Tuesday, June 20, 2006

that downward spiral

That Downward Spiral is an excerpt from from Alistair Vogan's short story collection Beyond Good and Eviler.

Scott found his way inside the Wendy's, ordered and sat alone at the periphery of tables and chairs fastened to the floor. He sipped his coffee while he watched the other cars zip past on highway 401. It was like a race and they were getting ahead.

Twenty minutes passed. The coffee was getting cold. What was Emily doing? He looked towards the door with the icon of the woman stamped on the plastic square. She didn't emerge. Unexpectedly, sitting by himself and suddenly aware of it, he missed her. He realized that other men at this point would begin to worry about their missing consort, so he tried, thought maybe he could be worried, but ultimately was distracted by the large cheek of a woman's buttocks which he realized was being pressed against the back of his skull. He looked up just as the woman, looking down in a studied, bored manner, noticed him. She’d thought his head was the back of a chair. She apologized listlessly and moved an inch closer to the back of the line. She wanted a cheeseburger. In 11 minutes she'd order a "cheeseburger" but there wouldn't actually be any cheese on it. Not any thing a person seventy years ago would recognize as cheese. Scott looked at the menu, her ass, then the picture of the hamburger illuminated from behind, and thought the cheese looked like an orange bathroom tile. Suddenly the woman jerked around and swiped him viciously in the ear with the faded ski-pass fastened to the zipper on her ski-jacket. "Kyle!?" Scott winced, and checked his ear irrationally, to see if it was still there, then his hand for blood.

"What?" a voice yelled in the distance by a simulated driving video game.

"Kyle. Get the hell over here!" and then looked at Scott who was holding his ear. She scowled at him like she couldn't believe she'd let his head touch her ass.

The door to the woman's washroom opened and displayed the chaos within. Scott forgot about the pain. He thought he saw Emily coming. He stood up but realized it's wasn't her. I am worried, he thought. See? He sat down and looked around Wendy's lost, like a golden retriever tied outside a supermarket.


Inside the bathroom Emily caught a glimpse of Scott before the door shut. She knew by the position of his eyebrows in the middle of his forehead that he missed her. Well, good, she thought.

So she took her time. She washed her hands. She had a detailed conversation with a nice lady about the nice lady's new teeth. The woman reminded her of her aunt Elsie, and she was learning stuff.

It hadn't always been this way. This she knew. She hadn't always had to put up with this. Really, he was a good guy, she thought, as she nodded at the woman's teeth. A lot of people didn’t really understand him like she did. Jesus. Had she just thought that? she wondered; because that sounded really stupid …Anyway, this rough patch would pass. Definitely. She was really certain. She would never walk out on him. That’s for sure. She would never walk out on him... Anyway. She smiled and promised herself she'd start flossing. She watched the nice older lady leave then she washed her hands for the forth time, starting to feel a little guilty.

She gathered her strength.

Outside the women's washroom, Scott looked up and saw her exit the bathroom business-like. He felt like he hadn't seen her in weeks. He was happy. He smiled and stood up, thinking they'd leave, but she sat down. "It's a madhouse in there." She took a coffee and spotted “those teeth” in line. "Good. My coffee's still warm." She yawned and adjusted herself, not looking at Scott who, she thought, was really struggling hard to look incredulous.

"What's going on? I thought you were kidnapped."

"Oh that's sweet. You were thinking about me?"

"...What’s that mean?"

She locked eyes with him, "The traffic is picking up Scott. Maybe we should get going."

"Well...you were gone a long time," he said uneasily. “…I was really worried.”

She asked him how long but, yep, he was stumped. He pulled a number out of a hat. "Uh. About eleven minutes maybe?"

She shrugged.

“I went twice. I thought maybe I’d missed you somehow.”

"How do guys get out so quick?" and took a long look at him, trying to measure his sincerity.

But he thought she was waiting for a response. This disoriented him. "Mmm. Seriously? You want to know?" he asked.
"No. I don't think so. Thank you," she said coldly, feeling she had allowed herself to inadvertently lose control.

"Well, most of us don't wash our hands."

"Great. Well." She said through curling lips, "That's really disgusting."

She tried to look around Wendy’s like she expected to see someone else she knew, someone more important to be specific, or, more generally, she looked in a way that suggested essentially that she had much better things to do than to sit at a table which was fastened to a floor.

Gradually she became conscious of the act of looking rather than actually seeing, and she could feel him watching her anyhow so she turned to him deadpan.

“So now what?”

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