The red dress club's writing challenge for this week is to craft a short piece of fiction that focuses on dialogue. I welcome your comments--- good, bad, and ugly.
"Dating's so damn expensive, " he said. "I mean, shit, you buy the dinner, the drinks, and that's, like, rent right there."
I listened to his voice as it sighed through the receiver.
"You're right," I said. "It's not fair. But there's no winning, unless you want to come off like a cheap-ass. Find a rich, feminist chick who is all empowered to pay for your sorry self."
He laughed, and I heard the exhale of his cigarette, "I'm down with feminists. You know what I'm not down with? All the bullshit." He inhaled again, and I yearned for that familiar burn, the delight in the hand-to-mouth motion.
He continued, "The other day, I met up with a girl. We had coffee, laughed a lot. She seemed cool." He coughed. "I was willing to give her a chance, but you know what happened? She texted me and said she wanted to be friends. I already have friends. I don't need another fucking friend."
I sat on my duvet, ordered online from Pottery Barn, and heard my husband give the boys a bath upstairs. "Well, Sam, what do you need?"
"I miss having a girlfriend," he replied, "I want a girl that's fun to talk to. She needs to be artistic. Funny. I wrote on OK Cupid that if she believed in creationism, that was a deal-breaker."
"Uh-huh." I twisted my ring around my finger. "Go on,"
"She has to be a Democrat. She has to live in Portland. No long distance shit. She---"
I stopped him. "What if you find an artistic, beautiful woman who wants to do nothing more then lay in bed with you, pay her own way on dates, and create beautiful things while listening to Arcade Fire---BUT...she believes in Noah's Ark. Would that work for you?"
I was proud of myself for mentioning Arcade Fire. I hadn't actually listened to them, but I heard about them on Facebook. I figured it would be something he would appreciate.
"No," he said. "Dinosaurs did not die because they didn't fit on the ark. It's bullshit, and if she believes in it, It's a deal-breaker."
"Look," I said, "People aren't lists. You can't rule out a person because of one thing. I mean, when I met Keith, he was into hunting. Like, he went into the woods and killed things. He listened to Howard Stern. He wore jean shorts. Jean shorts, I tell you! "
"Well, he doesn't now," my brother replied. "He's cool now. Besides, there's nothing wrong with Howard Stern. You're lucky he married somebody who doesn't like Howard Stern."
I listened to my sons giggle upstairs, and played with my response in head. As I moved the metal round phrases in the palm of my hand, I hoped for Zen clarity in my words.
"That's not my point," I said. "You can't be so picky. If you want to make a life with somebody, have children with somebody, you need to perhaps lower your standards."
He paused, shaping his own words, "You need to back up a bit. I don't want kids. I just want to have fun. Not everybody wants kids."
"I know," I said. "I wasn't trying to say that."
"I'm not done," he said. "I don't want to compromise. I would rather be alone than lose my integrity. So many people just...give themselves away."
The silence sat upon us like a lead blanket. I thought of my oils and pastels, stored in the basement, next to my easel. I had moved them to make room for the boys' train table last fall. That was right after Keith sold his motorcycle.
I heard my husband drain the bathtub, and the soft thumping of the boys' feet overhead. I forced a laugh, "I guess you better avoid trolling for hot dates at Tea Party rallies, then."
"Thanks, Sis," he said. "I'll keep that in mind."
"Hey," I said, "You'll find the right girl. She might not be who you expect, but she'll be the right girl."
"We'll see," he said. "At least it'll be summer soon and I can take her to free concerts, hiking. Shit like that."
"Exactly," I said. "Look--I gotta go---I love you."
"I love you too. Bye."
I held the warm receiver in my hand, and placed it on the dresser.
I stood up, and walked towards my family.
As I headed upstairs, I considered the fragile alchemy of compromise and choice.
I wondered how much I had given away.