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Short Story - Speed Date

It's Valentines Day so it seemed only fitting to present a story that takes a peek inside the scary world of love, life, moving on, and speed dating. 







Speed Date


I hesitated. This seemed like it would be, if not completely forbidden, at least seriously discouraged.

Regardless, I placed my left hand on the door and pushed gently. It didn’t budge. It wasn’t going to let me off the hook.

I knew it wouldn’t. The bar mechanism would need to be pushed, yet my right hand sat upon it perfectly still.

I looked up again, there was no sign implicitly stating that I should not open the door. Nothing to say it was alarmed, or that access was in any way restricted. It was just a door, and I didn’t know what was on the other side.

I am vaguely aware that this is one of those moments I feel I will remember with some clarity, yet I am still not sure I need to know what’s on the other side.

After all, not so long ago, I hadn’t even noticed the door.

***


The evening had begun like these evenings tended to. This wasn’t my first trip to the proverbial rodeo.

The club was one of those places that was simply trying far too hard to be modern. One of those places that would much prefer that you consider them‘post-modern’, and would probably pretend they didn’t hear you if you inquired as to exactly what that meant. In truth, places like this club were usually either described as having character, if you liked them, or being pretentious, if you didn’t. It's all a matter of taste.

I didn’t get to choose the venue for these events, so I tended not to give it that much thought. This place in particular was an odd juxtaposition of industrial grey and Victorian elegance. Minimalist décor and lighting, all silver, chrome, and white, interspersed with the neat lines of carved mahogany booths against the walls, that in turn were framed by a dark hardwood floor.

The most incongruous element of the scene, a large metallic cube with a digital timer embedded in each of the sides that faced the room. It was probably a full five feet across and took pride of place in what was once presumably a round bar that, originally, would have drawn people towards the middle of the room.

Given its size and proportions you could clearly read the bright neon numbers from whichever booth you were sitting in.

My first partner for the evening was guided to my booth by her instruction card.

She was a little shorter than me, pretty in an immediate way, and as she sat down, I saw just a hint of what I thought might be a killer smile. First, shallow impressions, check. 

That I had noticed was a better than usual start to the evening.

Her bobbed red hair was a few shades removed from the plush red leather upholstery of the booth. She was the only redhead in the group, at least as far as I had noticed. I’d scanned the other booths while she had been coming over. I have to admit that I used to have a weakness for redheads.

For some reason, and I have to admit, I’m not entirely sure why, I felt like I should be honest with this one.

She looked like she needed it.

"New to all this?" I asked, trying to remember how to crack that smile I had been reliably informed was charming. At least it had usually been, I had no idea if it still worked.

"Relatively," she nodded, "I guess I never thought I would do the whole speed dating thing, you know?"

"Oh, I hear that, I think that goes for all of us really.”

We both laughed

"Getting used to the change in circumstances?" I ventured, "It’s not all thatbad. I'm Tom"


"I can see that," she smiled, gesturing at my 'my name is ...' badge, "I'm Rosie."
She swiped her hair from her eye

"So Rosemary?" 

"No, Rosamund."

I raised an eyebrow despite myself, suddenly aware I was close to pulling a face, "sorry, didn't mean to be rude, I have never met a Rosamund before."

"Me neither," she shrugged, "I blame my parents."

"What else can you do?"

That half smile again, it feels genuine. This is going better than usual I think to myself. 

"So who is Tom then?" She asked, "That’s what we're supposed to do with our ten minutes right? Ask questions?"

“Me? Ok, let’s do this.

I’m thirty six. Originally from small town Nebraska. Lived in quite a few places growing up. My old man was in the army. He was even stationed in Germany for quite a few years, so I got to live in Europe. Father ended up in the UK for some reason, so I ended up staying for a bit, went to college there, or ‘uni’ as they call it.”

“What did you study?” Rosie asked

“Life? Can’t say I went to classes as often as I should have. Drinking and girls mostly,” I admitted, “Technically I was doing a media and communications course. I did get my degree in the end, probably more luck than judgement though. Not that I used it. Ended up working in bars and restaurants for a while, then caught a break, moved back to the US, landed in New York. Got a gig with a friend doing some copy write work for a publisher. Had the obligatory, mid twenties in New York breakdown, went through three fiancés, and some serious prescription medication.”

“Charming yet complicated then?” Rosie interrupted.

“I think they thought I was a reclamation project.” I admitted.

“You had enough potential though that they wanted to try?” Rosie stated, as it were an irrefutable fact.

“Not sure, I guess so, can’t say I ever understood what they saw in me,” I explained, which was true, self confidence was not something I had in spades as a twenty something, “anyways, work went better and better, somehow ended up as a VP, until out of the blue some silicon valley VC headhunted me to join up with some digital platform start-up. Was out of my comfort zone, but insane money, so I figured it was worth the leap. Well, eventually at least, first I turned them down, twice! Afraid of change I guess, but then I decided that it was one of those things I’d have regretted years later, and I don’t like the concept of regrets. So I went for it. It got me out of New York too. Which, with hindsight, turned out to be a good thing.”

“Successful enterprise in silicon valley then?” Rosie inquired.

“Not exactly,” I grinned, “the business went bust, spectacularly so, when the first bubble burst, but it put me where I needed to be in order to meet my wife. Turned my life around, you know the story.”

“You finally found love?”

I took a breadth, “Yes, totally and utterly. Not the picture perfect, movie, kind of love, you know? The normal perfect. We all have our problems right, but you know when you find the one who doesn’t care? The one who loves you as is? That love. Ups and downs, but never a doubt. Not one. That’s how I knew.”

I was suddenly acutely aware that I had never once mentioned my wife on one of these things. Not once, not even in passing. I looked up but Rosie didn’t seem phased or uncomfortable, she just looked back, almost knowingly.

“Were you together long?” she asked.

“It would have been ten years. Then it all changes. You never see it coming do you? It was perfect early summer afternoon. My wife was caught up at the office, she’d been working so damned hard to land a new project for the architecture joint she worked for, I was making sure to be supportive. I’d been working at home, so I went to our favourite organic market place to get what I’d need to make a nice risotto. They take time you know, a good risotto, but she was going to be late, so I figured I could get it done in time … but then … the accident … you never imagine it will happen to you.”

Rosie nods, and reaches out for my hand. I don’t flinch.

“I’m taking a corner, some idiot goes through on red. Bang. Head on collision and that’s it. I’m dead.”

I pause for a second, “So what brought you here Rosie? How did the reaper catch up with you?”

“Promise not to laugh?”

“Laugh? Me? Hardly an appropriate reaction to a tale of a ladies death!”

“Promise!”

“Cross my heart.” I smile, she was obviously a little embarrassed.

“I am one of those idiots you read about in statistics and wonder how they were dumb enough to let that happen. No tear jerking story, or tragic end, me, I just slipped in the shower. Next thing I know, I’m having these things explained to me.”

“Never thought purgatory would be like this eh?”

“You think this is purgatory?” She asked immediately, "are you ... sorry ... were you Catholic?"

"No, well, maybe technically. Let's say lapsed I guess, much to my mother's disdain."

"So it is your fault we are here," she laughed.

I shrugged with a smile, “Listen, I’m not really the religious type or anything. I do have to admit that at first I thought it might be hell." 

"Hell? I don't see much in the way of Fire and Brimstone" 

"Hah, well, see I was more than a little socially awkward when I was living and breathing, so the idea of eternal speed dating? Yeah, it might well have been a personal little stage of hell just for me."

"But you decided otherwise?"

"I figured there were too many pretty girls for this to be hell … and the barman makes a pretty good mojito. If all this is some cosmic attempt to illustrate the flaws of a material lifestyle I’m not sure I’ve learnt my lesson yet.”

“They say,” Rosie whispered, “that if you meet someone,” she paused, that half smile appearing again, “that you can actually leave with them, and you won’t come back tomorrow.”

“Oh, that’s half true.” I replied far too quickly, and I suddenly realised, far too earnestly, “I’ve tried, but I still ended up back here the next night.”

“What do you mean half true?”

“Well, you know …”

“Not sure I do exactly.”

“Are you teasing me now?”

“Maybe.” There was that half smile again.

“Tell me this Tom. Why did you tell me the truth about your life then?”

“How do you know I did?”

“I just do, it was genuine, besides, it was too adamant to be a play for sympathy. You wouldn’t mention your wife like that if it was. I felt a connection. It’s not like it’s a bad thing that you were being genuine, so come on, what did you mean that I was half right; how hard did you try?”

“Well, you can leave here, with someone else, and still end up here again the next day.”

“What happens when you leave with someone?” Rosie asked, a playful look in her face.

“You know, the type of thing that tends to happen when you go home with someone.”

“Sex?”

“I don’t want you to think I’m like that.”

“Don’t worry I don’t have you down as a player. No offense intended.”

“None taken …” I paused, unsure why I felt compelled to tell the truth, but I did. “… yes, sex was involved. Mostly of the forgettable variety.”

“Why so?”

“You want details?”

“Sure, in broad strokes, I’m curious what afterlife sex is like.”

“Kind of forced and hollow to be honest,” I sighed, “I mean it was more than just being with a new person. I think both of us were more enamoured with the idea that it might let us escape this, than we were with one another.”

“I could understand that.” Rosie nodded.

“See, I could buy that purgatory consists of a string of awkward sexual encounters with strangers. Rarely anything quite as unsettling as that in my experience.

“Maybe it just wasn’t the right person?” Rosie suggested.

“Possibly.” I shrug.

The large timer chimed, one minute to go until people had to move around.

“You haven’t even told me much about yourself yet.”

“”Pity our time is almost up then,” Rosie smiled; it was everything I had imagined when she sat down. “… but I tell you what. I’m going to excuse myself to the ladies room. Give me a minute and follow me. We could pick this up in the hallway for a bit.”

“Do you say that to all the boys?”

“Nope, this is a first, but you’re also the first person I felt any connection to. If you haven’t felt anything these last …” she looked up at the timer, “… nine and a half minutes, then stay here and see who is next, if you did, whatever you felt, then I dare you. Chase me.”

She stood up and ran her hand across mine.

“Nice meeting you Tom.” She said as she made her way towards the rear of the room.

I watched every step until she disappeared around the corner behind us.

I contemplated not following Rosie’s request.

I could already see the next woman approaching. She was pretty too, what was it tonight?  A slight Asian lady with wild purple eye shadow and a star tattoo on her bare shoulder.

She suddenly seemed interesting too, even before she had reached my table.

She wasn’t Rosie though.

I took a breadth. Now or never.

I stood up. What did I have to lose?

I apologised to the Asian lady, who oddly wasn’t wearing a badge, and said I would be back in a minute. I wasn’t completely sure yet whether I was lying or not.  

I made my way around the corner and Rosie was there waiting, that smile broadened and beaming. As I approached she grabbed my hand and pulled me closer, her other hand resting on the small of my back. She smiled coyly and lent in, teasing me with the softest of kisses.

I hadn’t felt that in … since … it has been a long time.

I return the kiss, it seems to last, linger, dwell, a long dormant emotion entwined in a moment.

“Do you think we can escape?” She whispered.

“I’m not sure I want this to be like that.” I offered meekly. This was a half lie, parts of me almost certainly wanted things to be like that.

“I don’t mean that dummy, I mean actually escape.” She explained, pointing to a door I had never noticed before.

A large red door; it was on the right hand side of the corridor, almost at the end. It had one of those fire-escape like door bars across it, the ones you pushed to open. There was no exit sign though, or any signage of any kind for that matter. I wondered how I had managed not to notice the door before.

It was the strangest sensation as we walked towards it, hard to describe. Almost like having your vision squeezed into a fish-eye lens.

The corridor felt far longer that it had appeared. An overriding sense that maybe you shouldn’t be moving in this direction.

Yet the door loomed large.

I reached out and placed my hand on the push bar.

I hesitated. This seemed like it would be, if not completely forbidden, at least seriously discouraged.

Regardless, I placed my left hand on the door and pushed gently. It didn’t budge. It wasn’t going to let me off the hook that easily.

I knew it wouldn’t. The bar mechanism would need to be pushed, yet my right hand sat upon it perfectly still.

I looked up again, there was no sign implicitly stating that I should not open the door. Nothing to say it was alarmed, or that access was in any way restricted. It was just a door, and I didn’t know what was on the other side.

I am vaguely aware that this is one of those moments I feel I will remember with some clarity, yet I am still not sure I need to know what’s on the other side.

Then I feel Rosie’s hand on my shoulder, her breath dancing around my ear.

I close my eyes and push the door open …



--------------------------------------------------------------
This was another piece that grew out of one of the monthly exercises I did as part of the little writing cabal we had in Montreal. Thanks to all my fellow scriveners for the input and advice!

Craig Morrison - 2013 / 2014
writing 806127387019173604

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