the sixteenth

The Non-Date

 

The stained-glass panel in the pub door rattles as it slams shut. Neil scans the room for someone with short, curly hair, but sees no one who fits that description.


He walks past the booth where he always sat with his late wife, and takes a seat at the bar.

 

‘Evening, Gary.’
 

‘Usual, mate?’ the barman asks.
 

‘Yeah, please.’
 

Neil empties half the pint of Guinness. ‘It’s “the date” tonight,’ he says. It’s been more than a year since his wife’s accident, more than ten since he’s been on a date. ‘My sister said she’s lovely, but it’s been a while, you know.’
 

‘I know,’ Gary says. And he does know.

Two hours earlier a woman walked into the pub, ordered a mocha (the pub had recently invested in a state-of-the-art coffee machine) and sat down to write. Her memoir. A thousand words a day, every day, until it’s done.

 

Today was a tough day and she knew it would be; writing about receiving her donor heart, the one that beats in her chest behind the slash down her torso.  
 

When she finished, she popped to the bathroom and on her return, there was a different vibe in the room, but she couldn’t put her finger on what it was.

Neil looks over his shoulder and sees a woman who wasn’t there before, sitting by herself at a table next to the window. Short, curly hair. Maybe that’s her.

 

He goes over. ‘Hello,’ he says, ‘are you Susan?’
 

She looks at him. There. He is the change. ‘No,’ she says, ‘but we could pretend?’
 

He smiles. ‘Why not?’
 

Neil gets refills and places their drinks on the table. ‘Tell me about you,’ he says.
 

She tells him some of her story. Then he tells her some of his story. They don’t talk about the heart or the car crash. Those subjects are too heavy for a first non-date.
 

His stomach rumbles and they laugh. ‘Fancy some dinner?’ he asks.
 

‘Thought you’d never ask.’
 

‘I just need a quick word with the barman.’
 

‘Okay,’ she says.
 

‘Gary,’ Neil says, ‘I didn’t find Susan. If she turns up, can you tell her I’m sorry and buy her a drink from me?’
 

‘No problem, mate. What’s this woman’s name?’
 

‘D’you know what?’ Neil chuckles. ‘I don’t know.’
 

Gary leans on the bar. ‘It’s Maggie.’
 

‘Maggie? Like my Maggie?’
 

‘Not your Maggie. A different Maggie, and like your sister said: she’s lovely.’
 

‘You… you knew about this? You and my sister set me up?’
 

‘I wouldn’t phrase it like that. We just want you both to be happy.’
 

Neil turns and sees a woman standing by the door. Not the woman it used to be, but a different woman. A woman with colours dancing in her short, curly hair from the sun shining through the stained-glass window. A woman who is waiting for him.
 

‘Thanks, mate,’ Neil says. ‘Gotta go.’  

 

Laura Besley is a full-time mum to two young boys and squeezes her writing time into the bookends of her day. She has recently been listed by TSS Publishing as one of the top 50 British and Irish Flash Fiction writers with her story ‘On Repeat’ (Reflex Fiction) and her story ‘Silenced’ has been nominated for Best Microfiction by Emerge Literary Journal. Having lived in The Netherlands, Germany and Hong Kong, she now lives in land-locked central England and misses the sea. Her flash fiction collection, The Almost Mothers, was published in March 2020 and her collection of micro fiction, 100neHundred, will be published in May 2021. She tweets @laurabesley 

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