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Contemporary Fiction Romance

Comings and Goings

There was a breeze coming off the river. It was one of those late August nights Midwesterners live for, cool, brisk, weather fit for a sweater, or shawl, something to keep the chill off if you had had a mind to be outside.

I did.

Hadn’t seen my girl in a year.

Hadn’t eaten anything except home-cooked, or takeout since our last date.

Good air washes over a river on a night like this, if it’s a big river. The Mississippi is, big, and wide, and when it ripples with the reflection of the moon and the constellations good air flows. My face washed in it as the elevator door opened. I walked through the underground lot, made my mind up before I was halfway to my car that I’d continue walking the two blocks to the sidewalk café where I was meeting Nellie for a late dinner date. 

The richness of the air, plus the fact that I had torn my best trousers. Done that on the side-panel of a rusty pickup earlier in the day trying to navigate the various obstacles, cars, trucks, and such, all heaped up in that underground parking garage not big enough for Matchbox cars. Charged me an extra twenty dollars a day too. All that, and fussing with city traffic for two blocks, no thank you - Walking would be a good thing. A man can reflect when he walks, and I, like every other person of the population in this post-pan world had a whole world of reflecting to do.

A horn beeped, a taxicab buzzed by, across the river lights from a baseball stadium lit the place up like a little field of dreams.  I’d been dreaming about Nellie, about seeing her again for too long to be late, to leave her thinking she’d been stood up. I hit send on my cell and picked up the pace.

A block out I saw her sitting, her back towards me. I thought about sneaking up, maybe putting my hands over her eyes and making her guess who. No fun in that, who else would it be.

I waved as I saw her. She gave me a wave back, didn’t stand, just gave me a wave. A chilly night. She pulled her cardigan a little snugger.

On the walk over I’d used the café’s app to order Champagne, not the most expensive, but not the least either. I was a beer man myself, but tonight might as well be New Year’s Eve, so I splurged and went with the bubbly.

It was waiting, uncorked, on the table when I took a seat.

A table over a guy grabbed his girl by the hand, pulled her close, whispered something that made her laugh. A waiter used this fancy tool to uncork a bottle of wine and they both giggled when it popped. Kept giggling as he poured, pointing to one another, smiling like they hadn’t been on a date in years.

I raised my hand for the waiter to uncork ours. When he did, I told him I’d handle the pouring. He understood - a little nod to me, slight bow to Nellie. Another hand raised and he disappeared.

I turned to my girl, “None for me, “she said.

I set her glass down. “You’re not drinking tonight?”

“No,” she said.

I poured myself a glass and took a slug. “A hundred-dollar bottle, Nellie, but I don’t care.” I told her I’d have paid double, not seeing her, my girl for almost a year. “Come on, let’s have a toast,” I said this and grabbed her glass, started to pour the bubbly.  “A celebration, Nellie, our own private good-bye to mask-wearing, social-distancing…”

“No, Ned, I shouldn’t,” she said.

“I insist,” I said and grabbed her arm.

“I really shouldn’t, Ned. Let go,” she said.

I held firm, tilted the bottle, and poured.

Her glass moved when she jerked.

“That’s ‘bout five dollars you made me spill, girl. I know it ain’t no Don Perignon, but what’s up?”

She didn’t answer right away, took the napkin out of her lap, and covered the spill like she was afraid to blot it. Didn’t matter, it soaked up anyway.

“I asked you a question. What’s up?”

“Lower your voice, Ned, people are staring.”

I looked around. Nothing but a sea of couples lost in dinner conversation. A laugh here, a sip of wine there. Wax from each table’s solitary candle ran from the flame each time it flickered. I wondered how long a candle lasted, how much wax dripped, how big a mess it made before being replaced. A baby, that shouldn’t be there, cried - for his momma’s teat - I imagined. Momma and Daddy’s eyes glanced my way but shifted back to their plates when I raised mine.

“You’ve grown a beard, Ned.”

“Yes, you like it? “I said as I stroked it.

“It’s okay.”

“And you’ve put on weight. About ten pounds.”

“Closer to twenty, actually, “she said.

“Been taking care of yourself, that’s good. Always thought you could stand to fatten up a bit. Put a little meat on.”

“Thought you liked my figure. You never told me.”

“Let’s just say I like the way you’ve filled out. In all the right places. Especially up top.” I winked when I said that.

She picked up the napkin, wet with Champagne, and dabbed ‘round her eyes. Stood up, unbuttoned that oversized cardigan, then slumped into the chair. She raised her head, straightened up.

She looked me right in the eye when I asked.

“Alejandro’s cousin, you remember…”

“The Tilt-a-Whirl man?”

“Miguel, his name’s Miguel.” The look in her eyes said she wanted to say more.

I had more to say as well. A guy that worked as a carnival mechanic – that jerked people around – what could he offer. “Why, Nellie,” I asked.

“He never wore a mask, Ned. Not ever.”

“What are you saying? You’re not making sense. We all wore masks. Damn mandate, you fool woman.”

“Was once, not now. Making perfect sense. You’re not listening – You never did…”

“Hold on Nellie,” I said.” “I’ve always heard you out.”

“Perfect example, Ned. Interrupting when I’m trying to speak. It’s like you’ve got wax in your ears, or just don’t care. I’d rather it was wax.”

What an odd thing to remember.

March 11, 2021 21:09

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