A work of flash nonfiction where, as lockdown approaches, a choice must be made between attempting to connect with a stranger or in finding comfort in the the familiar reliability of books…
by: Robin Locke
“You’re super cute, I love your coat.”
“Thanks.” I barely give the stranger a second glance. I’m a bookworm on a mission, stocking up on library books before lockdown.
“What’s your name?” he injects again. A man in a maroon sweater, not short, not tall, just average.
I blurt out my legal — not my chosen — name before I realize what’s happening. My heart hammers a heavy blow against my rib cage. Coward.
The average looking man in a maroon sweater extends a hand to me.
I extend an elbow because the CDC recommended we stop shaking hands. He offers a fist. I extend a hand. He chuckles amiably at my awkwardness.
I step back, clutching my books to my chest like a shield. There is absolutely nothing about him that screams rapist. My brain is the one screaming rapist. Serial Killer! Red alert! Red alert! Bloody murder all over the place! Come on be chill, I think. Be cool. Be a normal human being.
“You’re just too cute. You wanna grab coffee sometime?”
“Sorry, I’m already spoken for,” I reply, a smile straining my lips.
Drew flashes a full set of perfect white teeth. “You’re funny, I like that.”
Now would be the time to say something clever like my mom taught me. Something like: “I have to go, my boyfriend is waiting in the car.” Or “Sorry, gotta run, far, far away.” “Leave me alone please.” “Is that a flying pig?” Something. Anything. My tongue remains a limp rag in my mouth.
“Your style is sweet. Really. I’ll give you my number. I live with my sister, you can come hang out sometime.”
My palms break into a cold sweat. Maybe he’s into fashion. Maybe he’s gay. Maybe this is totally innocent. I’m overreacting, hormonal, paranoid, anxious. He’s a totally cool dude who doesn’t know how to start friendships with women.
No. Say no. Don’t be helpless. Run away. Run away where?
I stand there like a deer three seconds before it’s roadkill. He grabs a square of purple paper and scribbles on it with a stubby library pencil.
“Drew.” He underlines the name before pressing the purple paper into my hand. “Call me.”
I don’t say no. I take the paper. I take the paper so the average man in the maroon sweater will leave me alone. The room around me jitters. Tears burn at the edges of my eyelids.
His departure is instant relief. I pull air into my collapsing lungs. You are fine, I tell myself. You don’t have to call this number. You are fine.
I yank a book off the shelf and stuff the purple paper inside where it will remain until it falls into the hands of a future patron, probably an older woman who will squint at the squiggly handwriting through her paisley-print Walmart reading glasses, shrug, and throw it away.
Robin Locke is a collector of curious lore, a board game enthusiast, and dice rolling, dagger throwing TTRPG player. Their work has been published in Bombfire, Ansible Short Story Collection and elsewhere on the material plane.