The Drink (don't read this unless you've got three dumb minutes you need to kill)
Sunday, April 17, 2011 at 12:20PM
Recipe for Awkward

Here's a short story I wrote for NPR's most recent Three-Minute Fiction contest.  I won jack shit, so, maybe it's terrible, but I thought half the ones chosen were a waste of even three minutes time...So then, who am I to judge anyway, and who am I to tell whether or not three minutes of your life should be spent reading this or not?  I won't then.  Fine.  I'll just shut up and post it now.  (And no- this is not autobiographical, elements are, but the story is not.)





“My father warned me about dating guys I met on the subway.”

“Funny,” he says.  They both laugh.

“It is funny,” she says.  “But unfortunately it’s not a joke.”

His eyes look over the rim of his cup as he takes in the last mouthful of soda.  The cup is big and plastic, the kind you usually find in diners and buffets.  He holds the straw with his finger so it won’t poke him in the face.  The ice rustles.  “So,” he starts.  “How’d the old man take it when you told him you were moving?”

She laughs again.  There was a lot of laughing, but not many jokes.  She took a drink of beer that shone the color of a dirty penny when it hit the light from the hanging bulb.  The cold, bitter fizz enveloped her tongue, her throat, and she thought back to October, when it was just a few weeks before she picked up and moved to the other side of the country.


You see, it had been the worst possible time to tell them— her parents’ ancient, toothless Pekingese had just died.

Was this a cliché?  Of course.  All of it.  She should have anticipated the Universe’s discouragement.  No.  No, this was a uniquely, unpredictably horrible situation.  Yes.  And no.  But really, it didn’t matter.  Either way, she would find herself sitting in the living room with her mother and father for two hours while they cried off and on, missing the poor little dog.  They cried before she got there.  And they’d cry after she left.  She cried, too, though it wasn’t about the Pekingese. 

The next day, she had to give them a call.


“God, I’m sorry— I didn’t mean to tell you all that.”  She touches her hand to her forehead.

“No, no.  It’s a good story,” the guy with glasses and a few grey hairs encourages.  “Sounds terrible, really.  Terrible timing.”

“Terrible,” the brunette echoes. 

“How old was the dog?”

“Sixteen, seventeen.  Pretty old.  I think he lasted so long because my mother sang to him.  Very elaborate tunes.”

“Like operas?”  He asks.

“Oh, no.  Totally original.  Like nothing you’ve ever heard before.  I mean, imagine you’re on your deathbed, and there’s this spry middle-aged woman serenading you some awkwardly syncopated song about how handsome you are, what she’s feeding you for dinner, praising your failed attempts to pee outside…”

“Oh, I’d live forever!”  He says.  “That’s the fountain of youth right there.”

“And my dad,” she went on, sounding oddly serious for a moment, “he used to say that most people think of pets as preparation for having children, but for them, my parents, it was children that were preparation for having that dog.”

“That’s a strange thing to say to your kids.”  His eyebrows lowered.

“Oh no, it’s just his stupid joke!”  She apologizes.  “Though they really did love that little guy.”

“Oh, good.  Good,” he laughs.

“And I— I still feel guilty,” she says shaking her head with a small smile.  She moves the amber ale aside, pulling up the napkin that is moist with sweat from the glass.  He watches her lay it back down on the wooden table and press it flat with her palm.  “So,” she finally says.  “Tell me about your big New York move.  How was it?”

“Easy,” he says.  “My parents are dead.”

She gives a laugh.  “Very funny…”

He glances down, a bit embarrassed.  “Well, actually,” he pauses.  “It’s not a joke.”



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