The Wrong Fish

Submitted into Contest #33 in response to: Write a story about miscommunication.... view prompt



“Hey Carl! I’m at Ralph’s Diner. Just let me know when you get here. Bye!”

Sally hung up the phone and sat down at a table to await her date. The diner was hopping with its usual Friday night crowd and Sally enjoyed people watching while she waited. 

There was a young couple over by the jukebox, browsing the song options. A family of four was ordering milkshakes in a booth by the door. Through the window, she could see people wandering aimlessly among the classic cars that always parked there for the weekend. Despite their age, the cars gleamed as if they were brand new, clearly a source of pride for their owners.

Sally glanced at her watch. Carl was ten minutes late, but she knew he was coming from work in the city, so she figured he might be stuck in traffic. She pulled a menu out of the holder and perused the dinner options. Typical diner food of burgers, various fried options, and pizza, with a bit of sock hop flair. The menu was decorated with records, poodle skirts, and a caricature of the king of rock and roll himself, Elvis Presley. Sally smiled and glanced at the wall above the jukebox where a plastic replica of the king hung, his hips swaying in time to the beat.

As she reviewed the menu once more, she felt a presence beside her and looked up, expecting to see the waiter. Instead, she found herself gazing into the deep blue eyes of a strange man.

He cleared his throat. “Excuse me, are you waiting for someone?”

“Y-yes,” Sally stuttered. “Are you -”

“From Matcher?” the man finished. “I’m sorry I’m late. Traffic.” He shrugged.

“No problem,” Sally frowned. He looked nothing like his pictures. His hair was much darker and she could have sworn his eyes were green. She shook her head slightly, pushed her confusion away, and smiled. Maybe the lighting in the photos was off or her computer screen’s coloration was wrong.

“So what’s good here?”

“Haven’t you been here before?” Sally asked in surprise. Her confusion returned as he frowned and shook his head.

“I haven’t gotten to enjoy many local establishments since I moved here,” he clarified.

Moved here?!? Sally thought. I thought he told me he grew up in the next town over? She shook her head again, trying to clear it. Maybe he was referring to the move from that town to this one?

“Um, well, it’s pretty typical diner food,” she finally responded.

“So I see,” he muttered as he looked over the menu. “The milkshakes look good.”

Sally relaxed. “The delights of all things dairy is what Ralph’s is known for!” When he looked pointedly at the decor, she laughed. “Well, one of the things, I guess.”

He smiled and settled into his seat. A moment later, the waiter arrived and took their order. 

“How was your day?” Sally asked.

He leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Long. And tiring. But it’s Friday, so things are looking up.” He smiled at her. “I’m really glad we were able to get together tonight. I’m sorry I’ve been a bit hard to nail down for a date.”

Sally cocked her head in confusion. “I wouldn’t say that,” she began, slowly.

“Oh, I don’t mean to sound pompous,” he cut in, quickly. “I just mean that I’ve been busy and I know we’ve been talking about getting together for a while.”

What is he talking about? Sally wondered. I literally just swiped right on him yesterday.

“Sally!” a voice pulled her from her thoughts. “I’m so sorry I’m late! I-” Carl stopped short. “Um, who are you?” he asked pointedly to the man sitting opposite Sally.

“I’m John,” the man responded, confused. He looked across the table. “Wait, your name is Sally?” 

Before she could respond, a woman appeared next to Carl. “John?”

“Debbie?” John responded, a deep blush starting to creep into his cheeks as he realized his error.

“What’s going on?” Carl demanded.

“I apologize,” John said, standing up. “When I came in, I saw a woman sitting by herself and thought it was Debbie.”

Carl looked from Sally’s redhead to Debbie’s blonde one in disbelief. “You got these two women confused? They don’t look anything alike!”

John’s blush deepened. “I-I thought maybe Debbie had posted old pictures and had recently dyed her hair,” he stammered. “Sometimes photos aren’t always clear and, I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time someone posted older or misleading photos.” He shrugged sheepishly.

“It’s not all his fault,” Sally finally found her voice. “I was equally confused as to his appearance, but thought it was maybe due to the lighting of the photo.”

“Well, whatever, I’m here now,” Carl retorted. He glared at John. “And your actual date is here as well, so why don’t you two go find your own table.”

John blushed again and nodded. He walked with Debbie to a booth on the other side of the diner. Carl sat down with a huff.

“At least it would make a good story,” Sally said feebly, hoping to lighten the mood.

Carl rolled his eyes and grabbed a menu, just as the food arrived. The waiter went to set down John’s dinner, but noticed that an entirely different man was sitting in his place. 

“I’m sorry,” Sally started, before Carl could berate the waiter too. “There was a misunderstanding. The man who ordered that is now sitting at the booth over there.” 

The waiter looked from Sally to Carl and then back to Sally. He shrugged, set Sally’s plate down, and headed over to the table Sally had indicated. While there, he took Debbie’s order and then came back.

“What would you like to order, sir?” 

Carl gruffly placed his order and once the waiter was gone, he cleared his throat. “I’m sorry I was so abrupt. It’s been a long day, traffic was hell, and I’ve been looking forward to our date.” 

Sally smiled at him tentatively. “I’m sorry for the confusion, but I’m glad you were able to make it.” Her first impression of him was fading a bit now that he seemed to have calmed down.

“I was a bit surprised you picked this place,” he continued, with a hint of condescension in his tone. “I mean, I know it’s a popular place for townies, but your profile made me think you were more cultured.”

And just like that, her first impression of him came back with a vengeance. Sally bit back a sigh and attempted to salvage the evening. “I like the ambiance and the retro feel.” She shrugged and took a bite of her burger. Normally she would politely wait until his food arrived, but she was hungry and she had already determined it was unlikely there would be a second date. 

“I guess,” he responded, dubiously. Mercifully, his food arrived and neither felt the need to continue the conversation while they satisfied their appetites.

When they finished, Sally sat back and looked at Carl. It was clear that she had made a mistake thinking John looked anything like him, though Carl’s pictures were clearly old. The thick brown hair and muscular physique in his photos was a distant cry from his receding hairline and soft belly that sat before her. Still, had he been the one to sit across from her first, she felt she probably would have been more open to seeing him again. As it was, she found her thoughts drifting to John and she stole a glance behind her to see if he and Debbie were still at their table.

“So what should we do now?” Carl asked, bringing Sally’s attention back to him.

“Now?” She was incredulous. Surely he was having as awful a time as she was, particularly since he didn’t enjoy the venue she had chosen.

“Yeah,” Carl said, a slow smile spreading over his face. “Let’s get out of here and go somewhere, a little more intimate.” He winked.

Sally fought to keep a neutral expression, but inside she was reeling. Could he really think he was going to get some tonight? She knew that Matcher had a reputation for hook-ups, but she had made it clear in her bio that she was looking for a relationship, not a one night stand.

“I’m sorry, I can’t,” she stammered. “I, uh, have an early day tomorrow.” She thought fast. “Yoga.”

“Can’t you skip it?” he pressed. “What I have in mind will surely stretch your muscles.” He wriggled his eyebrows suggestively.

She felt herself cringe and tried to play it off as a sneeze. “Tempting, but I’m teaching the class. Covering for a friend.” She shrugged. The waiter arrived and she took advantage of the opportunity. “Can you split the check?”

“Oh, no,” Carl started. “I was going to-”

“No, no!” Sally interrupted, waving her hand dismissively. “I’m perfectly happy to pay my own way!” The waiter nodded and headed off. “Excuse me, I need to head to the lady’s room.” 

She quickly set off for the bathroom to avoid any further interactions with Carl. On her way there, she passed by John’s booth. He smiled warmly and waved. She waved back, noting that he was alone. 

She opened the door and almost ran into Debbie. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.”

“No harm, no foul,” Debbie responded. She was putting on lipstick and she caught Sally’s eye in the mirror. “Did your date get better?”

“Not really,” Sally sighed. “That’s why I’m here. How about you?”

“Meh,” Debbie said. “It wasn’t up to the expectation I had set, but it’s my own fault. I’ve been chasing John for weeks to meet up and he’s always busy. He wasn’t really worth the effort.”

“That sucks, I’m sorry.” Sally examined her own reflection and then glanced back at Debbie. “So you’re not seeing him again?”

“Mmm,” Debbie thought for a moment. “Nah. He’s nice to look at, but we don’t have much in common.” She pursed her lips and then grinned at Sally. “Back to fishing for both of us?”

Sally laughed. “Looks like it.”

Debbie put her lipstick away and grabbed her purse. “Well, good luck out there!” 

Sally stood alone in the bathroom staring at herself in the mirror. If she was honest with herself, she didn’t want to go “fishing” again. She also didn’t want to return to her date, but she knew she had to pay the bill and at least say goodbye. With a heavy sigh, she washed her hands, opened the door, and went back to the table. 

To her surprise, Carl wasn’t there. Both bills were sitting on the table, but he had paid in cash. After a quick mental calculation, Sally realized he hadn’t bothered to leave a tip. She rolled her eyes and counted out the bills to cover her meal and both their tips. When she got out to her car, she stopped short  and stared in disbelief when she saw Carl standing with Debbie. By his body language, it was clear he was offering the same proposition to Debbie that he had offered to her just moments ago. Shaking her head, she climbed into her car and prepared to head home.

Just as she was about to turn the car on, she heard a knock at her window. She expected to see Carl, fresh from another rejection, trying his luck with her again, but instead she found herself once again looking into the deep blue eyes of John. She rolled down the window.

“Hey, I’m sorry again for the confusion earlier.”

Sally smiled. “It was as much my fault as yours.”

“Well, if it’s any consolation, our date went a lot better than my real date,” John told her.

Sally cocked her head in the direction of Carl and Debbie. “Well, your ‘real’ date is currently being propositioned by mine, so I think we had the same experience.”

John looked in the direction she indicated and rolled his eyes. “Wow, he berates me for a mistake, but has no qualms about knowingly trying his luck with someone else’s date.” He winked at Sally. “What a catch.”

She rolled her eyes and laughed. “Tell me about it.”

He shook his head and laughed with her. Then his eyes turned serious. “Would you like to go out sometime?” He grinned.  “On purpose?” 

Sally laughed again. “Well, the night is still young. You feel like grabbing a cup of coffee?”

“Can it be an Irish coffee?”

“That actually sounds great! Let’s go.”

They agreed to meet at a waterfront bar in 20 minutes. Sally felt a renewed sense of optimism. She arrived at the bar a few minutes early and checked her make-up. John pulled up beside her and stepped out.



John winked. “Just making sure I’ve got the right one this time.”

March 20, 2020 21:32

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Mark Russell
16:28 Oct 31, 2020

So Sally really did meet prince charming the night before... Good backstory. I'm off the hook!


17:06 Oct 31, 2020

Even at a distance, we were collaborating! lol.


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Shirley Medhurst
14:26 Mar 26, 2020

Sweet feel-good story; I enjoyed reading it.


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Lindy Guidry
00:03 Mar 24, 2020

I really enjoyed this story. Maybe its the feeling of dejavu I experienced while reading it! I can relate to Sally and those baaaaaaaad internet dates of years gone by.


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