Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Flash Fiction: SOULMATES

[There are times when you are aware you are happy and pause to think what unhappy people are missing. Often it is a matter of choice, but more times than not, the choice is really out of your hands.]


            After three years of virtual monkhood, Thomas felt it was time to “get out there,” to test the dating waters again. His last breakup had been bitter, agonizingly so, as Erleen had gone from loving partner to vicious bitch, to the point where even her closest friends were taking Thomas’ side. Jumping at the chance to leave Erleen’s savagery behind, Thomas took a new position in San Diego, putting two thousand miles between him and his painful past. But the past travels well, so Thomas let time do its thing. Three years led up to a late Friday night, Thomas nursing a beer he didn’t want. With a few clicks, he pointed his browser to one of those “compatibility sites,” rated “the absolute best” and before he thought about it too much, filled out the questionnaire, chuckling at the absurdity of the whole thing.
            The next day, his Inbox had a cheery Subject line: “Your matches have arrived!” Smirking, Thomas opened the message and scanned the text. Hyperlinked numbers introduced four descriptions of women (Thomas hoped they were women) who, the message proclaimed, matched Thomas’ profile to “a 98+% degree!” Thomas had no idea what “98+%” could even mean, but he reread the descriptions and finally clicked on the third one, described as “Adventurous within reason, lover of solitude and embracer of honesty.” What the hell, he thought, It’s only a blind date.
            His overture got a prompt response (Desperate?) and an invitation for lunch on Sunday at Il Pesto, a trendy new bistro that was neither ostentatious nor chintzy. Good choice. She—Lorraine—said she’d be wearing an emerald-green dress and would arrive promptly at 11:45.
            As Sunday rolled towards noon, Thomas felt himself getting nervous. Nervous, hell, he was beginning to get scared. What the hell was I thinking? A website test to meet women? Thomas shook his head and slapped the steering wheel, driving up the quiet boulevard to Il Pesto.
            He was early and let the hostess at the bistro know he was expecting someone. The tiny bar had comfortable stools and when the door opened at 11:45, he knew who it was. Lorraine was wearing the promised emerald-green dress and Thomas let out a sigh he never expected to be so deep. I was afraid it would be Erleen. He rose and introduced himself, enjoying the pleasant handshake and dazzling smile. Even so, he mentally kicked himself for checking out her throat to make sure it didn’t have a visible Adam’s apple. You never know, dammit.
            Lunch went past two and became a short drive to a museum, where Impressionists led to an early supper of Hungarian stew and rye bread in a cubbyhole cafĂ© by the pier. Over that time they discovered they’d both grown up in the Midwest, been in Scouting, loved math, hated English, enjoyed picnics and family gatherings, swam well, couldn’t get enough of Disney movies, “24”, chocolate and pistachio ice cream. They’d loved Europe, yearned for Japan and would not spend a dime of lottery winnings until they’d let at least five years go by, just to get used to the idea of having all that cash. Over coffee, with topics buzzing and cavorting between them, Thomas sat back and smiled, his heart filled with a joy he thought he’d never feel. Lorraine saw his expression and smiled, her deep blue eyes alive with pleasure. Lifting her purse onto the table, she pulled out a slim cardcase and slid it across the table to Thomas.
“What’s this?” he said, picking it up.
“Your membership to SoulMates,” she said. “You’re in!”
Thomas was stunned. “Membership? What—what do you mean?” He stared at the contents of the cardcase, not seeing any of it.
Lorraine smiled. “We’ve even given you a discount.” She patted his hand. “My treat!”
Thomas noticed the hand patting his: It had a wedding ring. Thomas felt his heart thud in his chest. He felt like kicking himself.
            Lorraine sipped her coffee. “Every prospective member is interviewed by a staff evaluator to ensure we get the finest possible candidates in SoulMates. That’s why we have such a high success rate.” She frowned prettily. “You didn’t think we relied only on a website test, did you?”
            Thomas shook his head and tasted a sad bitterness he’d thought he’d forgotten.

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