This “flash fiction” thing is growing on me – in a flash. Great practice, really hones all of the skills. I particularly like the fact that the publications call the “theme” and you have to write to it, so you have to focus and train your imagination to go somewhere different each time. This piece is one I submitted to Writer’s Digest for this theme: Something bizarre occurs at the table next to a couple on their first date.
With that man’s distraction, I found it impossible to pay attention to Tracy. Her lovely, simple face was so animated, her voice was sing-songy and pleasant, and she seemed quite amusing. I’d never done better for a first date! But I didn’t hear a word she said. Actually, I heard words in the sense that she made sounds that registered in my ears, but I didn’t comprehend them. Maybe a few of the words individually, like “presumptuous,” and “self-indulgent” also. Since we were going to a gallery afterward, perhaps she was talking about that. Those are words that are frequently spoken about artist types. At least that’s my impression. But the man was such a distraction!
I leaned across the table and interrupted her. “Did you see that?” I whispered.
“The guy at the next table. What he did. Before he sat down.”
She furrowed her brow and glanced over and back. “No. No, I didn’t notice.” She kept her brow furrowed, assessing me, as if it was somehow my problem what the guy did.
“Never mind. It was just odd. I’m sorry, continue,” I said, smiling as well as I could.
So she resumed, I suppose where she’d left off, but how would I have known? I wasn’t about to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear a word you said, please start over,” because that would have been just weird. I mean how do you say that to someone you barely know? I could also have tried to wing it and say, “you were saying, ‘self-indulgent,’” but I couldn’t be sure that was the last thing she’d said. These things can be so much more complicated than you think at first. So I bore down and tried to focus, but by the time I did, she’d gone on again and I’d already lost track of where she’d re-started.
And this annoying man and his fidgeting. He was at it again. Moving from the chair he’d taken (after sitting in two of the others) back to the first one, then to the second. Now he was rearranging the silverware, putting the spoon and knife on the left and the forks on the right. Who does that? Was he left-handed, or what? Jesus Christ! I wanted to just stand up and yell, “Stop that!” But that would be totally uncool, and this lady, she was still yammering away.
“Do you?” she asked. Why did she ask that? Do I what?
“I’m sorry, Tracy, I got distracted for a moment. Do I what?” I tried to erase the tension lines from my forehead like I’d been taught.
“Like Woody Allen? His movies, do you like Woody Allen’s movies?” She still smiled at me, but I swear it looked a little more rigid than before.
“Oh! Oh, well…I don’t know. I guess I’d have to say yes and no. I mean, his early work was sort of a super-intellectual Mel Brooks-type of hilarity, but Interiors was a disaster, and then he went through that dreadful incest thing which was a terrible tragedy, but…yeah.” The whole time I was trying to focus on her face, but Mister Antsy-pants next door was still at it with the silverware, like he was playing some strange board game with them. Parchesi while channeling Jamie Oliver or some stupid nonsense. I felt like punching the bastard. Hey you, take your goddamn meds, I thought. Then I looked at Tracy, and she was staring at me, like I was the guy juggling the cutlery.
“I’m sorry, Tracy,” I said, very much aware that I had to work hard to rescue this date. “I’m feeling a little hot. I’m just going to go freshen up a bit.”
“Sounds good,” she said. What’s that mean? Sounds good.
So I got up and glared at Circus Man as I exited, but he was too busy sticking a spoon on his honker. Blast him!
I went to the Men’s room and splashed cold water on my face, made sure I’d dried myself completely, smoothed the eyebrows, looked at myself, took a few deep breaths and put a spring in my step as I walked out.
But Tracy wasn’t there. She must have gone to the Ladies’, I thought.
Thank God, the juggler was gone, too.
The waiter came by. I asked him, “Say, what happened to the man sitting there?”
He looked at me like I had two noses. “That table has been unoccupied all evening, sir.”
Filed under: flash fiction | 4 Comments
Tags: first date, hallucination, mental illness, OCD