Excellence in Short Fiction 2013 (Short Story Competition) Day Three
A hug, please.
Boredom is what characterizes Mary and Fred’s marriage. Love faded, passion said its farewell long ago, even respect was on its way out. Today was their 17th wedding anniversary, the only reminder being a Post-it note on the fridge. Flowers, dinner, good night. A duty. All the same for the past years.
Fred glanced at his watch. He rolled his eyes and drummed his fingers impatiently on the armrest of his chair. “Jesus Christ, Mary, get a move on!” he yelled in the direction of the bedroom.
“I’m coming. I’m coming,” came the feeble answer. Mary sighed. Even such a special day sank into the dull frame. She checked her reflection in the mirror and shrugged. “Well, it’s not like he’d notice…”
Five minutes later they were sitting in the car in silence, speeding towards the restaurant. Their favourite restaurant. Every year, for the last sixteen years…
The familiar waiter seated them, brought the menu, and some nuts. Just to keep himself occupied, Fred flicked through the menu despite knowing what he’d order. “No point in starting a conversation,” he thought. He gave Mary the once-over. “Not with her anyway.”
“Excuse me, may I take your order?”
“I’d have the beefsteak, medium well, with chips,” Fred spoke up.
“Very well. And you, madam?”
“I…ehm…I, well…” Mary’s voice trailed off.
“Now, Mary, come on,” Fred grumbled.
Mary was quickly running her eyes up and down the pages. She knew what she wanted but this type of menu failed to provide it.
“That’s alright. I can come back. Can I offer something to drink in the meantime?”
“A beer,” Fred was quick to reply. Then he hesitated as if why they were there occurred to him for the first time. “No, wait! Make that two glasses of red wine.” Fred’s romantic self stirred somewhere deep down but fell asleep an instant later.
“Thanks for the wine.” The polite smile she tossed him didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“Yeah, sure,” he waved her off. “But what do you want? This kind gentleman here is waiting…” he urged her.
“Well, that’s his job, isn’t it…?” Mary thought.
“No worries, I’ll come back in a while.”
“No, my wife surely knows what she wants, right, Mary?” Fred grunted, his leg bouncing under the table. He could never bear her indecisiveness.
“Ehm, yes. I’d like the chicken cutlet…”
The waiter was writing it down.
“No, wait. Maybe I’d rather have the pork chop?”
Fred gritted his teeth. “Is she doing this on purpose?!”
“…with rice…” Mary thought aloud.
“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be right back with the wine.”
“No!” Fred barked, boiling with anger now. “Order. A. Damn. Meal.”
Mary took a deep breath and put down the menu. “Alright.”
She sat up straight and crossed her arms over her chest. “Hmm…I’ll take…” She took her time. Fred’s nostrils were widened, his lips pressed together.
“I’d like a hug, please.”
“What the...?!” Fred was absolutely baffled.
The waiter smiled to himself and played along. “Excellent choice, madam. With a touch of kindness and appreciation, maybe?”
“Yeah, sure. And for dessert I’d like a compliment…and a bit of patience on the side for my husband.”
The waiter grinned and nodded and off he was, certain he had never had such a bizarre order.
“And a bit of brains…” Fred mumbled. “So embarrassing…” he shook his head and glanced around the restaurant to make sure nobody was listening.
Mary had finally reached a decision, ridding herself of the heavy chains that had been dragging her down for so long. “You see, I finally know what I really want,” Mary held her head high feeling the excitement rolling in.
“You don’t say. Actual food?” Fred smirked.
“No,” she smiled proudly. Fred made a face clearly annoyed.
“A divorce.” With those two in-your-face words, she slammed her hands down on the table, stood up, waved the pleasant waiter goodbye, and walked away with a spring in her step. She didn’t look back.
A swift jump got him onto the metro train in the very last second right through the closing doors. People stared at him and moved out of his way, until he found a nice spot to stand. He was panting like a dog all the while.
When he finally caught his breath, he took a look around. Day after day he got on the metro at the same time and travelled to the fifth station, so he was hoping to see something that would break the routine. Often it would be someone in a colourful costume or with an unusual pet or a group of people celebrating one thing or another. Today he was especially lucky, today there was Her.
After whole day spent among the peacocks in his work, she was like a breath of fresh air. She was sitting three rows in front of him, eyes pinned into a book, it seemed like she didn't even notice his dynamic entrance. She was about his age or maybe slightly younger. Her copper coloured hair was falling in long unruly curls almost to the middle of her back. Her skin was almost white, and her small nose was covered with hundreds of adorable freckles. Something in the book had put a smile on her face, that was one of the cunning sort and made him wonder what was going in her mind. Her clothes were simple, just blue jeans and a plain green t-shirt, although it did nothing to harm her beauty, quite the opposite, for him it made her even more remarkable.
"Dude, you realize that you're staring?" the voice in his head warned him. He turned his eyes to the blackness behind the window.
The train stopped, people got in and out. Luckily no one got between them, so he could steal a glance at her from time to time.
"And now you are acting like a creep, job well done," the voice said. He desperately tried to focus on something else, but he failed to find anything of use, so he returned his gaze to the window.
"Try looking more inconspicuous," the voice recommended.
"But how?" he asked.
"You could act like you are thinking."
"Of course! Except, I have no idea what I look like when I'm thinking!" he answered.
Another station derailed his train of thoughts.
"You now, if you like her, you should just go and talk to her," advised the voice.
"No shit, Sherlock. But what should I say? I only have one shot at this. What if I mess it up?"
"Come on, you are a smart guy, you can figure something out."
"I have to start with something clever or funny. Certainly something she hasn't heard before. No stupid pick-up line will work."
"Look for a connection, there must be something you can talk about. What about, I don't know... public transport?" suggested the voice.
"That's unbelievably stupid"
"Bloody original. Is that the best you can come up with?"
"No, just give me some time. Of course! The book, you nit-wit! It was right in front of you the whole time. "
"Excellent! I can talk endlessly about books or perhaps, change the topic to movies."
"All you need is to get past the first sentence. Once you start, your natural charm will kick-in. You'll be fine."
The train stopped again.
"Maybe I could say that I'm an amateur writer and I am curious about what people read these days."
"Yes, ask her what she's reading, why, whether she likes it, what other books she likes. It's simple."
"And if I all goes well, I can ask her if she would like to meet up sometimes and chat some more."
"You should wait till the next station. That way if things go south, you can just get out at the first opportunity."
He could see the plan clearly in his head. He closed his eyes and took a series of deep breaths to calm down and to work up the guts to take action. His mouth was dry like a desert. He felt the train slowing down. His stomach turned into a raging ocean. He could sense people moving in and out of the train. His limbs were so heavy he didn't think he would be able move them.
As the train moved again he opened his eyes. All nervousness disappeared, he was determined like never before in his life, but She was gone.
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