The latest edition of Phoebe, issue 42.1, is printed and will soon be making its way into the hands of our readers. It’s jam-packed with great writing, some of which we’ve given you a glimpse of this week.
If you want to cut to the chase and order your own copy of Phoebe 42.1, click here for specific ordering information.
A few days ago we brought you the first section of “John’s House” by Seth Sawyers, a charming piece of nonfiction. Today we’ve got a taste of fiction to offer: an excerpt of “Sammy Kisses Archie” by Mike Koenig, about a man’s introduction to an over-fifty dating club he joined at his daughter’s prompting:
In the fifteen minutes Dan Murray has been on hold with Second Chances, he has verified his account number, date of birth, password, and zip code. He has also reread his confirmation email four times, committing its text to memory, right down to the name of his blind date— Aretha Jackson. As he waits for a human voice, Dan remembers the look on his daughter Kelsey’s face at Christmas when she gave him a year’s membership to the over-fifty dating club. Dan didn’t really know what to say. He hadn’t thought about dating since his wife died, certainly not something as elaborate as a club. But the earnest look on Kelsey’s face as she said, “It’s time to move on,” gave Dan no choice but to try the group.
“Second Chances, this is Gary speaking.”
“Hi, Gary, I think there is some type of mix-up with my date today.”
“I’ll be happy to help you with that,” Gary says, typing as he speaks. “I see we have you signed up for a date with Ms. Jackson at the Starbucks in Columbia.”
“Is today a bad day for you?”
“No, the day’s fine.”
“Will you have trouble getting to Starbucks by five thirty?”
Dan’s watch reads quarter until five, more than enough time to make the date. But he wishes he had made this call at three, or better still at nine a.m. when he first got the email with the date details.
“No, no. The day’s fine, the time’s fine. It’s just – Is there anyone else you can fix me up with? I mean, this is my first date since my wife died.”
“Someone else?” Gary asks.
“I just never—” Dan tries to think of the tactful way to explain his hesitation about the unknown Aretha Jackson, settling on the words, “I just don’t think we’re compatible.”
“Have you been on a date with Ms. Jackson before?” Gary asks, still typing as he speaks. “Our computers normally catch things like that.”
“No we haven’t been out before. I just—” Dan knows what is wrong, but doesn’t want to say the words aloud; he doesn’t even like thinking them. To avoid the embarrassment he hangs up the phone and stares at the email. The letters of Aretha Jackson’s name, typed in bold letters and in a larger font, stand out against the white background of the email.
Dan wonders what is ruder: going on a date with someone you can’t imagine actually dating or not showing up for the date at all. He wishes he had just said the time was bad; maybe then the company would have rescheduled someone more compatible. But the longer Dan sits the less comfortable he is with that plan too. You’re no better than anybody, Dan thinks as he looks at his shadow along the wall.
In the living room, Kelsey, his youngest at twenty-five, lies on the sofa, her legs hanging over the armrest. She visits almost every week to do laundry, eat, and grab her mail. For some reason she has never changed her permanent address, so even her Cosmo and Glamour magazines come to Dan’s house instead of her own apartment. Dan gives her foot a light squeeze when he enters.
“Why are you here?” Kelsey asks without turning.
“I live here.”
“I mean, why aren’t you at work?”
“I took a half day.” Dan sits in the adjacent chair.
“There’s nothing on,” Kelsey says, flipping through the television channels at a ferocious pace. “They used to show old sitcoms before dinner, now it’s all talk shows and fake court bullshit. You really should get satellite, Daddy.”
“Says the girl without a washing machine,” Dan replies, pointing to her overflowing hamper in the corner.
Kelsey turns off the TV.
“Seriously,” Kelsey says, sitting up, “why are you home?”
“I’ve got a meeting tonight.”
“Second Chances,” Dan admits, almost under his breath.
“Daddy, that’s great! What are you going to wear?”
Dan is in a business suit, a gray checkered pattern with a solid white shirt and a blue tie.
“I thought these things were for coffee.”
“You can’t wear a tie for coffee,” Kelsey says.
“I was going to lose the tie.”
“You need to go a little more casual. Change into a polo shirt.”
Within minutes Dan finds himself in the bedroom with his daughter. Six pairs of pants have been brought out for her approval and three shirts, all of which have been rejected as too formal, too businessy. Dan rather enjoys the excitement in his daughter’s face, though he still dreads the date he will have to go on.
“Here,” Kelsey says, handing him a pair of khakis and a dark blue short-sleeved shirt. “This is a first date outfit.”
She leaves the room, not waiting for Dan’s reaction. He changes into the newly designated appropriate outfit as if he were the child and she the parent. Just before leaving, Kelsey furthers the role reversal by asking where he is going and when he will be back. Dan laughs at the comment; it is the type of question his own father would have asked, though his father would have been more interested in where the girl lived. In the seventies, Baltimore was still fairly divided, and Dan knew without ever being explicitly told there were neighborhoods he was to avoid, girls he wasn’t to date.
A Maryland native, Mike Koenig writes screenplays, teleplays, and fiction. He received his MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore and currently works at Discovery Communications. This is his first published short story. You can read the rest of Mike Koenig’s story, and plenty more prose and poetry, in our latest print edition. Click here for specific ordering information.