Power Outages, Pierogies, and Polish Tango Music

Submitted into Contest #92 in response to: Write a story set in a city where the power suddenly goes out, leaving everyone in darkness.... view prompt

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Fiction Contemporary Romance



The power went out all over the city at around 8:30 pm.  It was happening with increasing frequency as society began switching to greener technology. The best of intentions could not keep up with the population’s demands. 


It would be all well and good if Laura Wingate was just sitting at home with her phone fully charged, scented candles at various stages of use and a lighter at the ready. But no, she was in a bustling restaurant, waiting. 


Waiting for what might be the most important night of her life to begin. 


Waiting to meet the man of her dreams. 


The other diners made noises of derision when all went black, phones came out, flashlights activated. Chairs scraped away from tables and people clumsily tried to exit without trampling each other. But Laura didn’t budge. 


A waitress made her way over. “We’re closing, Ma’am.”


“Can’t I stay just a little bit longer?” she asked, squinting to see her. “You never know, lights might come back at any time.”


“I doubt it, gets longer every time it happens,” and the waitress walked off, stubbing her toe along the way. “Ouch, damn.”


Laura took out her phone and saw the battery was on its last legs, six percent. She put it away, and sighed, realizing it was time to trade it in. Come Monday, she would. 


“Why do you want to stay?” It was a man’s voice, two tables over. 


“I was waiting for someone.”


“Did they stand you up?”


“Certainly not,” Laura countered, straining to see him. “He wouldn’t do that.”


“Boyfriend, huh? Husband?”


“Just a friend.”


There was a short silence. “I see. Just a friend. So why not shoot him a text, tell him you’ll catch him next time?”


“We don’t text. Or call. We communicate solely by written letters.”


“Interesting.”


“You can go if you’d like, I’ll be fine on my own.”


“Maybe I’m waiting on someone, too?”


“Are you?”


“You afraid to walk in the dark?” he asked. 


“Of course not.” Fine, she was, just a little. “I’d hate to find out he himself struggled through the dark, only to find me gone.”


“I doubt he’s struggling. He’s probably sitting on his couch, eating chips-“


“He’s not a chip eater,” she said defensively. “He’s very much into fitness, and healthy eating.”


“Letters, huh? How’d that happen? Some lonely hearts magazine?”


“No,” Laura told him, getting out her phone, hoping it had one scintilla of power left, just to shine a light at his sarcastic face. No such luck, the old girl was dead. 


“How then? I’m not criticizing-“


“Aren’t you?”


“I’m intrigued.”


“They have a pen pals board at my favorite book store. I picked him to write to.”


“I had a pen pal, in grade school, kid from Germany.”


“It’s all anonymous. We had surprisingly similar interests.”


“You knew he was a guy, right?”


“Yes.”


“So you were hoping for some kind of uh, romantic conclusion.”


“No, not at all. I wanted to make a friend.”


“So why not select a chick?”


Laura didn’t answer for a moment. “We were the last two left on the board.”


“Like the last two picked for dodgeball, right? Couple of rejects?”


Laura looked to the front of the restaurant, swearing she could see someone enter. No, her eyes were playing tricks on her. “If that’s how you want to see it.”


“So, you two fell in love, writing letters? What’s his name?”


“I don’t know that either, and he doesn’t know mine.”


“He knows your address. He might be a serial killer.”


“We use post boxes.”


“You exchanged pictures, though. Because this might turn out real bad for you.”


“Could for him, as well.”


“No, I saw you before the lights went out. You’re very pretty. You never noticed me, though.”


“I’m sorry, I did not. I was watching the door.”


“I was, too. I was waiting for a business associate. But I still noticed you.”


“Um, well, thank you. That’s nice.”


“I’m not a serial killer, either, by the way,” he said, and she could hear him get up. “Just moving a little closer if that’s okay.”


“Fine,” and Laura could see when he stood that he was tall, and lean. And seemingly dressed all in black. 


“So,” he started, pulling out a chair right across from her and sitting down. “You don’t know his name, never saw a picture, how were you going to recognize each other?”


“We agreed to both wear something red.”


“The color of love, passion,” he chuckled. “Looks good on you, that’s some dress.”


“Thank you,” she said, and she felt her cheeks turn the same color. Thank goodness for unreliable green tech. 


“On the other hand, he didn’t exactly put forth the same effort.”


“Excuse me?”


“I hate to tell you this, but a little nervous guy peeked in not long after you sat down. He freaked out and ran out the door again. Red hooded sweatshirt, jeans, those dumb checkerboard sneakers kids wear.”


Laura was dumbfounded. “Kids?”


“Couldn’t have been more than twenty-two years old. Face full of zits, too.”


“It can’t be.”


“What were your mutual interests? Harry Potter and Minecraft?”


“No, of course not!”


“Tell me then.”


“What’s the use?” Laura said, utterly defeated. 


“Hey, guys.” The waitress was back. “We’re seriously closing. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”


“Original,” the man said, in a way dismissing her. “Let’s go. We can get a cab.”


“I don’t live far,” Laura informed him, wanting to get away as quickly as possible. 


“You can’t walk alone. The only thing worse than these blackouts is the crime.”


Laura got up, made her way to the front door, guided by the few still-operational street lights that were streaming in. Once out on the sidewalk, she looked up and down the street to see the traffic lights flashing, cars streaming by with their headlights on. She finally got a good look at her companion; tall, dark hair just starting to go gray, a commanding face, one that meant business, meant what he said. He walked between her and traffic after she indicated what way to go. 


“How far do you have to go?” he asked. 


“Just a few blocks. But once you get me there?”


“I’ll get home one way or another. This is your neighborhood then?”


“Yeah, I’ve lived here three years.”


They walked a little ways and he stopped, had her stop, too. “Do you hear music?” he asked. And she did. 


“It’s the Polish restaurant,” she explained. “It’s called Stan’s.”


He laughed. “That’s not a very romantic name.”


“It’s the owner’s name. In fact, that’s him.”


Stan stood in the center of the sidewalk, as wide as he was tall, chanting, “We got candles, we got wine, come on in, everything’s fine.” He saw Laura walking towards him and approached them. 


“Pretty girl, from the neighborhood. I see you walk by all the time. Who’s your friend? And who died?”


“What?” he asked Stan. 


“You’re all in black, like you’ve been to a funeral,” Stan shrugged. “You’re out with a beautiful girl in a red dress, you ought to look happy. Come in, spend a buck or two. First the god damn covid, now these blackouts, they’re killing me.”


“I guess we could,” he told Stan, and directed her inside. The place was ablaze with at least a hundred red candles; on the tables, on the bar, in the big front window. The hostess seated them, and as she did, Laura noticed something hanging out of her new friend’s suit jacket pocket - the very edge of a red tie. 


It was him.


He’d lied, practically made fun of her. There was no pimply boy in a red sweatshirt. She was angry, she was scared, but she endeavored to not let him know that she knew. Now it was her turn to make him squirm. 


The hostess said she’d bring wine, and check the kitchen to see what they had to eat. “I’m starving,” Laura said. “I was supposed to eat hours ago.”


“I’m sure they have something,” he said, so self-assured. 


“I’m going to have to write to 1091 and tell him I’m a little disappointed in him.”


“1091?”


“That’s his box number. That’s how we address each other. Never knew his name, never will now.” Then she laughed to herself. 


“What’s so amusing?”


“It’s just so funny, I’m shocked he’s basically a kid. I honestly thought, well the way he talked about things, that he was older.”


“You did?”


“Oh sure, sort of an old, well for lack of a better word, fogey.”


“Is that right?” And then the hostess brought wine and poured it for them. He took a drink, and seemed annoyed. 


“Listen,” Laura said, “what song is that? What’s it called?”


“Graj skrzypku graj,” the hostess answered before walking away. “Play, fiddler, play in English.”


“It’s lovely,” Laura said. “1091 and I liked the same music, movies, books. We thought the same way about life, politics, what we wanted in a partner. We’d been through a lot of the same things. We agreed they were things we never wanted to go through again, too. Should’ve known he was too good to be true. He was just a phony.”


“I wouldn’t say that,” he said, a little flustered. 


“I would. There’s no way someone his age would be so wise.”


“He just saw you and realized he was outkicking his coverage. He chickened out of approaching you when the time came.”


“Football reference, mmhm. 1091 and I even liked the same team. Do you like football?”


“What guy doesn’t?”


“Lots, and what they like even less? When women follow sports, and know a lot about them, too. I’ve been told it’s off putting.”


“Don’t worry about what other people think. Just be yourself.”


“Sound advice,” she mocked, raising her glass, then downing its contents in one go.  “Well, if he’s that big of a coward, who wants him?”


He fumbled with the stem of his wine glass, and said, “Coward?”


“Sure, a coward. After months of build up, sharing everything, you have the supposed girl of your dreams right in front of you,” and at this part she leaned up, and looked him right in the eyes, “and you hide. You play games.”


“Well, we don’t have to play games. We can exchange names. I’m Frank.”


And she thought, are you? Really? “Laura Wingate. What do you do, for a living that is?”


“Investment banking. Sounds more exciting than it is.”


“I’m a painter.”


“I’d love to see your work. Landscapes? Portraits?”


“Houses, apartments, we even trundle out to the country once in a while and do a barn here and there.”


“Who’s we?”


“My cousin and I. There’s something else men don’t like. I work with my hands.”


“This is better than referring to someone as 1091 and 183, isn’t it?” he asked as the hostess brought two big plates. 


“Gas is lit on the stove, so we can cook a little. A lot, really. We’re cleaning out the freezer, and one thing we got lots of, pierogies. These are apple, these are potato. Don’t mix ‘em up!” she said as she walked away. 


“One hundred and eighty-three,” Laura said, selecting a savory pierogi to start with. “Ooh, they’re hot, be careful.”


“One hundred and eighty-three? There’s a lot, but not that many,” he said with a goofy laugh she couldn’t imagine was inside him. 


“No, see 183 was my post box. Only one person knew that.”


He swallowed, hard. “These are hot. Besides, you told me. You said it.”


“I did not. I made sure not to,” she informed him, pouring herself more wine, “when I saw the red tie peeking out of your pocket.”


He didn’t look at her, only surveyed the plate of apple pierogies. “I never knew they could be sweet, just savory.”


“What was your plan here, Frank? Give me the shop-around-the-corner treatment? You’re Jimmy Stewart, I’m Margaret Sullavan? Get me all wound up about some dip with acne, make a fool of me, then swoop in and be the hero?”


“I’m not a coward,” he said adamantly. 


“You’re worse, you’re mean spirited.”


“And you’re inobservant. You don’t recognize me, at all, do you?”


She studied his face by candlelight, his features thrown into odd shadows by the flickering flames. “Should I?”


“I live in this neighborhood as well. Your favorite bookstore is mine, too.”


“What are you? Some kind of stalker? You never followed me home, did you?” she asked, coming up out of her seat. 


“Sit down,” he said, panicking. “I’m not a stalker. People can live around each other, and notice each other, and not be weird about it.”


“You’re not weird?”


“I noticed you hanging around that dumb pen-pal board, looking for someone that way instead of actually seeing past the end of your own nose. So, I, uh...”


“You what?”


“I took down everyone else’s pen-pal notice but yours and mine so you’d have no choice but to pick me.”


“That’s either really romantic, or really creepy.”


“It’s damn romantic, just maybe a little sneaky. And as far as you thinking men don’t like this or that, forget it. I was in the store the same time as you, I saw you with paint on your clothes, and in your hair and under your fingernails and it made me like you even more.”


“Really?”


“See, I’m not the coward, you are. I at least took a chance. You live inside yourself and never notice anyone or give anyone a chance, either. You’d rather write to a stranger than actually look at someone and say hello.”


She didn’t know what to say, other than he was right, and there was no way in hell she was going to admit that. Not yet. “I’ve had blueberry before, but not apple.”


“Huh?”


“Pierogies. Strawberry, too, but I think, now, I like apple best.”


“Are you mad?”


“Hell yes, I’m mad. At you, at myself, at the lights going out. But with some more wine, and starchy foods, it’ll pass.”


“You gonna give me a chance?”


She thought for a moment. “You went through a lot of trouble, just to get to know me, so-“


“Don’t say just. Just diminishes what you’re referring to. Part of the reason I decided to not approach you back there, well, I wanted hit the reset button. Learn all about each other again, but this time in person. I’m sorry it went sideways.”


“It hasn’t. No more lying though.”


“Absolutely not.”


She gave him a look of mild suspicion. “What’s your last name?”


He winced. “Biggerstaff.”


Laura coughed, and took a drink. “There isn’t a, uh, Mrs. Biggerstaff is there?”


“My mom, and my ex-wife. But she’s the exest ex-wife ever.”


“There is no ex Mister Wingate. No little Wingates. Any junior Biggerstaffs?”


He shook his head. “We discussed that in letter number five, remember?”


“We hit the reset button,” she reminded him. “We’re starting from square one. The very beginning.”


“Fine with me.”



















May 04, 2021 03:22

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3 comments

Rona Barrett
22:22 May 05, 2021

Very entertaining story!

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Thomas Blaine
19:02 May 04, 2021

Excellent. This could be a book. Like all your stories.

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Melanie Emm.
03:29 May 04, 2021

Just some notes: As always I apologize for any typos. The city isn’t New York or Chicago. It only exists in my imagination. I live in the country, so I have no clue what happens in a big city during a blackout. I love pierogies and was equal parts flummoxed and disappointed when spell check kept trying to change it to “parodies.” Also, I knew a girl from East Chicago and she and her grandmother made apple ones. :)

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