Friday 29 April 2011

Friday Flash - First Date

I'm sitting at the table near the window. Trust Parker to book a table with such a lovely view. The first time I read his profile on Match, I knew he would be a man of taste. I can look out into the landscaped garden to my left, and if I look to my right I can see the door. I wonder if this was Parker's intention, to sit here and watch me make my entrance. Of course, Parker would need to be here first, and he's not. Still, he's only seven minutes late. He couldn't have known I'd be early due to nerves. He's probably parking the car right now.

The waiter brings me my first glass of wine - a heady merlot. I think he's relieved I've finally ordered something. I'm sure Parker won't mind when he gets here. After all, it's only one drink, just to be polite. I leave it on the table, intending to drink it when Parker gets here. He'll be here soon.

7:25pm.The waiter whisks my empty glass away. I wonder where Parker is. It must be the right date and time, or they would never have shown me to his table. I check my phone in case he's tried to call to say he's been held up. Wasn't his big presentation today? I try to think back to the last email he sent. Yes, maybe he's just been held up.

The waiter brings me a second glass of merlot. Still no word from Parker. Is it too soon to call and ask if he's coming? I don't know what the protocol is. I haven't dated in fifteen years, and this is the first date I've had from an Internet site. It wasn't like this when I met Ben. Back then, it was having to share a table in a busy cafe, swapping phone numbers, and then marriage six months later. I send Parker a brief text, saying I hope the presentation went well, and that he can tell me about it over dinner. I wonder if he's forgotten our date. Ben never forgot anything.

The waiter whisks away my empty glass. I gaze around the room. The other tables are occupied by gossiping women guzzling wine in between courses, happy couples, or loud businessmen discussing deals over their steak. Only one other person is here on his own, and he scribbles in a notebook after every forkful. Maybe he's a food critic.

The waiter just came back to ask if I want another glass of wine. I tell him I don't - I should really wait for Parker. As soon as he leaves I want to call him back, just for someone to talk to. I look around the other tables and imagine that they're all staring at me. I bet they're thinking I look pathetic, sat here by myself. Is it okay if I have a third glass of wine, or does that just mean I'll go from waiting for a date to drinking alone? The waiter glares at me, and I consider ordering dinner. I can't bring myself to. If I do, then Parker will arrive and think less of me for not waiting. Then again, if I don't order anything, he won't show.

Parker is an hour late and there is still no word from him. A third glass of merlot sits on the table in front of me. The smell turns my stomach. I check my phone again. Nothing. I find the email app and log into my account. There, in black and white, is today's date, 7pm, and the name of this restaurant. I didn't get it wrong after all. I wondered if he'd taken one look at me and decided not to come in. I hope not. He's seen my picture online, and I took care to use the nicest photo I have. I don't think I look all that different in person.

The waiters are getting angry with me. I pull up Parker's number, and my finger hovers over the 'Call' button. Who am I kidding? Parker isn't running late - he just isn't coming. I think of Tex, my old labrador, who is no doubt sat in the living room patiently waiting for me to come home. I get the urge to pay my bill and go home. There's a pizza in the freezer that I can have for dinner. If I leave now, I can be home in time to curl up on the couch with Tex and watch The Mentalist. Still, I can't leave. Not alone. Everyone will know I was stood up. The waiter glares at me. I have to make a decision. I either order more drinks, have dinner, or leave.

I work up the courage to call Parker. His phone rings for what feels like an eternity, before I'm put through to voicemail. I hang up, knowing my voice will crack and betray my disappointment if I try to leave a message. I look out of the window, keen to face away from everyone in case they see me welling up. I think of going home, and I picture Tex greeting me at the door and wagging his tail when I give him a cuddle.

A couple walk past the window. The woman is a stunning blonde with the kind of bombshell figure you only get with surgery and a personal trainer. She's wearing a clingy gold dress and I suddenly feel very dowdy in my burgundy blouse and cream skirt. My eye is drawn to her companion. He's tall, and grey streaks through his dark brown hair. He has his arm around her waist. The man briefly looks in my direction, and looks away just as quickly.

I signal to the waiter for the bill, and try not to think about how much the man outside looked like Parker.

* * *

This story came from a prompt from Tony Noland about an empty wine glass. Tony's just released his first short fiction anthology, Blood Picnic, which is a bargain at $2.99 over on Smashwords!

However, the story did give rise to two endings. After throwing open the voting for a happy ending on Twitter, more people wanted the unhappy ending you see here, although I'll be posting the alternative happy ending next week!

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Deconstructing a flash

By Nina Matthews Photography
I had a pretty good response to my most recent Friday Flash, Blind Date, and I thought I'd take a moment to explain why I chose to focus on the character that I did. The intended misdirection won't work if you read this post first, so go take a look at the story and then come back.

*sits and whistles a spot of Tyketto while she waits*

Back? Good! I hope you enjoyed that, because I certainly enjoyed writing it. Well, once I figured out how to do it. My original story contained a lot more dialogue, but the first version made it too obvious who Christopher's blind date was before the final reveal. It was also too long, so I scrapped it. Nor did the story work in third person. I needed to switch it into first person in order to let Christopher explain why he'd willing let himself be picked up by a strange woman on behalf of someone else. In the first version, Christopher was an unwitting victim, led astray by simple curiosity, but I decided to make him a slimy con artist who gets his just desserts.

Why? Well, mostly because I love the character of Medusa, and I didn't want to portray her as a monster. I realised that classic mythology does exactly that, but I've always felt somewhat sorry for Medusa. She was originally a very beautiful woman, turned into a monster by the goddess Athena. She has several "origins stories" - in one, she descrates Athena's temple by sleeping with Poseidon, leading to Athena turning Medusa into a monster in a fit of pique. This particular legend also sees Medusa killed by Perseus, and her dead body gives birth to Pegasus (Medusa and Poseidon's son). In another legend, Medusa is not the femme fatale, but rather a beautiful mortal seduced by Poseidon in Athena's temple. Again, Athena loses her temper and turns Medusa into a monster, but she also grants her the power of turning people into stone. There is yet another legend in which Medusa is simply born hideous, and the shock of seeing her turns people to stone. At some point, her power was changed to only affect men.

So I got to thinking. What if Perseus hadn't killed her? What if she was still living in her cave somewhere, paralysed by the knowledge that she must stay hidden or risk turning people to stone? Wouldn't she get awfully lonely? I've chosen the legend in which her power only works on men, which in turn raises questions about the destructive female gaze (in cinema in particular, the destructive gaze is usually characterised as male - look at the opening scene of Halloween, or ANY of Peeping Tom). Medusa can be seen to represent the potential "threat" of female sexuality toward the established male hierarchy. For me personally, she represents the suppressed woman, or the tragic figure punished for the crimes of another (in this case, Poseidon). She's granted destructive power as well as monstrosity, although I did like the fact that in 2010's Clash of the Titans, she was still depicted as being beautiful as well as monstrous.

So there was my construction of Medusa - beautiful but lonely woman hampered by an extreme disability, and unable to find a companion. In a way, her entire being has been destroyed by Poseidon's selfish act, and now Medusa has to live with the consequences. I added an extra layer of symbolism by naming her faithful servant Daphne - in Greek mythology, Daphne was a beautiful nymph pursued by Apollo. Determined to preserve her virginity and not predisposed to enjoy the attentions of a god, she prays to the river for help, and she is transformed into a laurel tree. Both Daphne and Medusa are punished for being attractive to men.

Enter sleazy Christopher, and the stage is set. I suppose it helps that one of my favourite songs is Heart's If Looks Could Kill, a revenge song from a woman to her unfaithful boyfriend. Medusa's last line of dialogue came from her as I was writing, although it's entirely possible that it's from the part of my consciousness that is crippled by self-esteem issues. However, I chose to keep Medusa hidden until the end as I wanted the first section to be very much from Christopher's point of view. We have no knowledge of the identity of his date until he does - although we escape being turned into stone and get to see Medusa's sad reaction. Sure, I could be accused of denying Medusa a voice or a point of view but that's not the point of this flash.

So there you have it! That's how I constructed the flash. Any questions?

Monday 25 April 2011

Photo Prompt 30

Latest prompt, ready and waiting.

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The thirtieth prompt is Piazza San Marco.

San Marco

All photo prompts are my own photography - you can find more of it on Flickr. You can also buy my prints from Deviantart. 20% of all proceeds go to charity - the other 80% go towards my PhD fees!