Fiction Friday: Hoops (August 13, 2010)

Louise had never felt so bored in her life. She stared at the man sitting across from her, a bland, fussy little man who she would never have dated in a past life. The restaurant was filled with the din and clamour of happy patrons; Louise longed to be one of them. Instead she forced her attention back to the inane conversation and plastered a fake smile on her face.

“Mmmhmmm” she nodded. She had no idea what he’d just said. Again her attention wandered and she caught herself gazing at the cute young waiter. He winked at her when he saw her looking and she blushed and focused back on whatsisname. Ken. That was it. She sighed and then realised he was waiting for her to respond to something. “Um.” She pulled a face, embarrassed. “Sorry, I… er, didn’t catch what you were saying, too much noise in here.” She gestured around at the bustling staff and fellow diners and he nodded with understanding.

“I was just asking who your favourite movie actor is?”

Louise groaned inwardly at the mindless question. Some substance would make this chore much easier to bear. The cute waiter walked past again and smiled at her. “Ah, well I guess, if I had to choose… I didn’t mind Bruce Willis.”

Ken almost leapt up with excitement. “Oh wow!” His face was reminiscent of a kid on Christmas morning. “You know, that’s amazing, and so coincidental! I was told just the other day, just the other day, that I was Bruce Willis in a past life! That’s a bit of a sign, don’t you think?” He looked so hopeful that she almost laughed at the absurdity of the idea. He seemed to expect something so she made a noncommittal grunting sound and tuned out as he continued regaling her with his exploits as Bruce Willis. She glanced at her watch and fidgeted; Mel was late in calling. With that her phone rang and she lunged to answer it.

“Sorry, I’ll just take this over here!” She dashed towards the loos. When she was obscured behind a pot plant she answered it. “Aaargh why did you take so long? This one thinks he was Bruce Willis in a past life!” Mel’s snort echoed down the line. “I didn’t have the heart to point out that he’s only been dead for two years! Geez!” Mel laughed again and apologised.

“Sorry love, Danny was hard to get to sleep. He kept asking for one more story… you know how it is.”

“Yeah.” She sighed. “I can’t believe I have to keep doing this. It’s so degrading. Humiliating. I feel like I’m selling myself for benefits.”

“I know… it’s wrong. Blame the people who voted that man in. They seemed to think it was a good idea.”

Louise felt the heat of anger in her belly. “Yeah a great idea to make single mums date men in order to continue receiving benefits. That definitely makes me and my son safe. It just makes the fuddy duddies happy to think they can control people like me.” I’m the scum of society, she thought. She noticed Ken staring at her. “I have to wrap this up. Thanks for the lifeline, I’ll see you soon.” She hung up and headed back to the table with a worried expression on her face. Ken stood up as she approached.

“Are you ok?” His concern seemed sincere enough, but she was pretty sure it was because he sensed it was over. She wondered if this was the only way he could get dates.

“Sorry, that was the babysitter. My son is sick… I need to get home.” She grabbed her handbag and shrugged by way of apology. “I’ll call you.” He stood all forlorn, a misfit in this room full of ordinary people. As she made her way to the register to pay her share, the waiter slipped her his number. She couldn’t help a look back at Ken, who was sitting staring into his wine glass. Her heart felt heavy at the thought of enduring more of the same. Men who had jumped at the opportunity of registering to date single mums creeped her out, and she hoped she could keep herself and her son safe.

**************************

This week I had the idea of the worst date ever, but I wanted to put something more into it. I suddenly had an idea to flesh out some of my own vague fears about single motherhood and the fickle nature of government assistance. While I don’t think this is a likely scenario, the idea of being forced to jump through ridiculous government hoops isn’t at all far-fetched and for me a very personal worry. Also, I didn’t want to make Ken too creepy, I think he’s just a lonely man who can’t relate to people very well, but I know as a single mum meeting new people is a scary prospect because you just never know! So hopefully I captured all that ok, without being too heavy-handed.

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