by Peter Lingard
I wait at a table, worrying about the flowers lying on the starched covering, inconveniencing me, using elbow space. I remember my father’s words from long ago, “Take your hands off the table, Boy. Resting them like that will weaken your core, turn you to flab in no time.” I put my hands in my lap. Now that I’ve overthought the situation, my hands, wrists, and arms seem like excess baggage. It’s ridiculous. Might they wilt? The flowers? Ridiculous again. Once I give them to Gwen, she’ll sniff them, smile, say thank you, and put them on the carpet where they’ll rest in the same state. Should I put them on the floor? Nah, it’d look bad picking them up to present them to Gwen. Present them? Give them? Hand them over? Stop. You’re overthinking it again.
I take a sip of wine. Tasty plonk. Some bread would go nicely with it. I eye a waiter. ‘Garlic bread, Sir?’ Garlic! My breath will reek. ‘No, er, just oil and balsamic, please. And another glass of this Australian cab sav.’ I look at my watch. Twenty-five minutes. I pick up my phone which also occupies table space. Has she called and I’d missed it? No. I check the news and the football scores. The Rams lost again. Is it Fisher’s fault? They’ve won diddly-squat under him. The bread arrives, providing me with something to do with my excess baggage. I put the phone down, break off a piece and drag it through the oil and vinegar. It tastes good, but salt and pepper will improve it. I grind the mills over the dish.
‘Hello,’ a woman says. I look up. It isn’t Gwen. Not the person I spoke to on Skype.
Someone has recognised the woman and risen to invite her to sit. Will I easily recognise Gwen? Rob said some less-than-attractive people have been known to have a better looking friend sit in for them when making the first electronic face-to-face. Sounds a bit farfetched. How do they explain the deception when their real face is revealed?
I sip my wine and ponder how easy it is for dishonest people to lie on the Internet. Gwen is my first foray into electronic dating. Isn’t that what they call it? Visions of electronic gizmos spring to mind. Don’t be so base! Get your mind out of the gutter and your hands off the table, except to take another piece of bread and another sip of wine. Should I leave? I look at my phone. Forty-five minutes. Fuck! Give her an hour? Why hasn’t she called? Should I call her? No. Best not to crank up the impression of eagerness the flowers already demonstrate. If I order something substantial and she arrives while I’m eating, it’ll look crass. Probably better to finish the bread and wine and go somewhere else to eat. Nah. I’ve already been in this restaurant alone for too long. Why suffer the same somewhere else? Well, it wouldn’t be the same. I’d be able to order, get on with it. Still, a decent burger with chips and some of the plonk I have at home would go down well. It’s been a while since I had fish and chips. Do I prefer fish and chips? Chish and fips my mother used to say after she’d been at the vodka.
Has Gwen been here without me realising it? Has she peeped through a window, recognised me and not liked the reality? Were my hands resting on the table at the time? Maybe she’s been and gone and I’m still sitting here like a prize idiot? Are people wondering if I’ve been stood up? If not, do they consider me a lonely alchy? Don’t worry, I’ll be gone in ten minutes. I may as well order a last glass of wine. Is there an expected/accepted amount of time a man should wait for a date to turn up? If there is, I’m sure I’m well past it. I suppose it could depend on the quality of the woman one’s waiting for. What quality is Gwen? Can’t say I know really. I’ve been quite taken by her in our two Skyped conversations and…well, what’s the point? Two. We’ve spoken twice, I’ve seen her twice, so Rob’s silly idea must be…jealousy?
It’s a shame Emily has that reputation. I like her. Rob reckons she’s the village bike but I haven’t heard that from anyone else. Why not? Did he ask her for a date and she kicked in him into touch? That’s probably it. He’s got to be the one who started the rumour. Hardly a rumour really…a rumour of one. A rumour of one? How stupid can I get? How shallow can I get? Wish I was waiting for Emily…who was on time that one time. I wonder…
I crush my ruminations, smile, and stand. “Gwen! How lovely to meet you at long last.” She doesn’t even blink, but it is the Skyped her and she does look lovely. “Here, I bought you some flowers.”
“Oh, how sweet.” She sniffs them. “Thank you so much. I’ll just put them on the floor for now.” She sits and lowers the bouquet. “You should be proud of me.”
I sit. “I should? Why?”
“I’m on time! I’m notorious for being late. You should ask my boss.” She didn’t waste any time. An unintended or oblique admission of guilt? She laughs. The laugh’s light, hahaha, meant, I suppose, to paper over what she must think is a minor gaffe.
I fail to see it from the same perspective. “Actually your reputation’s intact. You’re over an hour late.”
“You said eight-thirty.”
“I said seven-thirty.”
Gwen extracts a phone from her handbag. “No you didn’t. I purposefully didn’t delete your message. See, it says, see you….oh. Sorry about that. You’re not going to make a big deal out of it are you?”
Does she expect I’ll believe her? “Not a big deal, no.”
“Well, I can see you didn’t wait for me before you started ordering.”
“A glass of wine?”
“And the bread.”
“It has been over an hour.”
“Look, I’ve said I’m sorry. I mean, when you think about it, you’d have to concede that I’m on time for what I mistakenly believed was the right time.”
Please don’t compound your lie. “That’s a bit too convoluted for me.”
“What does that mean?”
“It doesn’t matter. Can I get you a drink?”
“No. Look, you get an attitude because you think I’m late when I’m not, and now you’re talking down to me. I think this is probably a bad idea.”
“Shall we start again?” I stand. “Hi, I’m Geoffrey. Glad we could meet at long last.”
Daggers fly from her eyes. “I thought we’d already established I was on time.”
I sit. “Not exactly.”
She stands. “Like I said; this is a bad idea. Delete me.”
“Consider it done.”
Where’s a waiter? I need another glass of wine. Perhaps he has someone to whom he can give the flowers. I’ll call Emily first thing tomorrow.
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When a youngster, Peter Lingard told his mother many fantastic tales of intrepid adventures enjoyed by him and his friends. She always said, “Go tell it to the Marines”. When he asked why, she said, “They’ve been everywhere and done everything, so they’ll want to hear about what you’ve been up to.” Of course, Peter joined the Royal Marines as soon as he was old enough and now has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of tales to tell. He has had 300+ stories and poems published, as well as having many pieces aired on Radio NAG, Queensland and 4RPH, Brisbane. Professional actors have performed some of his poetry and he has appeared as a guest on Southern FM’s program ‘Write Now’ to read and discuss his work. He recited and chatted about some of his poems on 3CR’s ‘Spoken Word’ and had a monthly spot on 3WBC (94.1FM) to read his tales. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org