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Snuck up on me this year. Last-minute, I offer you this bit of romantic comedy, which was originally published in 2004 in Grasslimb #4:

"The Love Thing"

As Denise packs she tells me it's not my fault she isn't in love with me. "It's the love thing," she says.

"The love thing?" Denise moved in two months ago. We met at a coffee shop, where we both had a violent allergic reaction to the biscotti. "What's the love thing?"

"It's out there." She laughs, kisses me on the cheek, and is gone with her suitcase, her radio and her copy of Women Who Run with the Wolves. "I'll be back for the rest later," she calls over her shoulder.

I've never heard of the love thing. I climb out the window, walk down the fire escape and knock on the third-floor window. Sylvia answers in her bathrobe--Sylvia always wears her bathrobe inside the apartment. She never leaves without creating an entirely new ensemble from things like quilts, spare office supplies and a seemingly endless roll of lycra-spandex.

"Have you ever heard of the love thing?" I ask.

"What do you think brought Dolores and I together?" Sylvia sighs. "It was an August night twenty-six years ago. I was wearing a red velvet minidress I'd made out of a couple of seat covers and silk stockings made from a parachute, and let me tell you, I had legs in those days. Dolores was in her punk phase then, torn jeans and Doc Martens and safety pins stuck all over her leather jacket, which she wore over a tube top, and this was long before things started to sag, let me tell you. Don't get me wrong, she's still as sexy as 'Bolero' is long, but in those days--"

"What about the love thing?"

"It was there."

"What did it look like?"

"Well, Dolores says it looked like a broken drumstick, but to me it looked like a fifth of Jack with only a swallow left in it. Which is funny, because even then I only drank gin."

"Where did this happen?"

"In the alley back of Cuts and Scrapes, the old punk club on Eighth. I think it's a Bath and Body Works now."

"Thanks." I go back upstairs to get my jacket and find Denise taking her towels, her seashell collection, and our bread maker.

"You never use it," she says.

"Neither do you."

"Don't make this any harder than it already is." She bursts into tears and runs out.

Dolores's alley smells like apricot body wash. I tiptoe around the dumpsters, uncertain of what to do. I'm considering stripping down to my jeans and plunging in when the back door opens and a woman appears with an elegant yellow-handled bag of garbage.

"Can I help you?" she asks.

"I'm looking for the love thing," I tell her.

"Oh! I haven't seen that since the Cure concert in 1987. I went with a friend, and afterwards we went to his apartment to listen to records. We'd been friends for a couple of years, but all of a sudden it changed. I looked at him and he looked at me and eight months later we were married. It was the love thing."

"What did it look like?"

"It's funny. My husband thinks it was The Velvet Underground and Nico, but I swear it was the first Concrete Blonde album."

"Can you tell me where that apartment was?"

I feel like I'm on the right track. I've closed the gap from twenty-six years to sixteen, and music seems to play a major role. I'm going to track the love thing down and ask it a few questions.

The apartments at 44th and Industry have been converted into condominiums. I buzz 2G and explain my situation to Mr. T. Williams.

"It ain't here," he says. "But you're welcome to come on up if you like."

Mr. Williams offers me a cup of coffee with peppermint schnapps instead of cream or sugar. "I thought I saw that love thing once," he says. "Back after I opened my first restaurant downtown. Little diner. Had this waitress there named Mabel, type you might not give a second look, but she could talk. Customers loved her. They'd sass her and she'd sass right back. I was so busy, though--I couldn't keep a cook, and I was working on opening another place across town. I didn't hardly notice her until that day. I'd been working fourteen hours on two hours sleep and I'd just had to reschedule a loan meeting for the third time, and Mabel picked that moment to break five plates.

"I unloaded on her but good, but that time Mabel didn't sass back. She threw her apron at me and she walked out of there, and I just stood there holding on to that apron and realizing I didn't want her to go. It was that apron that I thought might have been the love thing you mentioned, and maybe if I'd gone after her it would have been. But I didn't, and I never saw her again."

"When was that?"

"Nineteen fifty-four."

"Did Mabel sing, or play an instrument?"

"Mabel was about as musical as me, and I'm about as musical as a rat in a Hobart."

I don't know what that means, but it doesn't sound musical, and I've lost thirty-three years. "Do you still own that diner?"

"No. It's not even a diner anymore. I think it's one of those disco bowling alleys now, where the balls and the drinks all glow in the dark. I own Tommy's Grill on Sloan and Hennessey, and I got to get there to open up. You should come by sometime. My blackened catfish will break your heart."

I go back to my apartment to get my bowling ball, only to find Denise carrying it out along with her VCR and our print of Picasso's "Don Quixote."

"All right," she says. "You caught me."

I take my bowling ball away from her and leave.

"I'll just take your bonsai tree instead!" she calls after me.

I track the love thing through the course of the afternoon. The man who rents shoes at the Neon Bowl tells me the love thing was a cufflink at a play on the night he met his boyfriend. An usher at the Orpheus Theatre tells me it was a stuffed dolphin in a cab he shared with a beautiful girl from Yugoslavia. A taxi driver tells me it was a floral arrangement at her second wedding, where she met her third husband.

I stop back at my apartment to change into a suit and find my couch, my frying pan, my autographed 8x10 of Clint Eastwood and all the light bulbs gone. I manage to tie a Windsor in the dark, and leave the door open when I go out.

When I get to the reception at the Airport Holiday Inn dinner is over, as an older waitress is quick to tell me between clearing plates. "No open bar, neither."

"Who got married?" I ask.

"Some young folks," she says. "You work as many weddings as I do, you stop paying attention to the names."

"Was the love thing here?"

"Not that I saw. But then you can't see the love thing unless it's come looking for you."

"Oh." I loosen my tie. "Have you ever seen it?"

"Once. A long time ago, when I was working at Tommy Williams' diner. Looked like one of those fat Buddha souvenirs all the boys brought back from the Pacific. Startled me so that I dropped a tray full of plates. But I guess Tommy didn't see it."


I wait until midnight for Mabel to finish up and then I give her a ride to Sloane and Hennessey. The décor of Tommy's Grill is dark, woodsy, cozy. The hostess tells us the kitchen is closed, but Mr. Williams recognizes us and hurries over. "Please let me buy you dinner," he says to Mabel. "My blackened catfish will break your heart."

"Well, he learned from the best," she says, but she is smiling and so is he. They don't even notice when I leave.

My apartment is empty except for a tube sock, a garlic press and a phone book from three years ago. I can't tell if there's anything in the refrigerator because the refrigerator's gone too, so I set my bowling ball on the kitchen floor and take the phone book to the payphone downstairs to call for a pizza.

When the delivery girl arrives I fumble in the darkened apartment and drop my wallet on the floor. She bends to retrieve it and comes up with another object as well.

"What's that, a skate key?" I ask.

"It looks like one of those little green army men. Whoops!" She drops it then, and I'm not at all surprised when neither of us can find it again.

"Do you like to bowl?" I ask her.



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 24th, 2008 07:10 am (UTC)
This is wonderful! I loved it. :)
Apr. 24th, 2008 03:44 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Steph! I think I was more of a romantic back when I wrote this . . .
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 24th, 2008 03:44 pm (UTC)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


David J. Schwartz
Mumble Herder

Recent and Forthcoming



US Edition

UK Edition


"The Sun Inside," part of the Electrum Novella Series from Rabit Transit Press

Short Stories:

"Escape to Bird Island" at The King's English, Winter 2008-9 Issue

"Bear In Contradicting Landscape" in Polyphony 7, Coming Soon

"MonstroCities" in Tumbarumba: A Frolic of Intrusions

"Mike's Place" in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet #22

"Proof of Zero" in Spicy Slipstream Stories, Out Now!!

"The Somnambulist" in Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy, Out Now!!

"Oma Dortchen and the Pillar of Story" in Farrago's Wainscot, Summer 2007

"The Ichthyomancer Writes His Friend with an Account of the Yeti's Birthday Party" in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet Number 13, Fall 2003 (Honorable Mention, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Seventeenth Annual Collecion); Reprinted in The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet


""Stardust" at Strange Horizons


"On Making Noise: Confessions of a Quiet Kid" in Brothers and Beasts: An Anthology of Men on Fairy Tales edited by Kate Bernheimer



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