Literary Magazine

In the Right Place at the Wrong Time | Chad W. Lutz

It always bothers me when women come up to me in public and start making conversation as if they know me. In my mind’s eye I’m shouting, “Nothing, I want nothing,” and beat the sidewalk with my feet as if it owed me money. That’s why I’ve started wearing headphones and play whatever I’m listening to loud enough you can hear it standing ten feet away. Sure, it’s destroying my hearing 120-decible notes at a time, but it keeps the undesirable Nothings at bay.

My ex was on my mind; she’s been on my mind. When isn’t she on my mind? I used to think we’d always be together, then we broke up about seven months ago. I use the music as a way to cope, as navigation through the Nothings. It’s not what I would want, but it’s something. I just can’t seem to stop feeling angry about the whole situation, and I was the one who did the breaking. Weird, isn’t it, to stop loving someone and then start right back up again when it’s over? I think it’s terrible. I’ve never understood how the worst of people can worm their way under decent people’s skin. I’m not claiming to be a saint or anything, but… ah, forget it.

Nothing, I want nothing.

The walk to the restaurant from my building was like a trudge through a minefield. Everywhere I turned there were memories of her blowing up in my face. The rain didn’t help. The rain never helps. It just reminds me of the time we made out on the pier, in the rain, during that fireworks show in D.C.

In the weeks following the break, the people formerly known as my friends told me I was acting like a wounded animal. I mean, I am technically, but apparently that kind of answer doesn’t fly with people who are already married and budding faster than alien spores. They want me to “get out more,” to “stop wallowing,” guaranteeing me I’ll “find someone eventually.”

But when I tell them I want Nothing, they just laugh me off. They tell me it’s stupid to think that Kirsten was the only person destined to be with me, that I’m ridiculous. They tell me Love isn’t what we thought it was when we were kids. They tell me those notions have disappeared, that I have to grow up.

I’m going out with them tonight. Out of the building and into the rain…

Whose idea was this again? It certainly wasn’t my ex’s. Hell, if she knew, she’d probably try to hit me with the car again. The worst of people, I tell ya.

That’s when I realized I was smiling. Why was I smiling?

“Excuse me. Do you have the time?”

I glanced shyly at my wristwatch.

“Uh, yeah it’s six o’clock.”

“Thank you,” a warm, bed-pillow-toned voice said. I looked up from the tile to find its owner coyly glancing at the floor much like I was. She smelled sweet, like dandelions in the summer, probably her moisturizer.

“You look like you’re in a hurry,” she said. “Where ya headed?” She started fidgeting with her bag, a tan, hemp affair with a green peace sign stitched in the center. I tried to pretend I didn’t hear her; that I was too busy listening to The Beatles and couldn’t spare the time, but we’d already made eye contact.

“Oh, nowhere really,” I said, skirting around the answer. “Just home to eat and go to bed. Work in the morning. You know how that is.” Lies. I flashed a placating smile. She, meanwhile, was standing with her hands clasped together in front of her, gold, green, red, and blue beads shimmering down her brown calico jacket, hips swaying slightly, as if in rhythm with some beautifully fantastic invisible melody.

“Sounds exciting,” she said sarcastically, forcing a laugh. “Are you listening to The Beatles?”

My headphones were already off and dangling against my shirt. The sound of the elevator gears humming filled the car. I couldn’t stop thinking about dinner, and about Kirsten, the girl who tried to paint the garage door with my insides. I suddenly wondered what she was doing for dinner.

The girl in calico coat cleared her throat and tapped her umbrella on the tile three times. We both stood and stared at Nothing, at silence; a part of me wondering about the silence of her rhythms.

The elevator mercifully slowed and chimed and we both left the car, her after me. It was even more obvious than before that I was lying. Before we get to the front door she turns to ask me something but my head phones are in and The Beatles are back at the helm.

My friends were already gathered at the restaurant. The instant I opened the door I was accosted with birthday hats and balloons, people shouting.     Then comes the barrage of questions: How are you feeling? Are you doing okay? Are you seeing anyone? Do you need any help finding someone? This particular dating website does a really good job, and only half the guys are skeezy.

They laugh, but not really.

Sure, that makes me feel better. Much better.

I want my headphones, but I’m being polite.

We eat. They drink. I slip out when they don’t notice, even though it’s totally obvious. A couple of them text me just to make sure I’m, “OK.”

But they have every right to. I’m not OK. I keep thinking about girls behind the wheels of Hondas and why it’s so important for me to date girls. No one ever asks me that question.

Realizing there’s no polite way to tell a sweet girl in an elevator you’re more interested in her moisturizer than her vagina, I put on my headphones and hope the rains wash away some of my brooding attitude.

But all I can think about is the girl in the elevator.

Chad W. Lutz was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1986 and raised in the neighboring suburb of Stow. A 2008 graduate of Kent State University’s English program, Chad is attending Mills College in pursuit of an MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in telling lies (Fiction). His writing has been featured in Diverse Voices Quarterly, Kind of a Hurricane Press, Haunted Waters Press, and Sheepshead Review.