Monday 4 September 2017

A Question of Timing

Dawn Knox

instant coffee (black because adding milk takes time)

It was all about timing, Derek decided.
Although arguably, it could be said to be all about time. And that was a commodity that Derek had very little of.
That wasn’t quite true, of course, he had as much time as the next man but there was only a certain amount of it that he was willing to sacrifice in order to find a wife.
So when he’d seen the advert for speed dating, he’d been rather excited although he’d been less enthusiastic when he realised it didn’t refer to dates that were concluded so rapidly he had time to catch the last bus home. It was disappointing to learn exactly what speed dating was but hardly surprising really. After all, how many women would settle for a packet of chips, a quick cuddle and if she was lucky a kiss?
He knew exactly how many women wouldn’t settle for that.
From experience.
He’d always offered to pay their bus fare home. But some women were so unreasonable. Fancy expecting him to go with them! It just wasn’t logical for him to take a woman out, escort her back to her house and then find his way home. It got to be quite pricey too. And don’t get him started on the length of time the whole thing took.
He turned the page of the newspaper and was about to forget the advert when he had second thoughts. What did he have to lose? After all, if it got too late, he could simply walk out and go home. All before the last bus.   
Derek arrived in the church hall half an hour early, as suggested by the information leaflet he’d received after registering. He ran his finger round the inside of his shirt collar. It was too tight, but by the time he’d realised it earlier this evening, there’d been no time to do anything about it. The top button was undone and his tie pushed up as high as his adam’s apple would allow. It would have to do.
He looked at his check list. Item one: Mingle and talk to people. Well, that was easier said than done. Women were either chatting in groups or not making eye contact with him.
Item two: Smile.
He smiled. After several minutes, women who’d failed to meet his gaze, now stepped sideways away from him.
Probably gone to the Ladies, he thought, probably nerves. It might be an idea to visit the Gents himself.
When he emerged, one of the women who’d previously avoided eye contact, now couldn’t take her eyes off him. He smiled at her. She was obviously checking him out although when her glance flicked up to his smiling face, her expression froze and immediately she looked down. She swallowed; her eyes closing and bulging open with the effort, then walked towards him.
You’ve still got it, Derek, old chap! He thought. She sidled up and as she leaned confidentially towards him, he noticed she was jabbing the air with her forefinger, pointing at his stomach.
“Wardrobe malfunction in the privates,” she whispered from behind her other hand, and glided away.
“Derek Carruthers,” he said holding out his hand, “and you are?”
“Lydia Allen.” Her eyes flicked down to check his flies.
He sat down quickly and under the table, he probed the zip to ensure it was still firmly in place.
“I hope you don’t mind me… You know… pointing out…” she stabbed the air with her finger which was aimed through the table at where she thought his crotch might be.
He squirmed
“Yes, oh yes, thank you. It could have been embarrassing.”
Item three: Ask each partner about themselves.
“So, Lydia, tell me about yourself.”
“Well, there’s not much to tell really…”
“Okay, well I’ll tell you about me then.”
There was a lot to tell and it was important to get things in chronological order.
Lydia checked her watch, “One minute to go,” she said.
“Goodness, nine minutes went fast! And I’d only got up to when I won the interdepartmental darts match in 1998. Oh well.”
“Don’t forget your match card and pencil,” she said pushing them towards Derek, “Ten seconds, nine seconds…”
“Well, thank you very much,” said Derek holding out his hand, “and better luck with the next man.” He placed a cross next to her name and moved to the adjacent table.
“Derek Carruthers,” he said holding out his hand, “and you are?”
“Susie Patterson, pleased to meet you.”
“Likewise. Well, I hope you’re a bit more interesting than the last lady. She didn’t have much to say for herself. Dull as ditch water.”
“Really? Normally you can’t shut her up.”
“You know her?”
“Lydia’s my sister.”
“Derek Carruthers,” he said holding out his hand, “and you are?”
“Maisie Ferguson, it’s nice to meet you, Derek.”
“You too, Maisie. You’re not related to… her? Are you?” he asked nodding at Susie.
“No, who’s she?”
“Never mind. Well, tell me about yourself.”
“Um, where to start?“
“Let me guess what you do for a living.”
“Now, let me see. I bet you have a food-related job. Cook or something like that.”
“No. I work in a dry-cleaners. What made you think I worked with food?”
She looked alarmed, “Do I smell of food? Is that it?”
“No, not at all. I can smell something like tuna but I don’t think it’s you.”
“Well, you never see a skinny cook, do you?”
“I see.” Her shoulders sagged.
“Out of interest, what’s your opinion on just having a bag of chips for dinner?”
“I tend to keep away from chips,” she said, “they’re very fatty.”
“Don’t tell me you’re on a diet!”
“Well yes, as a matter of fact…”
“Oh, you don’t need to diet.”
“I don’t?” She smiled.
“Oh no. I always think once you’ve reached a critical weight, there’s no point dieting. You might as well just give up and enjoy it. Once you’re obese, it’s too hard to lose those inches, isn’t it? Mind you,” he said confidentially, “deciding when you’ve reached that weight is the crucial thing. I’d say I’ve got about another stone to go…” he grabbed the flab round his waist with both hands and jiggled it, “… and then I might as well give up being careful with what I eat. It’ll all be downhill from there but who cares eh? It’s compensation for getting old, isn’t it? I mean why make your life miserable in your autumn years? Scoff what you like and hang the fat, I say.”
“Derek Carruthers,” he said holding out his hand, “and you are?”
“Dottie Regan. Hi, how are you?”
“You don’t sound very sure, Derek.”
“Well, it’s just that all the women I’ve met so far seem very prickly. I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t just give up. I haven’t ticked anyone on my match card yet and I’m nearly at the last table. I’m beginning to get desperate.”
“I see, well perhaps your expectations are too high. What exactly are you looking for in a lady friend?”
“Hmm, well I suppose someone who’s not the size of a Zeppelin like number five, and preferably a woman without a moustache like number seven. I don’t think it was totally inappropriate to enquire whether she was one of those transgender people. I mean I’m liberal and I really wouldn’t mind, but it’s important to know which bits of equipment she or he comes with. Don’t you think? It didn’t seem too much to ask. Number eight said I looked like a stalker and asked me to stop smiling at her. I ask you! That’s item two on the list! It says smile. So I keep smiling…”
“Perhaps vary it a little,” said Dot, surveying him with her head on one side, “Such a fixed smile is actually rather creepy, if you want my opinion. Move your mouth about a bit.”
“Like this?”
“Hmm, perhaps not quite so mobile. Think more Cary Grant… and less guppy.”
Derek placed a large cross next to Dot’s name and stood up.
“Derek Carruthers,” he said holding out his hand, “and you are?”
“Mary Wilson.” She checked her watch and stood up, “Nice to meet you, Derek Carruthers, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to go. Sorry.”
“That’s fine,” he said, “I wasn’t going to tick you anyway. I’m not partial to ginger-haired women.”
“You’re not my type either. What a waste of time, eh? I didn’t find anyone,” said Mary.
“I’m not surprised.”
“What d’you mean you’re not surprised?”
Derek looked her up and down, “Well, you’re not exactly ̶
“Sorry, must dash,” she said putting her coat on, “I’d love to stay and chat but if I don’t hurry, I’ll miss the bus.”
“Wait for me,” said Derek, I’ll walk you to the bus stop.”

About the author 

Dawn’s third book ‘Extraordinary’ will be published by Chapeltown in September 2017. She has stories published in various anthologies, including horror and speculative fiction, as well as romances in women's magazines. Dawn has written a play to commemorate World War One, which has been performed in England, Germany and France.

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