4 min read
Date Night

by William Thomas

     Damn! DAMN! He pounded the steering wheel. Then he screamed the word Ursula K. LeGuin said never to use. If only he'd taken the TR-3. Sure, it was a bit rusty here and there. Three of its four bargain retread tires were different sized. And the ripped canvas top — hood — leaked like a screen door when it rained. But the little British buzz bomb was a lot nimbler in traffic than this borrowed American pig. Which, on the plus side, was far more impressive for courting. And much better suited to making out. If it came to that. The thought excited and terrified him. He'd never even touched a girl's breasts. Unless you counted that one time when Maggie let him...

     A chorus of car horns jerked him from reverie to nightmare. A wall of brake lights filled his vision. Interestingly, even though at a dead stop, they were zooming towards him like a meteor shower.

     Christ! He jammed on the binders and threw the helm hard a'starboard. The huge car took a long moment to consider these frantic control inputs. Then slowly, stately as a matron forced to hike up both dress and dignity to negotiate a puddle, the car listed steeply to port as it carved a slow turn in the opposite direction.

     An instant before impact with a monster lorry, that unsuspecting punter turned right on red and the ponderous beast close behind seem to shrink as he slid neatly into the gap. The heavy machine came to a stop with a curtsey that would have thrown its alleged driver through the windscreen if he hadn't been belted in.

     The light changed and the offended herd moved off in that jerky conga line of traffic starting up. Way off to his right he glimpsed a sign with an arrow and the single word, UNIVERSITY. Instinctively, he threw the wheel hard over and mashed the gas. More car horns. Garnished this time with squealing brakes, curses, and the louder torment of tortured rubber.

     Shaking his head, he pressed on. Was everyone in this city starkers? 

     Two blocks on, he pulled into a campus slightly smaller than the City of London. Still following the signs, he parked in a VISITORS lot near the WOMEN'S DORMITORY. He hoped there was only one.
Ignoring the smoke wisping from his rear tires and a covey of chattering coeds crossing the darkening lawn, he dashed up the front steps.

     Inside, the place reverberated with babble like an aviary at feeding time. Birds of every plumage were consorting, consulting, or laughing gaily with over-eager suitors recently out of pimples and baby fat. The vast lobby was a cross between a Marriott, a train station and an army recruiting centre. How in...


     "Can I help you?"

     He turned to find a girl — young lady woman person — smiling not entirely unkindly from a miraculously empty wicket on a counter overrun with gesticulating males trying to hook up (was that the right word?) — with their dates.

     Her eyes sparkled mischievously beneath a pertly cut raven's wing. He'd never seen hair worn like that. On her it was disconcertedly fetching. For one mad moment, he thought of asking her out. The placard overhead said FRONT DESK. The handwritten sign at her station read, WTF?

     She looked at him looking from her to the sign and said, "Yes?"

     "Ah, right," he said like a true sophisticate. "I'm here to pick up… I mean, could you ring Darlene for me?"

     "Darlene," the girl-woman said, trying it on. Her grin widened. "Is there a last name?"

     Last...? Jesus Christ! What was her last name?

     "You might find Him in the men's dormitory," the desk person said.

     Christ! Had he taken the vain's name in Lord? Out loud? Beneath his shirt, he could feel perspiration starting to drip slickly down both sides of his... sides. On their first coffee date, Darlene whats-her-name had shown him a newspaper clipping — no, a yearbook entry— with her full name prominently displayed. He'd glanced at it to be polite, but in truth his attention was riveted on the sensation of her breast brushing his arm. Just recalling that moment nearly made him swoon. Thomas? Thompson?

     "Tompkins?" he said, like a hopeful quiz show contestant trying to beat the buzzer. “You askin’ or telllin’?” The smashing receptionist person was already flipping pages on a clipboard. No old-fashioned computers here!

     "T...t...t," she said, running a bemused finger down the page. Her smile was bemused. Her descending digit was... Divine? Virginal? Vulgar? Beckoning? Just a pointer?

     "Here we are," she announced in a trumpeting fanfare. "Who shall I say is calling?"
"Peter," he blurted. "No. James."

     He might just as well have said, "Call Security" for the look she shot him.

     He held up both hands. "Just kidding," he said, forcing a hideous laugh. "It's Peter. Sorry. I'm still recovering from the traffic and my last parachute jump."

     "The one where your chute didn't open?" She was smiling again.

     "Yes, that one," he said. "How did you know?"

     Before she could answer, he lowered his voice, causing his bemused helpmate to lean toward him like a co-conspirator. “Just one thing. I haven’t heard a single ‘right-o, jolly good you wanker, or V for victory old chap’ since I came in here. We are in London, right?”

     “Honey, you ain’t even in this galaxy!” laughed a stunning black deva waiting hand-in-hand with one of her girlfriends behind him. “We’s in London, all right. Ontario, foo!”

     He felt the blood drain from his face and pool at his feet. “You mean people here don’t drive on the… left?”

     The woman behind the desk rolled her Newman-blue eyes, which continued to roam his body as she dialled. Obviously checking for weapons. Or an erection. Same difference. Any moment now, the LOSER sign was going to pop up behind her eyes.

     The ringing went on. Cupping the receiver with one hand, his reluctant ally said – not terribly kindly – "She was expecting you?”

     "Yes. Of course," he stammered, resisting the urge to check his fly. "I'm a little late."
To underscore his cool imperturbability, he shot back his cuff to check his watch. Did a double-take. This could not be happening! Dizzily, he found himself back in grade one: If the big hand is pointing past '8' and the little hand says '37', could that mean it was... 8:37?

     EIGHT thirty-seven!

     P… M?

     And their dinner reservation was — had been — for… That’s when he noticed the second hand wasn’t moving.

     "Let me guess," the raven crowed, her hand still over the receiver. "Your date was yesterday. Oh yes, Darlene? There's a young man to see you. He says his name is either Peter or James. He doesn't seem too sure of any... What? Yes, I'll tell him."

     He groaned aloud. I am totally screwed. No. Not even that.

     The girl behind the counter leant further forward, favouring him with a view of... he forced his eyes upwards. "She says, fuck off."

     He must've looked stricken because the raven crowed raucously. Straightening both her posture and manner, she appended, "She'll be right down."     

     Relief flooded over him like a reprieve from that clichéd but no less terrifying firing squad. Or even worse, female rejection.


Photo Caption:

You're nice maybe -thescottishsun.co.uk