A painting by Edward Hopper is provided for Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #113 (#FFFC), one of soft sunlight entering a cafe’s window and illuminating a woman and man sitting at separate tables. Hopper was certainly effective at capturing quiet moments in his paintings. And here’s my attempt at a story behind this quiet moment…
by Dave Williams
Where was Patty? Why did she have to be late for most of their outings? She and Lula had agreed to meet at 9 o’clock Saturday morning. They’d eat breakfast, then walk the town, see what struck their moods.
Lula sighed and glanced at her watch and sipped coffee. Two blueberry muffins eaten while waiting for her friend. Lula had planned to eat only one muffin then decided on a second because she was still a little hungry and the first one tasted so yummy.
And the second muffin had given Lula something to do while waiting. Something besides sips of coffee and gazing through the window at the sidewalk and street and trying to stop wishing the man would stop looking at her. She should’ve brought her borrowed book, My Cousin Rachel. Entering the story would’ve been preferable to this limbo.
Why did the man at the next table keep looking at her? The nerve of that guy. Well dressed, but bad mannered. The man’s head swiftly swiveled away to avoid Lula’s gaze when it turned to him.
Why did Lula have to choose this dress? The style had skyrocketed in popularity after The Seven Year Itch, and some women aimed for a subtler approach to Marilyn’s dress. Just don’t stand too long over a subway grate. You’ll get more attention than you bargained for.
Turning heads was one thing, but leering was much different. But was man at the next table leering? Not exactly. More like close observation. Did he have an itch for redheads?
Why did men have to be so simple and single minded? Of course he was sizing Lula up. Why hadn’t he asked to join her? Or ask to buy her a drink? Was he extremely shy and summoning the courage?
Would she have felt different if the man looked more like Gary Cooper, or another handsome actor?
Lula had enough. She asked, “What do you want?”
“I-I’m sorry,” the man said. “I was watching your mannerisms to see if you matched hers.”
“Princess Britel,” the man said. “You look just like her. But looks can be deceiving.”
“Who’s that?” Lula asked.
“She the only princess in the Land of Osip.”
Lula thought that was an odd name. “Never heard of it. What country is it in?”
“No country here,” the man said. “It’s in another dimension.”
“Huh? Another dimension? You reading one of those spaceman books?”
The man shook his head. “No book. Osip is real. I had to take a dimensional traveler to get here. It wasn’t easy.”
“Are you sauced?”
“What does that mean?”
“I’m not drunk,” the man said. “I swear. My name is Grel, and I’m an agent sent by King Swegnon and Queen Meldrin to find their daughter. The poor princess was kidnapped by the evil wizard Frillbeld, who claims he put her in another dimension and cast a spell to replace her memories with false ones.”
A moment as Lula soaked in the man’s explanation, then she burst into laughter so loud it surprised her, and she covered her mouth with her hand until the laughter settled down. She said, “I’m sorry, that came out unexpectedly. So you actually think I’m this princess? This Bridget?”
“Britel,” Grel said. “I think there’s a good chance you are her. Not only do you match her appearance, you tug at your ear just like her.”
“But lot of girls probably do that.”
“I don’t know. Is it common among women in your dimension?”
“Some of us do it,” Lula said. “Hey, if you’re from another dimension, how come you can speak English?”
“All of us agents are trained in the language of the dimension and country,” Grel said. “Other agents are in other countries right now.”
“I can’t listen to this any longer.” Lula lifted her handbag from the floor and stood from the chair. “Good luck on your, um, mission.”
“Wait.” Grel looked worried. “Can I get your phone number to check if any flashbacks come to you? Memories of when you were in Osip?”
Lula laughed. “There’s the kicker. I’ll give you a point for creativity to try to get my number and ask me out. But you’re a bit on the silly side for me.”
“I’m not lying. It’s the truth. Swear.”
Lula crossed the cafe, pushed through the revolving doors, and stood in front of the store next to the cafe. As long as the strange man couldn’t see her through the window. If he came outside, she’d hit him with her handbag and yell for help.
Why couldn’t Patty get here already?
copyright © 2021 Dave Williams