“What’s their story?”
It was a game the three of us played when we went out. Our subject could be someone on the tube, or standing in line, or the occupants at a nearby table. We’d gone to the new upscale Tex-Mex place, and our choices were as plentiful as the items on the four-page menu.
The targeted couple didn’t match. She was somewhere between twenty-five and forty, her long dark hair devoid of any highlights, natural or purchased. Her complexion was Hispanic tan and she wore stylish glasses, though the rest of her outfit was nondescript. Nothing meant to attract attention.
He was a cowboy, with thick gray hair parted neatly on the right, his button-down shirt tucked neatly in his jeans, and the requisite boots and belt buckle completing the costume. More noticeable was the volume of his conversation. We didn’t hear her at all; we could have answered his questions.
“I think they’re on a date,” My friend said.
We were seated in the middle of the crowded dining room. They sat in an odd corner booth for two a couple feet away. On our other side was a party four, clearly two couples out for a night on the town. Behind us, a group of six, and whatever they’d been doing hadn’t included deodorant. The cloud of BO made me comment, but our waitress thought I was talking about the drink she’d just handed me, Don Julio, Cointreau, salt.
“It smells so good,” she said.
I wasn’t sure about the date hypothesis. She didn’t seem into him at all. In fact, she seemed to be stalling. Maybe she was afraid of what followed dinner. I watched her, surreptitiously of course.

She nodded slightly to the cowboy, and took a bite of her dinner. One bean.
He continued with his story, pausing only to gulp his margarita. Eating, but not pausing to swallow the food before he spoke again. Splatters of his fajita visibly spraying “And then we went…”
She had her napkin spread carefully on her lap, her bag next to her in the booth, between the two of them. She had an aura of subservience about her. She never changed her expression, no laughter, no smiling, and it didn’t seem that he noticed that she wasn’t speaking. More space for him to fill.
“I think he’s her boss,” my other friend guessed.
“That’s creepy. Probably against company policy, too,” I said. Rules are important after all!
When she excused herself to use the restroom, he ordered more drinks and I followed her. In the bathroom, she had pulled out her phone, texted someone, and scrolled through Facebook or something. By the time I was washing my hands, she glanced at her watch, having not used the facilities at all. She followed me out as I exited, but used me as a bit of a shield and headed for the door.
He was still waiting for her when we left, and had ordered another round.

13 Comments

  1. Benjamin Niespodziany

    Great ending and pacing with this one! Love how it closes here.

    Part of me wants to see a really long and obnoxious dialogue/monologue paragraph from this annoying guy. An annoying story he is telling, to give the reader more of an idea that you can hear every single word spitting out of his mouth. I think that would make the reader despise this guy even more.

    And while this place mentioned upscale Tex-Mex, it felt a bit more like a sports bar or a place to watch a game/meet friends for drinks? Tiny details, but I found my headspace in a Friday’s or a Chili’s and not something fancy (maybe because the man was a cowboy and the woman was nondescript wardrobe). Something to consider, great flash!

    • Georgiana Nelsen

      Thanks Ben! I was so frustrated because what I was working on wasn’t working and then this said “write me” and it really needs more time, but that’s what weekend workshops are for yes? Great ideas… I’ll work with them!
      G

  2. Al Kratz

    This is a cool premise and the dynamics of the couple playing the game play off of the people they are watching, I liked the interlude of the other people and how mostly annoying they are, but how these 2, this couple draws them back and demands in a way the main couple plays the game of what’s their deal?

    I like how there is this potential danger but we don’t really know right? So in turn thats almost a danger of the game itself. I like that the idea they may be completely wrong on the danger isn’t voiced out loud but wondering if some of these dynamics could be played with even more. Of course, that is tricky to balance without going too far the other way but could you play with the what’s their story and turn it for the reader on to what’s the story of the main couple?

    • Georgiana Nelsen

      Hi Al! Great ideas and helpful comments. I look forward to playing with this one more. I was determined to post SOMETHING, and the thing i was working on wasn’t working at all! Glad you picked up on the danger!
      Thank you!
      G

  3. Jonathan Cardew

    Georgiana!

    “She nodded slightly to the cowboy, and took a bite of her dinner. One bean.”

    I start with this quote because I love LOVE this moment. The characterization in a dozen words says so very much, and in fact, I feel like I am in this restaurant, a voyeur. It feels so real.

    And this characterization is brilliantly manufactured throughout the piece, especially in the section where you describe his “thick gray hair parted neatly on the right” and her “stylish glasses.” The incongruous couple. The loud annoying talker. The quiet contemplater.

    Another thing I really appreciated in this piece was your use of the senses. The BO, the quiet whisper of the woman, the splatters of the fajita–all of this builds a world for the reader to immerse themselves in. Again, it feels real. We are there.

    HOW ABOUTS:

    Oh, the places you’ll go!

    But where? What place? And why, “oh”?

    1. This is an observational piece. We have characters watching characters, but what are the watchers all about? You could thread a double narrative together here, cross-pollinating between an incongruous couple and perhaps a couple that is completely congruous (which could add some tension).

    2. Strip it down. Focus the narrative as simply a narrative rather than a voyeuristic piece. The Incongruous Couple. Check out this piece in SmokeLong Quarterly for an example: https://www.smokelong.com/stories/old-man-falling-off-of-stool/

    3. Focus on the woman? I really felt a connection with this character, which you skillfully create, especially in that moment where she checks her phone and uses a shield to escape (as well as that single bean). Perhaps you could place the narrative eye behind her shoulder even more?

    VENUES:

    If you play with this any further, you may consider sending it to Forge Literary Magazine? I know they love strong narratives and strong characterization. That’s just one place that comes to mind.

    So great to see you in one of these courses again, Georgiana! Let me know if you have any questions about my feedback or possible venues. I’d love to see this one out there!

    Cheers,
    Jonathan

  4. Todd Clay Stuart

    Georgiana, nice work! I enjoyed reading this. Ahh, there’s nothing quite like people watching. Part of me would love to see this scene backfire on those playing the game. Sort of like how things backfire on the Jimmy Stewart character in Rear Window, though not quite at that scale lol. Maybe at the very end of this there is a short paragraph about how shit gets real and they lose their enthusiasm for the game or something, some kind of change that happens to the protagonists. Just a thought. I looking forward to reading more of your work!

  5. Len Kuntz

    Hi Georginia,

    This was a great concept and very relatable which made it really reader friendly. I love your depiction of details, the “one bean” and the bits of fajita splashing out of his mouth. You painted a clever sense of mystery and while you resolved it at the end, it still felt like you left us with white space to fill on our own, which I appreciated a lot. Great job.

  6. John Steines

    Hello Georginia, I also keyed into that single bean bite, and I was so happy when she eventually walked away. Your descriptive, especially of the man’s fajita spraying. Because of how strong your descriptive of these two is, and the strength of the impact of what is – or may be going on between them, I resist being pulled away to what else is happening in the dining room. A part of me wants to see the nosy couple knock their plate into their lap, in a humbling vein. I think your descriptive sense is great. My concern for the woman as I read is so heightened. Nice work with that. Best. j

  7. Robert Vaughan

    Hi Georgiana, so nice to be “in the room” with you this weekend. And this piece, a cavalcade of sensory delights. Love the construct of playing a game, which comes in the very first sentence. I love guessing games, and enjoy trying to figure out relationships between strangers across a room. A very writerly thing? Possibly. I think you’ve got the start of this scene and have captured the essence of it. Love JC’s suggestions and possible editing ideas. Have fun! This seems to have tons of potential.

  8. Francine Witte

    This is a very intriguing piece. I enjoyed the watching of the couple and how it ends up. I do like the suggestion of a parallel story of the watchers.

  9. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Georgiana, You had me from the title forward. What a great story to give to other writers. I love the game, “What’s my story?” And you painted such a finely threaded narrative, setting up the visual conflict with the cowboy and the lady, and the ambiance of the other couples around pulling in the sounds and smells in the Tex-Mex restaurant. Happy to read your work again, Georgiana.

  10. David O'Connor

    Georgiana, I love people watching and love this. That single bean. I like all the mystery. Wonder about the table of four, and six, and other tables. I also thought the– Rules are important after all!– line might be a key to the heart of the piece. What would happen if it was used in dialogue or overheard in the bathroom… this could go so many ways, and like the 4 page menu, who doesn’t love options. I could read much more of this scene.

  11. Wilson Koewing

    Georgiana,

    Very cool observational piece here. Kept me guessing as to what was going on. I was pretty fascinated by the narrator, and I think all this piece needs is a little more characterization of her and it will really sizzle.

    Wilson

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