Continuing our series of short fiction set in, or influenced by London. This time a guy on a blind date takes a risk... but will it pay off?
Asparagus And Syrian Gold
When you pick a spot for a date, you have to cover all bases. You need a scenic outdoor spot for if the weather’s good, and you need an option for if it’s not. London Bridge covers them. It’s got riverside bars that let you sit out in the open air if the evening’s clear, and it’s got cosy dark pubs tucked down alleys and under bridges that you can pull into if the weather turns.
I was annoyed I wasn’t the only one who knew this. Friday evening saw a dozen of us racked up, leaning against the wall outside the station while we waited for our dates. Mine was called Mercedes. We’d met online and it was a first date, so I was reading through our message trail to remind myself how we’d got to this point. I could hardly work out why we’d bothered. There’d been a pedestrian exchange about jobs and weather that neither of us seemed to have enjoyed. Maybe it was the name. Surely nobody called Mercedes could be so dull. That seemed like my thinking. Or maybe her bikini shot had swayed me in a moment of weakness.
“Hi! You must be Tom.” I looked up at a girl stood in front of me who looked not a thing like Mercedes. She was far more beautiful. I decided I must indeed be Tom.
“That’s right.” I said, but a little too slow because she said.
“I’m Jess, from online… right?”
“You didn’t look too sure for a second.”
“That’s just my look. Nervy. Untrustworthy. Always surprised. I had no luck as a psychotherapist.”
She laughed, “Well it’s lovely to finally meet you. We’ve been chatting for so long! You know I think you’re the first guy I’ve met who looks better than your pictures.” She turned her chin one way and then the other. “How about me? Better or worse?”
“There’s something different, but I can’t put my finger on it.” I had over committed myself. I was in too deep and I should back out. “Shall we go for a drink?” I asked.
We walked past the tall office blocks that line the way to the Thames. The occasional late worker dressed in smart suit revolved themself out through a door and hurried away to salvage whatever they could of the evening.
“Poor them.” She said. “Nothing worse than working late on a Friday.”
“Except maybe a hernia. Though it’s a close call.”
She laughed again. “You’re much funnier in real life. I was worried you’d be a bit boring to be honest. Why did you keep telling me in such detail what you’d cooked every day?”
“Was it so bad?”
“You must have explained how to treat steamed asparagus about 10 times.”
“Why did you ever agree to meet me?”
“I like asparagus.”
“Don’t we all.” I said, more grateful to asparagus than ever before.
“But now tell me about your job. I am interested in that. How is the world of stockbroking?”
“Stock broking… wouldn’t it bore you?”
“No! Not at all. I told you I wanted to hear all about it.”
“Stockbroking… It’s a bad business. It’s just supply and demand. But there’s not enough demand these days. It’s all supply. It’s no good.”
“Got any stock tips for me?”
“I’d buy up at the moment. Help with that demand. That’s what I’m advising my clients. Syria. Lots of gold in Syria. And you can’t put a price on gold, can you?” I said, fairly sure as I spoke that this was not something a stockbroker would say.
She stopped walking. “Wait… this feels… weird. What’s—" Her phone beeped. She looked at it then at me for a second. “I just got a message from… Tom, saying he’s still waiting for me. He thought he saw me walking off with another guy. He sounds pretty angry.” She stared at me. “Who are you?”
“I’m a man who was willing to claim he was an expert on asparagus for the chance to have a drink with you.” I shrugged. “I’m that kind of man, but I’m not Tom.”
“You lied!” She turned around and walked away.
I was left alone with just the river for comfort. And I stood looking at it pretty puzzled at the last 10 minutes. The Thames is much prettier in the dark because you can forget it’s a dirty brown with rubbish collecting along the sides. You see only the pretty lights of the bridges and the boats dancing on the surface and you remember London can be a beautiful place. I watched the groups of tourists and couples walking past, all looking content with life and remembering the same, and I decided it would be for the best if someone came and pushed them all in the water.
Then I got a tap on my shoulder.
“Hi. Tom just text me again. He’s met a girl called Mercedes who’s been stood up too. He’s told me not to bother coming back. They’re getting on great.”
“Does she like asparagus too?”
“More than me.” She smiled.
Copyright, Tim Pearce, 2014. Image by Dean Ayres via the Londonist Flickr pool.
We’re still after your stories based on London at Night, which you should send to firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.
Previously in this series
London at Night
- The Soho Nocturnes: Sebastian Groes tries to shatter the concrete dream that is London.
- The Patient Banker: Tom Dean has a visitor call in at a houseboat.
- An Afternoon Some Time Ago: Nathan Good takes a nostalgic ride on the London Eye.
- Easy Pickings: Kay Seeley is being vigilant on the South Bank.
- Stepping Stones: Alison Chandler goes on a night walk.
- One Summer in London: Angela M. Rodriguez steals a very personal item and then wears it at Notting Hill Carnival.
- Blackout on Fen Street: Seth Insua wishes away the city.
- The Man From BEER: Which bits of London would you delete? By David Ritchie.
- London Falls: Liz Hedgecock unleashes a digital wipeout on the city.
- They Walked: Adam MacLean ponders what would happen if London’s building just got up and left.
- The Wallbuilder: A great wall was built around London, not everyone was happy, by Jonathon Dean.
- Tastes Like Chicken: Glen Delaney retreats inside London’s oldest fortress.
- The Conqueror: Rebecca Sams filches a legendary London object.
- The Busker Ascends: Darren Lee brings plague to Leicester Square.
- Amelie: Narges Rashidi considers the interactions of three people on a District Line tube.
- Shelter Drawings: Stuart Snelson’s tale of a mysterious Circle Line artist.
- Tracks and Albums: Richard Lakin attracts the attentions of the British Transport Police.
- Seeing Red: Anthony Fitzgerald on the woes of a cab driver.
- Instant Karma on the 263 to North Finchley: one seat left on the bus. Next to you. Raving drunk gets on. By Ronnie Capaldi.
- The Sender of Second Chances: Anthea Morrison records a chance encounter on a bus.
- Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
- Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
- Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.
- Harvest Festival: A spooky Halloween tale in the London suburbs by Helen Craig.
- Ordinary Days in London: Madelaine Hills on a Docklands disturbance.
- Bishopsgate: Oliver Zarandi visits the site of a bomb.
- The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairy tale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
- The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.
- Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
- A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
- Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
- Swipe Right: Does Tinder have the answers? By Heidi Scherz
- The Writer and the Dancer: Close encounter at a flat party by Vincent Wood.
- St Peter’s Gate, Knightsbridge: A nocturnal romance at closing time, by Theo Klay
- First: A romance begins inside a London gay club. By Lance Middleton.
- Natural Disasters: Can you find love at the supermarket checkout, when your customer’s buying porn? Yoel Noorali enquires.
- NO! SUSHI: A relationship breaks down during a Japanese leaving party, by Clare Kane.
- Compatibility: Stephen Lynch conjures the awkwardness of flat hunting.
- An Extract From the Diary of Kay Richardson, Actor: The surreal tribulations of a washed-up London thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor: More from the feckless thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor (Part 2): Our debauched hero tussles with mannequins.
- You Were Not In When We Called: A Christmas tale from Megan Toogood.
- The Do: Alan Fisher gets party phobia.
- Direction: Kevin Acott goes on a time-shifting pub crawl.
- RTA: Ryan Cartwright is involved in a traffic accident where all is not what it seems.
- Vegan Pigeon Eater: Rae Chambers sees a south London cafe get an unwelcome visitor.