Short Story: First Date, Part 1

bar-scene-story

He checked his watch: 7:57 p.m.

Edward stood at the front door of her apartment nervously combing his hand through his hair and fiddling with the lapels of his blue blazer. It was a seventh-floor apartment in one of the modern, brick-and-glass buildings downtown that he passed on his way home from work. He always wondered about who lived in these downtown buildings and now he knew: Abigail Da Rosa lived here.

Abigail was elegant but cool in a way that made her easily approachable. Edward wasn’t nervous when he flirted with her last Saturday night. They were both out dancing with friends when Adam introduced them. Later that night, she followed him to the bar and they chatted for half an hour, Edward leaning coolly on the bar with drink in hand as she sat on a stool beside him. She told him about how she had moved to the city as a teenager, graduated from a local state university, and worked nearby for an architecture firm. She mentioned a renovation at an old church outside the city, how it was her favorite project. It brought him back to a moment he stood inside the ruins of an old church in the Scottish town of Lanark where they say William Wallace was married. He felt strange and warm inside as she told him.

“Abigail, you’re fascinating,” Edward said to her. “This week let me take you out for a proper dinner, far away from this rowdy crowd, and I promise you won’t regret it.” She tilted her head to the side and smirked the way young women do. “Well, you’re smooth,” she told him. He tried hard to hide his tell, keeping his facial expression blank.  She checked the calendar on her iPhone and suggested Wednesday evening. In that moment, he looked up toward a corner of the bar and murmured pointlessly under his breathe; he knew he had no plans. “I have a few meetings that may run into the early evening, but for you I would happily clear my schedule, chéri.” Abigail smirked again. “I’ll meet you at Ste. Ellie’s at 8 p.m.” He paused trying to read her reaction.

“Actually, I’d much rather pick you up and walk over,” Edward said. “It’ll be a nice night for a walk.” It was October and the air coming down from the mountains was cool and pleasant. Abigail said okay. She grabbed his phone, asked him to unlock it, and put in her phone number. “What a fitting last name,” he said, smirking as she handed it back. She smiled.

Now it was Wednesday night and Edward was there outside the door trying to control his anxious breathing. She texted him her address that morning with a smiling face emoji at the end of the text. He left so early from his place 15 minutes on the opposite side of the city that he sat in his car trying to prep himself, opening and closing website tabs on his iPhone: “15 questions for the perfect first date”; “Keys to a romantic night out on the town”; “How to show her you’re a real gentleman.” He had chosen an outfit two nights prior, but decided he didn’t like it at the last minute and ironed another outfit for the night: his favorite blue blazer, brown checkered button-down, brown wool tie, tie bar, olive pants, and brown dress shoes. “You look like an idiot,” he told himself in the mirror when he tried it all on.

Edward’s iPhone, still in the back pocket of his pants, vibrated. He checked it. “Go get ’em tiger. You got this.” It was from Adam. That night when Edward asked Abigail out they giggled about it in Adam’s car for 15 minutes. On Tuesday, they met at Adam’s place to talk about what he should do. “Just try to act like a normal human being,” Adam told him.

“People don’t like me when I’m normal, Adam,” Edward said. Adam rolled his eyes. “Do it your way, but she’ll figure you out eventually, Sinatra.”

Edward tucked the phone into the right pocket of his blazer. Then, he checked the inside pockets to make sure he had remembered everything: a roll of spearmints on the left side with a freshly-washed handkerchief, plastic black hair comb on the right. He hardly used the comb, but his grandfather always tucked it into his own coats when Edward was a boy and he liked the habit.

Pacing in front of the door, Edward whispered to himself. It was 8:00 p.m. now. “Hey, darling, all well tonight?” No, no, that wouldn’t work. “Well, you look dazzling this evening, chéri.” He couldn’t figure out his opening line. Frustrated, he hit himself on the forehead with his closed fist and scrunched his face. Further down the hallway, an older woman passed by with a young boy and stared briefly at him. He smiled at her, she didn’t smile back, then she and the boy went inside their apartment. “You’re an idiot, Edward,” he muttered to himself.

Finally, Edward knocked on the door.

He didn’t hear anything inside, but he didn’t want to text or call her. He waited for another moment. “Oh shit,” he groaned, suddenly anxious and with a strange feeling in his gut. He closed his eyes and sighed.

Inside he could hear her moving around now.

“One second, Eddie,” Abigail said in a strong, steady voice. He loved her voice. “I’m coming.”

She opened the door, fiddling with the strap of her left heel. “I’m sorry, I can’t get this. Is it late?” It was 8:03 p.m. “You’re perfect, Abigail,” Edward said smoothly, half grinning. “Absolutely perfect.”

“Well, you know just the thing to say to a lady,” Abigail responded, smiling. She grabbed his hand and kissed him on the right cheek. Edward smiled.

Abigail walked out into the hallway and closed the door. “Can you hold my bag for a second?” she asked him. “For you, Abigail, anything,” he responded. Again, she smirked. He was so nervous he could feel sweat beads forming on his neck and moistening his shirt collar.

Abigail wrapped her arm around his and they walked toward the elevator.

Short Story: The Boy in the Sand

The Sea and Sand Cover Photo
A local beach near the town of Juan Dolio in the Dominican Republic

In the sand nearby, the dark-skinned boy in tattered shorts sat looking out at the crashing blue waves of the Caribbean Sea. I sat close to the boy; only a few feet away (though he either didn’t notice me or was indifferent to my intrusion). I watched him as the rain fell on us and dripped down our clothes. I wondered if what we saw in that water was the same; if we were both daydreaming about the future or reminiscing about something from the past. I wondered about his dreams or maybe his heartbreak. The clouds overhead were dark and the rain kept falling on us, but the boy didn’t move. He leaned forward stoically, with his left arm resting on his raised knee, and kept his gaze on the empty distance in front of us.

To the left of us other boys were playing shirtless in the rain as the wooden boats of the local fishermen headed back to shore. One of the boats sped forward, crashed with the waves onto the beach, then settled. The fisherman jumped out to push the boat deeper onto the beach. The shirtless boys ran over, joined by other young men who were drinking rum under the palm trees, to see the catch and make offers before the older men from the stores bought up all the fish. The dark-skinned boy still didn’t move.

I thought about saying hello to the boy, but I resisted. There was some kind of peace in him that I didn’t know. I fidgeted, trying to soak in a moment of solitude away from the city, but ultimately failing to soak in much at all aside from the salty Caribbean water.

The other young boys ran over to me showing off the fish. “It’s loro,” they told me. “Parrot?” I asked them. “No, it’s a fish, it just looks like a parrot. Can’t you see that it’s a fish?” they laughed. The fish was a turquoise color with pink and yellow lines running along its mouth and body. It was a beautiful fish.

“Enrique, come play with us!” they yelled at the boy nearby. He turned to shrug them away, but one of them jumped on him and the others started dancing around in the sand trying to distract him and break his stoicism. I giggled at how happy the boys were. Enrique didn’t giggle; he got up.

Vamos,” he said. “Nunca me dejan en paz.” You never leave me alone.

The boys were still laughing and dancing. One of the boys held the dead fish the entire time as he shook his body and stuck his tongue out. They ran off and Enrique followed, walking slowly behind them and not turning back to look at the ocean again as they disappeared from sight.

The Phantom Punch

The Phantom Punch

The punch came from an angle he had never expected. The boxer didn’t actually see it as it landed just above his left cheek. Immediately the thin bone inside the thin layer of his flesh, bruised and cut from a hundred other punches, shattered.

The punch sent off a flash in the boxer’s mind. His mind went blank for a moment, like a big cinema screen before the start of a movie. “This must be what being ‘out on your feet’ feels like,” he thought. But then, vividly, a memory from his past began to play.

The boxer wasn’t a boxer then. He was 17 years old, and he stood in the backyard with her. Golden waves of hair gently splashed the dress straps clinging loosely to the girl’s shoulders. He caught her eyes. They were big, brown eyes and they were fixed on his, too. She smiled a bright, golden smile. The sun was high above the girl and the leafy branches on the tree behind her swayed. She was in the midst of whispering something to him.

Flash.

The boxer was back in the ring, bent over against the ropes, and deafened by the sound of the nearby spectators who cheered and shouted for the knockout. He looked up and caught the eyes of the man in front of him. Sweat poured from his own bruised face as the lights above enveloped him, blacking out everything behind him. Another punch was inches from colliding with the boxer’s chin. He was there, present in mind and body, and at the same time he wasn’t. Because it didn’t make sense. “Why her? Why now?”

The punch landed, the boxer’s knees buckled, and he let the force of his own weight take him down to the canvas. He rolled over onto his back and looked up at the lights above, blinking. He hoped for another flash.

“Goddammit. Come back. Please come back,” he thought.

Part of the motivation behind my blogging again is to share fragments of the short stories I’ve been working on. I don’t get the chance to write fiction as often as I once did. But, there’s something beautiful about it to me. Hemingway was quoted, saying, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Except the blood, once it coagulates, can’t always be traced back exactly to you. There’s fragments there; pieces of you that you’ve poured out into your fiction. But, you borrow, create, and imagine, too.

In boxing, there was famous fight—the hugely anticipated rematch between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston, who Ali had beaten to become the World Heavyweight Champion at the age of 22. Many people were still shocked from Ali’s first win and expected the heavily-muscled, knockout artist that was Liston to pummel the brash Kentuckian. But, that isn’t what happened. Instead, Ali scored a first-round knockout from a punch still debated more than 50 years later. Because much of the audience and television viewership didn’t see it land, it was called “the phantom punch.” After it knocked Liston on his butt, the bigger man rolled around for a few moments and didn’t get up. When the referee called off the fight the crowd immediately booed and yelled “Fix!”

Liston was known for his prior mob connections so naturally many commentators argued he took the fall on purpose to repay debts by losing at almost impossible odds. Others, like former heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano and Hall of Fame commentator Larry Merchant, reviewed the video of the fight and said the punch, albeit impossible to see for most of the audience, connected perfectly. I’ve watched the video in slow motion and it does look like the punch snapped into Liston’s chin and reverberated through the back of his neck—the typical makings of a knockout blow.

Life has a tendency of smacking a lot of us on the chin unexpectedly. There’s punches you see coming. And then there’s the ones that catch you surprise. The people around you—friends, family, colleagues, teammates, mortal enemies—might say, “Well, that wasn’t so bad. Pick yourself up, pal,” or “Don’t make a big deal out of it.”  They don’t always say it, but there’s always the ones who just can’t help themselves.

But, human pain doesn’t work that way. Healing doesn’t work that way. Imagine what was going on in Liston’s mind on that canvas. Imagine the days after when all the newspapers and television channels and people on the street were in shock and hurled criticism and abuse his way. Imagine what he thought the ones he loved might think–his children, his wife, his mother.

Our lives are made up of flashes and moments. They coalesce in the end to create the story of our years on this earth. Some of those flashes are heart-shattering. Others joyful. They all have their significance in the end. I want to say we should watch out better for those phantom punches. But, I don’t know we can. Maybe we shouldn’t. I just know that eventually we do get back up again. And we’re different. Different because of how we handled it all.