The One

Two empty chairs at a cafe. iStockphoto.com i
iStockphoto.com
Two empty chairs at a cafe. iStockphoto.com
iStockphoto.com

For Round 6 of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction where one of the characters tells a joke and one of the characters cries.

Daniel arrives at the Mirth café with a little bit of a jump in his stomach. The phone conversations he has had with Melanie, the blind date he is meeting tonight, have given him sparks. His friends' wives think he's a player, but this feels different, like she could be the one he's been waiting for. He eels through the closely bunched tables, senses a head turning toward him.

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume." Her voice smiles at her little joke.

"If you turn out to be a Stanley," he banters back, "I'll be very unhappy."

"You're not the only one."

"Don't make me like you too much right away," he says. "I don't want to peak too early."

"We hate it when you boys peak too early." She brushes the short hairs behind Daniel's ear. "I love the silver gray." She is wearing a sleeveless top with an open back and neck.

"Mel," he says, "I'm about to have a heart attack or fall in love with you."

Her neck draws back and stiffens. Not the way somebody looks who didn't get the joke, but somebody who got it and didn't like it much.

"I'm not really having a heart attack," he backtracks. "And I didn't mean to scare you about the love."

"Why did you call me Mel?"

"I'm sorry. Do you prefer Melanie?"

"I prefer Janet."

"How is Janet short for Melanie?"

She draws back a step. "Are you meeting a girl named Melanie?"

"Oh Jesus. You weren't kidding about the Doctor Livingstone?"

They look furtively around, feeling they had been caught naked in Eden.

"Phone number!"

She rummages in her purse for a pen. He already has one, and a cocktail napkin. Breathless with promise they separate.

Dr. Livingstone arrives first and Daniel watches her smile as she greets him, assaying its luminance against the smile she had given him. He looks like the Vice-President of a European bank. He guides Melanie — no, Janet — toward an empty table. His hand at her waist is practiced, proprietary.

A spirited voice invades his reverie and a woman strides toward him who looks a good deal more like the picture.

"Please tell me you're Daniel. I've already said hello to four people who could be you."

She orders chamomile tea and eats her croissant with a knife and fork. She believes in rehabilitation for drug addicts and harbors no bitterness toward her ex-husband. He listens on autopilot, just conscious enough not to crash, but focused on the table two rows behind and one row over — a chess knight's move away. Success in business has accustomed Melanie to expect attention. She places a 10-dollar bill on the table.

"You're a fine man, she says. I'm sure you'll find the right person."

It is exactly what he wants but he doesn't like the sensation of being left. No, not so much that. Of being seen through. He pays the check and takes the long arc out of the room, displaying to Janet that he has been faithful to her; that he has comported himself with honour — the British spelling. Only when he gets to the patio does he stop and look back into the café. He is startled to see that their table is vacant; they have gone. He berates himself for crying.

At home the message light is flashing. It's a woman named Karen. She likes his moniker in the personals ad: Aging Astronaut. She wonders what galaxies he's seen. He balls up Janet's cocktail napkin and arcs in a long three pointer. He readies his brilliant phone voice.

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