A PEBBLE IN YOUR SHOE
by AN Block  

“Look at you,” Jonas says, rubbing his thumb gently into Shelley’s palm, as she eases herself into the Mercedes, “all lovely in blue.”
            “It’s my new color,” she tells him. “I’m off the black.”
            Beneath her coat, Shelley wears the same frilly peasant blouse as last time, she has on glossy fuchsia lipstick that accentuates her plump heart-shaped lips again, and she’s still lecturing without pause when they arrive at the faintly musty dark-paneled restaurant he’s chosen about why she hates Trump and Hillary, but Trump a hundred times more, of course, about Rachel, Andy and Shari Bloom, and the unconventional accomplishments of her progeny on the continents where they’ve ventured lately, along with a flood of insightful self-observations each has made stretching back to grade school.
            “They’ve always known who they are,” she repeats, and Jonas notes how scrupulous she is to dispense equal measures of praise amongst her far flung twenty-something explorers. This maternal pride in her children’s self-knowledge, does it constitute an updated 2016 version of, How about my son, the doctor? he wonders. 
            “Wait, Shari’s the oldest?” Jonas asks, interrupting a story he’s already heard and then, tilting forward, it comes to him that Shelley’s skin no longer exudes stale tobacco. Instead, she gives off a clean undiluted scent of lilac water.
            “You’ve quit smoking?” He holds up two sets of crossed fingers. 
            “I smoke when I’m nervous.” Her eyes dart from the restaurant’s shuttered windows to her clasped hands and back. “Now that most of the insanity’s hopefully over, I’m a little less hyper. No, that’s an understatement. A lot less.”
            “One would imagine. Congratulations, if they’re appropriate to offer yet.”
            “Almost.” As she closes her eyes, the wobbly gray mustached waiter fills their water, spilling a few ice cubes on the table. “So much negativity though, playing the blame game for such a long time. His legal people versus mine, and you try to maintain your sanity, but they keep pushing, Can you exaggerate a little, and it’s exhausting. Arbitration’s a noble idea, it just doesn’t work.”
            “I’m sure it takes its toll. And, I can attest, being newly single is an adjustment. But, things could be worse, you could also have a pebble in your shoe.”
            She stares, unblinking, into his glowing eyes.
            “It’s an old saying. You care for an adult beverage? I’m sorry, I forget: do you like wine?”
            “Water is fine.”
            “Water’s fine, Charles,” Jonas tells the hovering waiter, who meets his serene gaze of contentment, nods and shrugs, as though it makes no difference to him one way or the other.
            “But what do I tell Jeff? He said specifically to send Mr. Haim a bottle on the house.”
            “I’m not a drinker,” Shelley explains. “Weekends only and one glass is my limit.”
            “Mine too. One at a time. Followed by another two, or three.” He pauses, his mouth gaping, anticipating a simpatico reaction.
            “Feel free,” she says, reaching into her purse. “Go for it.”
            “That’s okay, I can survive abstinence for a few hours. Probably.” He holds his tremulous hand parallel to the table, as she glances at it, then turns away. “I do love my empty calories though, in whatever form. We are okay,” he tells the waiter. “A-okay. Thank Jeff for me, most graciously. So, you always settle in for dinner at five-thirty?”
            “I’m an early riser. Did I not mention? Super early. Hit the road running at five-thirty-five this morning, did eight miles plus, six point five yesterday. It’s my therapy. But, I never get really hungry. The way my stomach is lately? Lunch is my big meal.”
            “Oh, you glutton, you allow yourself two whole leaves of lettuce at noon time, eh? With extra sprouts?”
            Shelley shudders, scans the otherwise empty dining room, then nods, to signal she’ll be taking a breather and is now officially passing the conversational baton.
            Jonas sparkles as he recounted highlights from a meeting he’d gotten earlier with a smirky trust fund millennial who’d ignored six previous emails, the nephew of a friend his boss has known since childhood. “The art of the deal,” he says. “It’s been an adventure starting over at my stage of the game. Not sure a quiet introspective type like myself is cut out for sales.”
            He laughs, then marvels at how perfect the day’s been, but this being spring in New England, rain’s coming tomorrow, of course, and he can sense her eyes glazing over.
            He tears into the warm crusty baguette the waiter has delivered, asks if she runs alone, and where her route takes her, but Shelley remains so fogged in thought, she misses it and doesn’t respond.
            A fidgety lull follows, she wonders why he’s grinning, he shakes his wrist, checks the illuminated face of his watch and then, a propos of nothing, blurts, “I hate my name, Jonas! Yuk!”
            “You mustn’t say that. No!” She wags her finger and sniffs back a sudden tear that startles them both. “It’s a distinctive name. Shows character.”
            “Sorry, I never told anyone that before. Even Lena,” he says, rubbing his chin, as though this surprises him as much as her reaction does. “Or, should I say, especially Lena.”
            “Who were you named after? Do you know?”
            “The magnificent Dr. Salk, inventor of the vaccine. Before I took the stage my mother and father, who married late in life, had a boy they lost tragically at age five to polio. A real wunderkind.”
            “Oh,” she says, wiping at another tear, her voice faltering, “how terrible. Forgive me, I don’t know why I’m so emotional tonight. I’m not usually what one would call fragile.”
            “Why? One could think of several reasons. If I may be so bold, you strike me as an exceptionally empathetic person.”
            “I majored in psychology. All I ever wanted,” she says, breaking down. Her eyes fill, she sniffs twice, turns aside and makes no effort to dry her cheeks. “All I ever wanted was to practice therapy. To help people.”
            He reaches across the table, squeezes her limp hand, beams, and then lets it go.
            “Sorry. I’m so embarrassed.” Shelley tells him he was named Jonas for a reason, after which their conversation slogs inexorably uphill, as it did on the two previous occasions, to the fortified battlements of her marriage.
            “My mother, of blessed memory, was right all along,” Shelley says. “I picked the exact wrong person.”
            “Hmm.” Jonas nods as though she hasn’t spoken these identical words the last time. A cloud of déjà vu, a wave of nausea, engulfs him, as she continues.  
            “That’s what most of us try to do: heal wounds inflicted in childhood. Of course, in our early twenties, we’re hardly equipped to analyze our attractions, we think whatever our parents say is some irrelevant myth. We’ve liberated ourselves from the chains of tradition, love conquers all and anyone can change, under our enlightened influence.”
            “Ah, the dreams of youth,” he says, suppressing an impulse to ask, Where have I heard this recently? “Practically every date I had before meeting Lena, the first order of business was to compare signs. One young woman requested a birth certificate so she could verify the precise time of day I was born. Turned out it was a little too early. Another threw the I Ching and, based on whatever judgment it dispensed, she bailed on me holding two front row mezzanine tickets to some play she said she’d been dying to see. So, what was Alan like? Why was he the wrong person?”
            “What’s he like?” She thinks for a moment, the waiter approaches, his pen poised and Jonas sweeps the air, gesturing for him to withdraw. “A devoted father. Passive though, low energy. Very judgmental, arrogant, spiteful too. And, completely unromantic. He comes from money, but dresses like a schlump. I’m still resentful, and will be till everything’s finalized, but a little guilty trashing the father of my children like this.”
            “Of course, I understand. And your Dad?”                                                          
            “An aggressive egomaniac attorney with an acid tongue. He put my poor mother through hell. So, I ran in the opposite direction and chose someone safe. Ha-ha.”

            “I’m sorry, mother, this man does not sound at all like your type.”
“My type? Rachel, give it up, cookie, it’s over with daddy. Finit. I told you, Jonas is cute, he’s charming, he has a playful quality, and a constant cheery smile. Not to mention piercing blue eyes. If that’s not my type, what is.”
“Really? How slick is it flashing a Rolex? I just don’t want you to over-react or jump into a thing with some bon vivant playboy.”
“Who’s jumping? You forget who you’re talking to? Okay, he started out a little goofy, too much small talk, his shoes could use some improvement, and the smile can get a little grating. But, all of a sudden, over dinner, listen to this, Jonas announces that he hates his name.”
“Hmm, that is somewhat interesting, I guess. More depth than I would have thought. But weird too, don’t you think?”
“Lost his wife about a year ago, I believe. I don’t know, after the first two times I almost didn’t text him back, this being on the market again is no picnic, but I forced myself and something felt a little less awkward last night. No, a lot less. He takes my mind off all the legal wrangling.”
Rachel sighs. “And, who introduced you to Mr. Smiley-Face?”
“We got matched. Courtesy of the internet.”
“Ooh, smooth move, missy! So, what does this character do when he’s not entertaining you, trying to charm your pants off?”
“Stop it! Some form of sales. He’d been in business for himself, or some family business, I guess, but he ended up having to liquidate the company.”
“Wait, did you not always-always-always teach us ‘salesman’ is synonymous with ‘weasel’?”
“Rachel, please! He’s not your typical salesman, it’s called Investment Opportunity Associate, IOA.” 
“Indeed. Where’d Mr. Blue Eyes take you?”
“Some dark old school restaurant. To show off, I think, that the manager knows his name. It was sweet.”
Rachel laughs. “That’s what their job is, Mom, the manager knows hundreds of names. My advice: keep your guard up. Cultivate an air of mystery, and do not talk with your hands.”
“Oh, that’s me, an inscrutable femme fatale. How about if I smile sweetly and bewitch him with my demure overbite? Well, we’ll see if he even calls again. After a rejected kiss, men generally don’t.”

            For their next date Jonas suggests a Saturday outing, canoeing down the slow-flowing Concord River, followed by a picnic lunch. He sits in the back to steer, but struggles to keep up with her frantic rowing pace, so the boat keeps listing side to side. Shelley is dressed in a halter and after they exit the canoe, he lets his palm linger on her broad sweaty back.
“You gave me a work out,” he says, panting. “Wow.”
She smiles over her shoulder.

“This all seems a little unreal,” she tells Shari, her entrepreneurial daughter.
“How so, mama?”
“Well, there’s some definite chemistry.”
“Yikes!”

            Shelley keeps checking her phone but doesn’t hear from Jonas for almost a week and when she finally loses her internal debate, breaks down, and texts him, he replies to her terse message within minutes that he’s been dispatched to some hick town in Cow Hampshire for brainwashing, a Next Generation Selling workshop that entails reading and regurgitating a bunch of dopey self-help manuals, doing trust exercises and salesmanship role plays. He says he needs to speak to her, which they set up for his drive home that Sunday night.
“I can’t stop thinking about you,” he says, shortly after hello.
“Yeah? Me too,” she says. “I’m feeling the same way.”

            Their next date, the following Thursday after work, is dinner at the Gardner Museum.
“One of my all-time favorite places,” Shelley tells him, once they’re seated. “How’d you know?”
“But Madame, it’s all in your dossier.”
“You’re staring at me.” She touches her pearl earring. “Is everything okay?”
“Sorry. It’s just that you’re so beautiful.”
“Jonas.” She reaches her hand across the table and he takes it in both of his. She looks into his eyes. “This is too soon for me.”
He leans forward and kisses her fingertips.
“Sometimes,” he says, “the first house you look at is the one you should buy.”
“Agreed. But sometimes,” she says, “it only appears to be.”

More dates follow, more dinners, more kisses, and more discussions exploring how drawn to each other they have begun to feel. The correct approach, Shelley declares, is to take things one step at a time.
“Oh, I beg to disagree,” Jonas responds. “I think there are steps we can skip.”

“You’re so not supposed to ask your mother that,” Shelley tells Rachel. “I’m maintaining a strict air of mystery, young lady. But the answer is: no!”

Shortly thereafter, on a Saturday trip to Portland that evolves into an overnight, the hard “no” melts into an emphatic ecstatic “yes.” And then what follows in rapid succession is Yes, Yes, Yes-Yes-Yes!

“Oh, we are so a couple, sweetie,” Shelley tells Shari. “I can’t wait for you all to fly back to the nest in December and meet him.”

A few months after they’ve begun spending weekends at Shelley’s house in Winchester, as well as one or two week nights, Jonas calls to cancel a dinner date.
“Belson, the head honcho, the Executive Son-In-Law, insists I meet him downtown. I protested that I had a standing engagement with the love of my life, but the boor over-ruled me.”
“That is annoying. What’s so urgent?”
“Good question. Hopefully, he’s not going to give me the boot.”
Shelley’s next day calendar is so full of early morning appointments, it isn’t until lunch that she sees Jonas’ three messages.
“Well?”  
“So, I didn’t get pink-slipped, or even yelled at. The bad news: yours truly is now obliged to slave away several more hours per week in his capacity as the new Reliable Division Area Sales Supervisor!”
“Oh, sweetie, congratulations!”
“Finally I see a future with this organization, but it’s making me superstitious. Two earth-shattering developments, bang-bang, one after another? Life isn’t like that, is it?”
“I’m the last one to say what life is like, but some things I do know are meant to be. You’ve heard the word bashert?
“I have. And, I have a theory, that we weren’t intended to meet until we did. That our timing was impeccable.”

Jonas texts Shelley a dozen times on an average day. His messages are exuberant, and although she can’t always respond, she is overjoyed at how eager he seems to catch her up on all the latest news at his company. It seals their connection. Whenever she does find time to answer, it’s to offer encouragement.
“Don’t hold back,” she tells him, “I want to know everything. About all the salespeople you’re managing.”
As weeks pass, they see each other less frequently. His communications grow less detailed, their tone begins to darken, and Jonas sometimes goes several hours without reaching out at all. Shelley can’t deny how the change bothers her.

“Why me?” she asks him at what seems like random one night over dinner, savoring a glass of Garnacha.
“Are you serious? You’re incredibly fascinating, everything about you. Not to mention gorgeous. You are a dream.”
“To you, apparently, for some miraculous reason. To everyone else though, I’m a soon-to-be divorced middle aged mother of three who practices old fashioned talking therapy on mildly neurotic patients, and runs compulsively to stave off getting even dumpier.”
“Read my lips: you’re a wondrous vision of absolute perfection.”
As he continues, his open mouthed smile broadening with each compliment, from the cute bump on her nose, to her irresistible shoulders, to her warmth and generosity, Shelley sinks from pride, to discomfort, to a sense of foreboding. Does my darling Jonas live in a fantasy world? she wonders. What do I really know about his past? Is this just a glib sales type talking? Or, is the problem all mine?

“It’s good, no great. He makes me feel like a princess in some fairy tale,” she tells Shari. “We talk about everything, and he’s passionate, yet gentle. You know how stressed your mother gets though. If something could possibly go wrong, that’s all I think about.”
“Mom,” Shari says, “it’s not that I’m not happy for you, I am, but please, I do not need to hear yet again how inconceivable it seems at your age that you’ve re-discovered your libido. Are you at all aware the hard time Dad is having with this? How depressed he is?”

“Mild mannered sales supervisor by day,” Shelley says, pouncing on Jonas as he sprawls across her bed, turning the pages of an instructional manual, “crazed sex maniac once the sun descends!”

“You know, Shari and I were comparing notes,” Rachel tells her, “and we find it incredibly disturbing that you and Mr. Wonderful always get together at our house and you’ve never seen where he lives. What is that?”
“Are you two global citizens conspiring against your poor defenseless first world mother? It’s a tiny bachelor apartment out in the sticks somewhere in Weymouth, a wall-to-wall mess, he says. He’s phobic that if I so much as set foot inside, the grunge and clutter would creep me out so much I would totally dump him.”
What? I’m sorry, but that sounds really bogus.”
“It does, a little. So, what should I do?”
“Barge in on him.”

“Don’t you think it’s time,” Shelley asks Jonas, “to meet my children?”
“Well, yes and no,” he says. “It’s not like I could just fly off to Argentina with you. Much less Nepal. Mainly though, I’m afraid they won’t like me and it’ll screw everything up.”
“They’re all home for the holidays, so that’s just around the corner. And what possible reason would they have not to like you?”
“Isn’t that obvious?” he asks. “My name: Jonas.”

The following Tuesday she doesn’t receive one text. 
“Maybe that’s healthy,” he says, when she asks what’s wrong.
“You seem distracted lately. You’re still smitten, right? You’re not starting to pull away from me, are you?”
“Pressure at work,” he says, “it’s relentless. Look, I can’t just depend on you for happiness, I need to work on being happy inside myself. Managing slick salespeople isn’t easy, but with this promotion, it’s all on me. This is my shot to be successful.”
She finds his explanation, intended to reassure her, chilling.
“Would you like to explore getting some help?”
“That’s your scene, not mine. I think I just need some time.”
“Excuse me? Time?”
“Sorry. Bad choice of words.”

For the most part their conversation remains light and playful as the leaves turn color and fall, but although Shelley never prods him, Jonas’ reluctance to discuss his work issues continues to worry her. It’s as though a barrier has arisen separating them, and she can’t help but fixate on the stark contrast between the inner turmoil he feels, and the smile always lighting his face. She pictures it dozens of times daily, and each time a psychiatric patient that she’d once treated comes to mind, a young man diagnosed with “Smile Mask Syndrome.” She worries that beneath Jonas’ cheery exterior, serious trouble lurks.
The clinical research on Compulsive Smile Disorder she uncovers indicates an unbalanced individual with dark secrets to hide, one who could snap at any time. In extreme cases it suggests a personality organized entirely around concealment and deception.
Who doesn’t have a hidden side? she reasons. Couldn’t his smile just signify a sunny personality? Can’t anything be just how it appears? Or, might Jonas simply be a sweet, innocent soul? She recalls that even when he mentioned his brother dying, even confessing that he hated his name, he delivered the news with upturned cheeks and an even broader grin than usual.
Her husband Alan’s legal team keeps raising issues that delay finalizing their divorce settlement, out of vindictiveness, she’s sure. One night, after a particularly contentious meeting, Shelley wakes screaming, having dreamt that she’d torn the skin from Jonas’ face to reveal a shapeless horrifying mass of worms, pus, blood, bones, and crawling insects, and when he holds her, it’s all she could do to keep her eyes shut. From then on though, she can’t suppress the fantasy that she’ll do something, she has no idea what, to banish the smile from his face, to see what’s underneath.

“You know, we’ve talked about Alan, ad infinitum,” she says, in her kitchen, following a brisk Sunday afternoon walk, “but never really about Lena. The details are very shadowy to me. How long has she been deceased?”
“Whoa!” Jonas says, winking. “Hold on, sweetie, who ever said she’s deceased?”
What?” Shelley’s eyes flash. “You’re frightening me.”
“I told you I’d lost my wife, after a long hospitalization, not that she’s dead.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? You’re not a widower?”
“No need for profanity, my dear. You apparently misunderstood.”
“But, that’s what you said! You did!”
“Oh, our first spat. I remember distinctly, you asked if I’d ever married and I told you, yes, I had, but that I’d lost my wife recently. To insanity.”
“No,” Shelley screams, “you did not say insanity, no way, you said she was dead! And what the hell are you smiling for?”
“Forgive me. Is it my fault though, you kept tuning in and out on our first few dates, not listening? How could I be sure what you heard? Look, things had been bad with Lena for years, she’d been sleeping around, and then she lost her mind, slit her wrists, and she required hospitalization. So, absolutely, I lost my wife, whatever remained of her. That’s all I said: I’ve recently lost my wife. But, you obviously spaced out.”
“No, you misled me to believe she was dead.”
“Before she attempted suicide the first time, we’d been talking divorce for years. And then I faced the prospect of caring for a drug dependent basket case I didn’t love and who didn’t love me. Which, out of obligation to her father, I resigned myself to forever, but it was hell, until you came along and I fell head over heels at first sight.”
“I can not believe this. You’re not divorced?”
“I can’t afford to be. For years she was high all the time, and then she cracked up and tried taking her life not once, not twice, but three times. They kept her institutionalized for months. Prior to which, she wrecked my business, well it was my father-in-law’s originally, but we had to dissolve it, and dispose of the house and most of our possessions to pay for her extravagances, her addictions, and later her medical bills. I have no money, I’m paycheck to paycheck, and as you’re well aware, divorce lawyers cost a fortune so I’m on like a ramen only diet at home.”
“Ramen? Driving that Mercedes?”
“Company car.”
“The gold Rolex?”
“Look closer, it’s called a replica. All our fancy dinners: advances on my commissions, for which I remain seriously in the hole. I’m not proud of it.”
“What’s funny? Oh, God! Is your name even Jonas? Is anything real about you?”
“How much I love you.”
“I need to process this,” she says. “There is one non-negotiable, though: you must get a divorce. Wait a minute, are you even separated?”
“Divorce is out of the question. I want to do the right thing, I just cannot afford it.”
“I’ll loan you the money.”
“I couldn’t accept. Not with you still paying your lawyers through the nose.”
“Okay,” Shelley says, “you need to leave right now and think about how everything I’ve just learned affects me, then come up with a plan on how you’re going to exit your so called dead marriage officially.”

Jonas calls the next night and suggests he visit, but Shelley insists that they talk on the phone instead.
“My best friend,” he says. “The love of my life, and you won’t see me? Please try and understand my perspective.”
She deadens her voice. “Just tell me, have you even told her about us?”
“And the point would be? To send her over the edge so she succeeds in killing herself, like her mother did, and then I’d have that on my head? We don’t talk. At all.”
“Is she violent?”
“God, no. Just against herself. She’s a word-slurring, medicated mess.”
“Okay, Jonas,” she says, “I’m thoroughly drained from this, I need to sort everything out. Don’t call me anymore, I’ll call you.”

She waits to inform her children until the following week when they all gather. Andy shrugs, he’s been incommunicado mostly anyway, and doesn’t seem to care, Who’s Jonas again? he asks, but her girls unleash torrents of indignant fury. She reveals only half the story, but both explode, urging her to ditch him.

She spends most of ten days with them, distracted, ignoring his calls, and at night, trapped between sleep and a frantic wakefulness, she keeps re-visiting whatever signs she might’ve missed. Did he sweet talk me into seeing what I wanted to see? Is this a once in a lifetime chance I’ll regret always if I just walk away? Or, is it something I did?
He emails two weeks after New Year’s to say how all he wants is to not hurt anyone, especially her.
She doesn’t respond. Weeks pass, during which she resumes seeing her therapist. Jonas calls three more times.

“You know, Mom,” Rachel tells her, “I feel for you, I really do, but let’s move on. You can do better than this con artist.”
“Con artist? There are so many things we don’t know, things we never can. About ourselves and others. No one’s perfect.”
“True, Mom, but he’s obviously missing something major in his life, like you are. That doesn’t make him the right person. He’s a liar. This vast emptiness you say you’re feeling will be filled. Just like we can always make things worse, it’s also our choice to make them better.”
Shelley isn’t sure. All she knows is that the longer her divorce proceedings drag on, with each new procedural snag, the more she keeps re-living the good times with Jonas, before his promotion.
He calls again, his voice message calm, patient and unwavering, but she doesn’t respond.

“I wish he would leave me alone already,” she tells her therapist.
“Do you?” the therapist asks. “Really?”

And then, on a brilliant spring day much like the one where he’d confessed to hating his name a year before, Jonas appears outside Shelley’s office bearing a bouquet of pink and white roses, as she is leaving the building.
“These are for you,” he says, as she sets her teeth, tears rising.
“Excuse me,” she says, pushing the flowers away, “I have somewhere I need to be.”
“Five minutes?”
He leads her in silence to a coffee house, both of their necks bent like mourners, and they sit at a high top table upon which Jonas places the roses. The only other customer is a disheveled, overweight man with tinted glasses and a walrus mustache who seems somehow familiar to Shelley. He sits hunched over a laptop, looks up and takes in her crossed arms, as well as the bouquet forming a border between her and Jonas. He raises his mobile phone.
“Did that fat person there just snap a picture of us?” Shelley asks. “Do you know him?”
“Excuse me?” Jonas says. He isn’t smiling. “Look, I may not be psychologically savvy like you, but I’ve done a lot of soul-searching lately and have come to a realization. All of us go through life thinking we know who we are, thinking we’re in the driver’s seat steering, it’s human nature, but we’re actually just acting how we think we’re supposed to. Me, you, everyone. It’s a sript we’re handed.”
Shelley shades her forehead and covers her eyes. She refuses to cry.
“Since you’ve shut me out I’ve tried to strip away whatever roles I’m inadvertently playing and all that’s left is, I don’t know, a mystery. A terrifying blankness.”
She looks from the bouquet, whose fragrant scent she longs to breathe, up to Jonas’ lined narrowed eyes. “Our actions reveal who we are, and what we’re made of,” she says, turning to face the man she’s just caught scowling at her, as he appears to be doing each time she scans the room. She feels dizzy. Is this an old friend of Alan’s? A legal investigator?
Jonas shifts in his seat. “My one certainty,” he says, barely above a whisper, “is that we belong together. Don’t judge me harshly. All I know is my love for you is indestructible in a way I never would have thought possible in my first fifty-four years on earth.”
Shelley can’t catch her breath. Rising, she points at him. “I know what you’re doing, I know what you’re doing, Jonas!” She picks up the flowers, and tries to steady herself. The overweight man, could that be Alan, in disguise? He’s smirking, self-satisfied. On her way out she turns to him, puts the bouquet on his table, and says, “Here, these are for you.”

About the Author:

AN Block teaches at Boston University, is Contributing Editor at the Improper Bostonian and a Master of Wine. Recent stories have appeared in Buffalo Almanack (recipient of its Inkslinger Award for Creative Excellence), Umbrella Factory Magazine (a Pushcart Prize nominee), Lowestoft Chronicle (a Pushcart Prize nominee), Solstice, The Maine Review, The Junto, Constellations, Contrary, Per Contra, Litbreak, The Broadkill Review, Projected Letters, Falling Star, KYSO Flash, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Torrid Literature, The Hungry Chimera, Menda City Review, Amarillo Bay, Literally Stories, Drunk Monkeys, New Pop Lit, The Citron, DenimSkin, Burningwood Literary Journal, Crack The Spine, The Bicycle Review, Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts, Flash Frontier, Blue Bonnet Review, Nite Writers International Literary Journal, Down In The Dirt, The Binnacle and several others.

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