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Preston Lang
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Match

 

by Preston Lang

 

 

Daphne threw her napkin aggressively onto the table.

“Some men seem to think online dating is this weird pretend world where there are no rules. One guy told me he was a pro lacrosse player. The guy is lumpy. Telling me he’s a professional athlete? Another guy seemed normal, nice. Got up in the middle of dinner and left. Never came back. Stuck me with the check. Psychotic, you know? Though I guess that’s better than the guy who cuts you up and puts you in his freezer.”

“That’s a guy? An actual guy?”

“Oh, that’s a guy. But I’d have a surprise for that bastard.”

The date was not going well. Time to split the check and shake hands. But when she got up to go to the bathroom, Bill saw a bulge at her hip. She was packing? Was that possible? By the time she came back, he’d paid the check.

“Hey, you want to go for a walk? It’s a beautiful night,” he asked.

“. . . Yeah. Sure, that sounds nice.”

They strolled, talking about this and that—jobs, music, childhood.

“I started getting varicose veins when I was eleven. My little sister called them very close veins, and that was just the cutest thing ever. She’d say ‘Daphne has very close veins,’ and everyone would just laugh and clap. Meanwhile, I’m eleven and I’ve got these ugly blue lines on my damned legs.”

“That’s really rough.”                                   

“Yeah. So I don’t like to take off my pants. Probably not something you want to hear on a first date. Ha.”

When he took her hand, she squeezed happily and brushed up against him. Yeah, that was a gun tucked into her waistband. No way it was legal, either. Concealed carry permit in New Jersey? Not this girl.

He steered them to Ridley’s Pub by eleven o’clock. As they walked slowly past the glass window, Bill spotted Terry at the far end of the bar, just where he sat every Saturday night. Probably about five beers in by now. Terry was looking the wrong way. Maybe Bill was going to have to use some trick—tell Daphne he needed to go inside and get change. But Terry turned and they locked eyes.

Now the game was to move quickly.

“Where are we going?” Daphne asked.

“It’s beautiful down by the river.”

“Kind of deserted this time of night, isn’t it?”

“We don’t have to go. It’s just that when the stars are out—”

“Let’s do it.”

They took a left towards a dirt road that ran along the river. Bill glanced back once and saw that Terry was following, closing ground quickly.

“Where you headed, Bill? Hey, I’m talking to you.”

“I think you have me confused with someone else.”

Bill quickened his pace, pulling Daphne along with him.

“I want my money.”

Terry charged closer, and Bill turned to face him, hands up, shielding Daphne.

“His name isn’t Bill, and he doesn’t owe you any money,” she said.

“Who are you? Jesus, Bill, you’ve really gone hogging tonight.”

“That’s uncalled for.”

“Shut the hell up. You need to get me my money. Understand. You been doing a pretty good job of hiding, but I—”

“Look, you’re drunk and confused, so—”

Terry hit him on the side of the head, then threw him to the ground and started kicking. Even though he missed half the time, Bill was taking some decent blows to the stomach and legs. Then he heard the shots—four of them. The kicking stopped.

Daphne stood over the body, shaking, gun still in her hand. Bill hopped to his feet—no real damage done. He scanned the ground—no hats, wallets, glasses dropped. He approached Daphne carefully.

“Tuck that thing away.”

She put the gun in her jacket pocket, and they moved quickly along the path to the next turnoff. They made it back to the residential streets, then all the way to the restaurant where they’d met.

“I think we should forget what happened by the river,” he said at her car. 

She nodded.

“But I’d really like to see you again.”

 They kissed tenderly in the moonlight.  

 

 


tepidstrawberries.jpg
Art by Cindy Rosmus 2017

Tepid Strawberries

Preston Lang



I like to eat cereal at 3 PM. No, let me try that again: I need to eat cereal at 3 PM. For breakfast I have half a banana, and I bring the other half to work. I also bring two strawberries and a little box of Total. When 3 PM rolls around, I go into the breakroom and do what needs to be done. Cereal, skim milk, half banana, and two strawberries. Two. That’s what must go into that bowl.

One day Dorothy brings blueberries to work.  

“Try one, dear.”

Now, let me make this clear: she has a whole tub of blueberries. I just take one because she won’t shut up, and it isn’t even good. It’s bitter and it’s mushy. The two things that a blueberry absolutely must not be.

“Great, isn’t it?”

“Pretty great, thanks a lot.”

The next Tuesday is one of the horrible days. I still haven’t finished the monthly report, and Mr. K is getting really snippy about it, and the Seattle office wants me to double-check some files, and then we get hit with this surprise departmental meeting that sucks the soul right out of my body. I’m looking around at everyone thinking—the only thing that really makes sense right now is a mass suicide.

I finally get out of that meeting at six minutes to 3, and all I am thinking about is cereal. This is the only thing that gets me through to 5. And I’ve got my Total, I’ve got my half banana, and then Dorothy comes in when I’m cutting up my strawberries. Two strawberries.

“My, those look like good strawberries.”

“Yup.”

“Sure look good. I mean, those look like some really terrific strawberries.”

She’s right. They’re those dark red, taste-the-whole-summer strawberries. She wants some, but how many do I have? Two. If you get a chance some time, put two strawberries on your desk and see if it looks like a lot of fruit. Am I supposed to give her . . . one? Am I supposed to give her 50 percent of my strawberries? I work these things out—half a banana, two strawberries. I know the ratios that I need. I once accidentally mashed my banana on the way to the office. It just about wrecked me. But Dorothy keeps at it.

“Wonder if it tastes as good as it looks.”

But today—of all days—honestly, I can’t even pretend. Dorothy just stands there and watches while I put . . . both my strawberries in the bowl. Just before she leaves the breakroom, she makes a noise, a subtle snort. Like a pig would make. Like a subtle pig would make. By the end of the day everyone is looking at me like I’m some selfish bitch who takes and takes and never gives. I see how you might think that without any context. But this is the context: I need my cereal exactly the way it has to be at exactly 3 PM.

The next day at 3, I go in and the strawberries—my two strawberries—are gone. I search every part of the fridge. Nothing. I eat my cereal with just banana, but it is a complete disaster. Later that day, Dorothy walks past my desk and gives me a look. Not much, but clear. Next day—same thing. Stolen strawberries. So I start to store my fruit in my desk, but six hours in a desk, and you become a tepid strawberry. And that is almost as bad as no strawberry. Three days of this, and I’m going out of my head.

Then that Friday—well, I don’t remember it so well. I do know there was a regular meeting and an interdepartmental meeting. And I know I sketched a picture of myself hanging by a noose from the light fixtures while Mr. K ran PowerPoint.

***

Maybe I’m not always the most socially acute. Apparently, Dorothy hadn’t told anyone about our fruit run-ins. She’d wanted her revenge to be quiet. My coworkers reported no friction between the two of us, but they did report a lot of disturbing behavior on my part. My clear depression, my gruesome artwork, the way I’d always suggest mass suicide pacts instead of meetings. Yes, there was a pattern.

And, of course, everyone testified that I clearly labeled my food. Red-pen block letters on every side of opaque Tupperware. It was obvious that I hadn’t intended to hurt anyone other than myself, but it isn’t legal to bring poison into a communal refrigerator. By the time the cops got around to interrogating me, however, I had it pretty well figured out. 

“Officer, am I under arrest, or can I go home and kill myself?”

They checked me into a psychiatric hospital. Six months of quiet chats with understanding shrinks—all on the corporate dime. Half a year after the event, it didn’t seem to make sense to prosecute me for reckless endangerment or possession of controlled substances, so I moved to Florida with a little resettlement money from the company. I’ve heard Dorothy’s grieving family is suing them for so blatantly missing every warning signal from that freaky, little cereal girl in the office. That’s probably fair.

Eventually I’ll have to find another job, but for now, I walk on the beach, collect shells, sing into the wind. And when 3 o’clock rolls around I make it home. And I get exactly what I need.  


Preston Lang is a writer from New York. His short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Spinetingler, All Due Respect, and Plots with Guns. He also writes a monthly column for WebMD.com. 

tepidstrawberriesf.jpg
Art by Cindy Rosmus 2017

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