How to understand the difference between a threat and an expression

13 Oct

You’re having a late lunch at Cafe Nopal on the Third Street Promenade with your best friend, Sandy.  You’ve been shopping all afternoon, and you’re exhausted.

You pile your bags under the table and order drinks. Sandy orders the crab cakes, “they’re the best thing ever,” she says.

The waiter pauses. “I think we may be out of the crab cakes,” he says.

He goes to check with the kitchen. Sandy fixes you with a stern look: “Oh, my God. I love their crab cakes here. They can’t be out! If they’re out I think I might kill myself.”

You smile, sip at your mimosa, and scan the salad menu. The waiter returns, “I’m sorry, ma’am. We had a really big rush around noon, and –”

But he doesn’t finish. Without warning, Sandy pulls a .357 magnum out of her purse, shoves it into her mouth and blows her brains halfway to Hermosa Beach.

Later, over canapés at the wake, her husband asks you, teary-eyed, if she was acting strangely. Were there any signs his wife was in a suicidal mood?

“No, not really,” you say. “I mean, she said she would ‘kill herself’ if they didn’t have the crab cakes, but I didn’t take her seriously.”

He stops chewing on a piece of cauliflower. “You didn’t take her seriously,” he says, flatly.

“I thought it was an expression.”

“An expression. You thought it was an expression and now my wife is dead.”

The next day you’re shoe shopping with your friend, Michelle. From across the room she spots a Jean-Michel Cazabat slide wedge with a threaded linen wrap. “It’s gorgeous!” she says, running over and cradling it like a kitten. “I have to have it!”

She gives her size to the shoe salesman. “I believe we’ve only got that in a 5 or a 6 ½,” he says, warily.

“Don’t tell me that,” she says, making a slight whimpering noise. “Or I might have to kill you.”

He goes to the back room and emerges moments later, a bit sheepish and shrugging his shoulders. “I’m sorry,” he begins, followed by a horrible gurgling noise as Michelle plunges a 12-inch Bowie knife into his throat and his heart, in rapid succession. He falls to the floor, dead.

Later, in court, the prosecution asks you if there were any warning signs that Michelle was capable of cold-blooded murder.

“Well, she did say she would kill the shoe salesman if he didn’t have her size.”

“And you did nothing,” the attorney says.

“I thought it was an expression,” you say.

“You thought it was an expression and now a shoe salesman is dead.”

Later that evening, you make chicken and dumplings for your husband, his favorite dish. You sit down together with a bottle of Pinot Noir. He takes a bite and closes his eyes, savoring the strong flavors of paprika and cream: “This is the best, honey,” he says. “Your chicken and dumplings drive me insane.”

“Thanks, dear,” you say. “I wanted to do something special.”

Instead of answering, he breaks into hysterical laughter. You look up from your plate to see that your husband has gone cross-eyed and his tongue is flopping from his mouth. He’s breathing hard and his hair is suddenly sticking straight out from his head. “Woobaty, woobaty, woobaty!” he cries and smashes through the kitchen window.

Later, as he’s sitting in a padded room wearing a straight jacket, a doctor comes to you.

“I’m afraid your husband has had a complete psychic break,” he says. “He’s lost all hold on reality. Is there anything you think of that might have triggered this?”

You think. “Nothing,” you say. “No, really nothing. Mmmm…no. Don’t know how it happened.”

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