Plastic Coup de Grace

I order another martini. "You?"

"Vodka tonic." No please. She can't be bothered with manners. Economy of words, I'd like to think. She's just a bitch. I might be in love with her.

I eat the olive from my third drink and jab the red plastic sword into the meaty part of my left hand. I consider how so little apparent damage can cause that much pain.

"What the fuck are you doing?"

I hand her a green sword. "En garde."

She uses it to pick her teeth.

She feels around in her big canvas bag without looking and pulls out a packet of saltines. She slides it over to me and pulls out another for herself. She had chicken noodle soup for dinner. It came with 4 packs of crackers on the plate beneath. I think she ate one pack. She gave me a third of her remaining crackers. She is stunning.

She's not stunning. She looks like three other girls here. Medium height, medium weight, shoulder-length, straight dark blonde hair, jeans and a black shirt, black boots. The difference -- she is her and they are a collective.

"Thanks." I eat one and put the other in my pocket.

She looks at me hard. She is hard. I run up against her but it doesn't hurt. It's our second date. I haven't seen her smile.

"What is your deal?"

"What?" I'm stalling. I'm pretty sure I know what she means.

"Why are you gonna ask me out again? "

I'm tempted to challenge her. "I like you."

"No, you don't. You don't even know me."

"You can't tell me what I feel. I like what I know." I want to take her to my house and remove her generic clothes.

Her face softens a little. She stares at the liquor bottles. I like her hard face better. She puts it back on.

"OK. Tell me all those things you like about me. Enlighten me." She pushes her chin toward me, still eating a cracker. She chokes on it and has to take a drink. It interrupts her challenge. I want to laugh. I really want to laugh. I have to think about something bad to keep from ruining her moment. I think of her windpipe filled with cracker crumbs. Coughing and drinking won't help. She dies. I don't laugh.

"I like that you gave me crackers. And that you smell like some kind of flowers my mom had in her garden. And you don't say please. You don't even try."

"Crackers? Seriously?" Stunning.

"I like crackers."

I picture her naked, telling me what to do. We haven't kissed. She'll have to initiate. I've been trying to put my hand close to hers. She has small hands with lots of rings. One is chunky and shaped like a horse. It looks like it's galloping out of her middle finger. Another is a delicate silver band with the tiniest emerald. She wears it on her left ring finger. Maybe she was someone else yesterday. I don't want to think about it.

I've had to pee since the second martini. To make sure she won't leave, I order another round. Coming back, I stop and watch her. A guy is leaning on the bar, blocking my stool. She's smiling. I go back and wedge myself in against the bar, crushing the saltine. She stops smiling and tells the guy her date is back. She doesn't introduce us. He turns and hits me with his elbow, harder than if by accident. I'm with her again.

I didn't like her smile.

"You know that guy?"


"An ex?"

She tilts her head to the right and sighs, looks up from under irritated eyelids. "Does it matter?"

"Are you still into him?"

"Does it matter?"

It matters but not the way she means. The uncertainty makes my martini colder. Her hair blonder. I'm more aware of my limbs. I'm stretching before the race. I am at the starting line but impatient. I am too soon.

"Jesus. What is your problem? Do you just want to go?" I don't want to leave. I know she'll do something gorgeous.

She picks up her bag and stands. Cracker crumbs fall off her lap. Her coat slides from the stool. She won't look at me.

Shit. I wanted her to bend, not break and if she broke, I wanted her to snap. "Wait. Lori. I'm sorry. I didn't mean we should go. I just thought you wanted to." I jab the sword into my thigh but can't feel it through my jeans.

Her head is still down. She pulls on her coat. She can't get the zipper to work. A pink glove peeks from her pocket. She knocks over an empty pint glass.

"Come on. Let's stay and have another drink." I don't want to stay. I try to rearrange. I like her eyes? Her voice? She looks at me, a little teary. A little slumped. I am on the wrong date. This one wants something from me. A smiling girl walks by with a vodka tonic. She is just like her.

About the author:

Lauren Becker lives in Oakland, California. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in journals including Word Riot, Wigleaf, Mud Luscious, Pank, The Northville Review and Lamination Colony.