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Concise Prose. Enough Said.
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Erosion Of Bedrock

The restaurant was his choice, a sports bar that specialized in slabs of meat. I sat across from him and ordered the salad.

“Anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ is going to Hell,” he said.

I’d met him three nights before. Charles, his name was. I was out with my best friend and a good song came on. I would have ignored him after we danced except he started talking to me. Smart talking, words like magma and igneous. He told me that he was some kind of assistant professor somewhere. So I gave him my phone number. I get slutty when I drink.

“So you think I’m going to Hell?” I asked.

His egg-shaped eyes held a hint of malice. “I don’t want you to go to Hell. But if you don’t accept Christ, it’s out of my hands.”

I looked down at his doughy white hands. How could he expect something so fragile to save me?

“Why are you on a date with me if you think I’m going to Hell?”

He grinned. I knew he was trying to look pleasant. “Because I don’t think it’s too late for you.”

“Too late for what?” I said

“To reform your life.”

I repeated the words in my head. Reform my life. Wasn’t that exactly what I was trying to do by dating men like him? Smart men. Men who tucked their sweaters into their pants. Men who were nothing like Roger.

Roger. The name conjured a memory of hands at my waist. Roger smoked cigars twice a month and liked to ride his bicycle in the rain. I could remember the scent of his soap when I closed my eyes.

But Roger was in California, and I was sitting across from Charles.

I said, “How do you know anything about me?”

“I can tell.”

“What can you tell?”

“You have that new-age look about you. Like you believe in re-incarnation and all that junk.”

I laughed. “My mother believes in it.”

“See.”

In my head, I heard my mother telling me to take off my shoes and walk barefoot around the restaurant.”

I said, “You think I’m a hippy?”

“Aren’t you?”

“No.” I said it loudly, revoking my mother’s power over me. “What do you have against hippies anyway?”

“They don’t take showers and they’re irresponsible.”

I’m responsible. I have the key to my company’s office. All day long I tell people how to improve their lives. But I didn’t feel like defending myself to Charles. So I said, “Have you ever been overseas?”

“What?”

“You know. To Europe? England, France, Switzerland?”

“Don’t you think that’s kind of frivolous? It’s a lot of money to fly.”

“I went to Scotland,” I said. “I ate haggis.”

“So?”

“It was kind of romantic.”

Charles frowned at me like a parent frowns at a teenager. I think he wanted a quiet woman who liked men with crew cuts. Charles had a crew cut. No wavy hair for a man like Charles. No trips to Europe. No “once-in-a-lifetime” chance in California.

“Do you take drugs?” Charles asked me.

“No,” I said, but I couldn’t help grinning. My right eye twitched.

He muttered, “You seemed sane the other night.”

Janis Joplin shook through my head. She was singing about her lost Bobby McGee. I wondered if Roger would have taken me to California. I wondered if I had given up my job and my friends an my apartment and gone with him would I have been happy.

I waited for Charles to say he wanted to go home, but he was concentrating on his steak. He made neat incisions through the meat and took measured bites. Between every bite of steak, he would take one bite of potato or one bite of green beans.

After a few minutes of silence, he said, “Do you know much about quartz?”

“No.”

I would remember Charles for his Jesus and his geology. The thought made me smile and he mistook it for interest.

He asked, “Did you take any science classes in college?”

“I took oceanography.”

He set down his knife and leaned forward. “And how did you like it?”

“I was a psychology major. I didn’t really try hard in oceanography.”

He tsked.

“Did you take any psychology classes?” I asked.

“That isn’t science. Just a lot of people laying around on couches.”

I closed my eyes. I wanted a couch. I wanted Roger to fix me a plate of his famous chicken tacos. I wanted to lie against him and feel the curve of his head as I smoothed out his dark hair.

But I knew I wouldn’t drive all night to California. And I wouldn’t go home with Charles. I would go back to my apartment, put on my orange slippers, and listen to folk music. Maybe I’d drink a bottle of Burgundy.

I said, “Charles, I’m wasting your time.”

He was lifting a small piece of steak to his mouth and he paused.

I said, “Do you know what it feels like to be lost?”

The steak hovered near his thin lips. He stared at me.

I smiled. “I didn’t think so.”

Melody Platz was the October winner of the Chronicle contest sponsored by Writer's Digest. More of her work can be seen on her website. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA, and likes to think about food in her spare time.

Photos courtesy of Freeimages.co.uk.



 


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