Ben Newell

Plenty of Fish

“Can I get you a menu?”

The bartender’s question pulled Ed out of his funk. He had been sitting there drinking for a good two hours, becoming more and more despondent with each swig.

“Sure,” he said resignedly. “Might as well.”

His Saturday lunch date was late. Two hours late. No call, no text, nothing. It was official. Another no-show.

Ed peered at the menu. He craved some old-fashioned beef tacos with crunchy shells. Of course he would’ve preferred a taco of the hairy variety, but this wasn’t happening. Not today, anyway.

He placed his order.

“Another beer?” the bartender asked.

“Sure,” Ed said.

This online dating game wasn’t working worth a damn. Women were more than willing to exchange messages, but when it came time to actually meet . . .

Today marked the third time that he had been stood up. Third and last, he thought. Enough is enough. No more online dating for Ed.

***

Back at his apartment Ed deactivated the account and grabbed another beer from the fridge. He had bought a six-pack of tallboys on his way home from El Palacio; nothing to do today but get shit-faced and wallow in self-pity.

He grabbed his cigarettes and went out on the little balcony overlooking the pool. Eye candy galore. Women laid out on chaise lounges soaking up the afternoon sun, others swimming, laughing, talking. Good-looking women, too. Young, probably single.

Ed was young. And single.

But he had no desire to join them. He had gotten plenty of sun in Iraq. And now he was home and working a shitty job and trying to meet a woman.

One of his coworkers at the garage had recommended online dating; this guy claimed to get all kinds of action. Desperate and horny, Ed had been intrigued, so much so that he had opted for the premium membership package with all the bells and whistles. Now he felt like a total fool for wasting his money.

Ed smoked and drank and tried to enjoy the view, but it was hard. Those women down there in their bikinis were out of reach, unattainable. He might as well have been watching supermodels on TV. They didn’t want some grease monkey veteran plagued by nightmares . . .

He finished his cigarette and went back inside. It was too hot out there. Unless you were swimming. Ed regarded the dreary walls of his apt. A dip might make him feel better, help him sober up. He wasn’t supposed to be drinking at all.

Dr. Libby would’ve been disappointed.

***

Ed slammed the door to his apartment, threw the bolt, and rushed to the bathroom. He stood at the sink and splashed cool water on his face, hoping this would extinguish his shame and rage. His excursion to the pool couldn’t have turned out worse. The whole thing had been a bad idea from the beginning.

All that beer, the tacos, the savage sun and heat, the supple flesh, everything had made him dizzy and sick and he had managed to climb out of the pool but that’s as far as he got before it came out in a torrent. Some had actually laughed when he puked. Heartless bitches . . .

Four months ago, in the leasing office, he had all but demanded a unit with a view of the pool. Now he never wanted to see the pool again.

Unless . . .

Ed’s rifle was in the bedroom closet.

He pulled it out.

The AR-15 was loaded, ready to rock, ready to roll. He opened the sliding glass door and stepped out on the balcony. They were still down there, all of them. A few guys had shown up since his ugly departure.

He felt the reassuring pressure of the stock against his shoulder. Just like old times, he thought. Ed was back in Fallujah.

The opening round pierced a brunette’s eye, bored through her brain, and exited the back of her head in a fine pink mist.

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