Deadline by Tom Lichtenberg

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SUMMARY: It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it


This couple lived like an item on the shelf, like a buy one get one free. You want to talk to him? You have to clear it with her. You want to talk to her? You'd better see him first. You want one of them for anything, you get the other one too. They were wrapped around each other like the childproof plastic you can't cut off a jar with a knife. Dave and Darcy. Darcy and Dave. I'm Darcy this is Dave. I'm Dave she's Darcy. How you doing? We're great.

They were always great. They found bargains that you wouldn't believe. You know how much we paid for this? Always the we. We were in Mexico once. One time when we. The other day we. We drove to. They told us we had to.

There was a time before Dave for Darcy, and a time before Darcy for Dave. A Neolithic era, lost in the pile of receipts they never discarded (you never know), but they will tell you, one at a time or in unison, our lives really began at the moment we met.

At a Photomat, of all places. Her car was stalled at the booth. He gave her a start. In every sense of the word. From the moment I saw him I knew, she says, in a rare first-person moment. She was like an angel, he agrees. Then together, in the sickening sweetness they combine and form their own little well-worn slogan; even angels need a jump sometimes hee hee. You want to look away.

Never before have the hash browns seemed so appealing, or so interesting in the way they appear on the plate, all those strings of potatoes combined in such unique and golden brown patterns. Darcy and Dave are still talking. One day we. We thought it was. Nobody told us hee hee. You wonder who invented the hash brown, who perfected the art or science, whichever it is.

Outside the diner the icy rain is still falling, heavy and hard. If you'd stopped in Talusa like your body had told you, you wouldn't even be here now, but cozy in a soft and sinking mattress in that motel you noticed off the road. You'd be watching the local weatherman tell you all about this storm, but no, the boss remembered your cell phone number and reminded you of your deadline.

More coffee? Please. Thank you. None for us, no thanks. We've had enough. They take a deep breath. One of them will launch into the next obligatory segment. It was him. Something about a dog that got lost, that jumped off a truck and found its way home. Remarkable, isn't it? How everything knows where it truly belongs. We had a dog once, you know. So sad. Hit by lightning, he was, the poor little guy. Sparky. That's what we named him. A moment of silence. Then a sigh. It was her. Well, at least that won't happen again hee hee! You know what they say about lightning.

You do know what they say about lightning. You've said it yourself sometimes, even though you know better. Better than to say such things. Better than to pretend to know such things. You play with your food and notice, with a little astonishment perhaps, that even the writing on a packet of jam can be the most interesting thing in the world at a time like this.

You're running late, but it's out of your hands. You came in from the cold.

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