This is a piece I submitted to Philadelphia Stories, a local fiction magazine. Incidentally, I got the rejection from them within fifteen minutes of an acceptance e-mail for another piece, so I look at this story as a mixed blessing. It is entirely ficticious, and I’m positive I’ll never meet the Dulcinea in this piece.
That said, I give unto you more fiction:
The train hits another bump, and so do I.
I don’t feel it the way the train does; the cars shake and shudder as the R5 rattles on. Five more stops until 30th Street.
At the same time, the train in my mind hits a rogue elephant, and I get knocked off the tracks.
It’s the third time – Third time I’ve gone to Jones, I mean.
Three times. Big bump.
Why is it a big bump? Huh. Can’t tell. The more I think about it, the less sense it makes.
Two girls, two dates, same restaurant. No worries. I already know what I’m having and when I leave. Five more times and it’s behavior, from what I understand. It becomes a ritual – just like the morning paper, and singing Billy Idol in the shower.
I flash back, and think about my friend. He’s got a ritual we always joke about. Two, actually – the first one’s lucky socks. The same damn pair, every third date.
Not first, not the second. The third. The same pair of dark red socks, mismatched shoes, and awkward charm. With that, he wins them. Therein lies the sum of his magic; he’s done it for each of his five girlfriends, and swears its potency.
I know better.
The other rite is a function of his self-destructive subconscious. It sees the end coming before he ever knows. He’s done it for each of his five girlfriends, and swears it doesn’t exist.
I know better.
In fact, I know what it is – It’s the last date. He may not call it that, or even think that’s the case, but that’s what it is. He takes them to a place, down by a lake, in our hometown.
And I don’t know what he says, does, doesn’t say or doesn’t does, but that’s the end of it, right there on the lake. Within a month, they’re through, and no amount of bumbling charm can stop it.
Five different times, five different girls. No matter what’s changed in his life or where they’re from, it’s like looking up in the sky and thinking that maybe, just maybe – just this time – the sun’ll go up at night.
Nope. It never does. Never will, either.
So I think about that. I think about it and I feel the bump. It’s not just this dinner, it’s every damn dinner, back to the Jen I took out for fries and burgers in the summer before seventh grade. Ten years of syncopated meals, all to mixed success.
I’m starting to think dinner was a bad idea. Scratch that – a horrible idea.
This’s a short train ride, with a lot of time to think and second-guess myself. Looking around, I try to find answers on the faces of strangers. Some of them offer only puzzles and mysteries. Others, painted truths – a particular reality of powder and ink.
I wonder if that’s it; if I need to create mystery where there is none. It’s a stupid worry, but it sticks. It lodges itself between other unrelated thoughts, and refuses to let go.
As the rationale in my mind reaches another ridiculous conclusion, we hit 30th. I stay on the train as mysteries and men pour out, finding their way to the night. I wonder, if I followed them home, an apparition to their life, what would I find?
Seeing their weeks and months, day in and day out, what would I find? Would I find answers, or just more confusion, hidden under a daily mask?
I think about what I may have missed. Possibilities, again, that dog the conscience. Possibilities and moves and worrisome thoughts, all rushing through my skull.
Is it not the act or the ritual, perhaps, but me? Crap. It’s me. It has to be.
Finally, with little fanfare, I arrive at Suburban Square. A familiar dim light greets my eyes as I exit the train, walk the stairs, and pass the shops on the way to the surface. I pause a moment in the cool night to think about life in subterranean suburbs – my mind works in strange, literal ways when I’m on edge.
I look around, get my bearings, and start walking towards Jones. It’s only a few blocks away, and being nervous tells me I can always leave.
“It doesn’t have to be like this,” I think. “Don’t do it.”
God, you’d think my brain was negotiating for hostages – and in a way, it is.
I look down at my watch – shit. I’m already late. Can’t believe it. My pace picks up as I turn a corner and cross a street.
I think back to my friend and his red socks. Three blocks.
I think back to my friend and his lake trips. Two blocks.
I think back and – there she is, waiting for me. Standing outside in slender jeans, a black jacket, and a long, winding scarf that delicately frames her artistic face. Wisps of dark brown hair trail in the breeze, and then she sees me.
Her green eyes grab me from across the street, and I’m barely resisting the urge to run through traffic. Her smile only makes it worse, and my heartbeat changes from a nervous tattoo to a jovial march.
Maybe it wasn’t a bad idea after all.
Commentary of any kind is always welcome. I’d prefer critiques over accolades, though.