Second Place Fiction: "Timing"
by Lisa Kandle Catto, M.S. '95
I’ve always had bad timing. I catch red lights, miss airplanes, and marry men at the wrong time in their lives.
I left my divorce lawyer’s office with the final papers signed and tucked in my handbag. I decided to celebrate and walked to my favorite fine restaurant. I hadn’t celebrated my first divorce; perhaps that’s what jinxed my second marriage. I ordered a sinfully expensive champagne, the kind that can only be truly enjoyed with an ex-husband’s money. The drink was cool to a throat sore from crying.
Some people don’t like dining alone. But I enjoy eating and staring off while having imaginary conversations in my head.
A young couple was seated at the table opposite me. He looked in his mid-twenties, with shaggy blond hair and an ill-fitting blazer. Her clothes were dressier but obviously discount-store polyester. I became tense at the thought of their conversation hijacking my peace.
“Why are we here, Josh? We can’t afford this,” she whispered uncomfortably to her dining companion. “Because,” he started, but his voice trailed off. I looked up at his nervous, distracted face. He stood up, then awkwardly positioned himself on one knee. I downed my glass of champagne, debating whether to move to the non-proposal section of the restaurant.
“Grace, please marry me. I will never deserve you, but if you marry me I will try my best to make you happy,” he said.
“Josh, you don’t have to do this,” she said as she tried to pull him up off his knee.
“If I ever want to be happy, then I do have to do this.” He gave her the same look that I used to get. I always wondered where that look went. Maybe my ex-husband had passed it on to this young man. My annoyance at the intrusion on my divorce celebration turned to hope for these strangers. I silently screamed at her to say Yes.
I could feel dread along with him as she paused. She then began to nod. “Okay, yes.”
He fumbled with putting the ring on her finger, then clumsily embraced her with relief. “Let’s celebrate. I’ll order champagne.”
“No, that’s not good for the baby, remember?”
“Right, of course.”
The rest of the lunch was uneventful. They talked about a backyard wedding, saving for a bigger place, and all the other things couples talk about when they have more love than money.
When I left I indicated to the waiter that I was paying the young couple’s bill as well.
“They are fortunate to have such a generous neighbor,” he said.
"No, I was lucky to be here."
“Timing” takes place in a fine restaurant. I’ve always been fascinated with places that put people from different walks of life in close proximity. I learned while waiting and bartending in Ithaca that a lot goes on in a restaurant beneath the surface. I tried to convey some of that within the story’s 400-word limit. I wrote the story in first person for the sake of word economy, but also enjoyed just “getting out of the way” and letting the main character tell the story.
— Lisa Kandle Catto