*

            The third date is leather, a generously-sized club chair, big enough for two.  Sometimes it’s too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer, but sometimes, like in the fairytale with the little blond girl and the bears, it feels just right.

            He sits in front of his large-screen TV where Netflix streams, aroused but trying to play it cool, unable to ignore her arm touching his, her thigh so close.

            She has asked his last name and he has told her.  Seated so close to this almost perfect stranger, cheeks flushed, she manufactures attention to the screen so as to have something to discuss later. 

*

            The fourth date is flowers, her six-dollar grocery store bouquet in a vase on the kitchen table, chicken and vegetables roasting in the oven, candlelight softening the scene. 

            “Nice flowers,” he says, setting down the wine.  Was I supposed to bring flowers too, he wonders.

            “Thanks,” she smiles.   Maybe he’ll bring them next time, she thinks.

*

            The fifth date is wood.  Not like the fabled marriage bed of Ulysses and Penelope, one post a tree rooted deep into the ground, the entire house built around it.  Rather it’s a futon, flexible, now a couch, now a bed, a stage for trysts with fallible suitors, mortals not gods, resulting in metamorphosis just the same. 

            She begins to notice his small failings with fondness.  When she touches his ear to point out the shaving cream left there once again (showing preparation but also haste), he wipes it out and kisses her forehead, brushing back the bangs that are always falling across her eyes.

            At such close proximity, he notices a few stray brow hairs, unplucked.  He thinks, She’ll probably get them next time.

            It’s my own fault, she thinks.  If I wanted him to bring me flowers I shouldn’t have gotten them last time.

*

            The sixth date is iron.  The qualities of Hesiod’s ancient Iron Age people emerge, fallen from the toil-free Golden Age of harmony, forgetful of social contracts, lying to appear better than they are, shameless at wrongdoing.

            At half time, he types into his phone and pauses, noticing the cursor beating as jauntily as his heart used to beat when he pulled up her stream, then taps send and settles back down to watch.

            When she reads that his old college friend is in town unexpectedly, she’s disappointed with the lame excuse, but texts him back that it’s OK and pulls off the false eyelash she’d been applying.  She can catch the end of the game in comfort now.

*

            The seventh date is copper, a penny for your thoughts.  During the attempt to shake things up a little, loose change drops from upended pockets and falls lost between the car seats.

            At least on Tindr you know where you stand, she thinks, tucking in her blouse.

            Ah, he thinks, watching her.

*

            The eighth date is pottery. 

            Drinking coffee in the morning from a chipped mug, her eggs on a plate with a hairline crack.  Bachelor ceramics, she thinks. 

            He sees her judging his crockery.  She probably won’t be around much longer, he thinks.  He’s had some interesting swipes on Tindr lately.

*

            The ninth date is willow, Phaeton’s sisters shedding tears of amber by the river for their foolish brother, lamenting Zeus’s murderous thunderbolt until they turn into swaying trees, bent by grief but pliant enough not to break.

            They eat highly spiced food in a Thai restaurant where the waiter seems to know him and then walk back to his place, footsteps matching but hands unheld.  She wonders how it can be that although he’s by her side she feels like a lone tumbleweed blowing down the street.  When she ignores the buzz of her phone, he tells her to go ahead and check it.

            “It’s never anything important,” she demurs.  But she checks.  Another duplicate “like” from a previously-ignored, unsuitable Match.

            “Nothing,” she shrugs, answering his raised brows, blacking out the screen.  She fakes a sneeze when she feels her eyes tear a little.

            “Allergies?” he asks, hesitating a second before handing over his handkerchief.  Even if she never returns it, it’s the gentlemanly thing to do.  And he has plenty more.

*

            The tenth date is tin.

She has glimpsed a screen on his laptop that she was not meant to see, and she informs him that, like the woodcutter in Oz, his hollow chest contains no heart.

            But it’s right here, he says, placing her hand over his chest where it still thumps willy-nilly. 

            And there it is.  But we swallow, too, she thinks, (our food, our words, our resentment, our pride), a simple reflex like a heartbeat, signifying nothing.

Beth Manca is a Latin teacher living outside of Boston. Her work has apprared in the online literary magazinie Carve.