From Issue 13: Small Town Date Night

Peter Clarke

No way our town is ready for the future. We’re already passed up, but get ready to be literally wiped out—I mean actually obliterated. When the future gets here.

At the Ravioli House with my new wife. God, she’s got the best skin. You’ve never seen skin like this before. Sometimes I have to stop thinking just to touch it. Everything goes away when I focus in on how real it is.

“What are you thinking about, Ansel?”

“Huh?”

“I know you’ve got something going on up there.”

“Oh yeah…yeah…”

I haven’t told her about how screwed we are. Our town.

“How’s your ravioli? It’s not too soggy, is it?”

“No, it’s fine,” I confirm, taking an extra big bite, taking my time chewing. The restaurant was completely empty, as it tended to be at this hour—right when they open. I was in luck in this respect. So far, so good, I thought, glancing around the restaurant. I looked back at my wife with my healthiest, damn-that’s-some-good-ravioli sort of smile.

How well do I know this woman? I asked myself, my grin fading. I had to look away from her face to process this thought. Her skin was too lovely. You can’t critique a creature with skin like that, not when you’re looking right at it. I found myself looking at my ravioli, with its oily, squishy surface. Yes, my critiques held. I didn’t know this woman whatsoever.

The Ravioli House means date night, so afterwards we went out for a drink. We walked the streets. Our one main strip for downtown. Old cars parked on the street next to coin-operated meters. It’s almost a shock not to see horse-drawn carriages.

When the future hits, this street will be the first to go.

My wife moved closer and caught hold of my swinging hand, capturing it like a balloon that might have floated away. Or maybe like a rickety old carriage that might otherwise have been pushed off a cliff. And good riddance to it. Her hand fit just right; even when I made no effort to hold it, I was holding it like holding something dear to my heart.

This felt like I was home—her hand in mine. When the street is destroyed, I decided, it won’t matter so much if this hand is still here to hold.

“You’ve got that goofiest face tonight,” my wife laughed, poking my cheek with her free hand.

“Hey!” I pulled my hand out of hers and patted my beard. “What’s that even supposed to mean?”

“It’s like the wrinkles on your forehead are trying to escape, like they’re wiggling themselves loose to go on vacation.”

I found myself staring into her eyes. The initial flash I sent her way was certainly a hard one. It was the look you may give to an enemy, of sorts. But a moment later, after getting into her eyes just a millimeter deep, my gaze softened.

The eyes are tough. Definitely a point of contention. They can go either way. Sometimes they’re friendly and worth diving into; other times it’s just the skin all over again—enchanting but untouchable.

At the bar, we found seats at a table in a dark corner. It’s only been about a week since the wedding. The wedding? It’s still called that, I believe? One week, anyway. And this only our second date night. The first time we went out, it was a Tuesday, so that hardly counts. This time it’s Friday night. That doesn’t mean much for our backwoods town, but it does mean more uncertainty. More unknowns—like people I don’t know popping up and butting into my business.

“Well, look who it is,” said John, the bartender. Overly friendly and one of the few people I let get away with it. “The town’s best looking love birds!”

“We’ll have a scotch neat, John.”

“And the lady?” he asked with a smile as if it were a fantastic joke.

“She’s fine,” I said.

“She sure is!” he winked, walking away.

My wife was all smiles. “What a perfectly friendly guy! You don’t mind how I winked back at him, do you? Because of course I didn’t mean anything by it. And I certainly don’t mean to upset you—the only man for my heart.”

“Where did you pick up that phrase, only man for my heart?”

“Nowhere, I suppose. I put the words together myself, just for you.”

I sat back in my chair, folded my arms across my chest, feeling, for some reason…not irritable—agitated, perhaps.

“Does God exist?” I shot at her.

She smiled with her cheeks puffed out, chin tucked down, as if she were disappointed in me. “…I’m searching for the best way to say this,” she said, apparently holding back the urge to roll her eyes. “I’m guessing there’s something you want to hear.”

“Forget it. How about this. When will I die?”

She was still processing this (or pretending to) when John came around with my drink.

“Glad to see you’re so happy, Ansel. Nothing like a woman to make a man complete.”

I nodded while still looking at my wife. Not sure what had gotten into me, but I couldn’t stop myself. “What’s the biggest news story happening right now? One that hasn’t reached the mass media yet.”

“Terrorist attack on Istanbul’s airport,” she said. John stopped to listen. “Thirty people dead, at least—the bodies are still being counted. At least one hundred injured. Sure you want to hear this, dear? It’s awfully grim for a date night topic.”

“You’re right,” I said. “That one was just for John. Hey, isn’t she great?”

John, however, couldn’t speak. He’d fallen for the trap. I caught the look in his eye. He was transfixed by her satin, glowing skin. From his vantage, he could certainly even see into a bit of her cleavage. God save him. God save all of us in this damned town.

I was drunk when I finally got it out of her when I would die. Of course I wouldn’t! “Not with me by your side, silly,” she said. I looked into her eyes, lost myself, knew her more deeply than ever, and realized my town had already been annihilated long, long ago.

 

Peter Clarke is a writer native to Port Angeles, Washington currently living in Oakland, California. His short fiction has appeared in 3AM Magazine, Curbside Splendor, Hobart, and elsewhere. He’s an assistant editor for Fifth Wednesday Journal and founding editor of Jokes Review. See: www.petermclarke.com