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Fiction

“I only read books about the Holocaust,” she said. He wondered if he’d heard her right, it was very loud inside the bustling restaurant after all. “You read what, now?” he asked half-heartedly and a little bit confused.


“Ok, I wasn’t exactly accurate there, I just realized,” she said, laughing. “I mostly read books about the Holocaust, but I switch it up sometimes with ones about escaping religious cults.” She paused when she saw his face, his eyes blinking slowly. “It’s always some atrocity or another that reels me in,” she said, staring down into her lap. He seemed to ignore the conversational lull, and when she looked up, she knew she’d already lost him. But he was handsome enough, and she had nowhere else to be, so she tried to keep up the momentum. “Oh! And also, cannot get enough of books about submarines. Have you ever thought about how stinky those things are though? Sometimes, during World War II, the submarine guys would just be floatin’ along close to the shore and come across an animal, like a random goat, or one time, even a pregnant dog, and they’d just say ‘oh sure, come on in, friend, join us in this tightly sealed off nautical’....”


DING!


She watched him nearly trip over his loafered feet trying to get to the next table. Then he realized he’d forgotten his tweed blazer that was looped over the chair. When he came back to fetch it, he gave her a pursed-lip smile. She started to return the smile, but realized a new someone had already taken the seat in front of her.


They traded hellos as he settled in, taking turns nervously gulping from their beer bottles. “I’m Nina Meskill,” she said and pointed to her name tag. “Nice to meet you,” he said. “I’m Piers Taylor.” “Piers, what do you do for a living?” she asked with a smirk. She interrupted him before he could answer. “You know what, I’m sorry. Let’s start over. If I’m being honest, I absolutely hate these tired old ice breaker questions, so shoot. Give me anything, tell me whatever’s on your mind,” she said, energized by her ingenuity.


“Well…my mother is dying,” he said flatly. Her shoulders slumped and she gave him an empathetic look, knitting her eyebrows together in concern. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry to hear that!” she said. “Yeah, thanks. I appreciate that. But actually, she’s always been kind of a raging bitch my whole life and now she’s living in my house and still barking orders at me. A 90-lb drill sergeant hooked up to an oxygen tank, can you believe it?” The words stopped short of exiting her mouth, but then she managed a quiet, “oh yeah, wow.”


He momentarily came back to himself, cleared his throat, and fired a question across the table. “So, what’s on your mind tonight?” he asked. Was he flirting? She couldn’t tell. “Well Piers, I’m just trying to get back out there and meet some new people, you know. It’s been a while since I’ve peopled. Little rusty on the peopling,” she said and shrugged. “I get it,” he said. “I’m at the office from sun up to sun down, staring at one Excel spreadsheet after another. I mean, it’s all billable, but part of the time, it’s just me trying to stay away from my mother!” He let out a laugh from deep in his belly and took another swig of his lager. She attempted to arrange her face into a blank slate. She scanned the dining room. “So I wonder how the mozzarella sticks are here,” she said, checking the table for a menu. “Do you know if we can order food while we do this?” she asked. “Eh well, I can’t eat any of that kind of stuff anyway, dairy does a number on my…”


DING!


With a head nod and a wink, he moved over one space to the left. She locked eyes with the woman at the next table and gave her an unspoken warning. “Whew, this has been a little bit exhausting!” the new guy said with a chuckle. When she looked up at him, he immediately apologized. “It’s fine, it’s fine,” she said. “It is a little draining on the ole noggin. So hi, hello, I’m Nina,” she said. “Hi Nina, I’m Lonnie.” “Nice to meet you,” they said in unison and the tension fizzled just a little. When their hesitant laughter fell away, a gaping hole of silence spread out between them. He looked over her shoulder. She felt the blood pound inside her head. He picked at his cuticles. She gritted her teeth and frowned. Then all she had left was to fall back on one of those loathsome icebreakers.


“So, if you could have any super power, what would it be? Like invisibility, telepathy, shape shifting?” she asked. “Uh, I guess every dude would probably say invisibility, right? Of course, we’d all use it for evil. But then, I’d probably just get my ass MeToo’d, wouldn’t I?” Her brain began to close up shop, and she found herself craning her neck and willing the bell to just hurry up and…


DING!


The man shook his head and moved along wordlessly. She was relieved. She held on to a scrap of hope but braced herself for the next one. “Excuse me? Uh, hi,” came a soft voice from the left. “Hey, I thought I heard you say something about submarines?” the woman said. She turned to face her, legs swinging off the stool like a giddy child. “Yes? I mean, yes! I love submarines, well stories of submarines, weird factoids, actually,” she said. The woman responded kindly. “You do know about the USS Silversides Submarine Museum, right?” “What? No! Actually, I just moved here recently so I’m still trying to find the grocery store,” she said sheepishly. “Yeah, the museum is like 30 minutes from here.” She noticed her tablemate had turned away and was trying to get the waiter’s attention. She shrugged and turned back to the woman, who was digging in her purse and pulling out a business card. “The museum is closed now, but hey, text me sometime if you wanna check it out. I’ve lived here for years but still haven’t been.”


“Deal!” she said. “You wanna go grab a drink at the bar?”


DING!


The men continued cycling through the human assembly line, skipping over the two now empty tables.


January 28, 2022 16:28

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3 comments

Stevie B
13:39 Feb 01, 2022

Ashley, a rather enlightening little tale. Well written, and done!

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Ashley Cullen
13:44 Feb 03, 2022

Thank you so much Stevie! That's very kind. And thank you for reading.

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Stevie B
14:09 Feb 03, 2022

You're welcome and keep on writing.

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