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A man at the airport bookstore with a fake-sounding British accent sold her and Freddie the best city guidebook. They were visiting for her vacation. Freddie was unemployed, and she worked as a bank manager. The bookstore man winked and said they would avoid all the city’s crap-food if they followed the guide’s practical dining suggestions.
“No pitfalls,” he said, his lips tucked in like hospital corners.
She vowed to avoid cheap food no matter where she travelled, or who she travelled with — and promised herself and her male traveling companion, “Freddie”, to dine “not-cheaply but affordably.”
Freddie had a severe haircut, jet black. He was “a salad whore”, not a vegetarian exactly but a vegetable hobbyist. He changed his name every day which was part of his diet—really it did not bother her much.
Troy insisted while kissing, even fucking and showering together — that he did not feel attracted to her. He would say it to her, which was the tough part. He told her this was probably because he was still very sad about his dead cat, and he said he really didn’t feel attracted or attached to anything or anyone anymore.
She was pretty sure he was attracted to her though.
Troy (formerly known as Freddie) said it at least three times each day, “I AM NOT IN THE LEAST BIT ATTRACTED, JUST SO WE ARE CLEAR.”
She took Reginald to all the recommended practical restaurants, and insisted on paying because he was jobless. None of the places were cheap, and all had interesting food. At dinner one night, they toasted his dead cat. He asked if they could toast his cat who had passed away, and she said, yes, yes yes!
“Her name was Chalk,” he said. “She had white toes.”
She smiled at him and raised her glass of moderately priced white wine to his glass of moderately-priced red.
“Chalk, you glimmer still,” he said. She watched his eyes froth over, as though they had been left on high too long.
The ratio of sad men to happy men was tilting toward sad. Single men were sad and claimed to not be attracted to people anymore. They changed their names and dyed their hair. They had dead cats.
She was getting used to it.
Howling in ecstasy, entwined during lovemaking, Bartholomew reminded her gently, “I am not available, Honey, and I just want to be clear.”
These days, men felt like a parade of caramel-corn boxes with no hidden prize.
Toward the end of the vacation with the man originally called Freddie, she craved a blond man to lounge around with for a while. She wanted it but didn’t say it. She could not change things on a whim.
There seemed to be a crack in her once good energy, and the only kind of escapade she craved was one which involved self-esteem repair.
“The grout of love,” she called it inside her imagination, picturing a blond man turning a cement mixer.
The final morning, she gently woke her black-haired companion (now named?) and offered to bring coffee up to the hotel room for him with a bagel.
“I am full service, and it is our last day here!”
“Fantastic!” he said, and looked at her deeply—taking hold of her hand.
He said he wanted “creamer” in his coffee, the fake kind, he said, not milk.
“You bet,” she said.
Then, he asked what she wanted to change about her life. Today he looked like his name could be Carl. She liked to guess.
It seemed early in the morning for this kind of question, and she did not answer.
Copyright 2022 Meg Pokrass
Meg Pokrass’s books include Spinning to Mars (Blue Light, 2021). She serves as Festival Curator for the Flash Fiction Festival, U.K.