Thursday, 15 December 2016

Revenge of the Mercy Date
    by Laura Ruth Loomis

            “I only came to talk,” he says, pointing the gun at my stomach.
            I’m pretty sure Wilbur doesn’t know how to fire a gun, but then I was pretty sure he wasn’t the kind of guy to show up on an ex-girlfriend’s doorstep with a deadly weapon, either.
            “Do you have a permit for that?” I ask, as if that would keep him from shooting me.
            The neighbor’s door opens. Old Mr. Wilson steps outside and fumbles with his key, trying to lock up. In a moment he’ll be heading for his prize Buick. I’m overcome with embarrassment. The thought of anyone seeing Wilbur on my front porch, holding the pistol uncertainly toward me, is just too humiliating. I step back and let him squeeze his chubby body past me into the house.
            “We need to talk,” he says.
            In the entire history of human relationships, these words have never preceded anything good. Every boyfriend who ever started a conversation that way ended by telling me I was too good for him, or he’d met someone else, or he loved me but he was in love with my cousin Mark.
            In fact, when I dumped Wilbur, I started with, “We need to talk.” I think I gave him breakup line #217, saying I was so into my career at that point in my life that I didn’t have room for a relationship.
            But instead of leaving quietly and resolving it with a few sensible crying jags and a shopping spree, like a woman would do, Wilbur’s now in my living room, sweating like a marathon runner, the gun barrel wobbling as his hand shakes. I try to move out of the line of fire.
            “Gina, I don’t think you gave our relationship a fair chance,” he says.
            “Relationship” is a generous word for what we had. I went out with him twice because he was a friend of my best friend (who is conveniently married and doesn’t have to deal with setups). I dumped him because he was such a spineless noodle. I can’t imagine him shooting anyone. But the gun doesn’t know he’s a noodle, and it could go off by accident.
            “I know you dated Jeremy Johansen after you broke up with me, after you said you didn’t have time for a relationship.”
            Jeremy had been gorgeous, charming, and sexually insatiable. “Yes, well, that was a mistake.” I give him my best smile, perfected after years of waitressing for people who send back their eggs and complain that the milk is too cold, then tip ten percent.
            “I think we could be really good together, if you just gave it a chance. I would treat you like a queen.”
            I have to stop this plastic smile before my lips crack. “I don’t know quite how to say this, Wilbur, but charging over to my house with a gun isn’t the best way to get back together.”
            “You wouldn’t return my calls. And when I came over, you wouldn’t answer the door. I could hear the TV on, so I knew you were home.”
            I fish for an excuse about not hearing the doorbell, but I already know I’m busted. “I felt really bad about dumping you, so I avoided you. I’m sorry.”
            Wilbur shifts uncomfortably. “I have to go to the bathroom,” he announces. He looks from the gun to me in confusion. Guys on TV never have to take a leak when they take hostages.
            “Just put the gun down, Wilbur,” I tell him. “I’m not going anywhere.”
            Even Wilbur isn’t stupid enough to believe that. “I have to tie you. Just so you don’t run away.”
            “I don’t have any rope lying around.”
            “Take off your panty hose.” He can’t be serious. “I saw it in a movie once. You can tie people up with panty hose.”
            “Wilbur – ”
            “Come on! I have to go!
            The barrel’s shaking again, so I sit, trying not to show any underwear as I peel down the hose. I feel creepy as I hand them to him.
            He looks frantically around the room, trying to figure out where to tie me. I see him considering and rejecting ideas: my big kitchen table could be tipped over, a chair could be carried with me as I fled. He walks past me to the kitchen and tries the handle on the fridge. Not sturdy enough.
            “Show me your bedroom.”
            Oh no. No. I have a big 4-poster bed.  Wilbur is the last person I want to see it, much less tie me to it. But here we are, and he’s tying my wrists to the bedpost, arms over my head, and then he runs to the bathroom.
            In the movies, the woman tied to the bed is supposed to feel sexy. In reality, my nose itches, my hands are getting numb, and I’m pissed as hell.
            I flip onto my side. The phone is on the nightstand. Minus the pantyhose, I’m barefoot, and he didn’t have time to tie my legs. I fold my body up like a jackknife and reach with my foot. I have to hurry. My hamstring is screaming in pain, but my toes catch the phone and manage to drop it close to my head. Thank God for my weekly yoga class.
            I dial 911 with my nose. It rings one, two, three, four times. Are they all on a donut break over there? Five. I try not to think about the ugly noises from the bathroom. Six. Finally somebody picks up.
            “I need police!” I whisper as loud as I dare. “My...” I am not going to dignify him with a term like boyfriend, “This guy I dated came over with a gun and he won’t leave.” I hear the toilet flush. No time. I whisper the address, talking so fast that my teeth and tongue are tripping over each other. I jab the hangup button with my nose. He’s coming out; I can hear the doorknob rattling. I grab the pillow in my teeth and yank it down to cover the phone.
            Wilbur emerges, looking a bit gray in the face. “Do you have any Pepto-Bismol? I sorta have the runs.”
            “No,” I lie. “It’s probably just nerves.”
            He sits down on the edge of the bed. “This isn’t the way I imagined it at all.”
            I look down and realize my skirt’s up around my waist, evidence of my contortions earlier. There’s a dime-sized hole in my underwear. “Would you please just untie me? I promise not to run.” Unless I see a clear path to the door.
            It takes him forever to get the knots undone. “It’s just that I think we’d make such a great couple. We have so much in common.” That thought frightens me more than the idea of getting shot. “Remember how we both loved seeing Les Miserables?”
            “That’s true,” I say carefully. Of course I love Les Miz. Who doesn’t? I only went on the second date with him because he had tickets, and I should have known better. He had a noisy allergy attack during a crucial scene, and wound up squeezing past everyone in the row to go get some water. Then when he got back, he insisted that I explain what had happened in his absence, and pestered me with so many questions that I lost track of the rest of the show. Everyone sitting nearby was ready to throw us in the Bastille. And dinner with him that night, well, “Miserables” doesn’t begin to cover it. At least we didn’t dance (if you could call it that) like on our first date, when I narrowly escaped serious bodily injury.
            He looks encouraged. “When I hear that song, it always makes me think of you.” He starts singing: “A heart full of love...”
            Oh. God. He has just ruined that song for me forever. He finally gets the pantyhose untied, and I stand up quickly so my skirt will fall to a decent length. My hands have that awful tickling feeling you get when the numbness is just starting to fade, a million pinpricks. I shake out my wrists, trying to bring them back to life.
            “The thing is, Wilbur, a relationship isn’t just good times and going out somewhere fancy.” Like the awful Italian restaurant he took me to before the show. “It’s about two people really being able to communicate with each other, to trust each other. I mean, here you are in my house with a gun. You obviously don’t trust me, and how am I supposed to trust you after this?” I sound like Dr. Phil.
            We hear car doors slamming outside, voices shouting orders. Wilbur leaves my bedroom (finally!) and runs to the front window. I’m right on his heels.
            “Who called the cops?”
            “I don’t know,” I lie. I’m giddy with relief. “Maybe my neighbor saw you with the gun.” Any minute now, they’ll kick in the door and set me free. I picture my regret as Wilbur goes down in a hail of bullets. I’m saved.
            The police completely surround the house next door.
            “Maybe it’s a coincidence,” Wilbur suggests. “Maybe your neighbor did something.”
            A really hot-looking Latino cop pulls out a megaphone. “We know you have a hostage in there. Come out with your hands up.” He has a nice voice, authoritative.
            “They’re looking for you, Wilbur. It’s over.”
            “Over? You mean this,” he gestures vaguely with the gun as I wince, “or us?”
            Us? I must not, must not throw up until he’s safely in handcuffs. “I mean this crazy idea. This is not the way to make someone love you.”
            “I know you don’t love me yet, Gina, but you could.”
            I try a different approach. “I’m worried about my neighbor. What if the police just come in shooting?”
            “He left when I got here.”
            “His wife might be home.” He doesn’t have a wife. “Mrs. Wilson’s old and she doesn’t hear very well. What if she doesn’t even know they’re out there, and they bust the door down and kill a poor old lady?”
            Wilbur struggles with it for a moment, but I’ve handed him a way to save face. He’s not admitting defeat, he’s rescuing an elderly woman from peril. He stuffs the gun in his waistband, zips up his jacket, and heads outside. I watch from the window. After all this, I don’t want to get shot by mistake.
            I see Wilbur look around, and finally approach the Latino guy, who seems to be in charge. I can’t hear what’s happening, but the next thing I know Wilbur’s coming back inside.
            “They wouldn’t let me explain,” he says sheepishly. “I guess they thought I was a nosy neighbor or something.”
            Christ. I could be stuck here with Wilbur until someone comes out of the house next door, which will be never because no one’s there. “Maybe you could show them the gun,” I suggest.
            He pulls the gun out and contemplates it. “What if they didn’t wait for me to explain?”
            “You just come out with the gun pointing down, and then you drop it.”
            “I don’t know.” The gun is sitting across his palm, achingly close. Maybe I could grab it and just whack him over the head with it. Then I could call the police back and explain, or something. “Maybe they’ll go away.”
            “It’s not like they’re just going to get bored, Wilbur.” I am really losing patience here. “These are professionals.”
            “It’s sort of romantic, really. You and me in here, and danger outside.”
            “Romantic?” It’s less romantic than hearing him talking about his diarrhea earlier.
            “Sure, like Romeo and Juliet. You and me, facing the big goodbye together.”
            The big goodbye? That is the absolute goddamn last straw. Calling on muscles developed from years of carrying trays of food, I bring both fists down full force on his arm. He drops the gun and I dive. My skirt catches on the corner of the coffee table, but I still get the gun. I jump up, ignoring the ripping sound from my skirt, and point it straight at him.
            “I have had enough! You were a lousy date! You wore that awful bow tie, and got spaghetti sauce all over it! You dance like a cow having an epileptic seizure! You insisted on paying for everything, then you left such a lousy tip, I couldn’t look the waitress in the eye! You know what she whispered to me as we were leaving? ‘I hope you’re not putting out for that!’”
            He gives me a vacant look. “I just think that arbitrary 15% thing is ridiculous, especially when the food was so overpriced.”
            That does it. “I am a waitress! Fifteen percent is not nearly enough for putting up with you!” I wave the gun in the air for emphasis.
            The shot fills up my ears until there isn’t room for anything else in my brain. Gunshots on TV never seem that loud. I see, but don’t hear, my light fixture crash to the floor, along with bits of plaster where I shot the ceiling.
            I’m still staring at my hand in surprise when the first cops burst in. Unlike me, they know exactly how to hold a gun, and they’re all trained on me.
            “Drop it!” My hearing is starting to return, but the voice still sounds fuzzy.
            I bend over and lay the gun on the coffee table. I can’t just drop it, for fear it would go off again. The moment it leaves my hand, the Latino cop slams me against the wall. Up close, he’s older than I thought, mid-40's maybe, but still handsome in a craggy way.
            “You’re under arrest! You have the right to remain silent –”
            “No!” Wilbur and I shout together.
            “Arrest him!” I add.
            “I’m the kidnaper! She didn’t do anything wrong.” Wilbur obligingly slams himself against the wall.
            The cop – Lt. Sanchez, according to his tag – looks a bit surprised, but he cuffs Wilbur and reads him his rights. “Sorry about that, ma’am. You’ll need to come down to the station and give a statement. You’ll want to change first, of course.”
            I look down. My skirt is ripped almost to the waistband, showing off the hole in my underpants. I catch Lt. Sanchez trying not to look.
            As they drag him away, Wilbur strains back toward me. “Do we still have a chance?” he whines.
            One of the cops gives his arm a totally unnecessary yank, and I hear a muffled Ow! Lt. Sanchez suppresses a smile and offers me his card. Maybe the day isn’t totally shot after all.

* * * * *
"Revenge of the Mercy Date" was originally published by The Writer's Place.
Laura Ruth Loomis is the author of the short story collection "Lost in Translation" from Wordrunner Press.  Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Writer's Digest, On the Premises, Phone Fiction, and elsewhere.  More of her stories can be found at Goodreads.  Her day job is doing social work in the San Francisco area.  Follow her on Twitter @LauraRuthless.