The Speed of Light

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By
M. Robert Fisher

“It were as if everything were a lie and the more craftily you lied the more you were accepted” – Charles Bukowski

 

“… a lot of mags will not publish stories where the main character is a writer” – Allan Shapiro

 

I’m not falling or drifting or dying; I’m not preening or preying or begging.  I’m sitting and I am here and she is there and fifty other people swarm around us, encapsulated in their own private shell of blather and banality.  She’s asked me a question I haven’t answered.  I drifted off somewhere in between her organic pet food store and telling me her parents always wanted her to marry a doctor.  No reverie or fugue but a blackout, like the ones you hear rape victims experience.  She stares at me with a certain sense of urgency and a confused wrinkle between her eyes and I know I should say something.

“What was the question?”  I ask not because I care but because it’s the only way I know to make her eyes less searing and unsettling.

“Do you consider yourself a glass half full or half empty type of person?”  She asks and her eyes haven’t even shuttered.  I wonder if she’s even blinked.

“Depends on what’s in the glass,” I say as I take a sip of whiskey and smile pompously.

“What kind of answer is that?”  She responds not nearly as proud of my answer as I was.

“It means it depends on the circumstance,” I say now circling my finger around the brim of the glass.

“What did you say it is you do again?”  She asks as I now start to size her up:  not beautiful, not unattractive, caught somewhere in the middle of plain and trying too hard.  I then remember why it’s been so long since the last time I’d got laid.

I take in a short breath, pick up my glass, and just before drinking I say, “I didn’t.  I’m a doctor.”

Her face contorts into this unattractive, squishy bag of pudding.

“What’s wrong?” I ask setting down my drink.

“You don’t look like a doctor,” she says with a mixture of disappointment and suspicion.

“Neither do you,” I say as I finish off my glass.

The buzzer goes off and the ring master explains that it is time to switch seats.  She laughs to herself, a kind of vacant, impotent laugh and I’ve already forgotten her name.  She gets up and switches seats without another word.  ‘I wonder if I’ll hear from her later?’ I ask myself despite knowing the answer.  I order another drink from the waitress and wait for it all to begin, again.

 

I am in Seattle visiting my cousin and he’s dragged me to this cesspool of bacterial desperation and loneliness.  You can smell the pathetic pussy wafting around us in the air.  So wet, so lonely.  I take a look at Jay and raise my glass and he appears happy.  He smiles and raises his glass back and I give him a pass because his heart has just been broken.  It wasn’t how I’d envisioned spending my vacation but it was better than spending it alone.

The new girl sits down and she is more appealing than the last.  She has red hair but no freckles and her skin is less pale than mine which I take as a good thing.  She wears a pitifully hopeful smile and red, Asian styled dress, with flowers or dragons, I don’t know because I don’t pay enough attention but it hugs her body in the right places and accents the right features.

“Hi, I’m Meredith,” she says with that gleaming, sad smile.

“Meredith?”  I ask amused but not entirely sure why.  The name hits my ear drums aberrantly and the question escaped as an involuntary reaction.  Like Turret’s or an electric shock or the test the doctor does when he hits your knee with the rubber tomahawk.

“Yes,” she starts, again with that pathetically polite smile, “You don’t like it?”

“No, it’s fine,” I start, “How old are you?”

Her smile begins to fade and her eyes slightly glaze over and I realize I’ve done something wrong but I don’t try and fix it but sit anxiously, now fidgeting like I’ve been up all night doing blow.

“What?” I ask.

“Hasn’t anyone ever told you that you’re not supposed to ask a woman her age?”

“No, why?”

“Because you’re not supposed to,” she says sternly already growing annoyed.  Her tone now matching what I am familiar with and it begins to put me at ease.

“Since when?”  I ask actually interested but I suspect she thinks I am being glib or flippant or whatever other unattractive qualities I have managed to accumulate over the years.  After a short silence I say, “Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was off limits.  I’ve just never met someone younger than thirty with that name.”

“So, you’re saying I look younger than thirty,” she says as the smile starts to represent itself.

“Yes, sorry,” I start, “Subtext.  Blame it on the day job.”

“What is it you do?”  She asks.

“I’m a physician,” I say as I take another sip.

“Why don’t I believe you?”  She asks now slightly amused by my lie or my connotation.

“I don’t know,” I start, “My guess is you’ve been lied to in the past.”

“Very insightful,” she starts, “You should have been a psychologist.”

“How do you know I’m not?” I ask rhetorically and realize she’s flirting with me but can’t imagine taking a step further beyond this.

“Or a writer or something,” she says and the pathetically sincere smile I’d grown to despise is back and I am taken back by how much I’d missed it.

“I’m too good looking to be a writer,” I say slyly with a hint of mockery.

“Right…”

“You don’t agree?”  I ask now drunk and somehow enjoying myself.

“You’re not unattractive,” she says with another alluring smile.

I smile back at her as the next buzzer goes off.

“What’s your name?”  She asks as she gets up ready to walk away.

“Ray Beaudry,” I say.

“Is that your real name?”

“Unfortunately,” I say as I watch her saunter off and I drink more whiskey.

 

On the drive back to my cousin’s apartment he doesn’t say much and I don’t want to.  We pull up into his driveway and we both sit silent, comatose even.  I look over and his eyes have welled up and two globs are at the brink and a blink away from racing down his face.  This makes me uncomfortable.

“Are you fucking crying?”  I ask and add, “Seriously?”

“Sorry,” he says as he wipes away the tears that never made it out and masks whatever vulnerability he was feeling.

There are very few people I even like or care about but even fewer I love and he happens to be one of them so I remain silent, waiting for him to speak.

“I only got two girls interested in seeing me again,” he says over his wiped away tears and pathetic tone that makes me want to rip my hair out or set it on fire.

“That’s better than nothing,” I say as my best effort to make him feel better.

“How many did you get?”  He asks knowing it would be greater than his but I don’t know how to lie in the situation.

“Seven,” I say not as proudly as I should have.

“Right,” he says matter of factly.

“But I told them all I was a doctor.”

He looks at me in a judging way but doesn’t say a word.

“So, there’s that,” I say as a repose washes over his face.

I drift off and now I am here and she is somewhere and we have nested inside of a steel bubble of nothing. I begin to weep and I have no idea why I am but it’s happened.

“Are you crying now?”  He asks.

“No,” I say before he gets out of the car and walks away.

There is an entire world I don’t want to understand.  And then there is me.

I clean myself up and call Meredith. A week later I never see her again.