A response for the writing prompt, “Faraway”, from The Daily Post. Going to try to write more with these prompts, and post them here.
It was one of those looks, and the hope and anticipation dropped from his gut like a lead balloon. He saw it in her eyes from the get-go. The gaze, vacant, passive, faraway, began as soon as he spoke about the weather (a dating taboo, he knew, but he was never good at this game to begin with).
The first signs of spring were good, he considered, the relief of that initial day, broken from the cold enough to not wear a jacket or even, just maybe, roll up the sleeves. It was a safe topic, inviting, an ice breaker, if you wanted to make that pun.
And he did. Out loud.
He greeted her in the restraint as she walked in the door. He recognized her picture, smile, stood up, and waved her down. She walked to him, stiff, but smiling. He hugged her, she kissed him on the cheek. They sat. And, immediately, she gazed through him.
He leaned forward, engaged, and said, with a sly grin, “Great warm weather we’re having, huh? I never know what to say on dates, but how’s that for an ice breaker.” He said it knowingly, thickly emphasized, and topped it off with a wink.
Her eyes, gorgeous and emerald green, did not register.
Fuck, he thought, and ordered a drink heavy in whiskey. She ordered a cocktail. It appeared neon green and acidic.
“Beautiful air.” she finally responded
“I’m sorry?” he said, scooting closer. The din of the room was full of chatter of patronsand clattering plates.
“It’s okay. We’re all going to make it.” She smiled. With her lips. Never her eyes. Still, though, it was reassuring. He returned her smile and put his hand over hers, delicately, but with a squeeze. Yes, he thought, we are so going to make it.
He had met her on an online dating site. She had messaged him first, with a simple “Hello.” Her profile included three photo, all of them obligatory in their dating site ways; the beach, with a two-piece bikini, smiling and with hands in the air, a snow covered mountain, her face bundled in layers of wool and her cheeks rosy pink, and a group photo, at a bar, a smiling face in a row of smiling faces. She was attractive, and blonde, and shapely. She included no personal information but had, simply, “Looking for a nice guy.”
He was a nice guy, he thought, and she was saying hi, to him, a rare thing in itself.
It was meant to be.
So he wrote back. They had a conversation, if you could call it that. An online back and forth. It was generic and superficial, but it made him feel good, talking to another human being.
“Hi!” he responded, “How are you?”
“I am good,” she shot back, almost immediately, “may I ask you some questions?”
“What is your name?”
“Mark.” he answered, “What’s yours?”
“Mark, you are like me.” she wrote, again, almost immediately. He read her response, many times, rolling it around in his brain. She did not answer his question, as simple as it was. Had she read his profile? He had answered several personal questions, from hobbies to food choices to questions that he found almost surprisingly sexual. He was an open guy, and not prudish, but as a newcomer to the online dating world, being asked if he was into anal sex and bondage was a bit forward.
“How am I like you?”
“How are you not like me?”
He smiled. She was playing games.
“Well, for starters, you’re a woman, and I’m a man.”
“Psh… whatever do you mean?”
Again, he paused.
“Well…” he responded, slowly, typing each word with care, “I have a penis, and you have a vagina. Unless biology class was lying to me.” He added a smiling emoticon, to show that he was witty and fun.
“Tell me more about you.” she answered, avoiding and dodgy.
You minx, he thought.
“I’m an accountant, a father, and I love to cook.”
“What’s it like in San Francisco?”
He cocked his head and stared at the screen. San Francisco? He lived, had lived the entirety of his life on the north side of Chicago. The furthest west he had been in the United States was Colorado, last summer, during a weekend vacation to explore the state’s new legalized marijuana laws.
“I live in Chicago.” He replied.
“Chicago is not in Romania you noob.”
This conversation, he was seeing, was going off the rails. He needed to bring it back.
“What are you looking for?”
The response was slower than before, but “They are looking for someone special?!?” seemed to be back on topic, if not grammatically incorrect and strange. With a stomach like that, though, she didn’t need to be an English major.
“I’m looking for someone special, too. Maybe that’s how we’re alike.”
“I know some special people already.”
“So you’re into open relationships?”
“Yes, I think open relationships can be very good.”
He bit his lip. This was going well.
“Would you like to meet up somewhere tonight?”
“Why yes! That would be very interesting!”
He barked in triumph and spun in his comfortable, ergonomically correct chair. It was going to be his lucky night.
Now they sat on a comfortable early spring evening in a restraint that was no where near the city’s finest, but it was neither the worst, and was patronized by the young and trendy. Women showed off tattoos on naked shoulders despite the cool, men did not remove their PBR hats indoors, and their beards were well trimmed. Mark, too, was attempting the young and trendy and had dressed himself well in what he considered “cool” to the current antiestablishment – as an accountant, he was somewhat out of the loop. She was wearing the same full length red dress she had been wearing in her profile’s group photo. She was beautiful, still, but sat rigid, upright, hands on the table, palms down, equally spaced, with that smile and those faraway eyes.
“So what do you do?” he asked. She did not answer right away. The corner of her mouth ticked as she, he assumed, thought of the correct answer. He kept eye contact, as a gentleman should, and he could have sworn, beneath the glassy sheen and emerald green he saw a whirring, like cogs.
“Now I listen to music, and you?” she responded.
“I’m an accountant.” he sipped his drink, the dull thud of whiskey was settling into his brain, “What music do you listen to?”
“What music do you listen to?” she echoed.
“Oh, well, you know, things I listened to in high school. I haven’t really moved away from the nighties. I know I should try to expand my horizons, but it’s difficult, new names, new people. I need a mentor.” He smiled and leaned forward again, squeezing her hand, “Maybe you can teach me.”
Again, she ticked. “Maybe, maybe not.”
“So, what do you look for in a man?” he attempted.
“Well, I’m a girl, so I don’t know.” she said. Her smile was static. Her eyes gave no hintsu of humor. She was stoic and stiff and unreadable.
“So much for women’s lib, huh?” he laughed, good naturedly.
Tick. Tick. Tick. “What? How is my name wacky?”
He was taken aback. He stammered. “I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… I mean… I don’t think you’ve told me your name. What is your name?”
“Why does it matter what my name is?” Stoic. Unflinching. Faraway.
“Well, I think we had a thing going on here.” he said, cautiously, drawing his hand away from hers.
“It isn’t you, baby, it’s me.” she replied. He sighed and finished his drink. They hadn’t even ordered dinner yet. His mind began running through escape plans. The weight of anticipation had dropped, all that was left was the pit of disappointment and pending resentment.
“Should we just call it a night then?” he concluded, leaning forward to grab for his wallet.
“Why would I want to confuse you?”
“Well,” he scoffed, waving his hands impatiently, “you were coming on pretty heavy, and then, out of the blue, in the space of thirty seconds, you not only backed away, you fucking ran. It is confusing.”
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
“I had some job to do. That is why I answered you after a while.”
“What?” he asked, incredulous. “A job? What does that mean, ‘a job?'” he stood and pulled on his jacket, “I don’t know what you thought this was, but I’m not that kind of guy. I’m sorry if I misled you, but…” he trailed off, thinking, “Is this a sting? To Catch a Predator kind of thing? Goddamnit, I should have never gotten into this online thing.”
“You said that it was not fun to talk to me.” she replied, looking up at him. Her smile remained frozen. Her eyes glazed. She registered no hurt or disappointment. Again, there was a whirring behind her eyes, like a machine at work. He was becoming unnerved.
“What is this? What are you doing?”
“Do you want me to go? I won’t be mad or anything.”
He sat. He felt he had wounded her, somehow. She was confusing, flighty, strange, but he wasn’t an asshole. “I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound… I’m just not sure where you’re coming from.”
“That’s okay. Let’s stay friends.” she replied. Despite the bizarreness of the past several minutes, he felt relief. He put his hand back on hers.
“What kind of friends do you have in mind?” he chanced.
“And you can’t get king of intelligence knowing all kinds of humans.” she replied.
“What?” he peered at her. He searched for something, anything, a wink, a glimmer of humor, a scent of mental illness, anything.
“Would you like to upgrade membership?” she asked. Her teeth clicked, her mouth twitched, but she continued to smile that static smile. He withdrew and glanced around him, at the patrons, at the staff, all absorbed in their own lives and moments, completely oblivious to the strangeness at the table in the middle of the room. Nobody seemed to be a part of a grand, cosmic joke.
“Membership?” he ventured. “What do you mean, membership?”
“Would you like to learn more.?” she asked.
“Yes?” he stammered, not sure if he did.
She ticked. There is basic membership, gold membership, and platinum membership.” she explained, “You are basic. Perks. You may know if your message was read. You may browse without ads. You may store more messages. You will a receive a kiss on the cheek at the end of our date.”
“A kiss?” he was surprised, but nicely so.
“As per basic membership agreement, $9.99 for six months, $14.99 for three months, or $19.99 for one month. Payment will be on chosen cycle, you may cancel at any time.”
He sat up a bit, curious. “Tell me about gold membership, please.”
She clicked and whirred. “Gold membership. Perks. You will increase your popularity. You will see and be seen by even more attractive matches. Huzzah. Your messages will always appear at the top of their inbox. You will receive and individualized pet name. Your hand will be held in public. You will receive sessions of heavy petting, up to and including oral stimulation. $26.99 for six months, $29.99 for three months, $34.99 for one month. Payment will be on chosen cycle, you may cancel at any time.”
That seemed fair, he thought. Not too much, not too little. Certainly more than a kiss on the cheek, and he never really minded the ads. Some of them were useful, even.
“Would you like to learn about platinum membership?” she continued. He did. “Platinum membership. Perks. You may have unlimited flirts. You will see if your matches are currently available. The term, “I love you” may be utilized at your discretion. Public displays of affection are optional. You will have a full range of sexual activity at your disposal, specifically suited to your needs and wants answered by your profile creation. $39.99 for six months, $44.99 for three months, $49.99 for one month. Payment will be on chosen cycle, you may cancel at any time.”
He sat back. He did the math in his head, working numbers, deleting things he didn’t necessarily need (do you need both Netflix and Hulu?). He had to admit, it was tempting. Tempting enough, at least, to buy less beers a month or avoid fast food a little bit more.
“If I begin with a gold membership, can I upgrade to platinum whenever I wasn’t?”
She clicked and whirred. “Yes. You may upgrade, or cancel, at any time.” she moved, finally, her eyes darted to the side, her smile softened, became a grin, a little more genuine, a little more human. “I do hope,” she continued, coyly, “that you do not cancel.”
He was unsure if that was genuine or a sly sales ploy, but it made him feel good, so he didn’t care, either way. The anticipation and excitement was back, nestled in his chest, warm and welcoming. “Let’s start with gold.” he said, “and see where we go from there.”
She clicked, and whirred, and her eyes, still faraway and mechanical, but also emerald and gorgeous, blinked and scanned. “Stage three.” she said, happily, “Payment information.”
He reached for his wallet.