She catches him by surprise when she opens the door for him. She says it’s a new century and she’s a “new woman.”
Later, at their table, the way she stares at him makes him shift in his chair like he’s sitting on one of those big rubber exercise balls and can’t find his balance. This is nothing like I’d planned, he thinks. He asks her to tell him about what she does. She looks down at her plate and says he wouldn’t be interested in hearing about it. After so many years, it feels like more of the same. She says she wouldn’t even know how to talk about it anymore.
“I want to know you,” she says. The way she leans forward makes him consider every definition of “know.”
He’s used to asking the questions, to making reservations, to setting the tone of the evening. That’s how the game works. His game. But this restaurant—her choice—he never could have gotten a reservation here. The script evaporates. The only thing on his mind tumbles out of his mouth. “I love the way you’re looking at me. Nobody’s ever…”
“Keep talking and I promise I won’t look away,” she says and runs her delicate fingers along the top of her left ear. She keeps her promise, even when he’s ordering lobster tortellini and his second glass of pinot grigio.
He talks about his job writing patient education brochures at one of the big hospitals in town. He waits a few beats for her to break her expression of awe. When she doesn’t, he lies and tells her that some days he comes home knowing more about human anatomy than he ever wanted to learn. She rolls her eyes in sympathy and smiles. He rambles on about his dreams for a little too long, but she listens.
The only moment of disappointment comes when she doesn’t order much; just a glass of merlot and a dinner salad. Just once he’d like to see a woman tear through a big, rare cut of red meat. The thought of it alone makes him a little hard. “New woman or not, some things never change,” he chuckles, wondering what she would taste like grilled in olive oil with asparagus.
“You go ahead,” she says after the food arrives, and she watches him eat. He wonders why so many beautiful women feel the need to starve themselves.
When the food is gone and the conversation slows, she says “I’ll take care of this,” and asks for the bill.
He follows her out of the restaurant into the cool night air. She says she better drive them home and guides them to a new, black BMW. He thinks nothing of leaving the ten-year-old Pontiac in which he arrived sitting on the street overnight. The registration in the glove box doesn’t match the name on the I.D. in his wallet, anyway. That could cause trouble if they hit a sobriety checkpoint.
He gives her directions and guides her to his modest two- bedroom ranch home. The two of them sit in silence while the engine idles. He wonders if now’s the right time to lean in.
“I know what you want,” she says before he can make up his mind. “But the things I want to do…well, the car really isn’t the place for them.”
“So…you want to come inside then?” he asks with astonishment. He wonders just for a moment whether he might not want to go through with it after all. Nothing else has gone according to plan. Why should this? He decides to play it by ear. Perhaps they’ve made a real connection. Perhaps the knives can wait.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” she says, opening her door, flashing a playful grin and swinging her long legs out of the car. As she follows him up the concrete walk, she thumbs the sharpened edges of the needle-nosed pliers resting inside her jacket pocket and smiles at all the wonderful things they’ll share.
Doug Murano lives somewhere in the wide-open spaces of the Great Plains. Armed with only his blazing speed, charming good looks, a box of red pencils and the masochistic streak that is prerequisite for all writers, he recently embarked upon a career that has (so far) included journalism, public relations, marketing, freelance writing, and regular attempts at writing short fiction. In addition to Fifty-two Stitches, his stories appear at the pulp fiction podcast Well Told Tales (www.welltoldtales.com), in Deadlines: An Anthology of Horror and Dark Fiction, (www.cometpress.us) and are forthcoming in the spring 2009 issue of The Rose & Thorn (www.theroseandthornezine.com) and the July 2009 issue of Necrotic Tissue.