Monday, June 30, 2008

All's Fair (Conclusion)

Jeff joined his companion and watched an ominous scene unfolding. A tall, powerfully-built man in an expensive suit – he might have been a professional football player – had moved from the far end of the bar and taken the stool on Susan’s left. He was trying to horn in on the conversation, and after a quick glance at him, Susan turned her back on the interloper and leaned closer toward Alice. The man-mountain, miffed at being ignored, began pawing Susan’s arm.

Up to this point, Jeff’s feet had felt as if they’d been inserted into deep sea diving boots. They now shed their weight and took wing (perhaps not unlike those of Cupid’s old colleague, Mercury), as Jeff sprinted toward the bar, Cupid shambling along behind him.

“Hello, Susan, Alice!” he said, in as cheerful a voice as he could summon up. “Are you two girls ready for dinner?”

Susan spun around, and although there was surprise in her face, there was an expression of relief, as well. The bear in the business suit, whose hooded eyes gave evidence of his having downed one too many, scowled and said, “Just a minute, Junior. I was here first.”

Jeff crossed his arms and glared at him. “The ladies are with me, Shorty. Now, why don’t you go back to the wallflower section of the bar where you belong before I put your lights out?”

Cupid tugged violently at Jeff’s sleeve. “Jeff! Go easy on the film noir dialogue, will you?”

The man rose from his bar stool; he looked like a revival tent going up. “Put my lights out, eh? Not if I flick your switch, first, buddy.”

Suddenly, Jeff began fantasizing about being a baseball that had been pitched down the middle of the strike zone, colliding with the sweet spot of a bat swung by a league-leading home run hitter. Now he was soaring in a tremendous arc toward the left field stands. The outfielders below were running at top speed toward the wall, but they gradually slowed to a trot and finally stopped altogether, shielding their eyes from the sun and watching his flight. The crowd was cheering, but their voices were growing fainter as he rose into the clouds.

The law of gravity eventually reasserted itself, and he felt himself begin a rapid descent. The clouds were now dissipating, replaced by a red-rimmed darkness, and the clamor of the fans in the bleachers became the semi-hushed babble of well-meaning strangers at an accident scene. “Give him air! Get some ice! Should we call an ambulance?” He blinked a couple of times, and as his vision cleared he saw Susan’s face. She was cradling him in her lap and patting the bloody corner of his mouth with a wet napkin. Memory came flooding back, and he lurched to a sitting position. Cupid was squatting at the other end of his prostrate form, rotating his hat in his hands, his face a mask of worry. Jeff extended his arm, leveled an accusatory finger and growled, “This is your doing!” Susan and Alice exchanged nervous glances, wondering why Jeff was scolding a 1950’s cardboard cutout of the Texaco Man.

“Jeff! Thank goodness you’re alive! Oh, and by the way, my boy, I think I may have neglected to tell you that no one else can see or hear me but you, so you might want to hold off on expressing any editorial opinions.” He beamed at Jeff. “You did well. I hate to sound melodramatic, but I believe I can say that my work here is done. Over to you, Jeff!”

Susan’s arms gently restored Jeff to a reclining position. “You’d better lie quiet for awhile; I think you still may be a little dizzy.”

The shame of being floored by one punch made it hard for Jeff to meet her gaze. “I’m sorry for making such a spectacle of myself, Susan. I was just trying to stop that guy from annoying you.”

“How? By breaking his knuckles with your face?”

Jeff’s ears burned at that remark, but when he looked up at her, he noticed that Susan’s eyes were misty and her chin was trembling. He smiled at her with the half of his face that still felt intact. “What happened to the bruiser? I guess it must have taken a couple of pretty big bouncers to throw him out?”

Alice, who was kneeling next to Susan and keeping her supplied with ice cubes, pushed aside the strands of long blond hair that were constantly falling over her eyes and spoke up: “Well, it took a couple of big guys to carry him out. After I let him have it, that is.”

Perplexed, Jeff asked, “What did you do? Were you carrying a sawed-off shotgun under your trench coat?”

“No, I’ve been taking a women’s defense course at the community college, and I gave him a roundhouse kick to the chin. But since he was so tall, my foot couldn’t reach that far, so it kind of met his face half way, if you know what I mean.”

Jeff started to laugh, but that triggered a spasm of pain, and he grimaced.

Susan was smoothing his hair with long, cool fingers. “Jeff, we ought to get you some medical attention.”

Faced with the prospect of being separated from Susan, even for a little while, at what he took to be a critical juncture of their relationship, he climbed to his feet, ignoring her protests. He swayed slightly, and worked his chin with his hand. “No loose teeth, and my jaw doesn’t seem to be broken. How about we have dinner?”

Susan asked, “Do you think you’ll be able to eat?”

“Well, they might have to put my steak in a blender, but, yeah, I’ll be ok. Alice, will you join us?”

Alice gave the two a speculative look and smiled slyly. “No, I guess I’ll be running along; I need to practice my footwork. See you tomorrow.”

Susan offered Jeff a steadying arm, and they started to walk toward the hostess’ station to get a table, when Jeff paused and looked around in confusion.

“Where is…?”

Susan was still worried that Jeff had not altogether collected his wits, and asked in a low voice, “Where is what, Jeff?”

“I don’t know. That’s funny. For a minute, there, I thought I had lost something…or someone.”

Three months later, Susan and Jeff were married. At the reception, they poked around among the gifts and found one present that baffled them completely, and would continue to be a lifelong mystery. A white box, which lacked a card or any other means of identifying the giver, was decorated with cupids and hearts, and turned out to contain an enormous antique silver cigarette lighter, on which was engraved the following:

Amor vincit Omnia
(Or Omnia vincit Amor; I always forget which way it goes)
May your love never depreciate
And Jeff – Keep your left up
Best wishes,


kc said...

Love it, Paco - thanks for the treat of my evening. Right up there with my ice cream sandwich!

the_real_jeffs said...

HA! I can appreciate re-targeting a roundhouse kick because of a lack of flexibility.

Great story, Paco......d'you think could sell a series of short stories featuring Cupid, the semi-retired god? Playboy might buy it.

RebeccaH said...

Aw. That was sweet. And funny.

Minicapt said...

(more cowbell?)


Paco said...

RJ: I could see Cupid, as a well-meaning but somewhat incompetent blunderer, having a long career in the match-making profession.

On another topic, my story, Button Man, made the second cut in one of the contests in which it's entered. The next round is going to be July 23.

The Wizard of WOZ said...

Congrats Paco. Ive said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again; Keep up the good work.

Paco said...

Thanks Wiz (and everyone). Glad you enjoyed the story.

SwampWoman said...

*siiiiigh* How romantic!

Loved it.

Big Dan said...

Nice story, Paco. Very fulfilling.