A Short Story

Looking through some old files, I found this bit of fiction. Sharing quickly, and as is—before I edit it to death or think about it twice.


THAI FOOD

“Let’s not make it too easy for her. Remember, she doesn’t know half what she’ll know twenty years from then.”

“Well, sure, but we can’t make her too dumb. No one wants to read about an idiot.”

“She was kinda of an idiot, though.”

Her eyes were squinty, and one side of her mouth curled up. She wasn’t budging.

“I guess heroes don’t have to be brilliant.”

Her face relaxed.

“Good.”

He shook his head. This wasn’t going to work. Heavy sigh. He wanted so much for it to work. Focus, man. Stay focused.

“Did we choose their names, yet?”

“No. I’m still playing with that.”

“OK. Well, I think it’s time for a break. How about some dinner?”

She smiled slowly, hers lips closed. That was a sign. He knew he could get her to leave the office. Well, it was an office of sorts. More a closet, but they didn’t need much room. And, it was free.

“Where should we go?”

“I’m feeling like Thai.”

“Really? Hmm. Curry, coconut milk, rice? I’m not sure.” He rolled it around in his head while she began to guide them down the street to the little Thai restaurant tucked in between the pizza shop and beauty parlor. It was a grey day, with the wind blowing in gusts. Was it cold enough for snow? She could only hope.

Inside, they made their way to a little table in the corner. As he draped his coat over his seat, he finally decided. “OK. Let’s have Thai. That sounds good.” She smiled that smile. He blushed.

Ordering was easy. The lunch specials came quickly. Sitting and eating together, though, took a long time. As long as possible. He relished every minute.

“Will we go back to work?”

“Of course. I can’t wait to get at it again.”

“We’ve barely even started.”

“No, it’s all starting. It’s all part of the process, don’t you think?”

“We haven’t typed the first word.”

“We’ve typed thousands.”

“Those words have been deleted.”

“Isn’t that part of the process? Part of this wonderful process?” She looked at him, then turned her head quickly to find the waitress. He looked down at his empty tea cup, then up into her waiting eyes. “Are you discouraged?”

“No.”

The waitress arrived.

“Could we get a fresh pot of tea, please?”

“I don’t want to fail.”

“Fail? Why, you’ve never failed anything, Mr. Johnson.”

“What are we going to call her?”

“I don’t know. I keep thinking about it. Nothing is good enough.”

“We could call her Betsy.”

She looked at him with squinty eyes, and tilted her head to one side. This meant she was confused.

“I don’t think so.”

After another pot of tea, they left a generous tip and stepped out into the night. It was colder now. The walk back to the office was faster. It started to sleet. He tried to hold the bag of leftover over her head, to keep it dry, but that didn’t work very well.

The other offices were closed for the night, so they moved into the lobby. She slipped off her shoes and curled up in a chair, and he sat across from her on the sofa. They each held laptops, but he was the writer. She had the final say about what stayed, but he gave the words life.

“You know how much it means to me, don’t you?”

“I know.”

“How long can you stay tonight?”

He looked around for a clock.

“It’s seven now.”

“I guess I can stay until ten. Is that OK?”

“That’s great.”

“I can’t work tomorrow, though. I have a class.”

“I know. It’s Tuesday. Every Tuesday, every Thursday.”

“Next semester, my schedule will be a little busier. They offered me two more classes.”

“Really? I guess the students like you.”

“I think they do. Surprising, isn’t it?”

“Not at all.”

“I like them, too, I confess. I didn’t think I would.”

“Any favorites?”

He had a hard time answering that one. He looked down and said, “One or two.”

“Teacher’s pets.”

“No. No. Nothing like that.”

She got up to check the heat. “It’s cold tonight. Do you mind, if I turn it up?”

“No. Not at all. Do you want my sweater?”

“No, I’ll be OK. Thanks.”

She tucked herself back into the chair. They sat in the quiet for a moment. Sleet was hitting the windows. The sounds of January.

She finally broke the silence. “Maybe, this is a mistake.”

He looked at her. She was staring at the floor.

“Maybe, her story shouldn’t be told. Maybe, it’s not my place to tell it. I hardly even knew her. Who am I to think I have the right?” She was looking up now, looking at him for an answer. What was he going to say? What could he say? The thought of not doing this was the last thing he wanted to consider. He said what he thought he was supposed to say.

“Maggie, I’ll support whatever you decide.”

Her searching eyes turned cold.

“You sound like my father.” She put her feet down and looked away from him.

“Well, what am I supposed to say?” He sat the machine beside him and leaned forward.

“I don’t know. Tell me not to stop.”

“Well, I don’t want you to stop.”

“Well, why didn’t you say that?” She looked back at him now, with her squinty eyes and titled head.

“Because. How can I? It’s not my place.”

“Of course, it’s your place. That’s why I hired you, to make it your place.”

She stared down at her feet. He stared down at her feet, too. She buried her head in her hands. In a second’s time, he played the most tender and romantic scene in his head, and then came back to reality.

“Come on.”

She looked up at him.

“Come on.” He repeated himself, with a little urgency in his tone. “We have a job to do. It’s a story worth telling. That’s why I’m here. Come on.”

She leaped up from her chair and flew across to him, planting a kiss on his cheek as she hugged his neck.

“Oh, thank you, Roger. Thank you so much.”

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