Monday, August 12, 2013

The Love of Your Life

Recently, I found a story I wrote some time ago. It’s a sketch really, an idea barely fleshed out, something to pass the time. A young women finds herself the contestant on a television dating show, a premise which doesn’t seem particularly exciting or innovative after the deluge of reality programming over the past decade or so. This writing predates most of it, although obviously not American Idol, which is mentioned, or The Dating Game, or even This is Your Life. I also found it an interesting piece because Julie and her brother could be early manifestations of two characters I eventually spent much time on—middle-aged Gina and her younger brother, Ian, in a novel called Fortress for One. Anyway, here’s the short story, mostly rough but I think, with some smooth parts. (And wouldn’t The Love of Your Life would make a great play?…)

                “What the hell, Junior?” Julie climbed into the car and glared.

                “Juju,” Junior said calmly. “Breathe.”

                “I said two-thirty!”

                “They won’t start without you.” He grinned, crooked teeth gleaming, coffee-colored eyes like a dog that won’t leave.

                She sighed. Her little brother.

                …Twelve days ago, she got the call…

                “Is this Julie Renate Sandoval?”


And her thoughts went immediately to St. Theresa’s Parochial, where they always used full names. The nuns had loved Junior, of course; behind their backs he called them The Monochrome Despots.

                “This is The Love of Your Life,” the man said. “We’d like to put you on.”

                “Oh,” Julie said.

                “You’re aware of the application,” he asked, “submitted by your coworker, Jeannie Mackeroy?”

                It all came raining down. A bottle of wine after work, Jeannie’s assurances, Junior’s jokes. Her brother said Julie’s best shot at happiness was serial monogamy, each chapter ending with a bubble bath and a new hairstyle. Jeannie told him they couldn’t all be queens. And now it was happening.

                Junior dropped her backstage. Long hallways and a scurrying guide. Up front, the set was a huge, carpeted kidney bean.

                “How are you, Julie?” Lance Corazon, the host. His eyes were beautiful and strangely unkind.

                “Alright,” she mumbled.

                He pulled her elbow, twirled her around. “Audience, are you ready to help Julie find The Love of Her Life?”

                “Yes!” they shouted.

                Lance beamed. “Julie, you’ll be placed in The Chastity Room. Finalists have been chosen by our computer, based on compatibility scores, DNA testing and input from your friends and family.”

                Julie sat on a plump red couch. When the doors to The Chastity Room opened, sawdust stretched before her. She squinted in the half-light of a vast room.

                “Over here,” a man on a barstool called.

                Randy was a computer technician who liked to ride mechanical bulls. He had thinning blonde hair and colorless lips.

                “Where are the cameras?” Julie asked.

                “You can’t see them.”

                “Wow,” she said. “This is awkward.”

                Suddenly, a voice boomed: Please refrain from such comments. Unproductive. During the simulated date, avoid mentioning the simulation.

                “Sorry,” she whispered.

                Randy shrugged.

                Again, the voice: We’d like to interject a Conversation Starter, based on relevant information from your dating past.

                Randy scooted to the edge of his seat. Julie wasn’t sure if he was The Love of Her Life. Maybe at first everyone found The Love of Their Life reminiscent of a flaccid sea creature.

                Your Conversation Starter comes from Julie’s college boyfriend, Brad Kanwin. Brad says Julie was awkward in social situations, often making inappropriate sounds or jokes.

                She remembered Brad, of course. Junior called him Big Top PeeWee, because of his large head and small penis, although she’d been unnecessarily cruel in that regard.

                “The last I heard of Brad Kanwin,” she said, “his hand became paralyzed and he went blind.” She laughed alone, wondering if the joke was inappropriate. Randy pressed a buzzer underneath the bar.

                Her second date wore red sneakers, a “People are People” t-shirt and a loosened, narrow tie. Immediately, Julie used her 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover pass to prematurely end their simulated Italian restaurant date. Maybe she’d be finished in time to catch American Idol with Junior, she thought as she left.

                Date number three. At the bottom of a flight of stairs, Reuben Straverskey stood near a gondola and a gurgling canal.

                “Reuben—what the hell?”

                “I didn’t know it was you,” he said.

                Julie had been lusting after Reuben for months; only Jeannie knew. They all worked at the same bank.

                With a push from the gondolier, they were on their way. Again, the cameras were out of sight.

                “So, did they find those checks on Friday?” she asked.

                Reuben licked his fingertips and smoothed his eyebrows, a strange and regular habit that only now struck her as completely ridiculous. “Naw,” he said. “Gunderson was beyond lunacy, the drama king.”

                She shifted her weight and the boat dipped. “Is it weird, being here?”

                “I don’t know.”

                The voice: Please refrain from talking about your reactions to being on the show. Irrelevant.

                “I thought you had a girlfriend,” she whispered.

                Please refrain from whispering. Futile.

                They rode in silence. Julie thought: If I was watching this episode, I’d turn it off. And she suddenly realized that Reuben was too goofy to be considered, that her comments to Jeannie only helped to pass time at work and that Reuben, although hysterical behind the bank counter, wasn’t as stimulating on a simulated canal. Besides, what would Junior call him?

                The gondola hit shore at The Love of Your Life. Julie wondered how long she’d been floating. Lance helped her out of the boat, which then glided away with Reuben still onboard.

                Above, a screen flashed details from her life: Favorite Movie – Urban Cowboy; High School Music Choice – New Wave; Career Aspiration – Head Teller. At the top, one word blinked continuously: UNMATCHABLE.

                Julie stepped down from the giant kidney and saw him immediately. Tall and handsome, a mouth full of crooked teeth. “Junior,” she said. “You’re still here.”

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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka