Friday’s Short Story

Dinner passes without incident. The food is tasty, the conversation light and inconsequential. So far so good. They are waiting for pudding when the chat veers into well-explored but still dangerous territory. Here be dragons.

“I don’t know why you’re with me,” she says.

His eyes flicker imperceptibly as he controls the urge to roll them. He smiles, even though his internal terror alert has just been upgraded to amber. He knows that simply saying “Well, I am, so why not just roll with it?” is not an option. He takes a sip of his wine, stalling for time.

“What do you mean?” he asks.

“You’re such a lovely person,” she says, “and I’m just…” She pulls a face.

“You’re just beautiful,” he says. Game, set and match me, he thinks. He is, of course, wrong.

“I’m not,” she counters, and looks away.

“You are,” he parries expertly. He has played this game before. “You’re the most beautiful woman I have ever met.”

“How many women have you met?” she asks. “You haven’t met her over there, have you?” She gestures at a lady diner across the restaurant. “She’s more beautiful than me. Because I’m not beautiful.”

“You are,” he says, or tries to, but she’s still talking, her freight train of self-recrimination clanking on into the night.

“And I’m not clever or funny,” she says. “Why would you even want to talk to me?”

He pins his hopes on a sympathetic shake of the head, hopes as doomed as newborn baby turtles scurrying past a hungry but bulimic seagull, which will eat them but take no real pleasure in doing so, and will feel guilty and ashamed afterwards.

“I’m plain, and stupid. And mean,” she says. “God, I didn’t tell you. I was really nasty to my sister yesterday.”

“Oh, her,” he says, “She’s always winding you up. She’s jealous of you. No wonder you bite back every now and again.”

“I pushed her down the stairs,” she says. “She’s in hospital. Her condition is critical.”

“Over-critical more like,” he says. “She’s always putting you down. Don’t feel bad about it.”

“I ran over a lollypop lady last week,” she says.

“Accidents happen,” he says, “You mustn’t blame yourself.”

“It was awful. I hit her and drove on, and I could see her moving, sort of twitching, in my rear view mirror, so I drove round the block and hit her again.”

“I really admire that in you. When you set your mind on something you really go for it, see it through. That’s rare.” He reaches out to squeeze her hand, but she pulls it out of reach.

“And last year I led an attempted genocide in a West African country,” she says.

“I expect they were asking for it,” he says.

“You could be with anyone,” she says, “And I’m currently plotting the final destruction of the material world,” she says, “Because I’m Satan. Lucifer in human form. Not metaphorically,” she goes on, “I really am the Anti-Christ, here to do battle with the second coming of the cursed Nazarene on the blood-drenched plains of Meggido. But before that I’m going to kill you slowly, and condemn your soul to eternal torment in the charnel pits of Hades. I don’t know why you put up with me, I really don’t.”

He looks away for a moment; thinks. He looks back up. His eyes meet hers. He reaches for her hand again, takes it, squeezes it.

“I love you,” he says, and he smiles because he means it.

******
I Don’t Know Why You’re With Me
by Harris
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