Third Shift at McSweeny’s
By Tony Noland
"This kind of thing was easier back when matches were made of wood."
"Were women just a little dumber back then, too?" she asked. "A little easier to impress?"
"Possibly," he said, "but you didn't meet women in bars. At least, not respectable women."
Kelly waited for him to look up from the matches he'd piled on the bar and give her a wink or a leer, some layered look of self-referential irony. One of those 'I know you know this is bullshit, but aren't I cute anyway?' kind of looks that every guy gives, usually sooner rather than later. But he didn't. He didn't even raise an eyebrow. He splayed the fingers of his right hand a bit more and wiggled them at the matches, entirely intent on them.
She let the silence hang. It was her turn to talk, but she felt like it was still his move. He wasn't cute, and he wasn't funny, but she'd gotten tired of cute, funny guys bringing their pearly white A-game to their flirtations. Her last boyfriend had run out of funny after five weeks. She was taking a break before taking on a new one. She'd been planning on just having a little R&R tonight, stringing a few guys along, maybe getting them to fight over her before going home alone.
However, this guy had blocked all the other action with his little stunt with the matches. She'd given him a light, then let him take a seat. When he said he had a bar trick she might like to see, she'd been a little annoyed at him wearing out his welcome, but let him have the book of matches.
On the other hand, she didn't really mind, not particularly. He was handsome enough to be good table decoration. Well, no, not handsome, she decided. More like interesting. The unfairness of that made her smile a bit. Millions of girls would cringe at being called 'interesting looking', but on an old guy, it was a half-compliment.
Old? She narrowed her eyes at him. No, not old either. That had been her first impression of him - old and rich. The rich part must have been from his shiny, black leather shoes and his watch, a big, scratched Rolex. Why old? His face was tanned, but not wrinkled. No gray hair, and none of those disgusting spots on his hands. His hands looked rather strong, in fact.
Without realizing it, she was licking her lips before every puff on her cigarette.
"Almost got it," he said. He was moving the fingers of both hands now.
"What exactly is supposed to happen?"
"The matches will spontaneously burst into flame, angels will sing, and you will fall in love."
She coughed, then scooped up her cigarette, cursing and slapping at the inside of her right thigh.
"Careful," he said, "that's lit." His eyes had remained fixed on the pile of matches.
"Fuck you! Who the fuck do you think you are? How dare you feed me a line of crap like that! You think I'm going to tumble for you, just because you set up a little parlor trick?"
"It's a bar trick, not a parlor trick. And I didn't say you'd fall in love with me. In fact, I can assure you that it won't be with me."
"Really. So this whole thing is to benefit some other lucky guy, but you go home to a cold shower?"
"I'm afraid so. Love isn't for me. Not anymore."
"What's that supposed to mean? Wait, never mind. I don't really care, OK? Why don't you just pack up and get out of my face, pal." She tapped her index finger hard on the bar, her shiny red nail flexing backwards. He didn't respond, but continued to move his fingers slowly.
She stubbed out her cigarette. "Fine, asshole, if you're the wingman, who's maverick? I might as well bust his balls and get this over with." She was looking around the bar, trying to spot the friend, but no one was paying them any attention.
"I don't know who he is. It doesn't matter, really. Look." His right hand clenched suddenly, scooping up the matches into a tight fist. He rapped his knuckles on the bar and opened his hand.
Within the ball of flame that he held, she saw herself. Her eyes, her hair, her long red nails, her high red heels, every burning reflection of herself glowing, welcoming, inviting. The flames in his hand licked upwards and inwards, moving within his palm, and she could feel them, hot and wet on her neck, on her lips, along her thighs, across her breasts. She heard a sound like music, like singing, like the beating of an angel's wings. She heard her own voice, calling, moaning, crying out with every touch, every caress, every act of passion and release that she had ever wanted. Folded into one towering moment was all of the attention and desire that her soul could withstand. The ball of light grew to a blinding intensity and she knew nothing but the song of love that rang through every part of her body, endlessly vibrating her to tiny, shimmering pieces.
When she opened her eyes, she was alone at the bar. She saw a small pile of ash on the bar next to her crushed cigarette. She blinked slowly as she looked around. Walking out the door was her man. She sat and watched the door close behind him.
Recognition took only a few seconds. She snapped out of her stupor and almost broke an ankle pushing through the crowd as she dashed for the door. She yanked hard and minced up the steps as fast as her shoes and skirt would allow. Up on the sidewalk, she looked left. Nothing. She looked right and saw him.
Not her drinking companion, not the old guy. She saw...
She swallowed hard as he walked towards her. He was cute and his friends were laughing at something he'd just said. He had brown hair and khaki slacks and he was perfect. He was perfect. He turned from them as he saw her approach. His eyes flicked up and down and he looked surprised for just an instant, then he had his game face on. He smiled a bright, pearly white smile.
Before he could speak, she held out her hand and said, "Hi. My name's Kelly. What's yours?"
Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here