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Contemporary Fiction

   Arthur held his cell over his restaurant menu texting.

    “Could you stop that please?” Paulina said.

    Arthur looked up to see her giving him the crossed arms. “Sorry.” He put the cell down on the table as he could not bring himself to put it away entirely. “Anyway, I felt awful when Halls Investments fired you. I thought I’d give it a decent amount of time, and then I wanted to invite you out, because I missed chatting with you.”

   “I resigned. The place was making me sick.”

   “Really? They got one of the best wellness packages of the top one hundred anywhere. Did you talk to HR? Because they have all sorts of support contacts, and programs, that can help employees, you know, fulfill your potential and reach your goals.”   

   “No, I had a talk with myself.”

   “Ah, good. That’s good. Why don’t we order? You have to try the Lobster Bisque. They got a Michelin Star just for their Lobster Bisque.”

   “I’m Vegan. No, wait, I’m not anything, I don’t eat meat or seafood. You have what you like.”

   “No, no, we’ll get salads.” Arthur looked about for the server, then the other diners, and back to Paulina who seemed to look at him with concern. She was wearing a plain black dress. Not the little black dress, but a somewhat out of place plain one. Arthur lifted his phone up. For a moment it was in the air between them, then Arthur put it away in his suit jacket.  “Philips is talking now about leasing the two floors above, and also opening a series of virtual offices. There are a few entry level VP spots opening up soon.”

   “Arthur, why are you trying so hard?”

   “I don’t know. I’m attracted to you.”

   Pauline smiled. “I’m talking about where you work. Why are you trying so hard?”

   “I got bills. I got student loans. I like having a nice place to live. Eating well. I want to better myself.”

   “Let me tell you about the world, Arthur. We make it up. We can unmake it.”

   “That’s a bit woo-woo for me. I mean, that’s okay.”

   “So is where you work Arthur, you just can’t see it. Everything is woo-woo. That’s the beginning of wisdom.”

   “I’m not arguing. I know the importance of growing. Of keeping yourself open to experiences. New ways. New ideas. I’m in a management development program right now, and part of that is a diversity and inclusion module, looking at different lifestyles, different faiths. I’m onboard with all that.”  

   Pauline leaned over taking Arthur’s hand in both of hers. “Listen, Arthur, I’m a bad date. I don’t have any money anymore. I live in a little month to month apartment on top of Khanna’s Convenience, way at the other end of town by the bridge.” She leaned back and looked around at the other diners. “This is too much for me. I’m going to go. You stay. I’m getting a bus. Stay.”

   Then she left.

    Eight months later, in the same restaurant, Arthur held his cell over his menu texting, as Larissa did the same. Arthur stopped and looked around. “Should we order?”

   “I did in taxi on the way over for both of us.”

   Arthur took some pills from his blazer and washed them down.

   “What are you doing?”

   “They’re digestives. The steak, or the bisque, here seem to bother me.”

   “I know what they are. Why are you taking them at the table? You’re supposed to excuse yourself and do that in the restroom. Now everyone here thinks you’re on antidepressants.”

   “What?”

   “They’re all potential clients.” Larissa took Arthur’s hand in hers. “Look, we are so close to you moving up on the pay scale. And anywhere we go you have to remember were on. We always have to be presenting ourselves. Do you remember Paulina?”

   Arthur nodded.

   “Fantastic etiquette, tone, and sense of occasion. Did you ever read her texts? Always pro-motivational. Total cheerleader. Then she started to show her stress. She was non-compliant with attendance, she was dropping team work assignments, she wasn’t contributing in motivational circles– “

   “She was sick.”

   “That’s when you have to push through. That’s when you dig deep, and find out what you’re made of. I mean, the support is there. The company wants what’s best for everybody. We’re all stakeholders. But you have to do your part. You always have to be taking advantage of the programs that are all out there if have the will power to take them. You got this Arthur.”   

   Arthur nodded. “Excuse me.”

   He got up and made his way to the restroom. He was within two tables of the door before he slumped over, curling up into a ball clutching his left side. Emergencies services took him out on a stretcher, and Larissa, between rapid texts, ordered them to “Look after him.” But she did not attend the hospital herself.

   After many tests and consultations at the hospital, and having emptied two bags of saline IV, it was decided Arthur had collapsed due to dehydration. A few weeks later at work, Arthur found himself unable to sit in his office without agitation. He looked out over a city that now buzzed like a hornet’s nest. His glass walled office now felt like a fishbowl. Conference rooms were making him claustrophobic. Any contact from his bosses, in person, by phone, or by text, sent Arthur fleeing from the building.

   Months went by as he became housebound, only going out for medical appointments with his psychiatrist, gastrointestinal specialist, or nutritionist.

       Then the economic fallout began. Arthur watched his car seized for missing the lease payments. His insurance kept delaying payments arguing they were not receiving full medical documentation that would qualify Arthur’s claims. The company’s HR stopped dealing with him and their legal department took over. Selling his mortgaged house did not leave Arthur any money for a lawyer of his own.

   One day in group therapy an elderly lady said she thought her anxiety might have been caused by past lives trauma. Arthur laughed to himself that that was very woo-woo, then, though he had not said it out loud, he felt like a jerk for thinking it. “I don’t know where my panic comes from.” He admitted to the elderly lady, and the group nodded support.

   On the bus back to his apartment that same day he felt a serious high threshold panic attack coming. His medication helped dulled it a little, but it was the most serious attack he had since being off work. Arthur watched his apartment stop go by and stayed in his seat. Everything was screaming at him inside to get off the bus, but he had to keep on this ride for himself.

   Arthur got off at the stop by the bridge. He walked behind the Khanna Convenience and knocked on the door. He could hear Paulina coming down the steps inside. She opened the door.

   “Hi, I’m a bad date, and I don’t have any money anymore…” Arthur ran out of words.

   Paulina patted his back. “Okay, I going to get my jacket. There are some benches by the bridge, we can sit over there.”

   Arthur nodded. “Yeah. That sounds good.”

February 04, 2023 01:29

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3 comments

Jack Kimball
16:50 Feb 11, 2023

Hi David. Love the dialogue with the subtext beneath the surface. The dialogue flows real, which is hard, so great job! - 'Ah, good. That’s good.' - “This is too much for me. I’m going to go. You stay. I’m getting a bus. Stay.” I thought Arthur was the only sane person in his world so I was glad he got back to Paulina. A couple of times I had to go back to re-read. I thought it might be better with a visual clue about Paulina, but maybe that's just me. Yes. Great picture of feeling disconnected. Jack

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Rabab Zaidi
14:08 Feb 11, 2023

Very interesting ! I loved the ending !!

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Helen A Smith
15:03 Feb 04, 2023

You portray a good picture of feeling disconnected. It seems the world is full of stress and nonsense. At least he’s not alone in this.

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