Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: "Lunch Break"

Flash Fiction Friday has a challenge this week where we are to write a story given one of two first lines. My entry is called "Lunch Break".

“You know Javier, poets say that in the spring a young man’s thoughts turn to love, but I think they’re wrong.”

Her colleague turned to her, egg salad sandwich in hand. "Well, I can tell you one thing- they certainly don't turn to thoughts of geometry."

She laughed, a high, soft sound. "Nobody's thoughts turn to that, Javier." She ate a spoonful of raspberry yogurt. At the other end of the table, the head of the history department, John Samuelson, ruffled the pages of his newspaper.

"Mine do," he said calmly. "Ptolemy's. Pythagoras'."

She chuckled again. "That's the only ones."

"So what do young men turn their thoughts to, then?" He took another bite of his sandwich.

"I've never been a young man," she said. "Why don't you tell me?"

"Oh, I agree with the poets. Love, definitely."

"Not sex? They are two different things, you know."

He looked at her strangely, like he had never seen her before.

"That's true. One has more letters."

"Always the geometer," she said, smiling. "Measuring the world."

"I don't know how else to describe it," he said to her. She was scraping her spoon along the bottom of the plastic yogurt container.

"The world? How about art? Music? Dance? Literature? There's more to life than theorems, Javier. You just said it- young men's thoughts turning to love. What do your ancient Greeks and your protractors have to say about that?"

"Oh, they had lots to say, you know that." He pointed to a framed picture on the wall, a Degas print. "Look at the curve of the dancer's calf, the arch of her back. There's geometry all around you. Math can be beautiful. You just have to know to look for it."

She stood up, brushing a few crumbs from the front of her print dress. He watched her in silence.

"All I know is, the young men in my classes are sex crazed. You hear them talk- it's all braggadocio about who they're going to do, who they did, who's doing what to who. No talk of love."

"News flash, Janine: they are men."

"We were never like that in our day."

Javier barked out a laugh. "You weren't, maybe. We were. All men are."

"Not all men. You're not like that."

"I grew up," he said, finishing his sandwich and crumpling up the plastic wrap. "But underneath? On some level? All men are like that."

She put her hands on her hips. "What are you trying to say?," she said, frowning.

The newspaper at the end of the table rustled shut. Samuelson spoke in a gravelly voice. "He's saying he wants to sleep with you."

The air was tense. "Do you?," she asked.

"Of course I do," Javier said. "I want to sleep with every woman I see, to some degree. I don't, because I'm married, and because it's wrong, and because my wife would cut my head off in my sleep if I did. But we all want to. Wanting to is just part of being men. As we get older, we just learn to hide it better."

"You make it sound like men are one step removed from animals," she said.

"I'm not positive it's a full step," he said.

"I don't understand men at all," she said, throwing her yogurt container away.

The bell sounded, meaning they had to go to their next class. "Don't worry. We don't understand ourselves, either," Samuelson said to her back.


  1. Michael - This is absolutely brilliant! A little breathtaking if I may get a bit emotional...

    I love how you tell the story almost completely in dialogue... this is probably one of the best 'dialogue pieces' I have read in some time.

    Interesting how Samuelson reduces the difference between sex and love to the number of letters in the word... then I am surprised at his intuitiveness.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this, Michael. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Okay Michael, as a man, I have to, well--ah--you know, disagree with your premise here...

    But seriously, a strong piece here, although I'm betting his wife would have chosen a different appendage to cut off.

    I'm an English teacher so math was never my strong suite, but your geometrical explanation of the Degas painting really opened my eyes to something I never really took into account. That's what good stories do.


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