‘Deadline’ by Tom Lichtenberg

Artwork by Christina Cartwright © 2006.

 [ Dave & Darcy: image © 2006 Christina Cartwright ] This couple lived like an item on the shelf, like a buy one get one free. You want to talk to him? You have to clear it with her. You want to talk to her? You’d better see him first. You want one of them for anything, you get the other one too. They were wrapped around each other like the childproof plastic you can't cut off a jar with a knife. Dave and Darcy. Darcy and Dave. I'm Darcy this is Dave. I'm Dave she's Darcy. How you doing? We're great.

They were always great. They found bargains that you wouldn't believe. You know how much we paid for this? Always the we. We were in Mexico once. One time when we. The other day we. We drove to. They told us we had to.

There was a time before Dave for Darcy, and a time before Darcy for Dave. A Neolithic era, lost in the pile of receipts they never discarded (you never know), but, they will tell you, one at a time or in unison, our lives really began at the moment we met.

At a Photomat, of all places. Her car was stalled at the booth. He gave her a start. In every sense of the word. From the moment I saw him I knew, she says, in a rare first-person moment. She was like an angel, he agrees. Then together, in the sickening sweetness they combine and form their own little well-worn slogan; even angels need a jump sometimes hee hee. You want to look away.

Never before have the hash browns seemed so appealing, or so interesting in the way they appear on the plate, all those strings of potatoes combined in such unique and golden brown patterns. Darcy and Dave are still talking. One day we. We thought it was. Nobody told us hee hee. You wonder who invented the hash brown, who perfected the art or science, whichever it is.

Outside the diner the icy rain is still falling, heavy and hard. If you'd stopped in Talusa like your body had told you, you wouldn't even be here now, but cozy in a soft and sinking mattress in that motel you noticed off the road. You'd be watching the local weatherman tell you all about this storm, but no, the boss remembered your cell phone number and reminded you of your deadline.

More coffee? Please. Thank you. None for us, no thanks. We’ve had enough. They take a deep breath. One of them will launch into the next obligatory segment. It was him. Something about a dog that got lost, that jumped off a truck and found its way home. Remarkable, isn't it? How everything knows where it truly belongs. We had a dog once, you know. So sad. Hit by lightning, he was, the poor little guy. Sparky. That’s what we named him. A moment of silence. Then a sigh. It was her. Well, at least that won't happen again hee hee! You know what they say about lightning.

You do know what they say about lightning. You've said it yourself sometimes, even though you know better. Better than to say such things. Better than to pretend to know such things. You play with your food and notice, with a little astonishment perhaps, that even the writing on a packet of jam can be the most interesting thing in the world at a time like this.

You're running late, but it's out of your hands. You came in from the cold. You found the last seat. They were kind, and generous enough to wave you over, share their space, signal the waitress, smile and smile. They had no idea who you are. I'm Darcy he's Dave. We're Dave and Darcy. How many times did they tell you? And how many times did they ask you your name, and afterwards it was, Steve is it? pleased to meetcha. Mike is it? How you been? Ron is it? Darcy's got a brother named Ron.

They know what it's like to be on the road, to live out of a suitcase, away from your friends and family for weeks at a time. They're on their way to a conference. Franchise opportunities. They've been very successful. No, they've been fortunate. Blessed, they would say. Thank God.

Uniform shoes. Did you hear that correctly? Yes, they repeated it. Oh, shoes that go with uniforms. Yes, you can see how that could be quite the lucrative market. Can't have a uniform without the shoes. Yes, all kinds of uniforms, all kinds of shoes. No size too small. No size too big. After all, every size is somebody's size hee hee.

Yes, they probably are plastic flowers on the table. Amazing what they can do with plastic flowers these days. You're stalling, and you know it. After all, they're Darcy and Dave. He’s Dave, she’s Darcy. You don't want to have anything to do with this, don't want to go through with it. You've got your job and it's got nothing to do with uniforms or shoes. Better to sit here and marvel, and wonder, and shudder at the awesome task that's facing you. But you have a deadline.

You know you have to go outside. And heaven knows your car won't start. And it's been written that you'll need their help. And Ron is it? Darcy's got a brother named Ron. We'd be glad to help. Just let us bring the car around. You stay right where you are. No, no, it's not a problem. We're happy to. Anything we can do.

They'll bring the car around. And Dave, it'll be Dave, will grab the cables from the trunk, and Darcy, it'll be Darcy, who'll remain, alone, behind the wheel, and you, it'll be you who stands back, lets it happen. It may be that lightning doesn't strike twice, but when he's standing in a puddle in the freezing rain and he has the cables in his grip, and then the merest little spark. And you know who you are, and that even angels need a jump sometimes. Hee hee.

© 2006 Tom Lichtenberg

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