by Wayne Scheer
All his adolescent insecurities flashed before him as Arthur Mueller took Nancy Gomez’s phone number from his wallet and placed it in front of the telephone.
I’m fifty-five years old, Arthur thought. I should be able to do this.
For the past thirty years, Arthur didn’t have to. He was married, albeit not always happily. And marriage means you never have to ask anyone out on a date. What’s more, you never have to make that dreaded phone call.
But he was divorced now. In the past year, he’d been on two dates arranged by friends. Neither worked out. Arthur thought of trying Internet chat rooms, but he’d heard too many horror stories. Besides, it was bad enough being judged on your looks or your clothes or your job; adding spelling and punctuation to the mix was too much.
He couldn’t imagine hanging out at bars or going to a senior’s dance at the local Y. For a while, he thought of joining a church but decided that using religion as a pretext for finding a date for New Year’s Eve had to be a sin more egregious than coveting your neighbor’s wife or worshiping graven images. And they made the top ten.
So Arthur remained paralyzed, staring at the phone, half hoping Nancy Gomez would receive his telepathic signals and call him. He laughed, as he wiggled his fingers in the air and chanted aloud, “Call Arthur Mueller, Nancy. Call Arthur Mueller.”
It didn’t work. The phone remained silent and he began pacing like an expectant father. Or worse, like a teenager in heat.
Arthur knew how ridiculous he was. He looked over at his trusty mutt, Apathy, who, true to his name, slept peacefully on the floor, oblivious to his master’s dilemma. As Arthur paced in front of him, Apathy opened one eye and allowed his tail a half-hearted wag. “Don’t exert yourself on my account, boy,” Arthur said. “I don’t need your pity.” The dog yawned, stretched and returned to his doggy dreams.
Arthur had his own dreams, though not as serene. Long suppressed images of Debbie Gilroy in her high school cheer leading outfit appeared as if she were a trapeze artist suspended in mid-air. He expected her to swing back to her perch. Instead, she just hung there in his mind, all smiles and glitter, waiting for him to catch her. But fifteen year-old Arthur Mueller dropped her with a clumsy telephone call.
“Hello, Debbie? This is Artie Mueller. You know, from English class. I sit in the back of the room. You sit to my right. No left. You’re closer to the window and I’m sort of next to you in the next row. Yeah, that’s right. The skinny guy with glasses. Uh, yeah, the one who laughs through his nose. I was just wondering if, you know, if, maybe, we could, umm, if you’re not busy this Friday night, maybe we could…what? You have plans? Okay. Bye.”
Arthur remembered how he avoided looking directly at Debbie after that, especially when he caught her and her friends pointing towards him and giggling in the lunchroom.
But Arthur reminded himself that he was now a successful business analyst with two grown children. He was a middle-aged divorcee, for crying out loud, who wore contacts instead of glasses and hadn’t laughed through his nose in years.
But no man ever outgrows his gawky teenaged self. “The world is divided into two types of males,” he announced to Apathy. “The ones who played football in high school and the rest of us.”
Apathy looked up at his master with eyes that bared his canine soul, expressing his deepest concern for the man who was, after all, his best friend. Walking towards the front door, he turned to glance at Arthur making sure he understood. ‘You woke me, dammit. Now walk me.’
“Ah, procrastination. Good boy.”
After a brisk walk, Arthur and Apathy returned to their battle stations. Apathy stretched out on the floor in view of Arthur and Arthur stretched out on a chair in view of the telephone. He checked his answering machine. “Nancy didn’t call, boy. I guess it’s my move.”
He thought of Nancy’s ready smile and soft, gentle voice. She was a little overweight and her hair wasn’t always neatly brushed, but to Arthur that made her real. She was funny and smart and worked in the cubicle next to his. Best of all, she was single.
His plan had been to ask her out at work, perhaps one evening when they both happened to be working late. But there always seemed to be somebody around. Before leaving work, he copied her home phone number from the company directory.
Arthur picked up the card on which he wrote her number and said aloud, “I’m too old for this.” Apathy yawned.
Punching the numbers into his cell phone, for some reason, helped him relax. When Nancy answered on the second ring he simply introduced himself, resisting the temptation to explain whether his cubicle was to the right or left of hers.
“Hi, Nancy. This is Art Mueller.”
And after some friendly small talk about work and the weather, he put aside thoughts of Debbie Gilroy and asked simply, “Say, I was wondering if you’d like to get some drinks and dinner after work Friday?”
Without hesitation, Nancy said, “Sure. I’d like that.”
Arthur imagined his hands closing confidently on Nancy’s wrist as he caught her gracefully in mid air, both all smiles and glitter.
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Wayne Scheer has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. He’s published numerous stories, poems and essays in print and online, including Revealing Moments https://issuu.com/pearnoir/ a collection of flash stories. His short story, “Zen and the Art of House Painting” has been made into a short film. https://vimeo.com/18491827 Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife.