by Charles C. Cole
Travis waited alone at the small cocktail table. Stretching with nervous energy, he grasped the far edge easily. Earlier, impulsively, he had dry-shaved with a disposable razor. His face felt windburned.
Mona approached aggressively. She glanced around at other empty seats, finding none appealing, joined him.
The two sat in silence, eye contact only, until a bell rang three times, like the start of a boxing match, signaling the start of their “speed hate.”
“So this is where I find you,” snapped Mona.
“Have we met?” asked Travis, caught off-guard by the instant faux-familiarity.
“I recognize you,” said Mona. “We’ve met plenty.”
Travis glanced down at a simple typed guide, loaned by a friend. “And how does that make you feel?” he asked.
Mona wasn’t buying it. “Defend yourself. Defend your demented and manipulating gender.”
Travis tried charm. “I like your outfit. It’s really nice. It becomes you.”
Mona bridled. “Great start: undercut the seriousness of my comment with a synthetic, insincere compliment.”
Travis tried honesty. “Sorry. This is new to me. A buddy said coming to this sort of thing was a good way to... What I mean is: You’re my first.”
Mona held strong. “I doubt that.”
Travis continued an earnest approach. “I don’t mean to argue the point, but—”
“Then don’t,” snapped Mona. “Admit what you are, then we can get on with the public flogging. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
“Of course,” he agreed, tactfully. “I heard these can be intense. I’m ready. Fire away. What am I?”
Mona dropped her barriers ever so slightly. “A man, of course,” she explained.
“There’s a revelation I hadn’t expected,” Travis sighed. “I thought you had something darker in mind.”
“You’re a man,” Mona repeated, with more emphasis.
“Right,” said Travis, taking no offense.
“A self-centered, lying, cheating dog who thinks cleanliness is a luxury and personal space belongs in a science fiction movie.”
“Oh, that,” said Travis.
“Don’t make fun,” Mona growled.
“Sorry,” Travis offered, stalling for time while he glanced at his notes. Finding nothing, he swung back. “What about you?”
“What about me?” asked Mona.
“You know what they say: it takes two—”
Mona cut him off quickly. “No, it doesn’t. Not in my experience.”
“No,” she continued, “for me, it took three...”
“Three?” he asked, deciphering the code and settling on a reference to a cheating boyfriend. “Three! I’m so sorry.”
“A little late now,” said Mona.
Travis deflected. “It sounds like he hurt you, this guy.”
“He did,” Mona conceded. “But it might as well have been you. You think you’re different, claiming to be the stand-up, honorable guy, but when you get a chance to be a true gentleman, it goes against your very nature!”
“I didn’t know.”
“You thought you were different?” asked Mona.
“I hoped I was,” he said.
“You probably thought you were the victim in your last relationship.”
“That’s what my friends said. That’s what her friends said.”
“Because you’re a saint,” Mona sneered. “It was all her. You’re perfect.”
“My Mom thinks so,” Travis joked.
“Again with the smart mouth,” Mona poked.
“It’s a nervous reaction,” Travis offered. “No offense.”
“To what?” asked Mona. “Honesty? Intimacy?”
“To being verbally assaulted by a total stranger, albeit an attractive one.”
“Are you calling me strange?” Mona demanded. “Because that’s a real turn-on for a girl.”
Travis sighed; her bruises were dazzling. “Is that what your ex did, belittle you?”
“Loudly, in public and in private,” Mona said. “At least he was consistent.”
“That’s not right,” Travis offered. “But that’s no reason to think we’re all jerks.”
“Because he was the exception to the rule?” Mona teased.
“I know better,” said Travis, shrugging.
“Thank you for admitting it.”
“I’m not blind,” said Travis. “I’ve seen some inconsiderate buffoons in my time, even men I thought highly of. Public displays of antipathy, PDA, I call it, in restaurants, in bars, at the gym, especially at the gym.”
“You know what I’m talking about,” said Mona.
“Still,” said Travis. “I choose to think that there are more good guys than troglodytes, more gentlemen than trog men.”
“It’s too close to call.”
“Would you be offended,” asked Travis, “if I said, respectfully, you travel in the wrong neighborhood? You need to widen your social circle. It’ll change your life.”
“Is that the answer?” asked Mona, considering.
“If it is,” said Travis, “it’s an easy thing to test.”
“Are you in that wider circle of friends?” Mona inquired tentatively.
“I could be,” said Travis.
“Do you have a business card?” asked Mona. “Something with your number, besides a napkin?”
“Was I supposed to?” asked Travis. “I told you, this is new for me. Who knew Speed Hating would turn out such a fun way to meet girls? I’m kidding.”
“We’re almost out of time,” Mona said, glancing at the timer. “You were great, by the way. Very natural without being defensive.”
“Was I?” asked Travis. “The drinks helped.”
“You didn’t use as much time as I did,” said Mona, “to yell and accuse and blame. I hope you got your money’s worth. You kind of have to push your agenda or it’s not going to happen: advocate for yourself. You really are new at this.”
“It shows,” said Travis. “It’s okay. You needed it more than I did.”
“I tell you what,” thought Mona, “give the next girl hell. She’s a wench anyway. I know her from work. Blame me. Say I wound you up. Say I was unreasonable, wouldn’t let you get a word in edgewise.”
“I’ll try,” said Travis.
“I hope we see each other again,” said Mona, “You’re not so bad.”
“Back at you,” Travis offered. “Thanks for being gentle on me. And good luck. The right guy is just around the corner. If not, at least you’ll always have this place to vent. Listen, if you’re ever in Waterbury on a Thursday night, check out this little place called—”
A bell rang. The hate-date was over.
Copyright © 2013 by Charles C. Cole