Blind Date

If he had taken the #12 instead of the #114, he already would have been at the mall. Now here he was, on a broken-down bus, waiting for a replacement. And no way to contact Derek, if, in fact, that was the guy’s real name. On that dating site there was no telling. Anyway, just a simple meet-up at the Chinese Buffet at the mall. Derek was going to be wearing a fedora. That’s what Derek said. With a feather in the band. Barry knew right away that that said a lot about Derek. Probably 65, not 50, as advertised. Well, 65 wasn’t far off from 57, so that little fib wouldn’t necessarily disqualify Derek. Barry had been forthcoming about his age: why lie now? It was refreshing how he was, as he got older, becoming less uptight (George’s word, as he shut the door for the last time—and once he’d heard the same word years before from Joe, but he had discounted their comments because, by comparison, Barry was as unfettered as—oh, dear—who would be a good comparison? The Kardashians? What? What made him think of them? The first name that came to mind. Oh, the pervasiveness of pop culture!)

But chances are he’d never meet Derek. Once he’d been stood up, Derek was probably the kind of man who would never give a fellow another chance. Of course, he didn’t have to. The site had so many people from whom to choose. Not. Barry smiled. He loved that construction. Make a statement—an outlandish statement—and knock it down with a well-placed “not.” Now there was a charming contribution from popular culture to the language. Just don’t overuse it. As so many do. Timing is all. Like an exclamation point.

Use only one exclamation point, if you must   use any at all, per paper, Barry always says to his students. Otherwise, it sounds as if everything is important, which means nothing is important.

He could get off and take a cab. No, too cold waiting. Better to stay on the bus, which was still pumping out heat, but which, evidently, had a problem with the axles. That’s what the driver said. To the passenger in the front seat, holding a cane. God, deliver me from canes. And walkers. Let me be robust till the day I die and then let me die in flagrante delicto. There’s a neat path: in utero to in flagrante delicto, with all the exhausting stuff in between.

Well, it probably wouldn’t be in flagrante delicto with Mr. Derek. Barry had decided to show up at the appointed hour, unlike the way he’d shown up to meet the other three. If he hadn’t gotten there early and seen that they were unattractive—no, simply not his type–, he wouldn’t have been able to get away without meeting them. They had decidedly not been his type. Lucky that he’d hung out in the jewelry store, a few steps away from the Chinese Buffet, so he could see them waiting by the entrance. This time, however, in a burst of devil-may-care risk-taking, he had decided to play it straight, to meet whoever showed up and take pot luck. And now—well, probably Derek was packing up and going home. He might try to explain on-line, but chances are Derek would block him.

Barry shifted in his seat as another driver stepped aboard. She told everyone to get on the bus that had just pulled up in front of the disabled one. Barry put on his ear muffs and gloves, but instead of following her request, he crossed the street and waited for the bus to take him home. He found an entryway to a lawyer’s office that was closed on Saturday and got out of the wind that was whipping down Madison Avenue. If he arrived home in time, he could catch a bit of the   opera. Why had he scheduled a meeting at the mall during the opera, come to think of it? Well, now he would be able to get out a glass of wine and settle into his chair and listen to—what? Ah, it didn’t matter. Well, maybe it did. He wasn’t in the mood for comedy, actually. A good Verdi drama, with murder and suicide.

The bus arrived. He swiped his card and chose a front seat. After the bus started to roll, he glanced around at the other passengers, most of whom were engrossed in one device or other. He pulled a book of Borges’s short stories from his coat pocket, looked at a page or two, then glanced back up the aisle. On the opposite side sat a man in a fedora.  A man of about 50, Barry thought. Hair buzzed. The fedora looked smart on him. Wired-rimmed glasses. Neat goatee. Barry returned to his book. The bus stopped. Two got off; one got on. He looked back at the man, who was now perusing a bus schedule. Yes, that must be Derek. Well, it could be Derek. A fedora? A man d’un certain age? On the bus that originated at the mall? Barry closed the book and put it back into his pocket.

At the next stop, Barry rose and went to the seat opposite the one could-be Derek was in. The man didn’t seem to notice him. Barry sat for a couple of minutes, then turned.

“Derek?” he asked.

The man looked up from the schedule. He looked directly at Barry and seemed about to say something. His eyes shifted quickly; he raised his eyebrows slightly. Barry smiled. And then the man smiled and said, “No, afraid not. No, not Derek.” And then he went back to the schedule.

Barry opened his book again, took a deep breath, adjusted his collar, and looked down at the page. He took out a pen and pretended to underline a couple of sentences.

He wanted to scribble all over the page or tear it out and ball it up. But the book was a signed copy, a gift from a long-ago useless student at the end of some useless semester, so he merely gripped the covers tightly until the urge passed.

Suddenly, he pulled the cord, two blocks before his stop. He stood by the back door, waiting for it to open, and when it did, he said loudly, as he got off, “Yes, you are Derek, and you are a son of a bitch!” And he flung one of his gloves at the back of the man’s head, but it sailed past and landed in the shopping cart of a woman one row beyond.

He hastily stepped into a blast of wind, which nearly knocked him down. Was it Derek?  Foolish idea, so random, really. So unimaginable that that was Derek. The kind of coincidence that happens only in opera. Or Hardy. Yes, worthy of Thomas Hardy, that moment!

He put on the one glove and tucked his bare hand into his coat pocket. Good thing he had the pair at home that George had left behind.


Paul Lamar lives with his husband in Albany, NY. His poems, essays, and stories have appeared online and in print in Prairie Schooner, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Southern Review and riddlebird.