Fiction by Peter Trainor
Walt was awoken by knocking. He seemed to have fallen asleep on the couch. He still felt tired, so he attempted to ignore it. The knocking continued. He stood up and walked to the door.
“Hi Walt!” A woman sipped from a beer bottle which obscured her face.
“How long's it been?”
“Just long enough.” She made an unclear gesture with her finger and thumb. “I'm 33 today.”
“Well, Happy birthday.”
She nodded. “So I'm here to commence our backup marriage.”
“Backup marriage?” Walt tried to say something else but instead made some sounds which were not words.
“Yes” she walked into his apartment. “I'm your backup wife, remember? Or fiancée. I forget which one. We agreed it would begin when I turned 30, or if you turned 30, and if we were both single. I'm single. I'm 33. How about you?”
“Well I’m 32.” He sat down. “But I don’t remember anything about this agreement.”
“Single?” She sat down beside him.
“Technically. Are you sure you’re not mixing it up with some TV show?”
“Possibly. We’ll go ring shopping tomorrow.” She opened her handbag. “I've been looking at wedding dresses in this catalogue.” She lifted it and set it down on the table. “And sure, they seem okay. Now my parents, I haven't called them. I was thinking you should call yours first. You know, make it official.”
“But you're not single though. Are you?”
“I am now.”
“Let's see.” She counted on her fingers. “Two, three hours ago. Back on the market, for a limited time only.”
“And you've been drinking solidly ever since?”
“Bingo. Case closed.”
“So those few hours of single life have been so bad you've resorted to an arranged marriage?”
“No, the problem was the year long relationship leading up to this. Somehow we agreed to get married. No proposal. I thought it was a mature kind of love and we would just make a pragmatic decision to wed. He even printed out a chart of tax options. I was sitting at his kitchen table, going through it with a pen, and my first thought was that I will stab someone with it. Either me or him. I told him I needed air. Went for a walk and threw the pen in the trash. I didn’t stab anyone.”
“And you came straight here?”
“No, that would be too good a story. I went back in. Had the heart to heart. I think it was yesterday that it started. It’s evening now right?”
Walt checked his watch. “Yes.”
“I think the whole time I knew I had to leave. Hanging in there, holding on for things to magically improve? Literally never works. Then I remembered our deal, and I realized that I actually prefer you to Mike.”
“I’m pretty sure you imagined the deal.”
Lucy nodded. “And if you’d rather be with someone from like a decade ago, then you know something’s wrong. Even if I’m remembering the past too fondly, it’s still better than excruciating safety.” She looked around his apartment. “I must say you’ve really spruced this place up, and I almost never say spruce.”
“You’ve never been here before.”
“I knew something was different.”
“How did you find me?”
“Jeff told me.”
“Shouldn’t you be confiding in your close friends, hearing how you’re better off without him?”
“I should, but I don’t have the energy. And it took me a while to remember who my close friends were supposed to be. Didn’t we used to be close friends? Can’t you just sit with me and watch me point at wedding dresses?” Lucy gestured towards the catalogue. “I’m hungry.”
“There’s a few restaurants nearby.”
“You've changed since I last saw you.” She stayed seated.
“You too.” Walt took her hand and pulled her up.
Walt glanced at her as they walked through the streets. She looked neither unburdened nor devastated, not at all like someone who had just broken off an engagement.
They arrived at the restaurant and were shown to their table. Behind them was a family with a screaming kid.
“Mental note” said Walt. “Never come here again.”
“You know, you aren’t supposed to say mental notes out loud.”
“Mental note, Lucy’s getting angry again.”
“Again? What are you talking about?”
Walt lowered his head. “Oh boy…”
The waiter came to their table. “Are we quite ready to order?”
“No, we haven’t opened the menus yet” said Walt.
“Very well, sir” the waiter left.
“Was he literally looking down his nose at us?” Walt asked.
“I think he was.”
“I didn't think anyone actually did that.”
Lucy looked at her menu.
“Maybe in the fancy restaurants,” Walt closed his, “but in a place like this?”
“Maybe he got fired from a better restaurant.”
“Hopefully.” Walt leaned back. “Are you going to keep that scarf on?”
“Sure why not?”
“You should take it off.”
“You won’t even do it for me?”
“No, I like this scarf.”
“Which would you choose if you had to pick between the scarf and me?”
“Why would I ever have to make that decision?”
“Say we were on a rowboat, just the two of us, and all of a sudden we hit a wave. It knocks me out of the boat and it knocks your scarf in another direction. You’re still in the boat, which one would you save?”
“Can’t you swim?”
“I can but perhaps under that kind of stress I’d forget. You’d pick the scarf, I can tell. Then you’d be sitting on an island waiting to be rescued, when all of a sudden I wash up on shore. I’m barely alive and have been wounded somehow. I say ‘Quick Lucy, wrap your scarf around my wound’. You’ll hesitate and during that hesitation I’ll die.” His former girlfriend never let him talk that much or go that far with an absurd scenario. It counted for something.
The kid continued to scream behind them.
“How can her parents not hear that?” Lucy leaned towards them. “They’re sitting right next to her!”
“I guess they’ve grown immune over the years.”
The waiter arrived and took their order.
“So what happened with your fiancé?” Walt asked. “Was he that bad?”
“Mike? He was okay, the kind of guy women marry.”
“He didn’t even change. He just isn’t interesting. People don’t get less boring over time, that’s for sure.”
“He was probably putting in a special effort at the beginning. Saved up a lifetime of wit and unleashed it all in a hurricane of mild amusement.”
“He even promised we’d never become one of those boring couples. He gave me his word. He looked me in the eyes when he said it.”
“That doesn’t mean anything. I could look you in the eyes and say anything. You know Mount Rushmore? I built that. You know Mount Everest?”
“I get it. I’ll never trust you again. Happy?”
They ate their meals in relative silence. Walt realized that he was enjoying himself. He wanted to see her again. At the very least they could talk about the old days and bring that back to mind. It made him feel young again to be around her, but he wondered if they would always reminisce and if too much time had been lost to let them be adults.
She thanked him for paying and he walked her home.
“You weren’t serious about that marriage stuff, right?”
Lucy laughed. “No, no. I was going through a few things. Long term relationship ending. Re-evaluating my entire life. Nothing major.”
They reached her door. She put her hands on his shoulders and leaned towards him. It felt familiar, required no effort and furthermore it made him feel young. He did not move. Anything he could do would be a bad idea.
“It was good to see you again” she leaned away. “Are you still with that company?”
“No, but at one point I had a job where I wore a tie.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“It was a really good tie.”
“What did you do there?”
“All the real work. The work everyone else did? Not real.”
“I’m going to get my studio back.”
“I don’t know.”
“I’ll get in touch soon.” She opened the door, went in and closed it without looking behind her.