Hour of the Moth: "The Candidates"

Robert Knox


So here I am, standing up. My hour has come.

Where we start is -- well, it's some other time. I am in the wrong place because I am always in the wrong place, story of my life -- the boy who thought he was something special. That's before 'special' meant what it came to mean, which is, you know -- 'special.'

Make face and flutter hands in the air. Look 'special.' After brief pause, continue.

And so, here I am, somewhere not the least bit special, in the admissions department of a major urban hospital. It's the only job I can find. I live alone, and I'm not talking to people. I haven't done that much for years, not really. 

Mug. Hunch shoulders. Look pathetic. Not special; not 'special' special; just sort of weird and lonely.

And suddenly it occurs to me -- actually, it doesn't occur to me for a long time, that's why I'm all alone and not talking to people, because it takes me so long to get the message -- that what I'm doing is looking to mate. 

Stare. Startled by the word. Shake head.

What I mean -- please don't get the wrong idea here! (shake head, again) -- is searching for someone to partner up with -- for like your life. Not necessarily your whole life, I mean, how naive am I -- do I think I'm seriously going to find the right person to spend my whole life with just by looking? I mean, what are the odds of that? Oh, sure, you can make them better. Just keep hanging around all the high-traffic, high-turnover places, shopping malls and railroad stations, Grand Central Station, airports; the currently 'in,' really loud obnoxious night clubs where I truly do not belong --

Wiggle. Stick your arms out. Your behind. Do the boogaloo. Depending on audience response, wiggle some more.

Still I bet the odds are pretty poor. Look, this waiting for the 'right' person to come along is really a ridiculous idea. 

Look vaguely embarrassed, put your hand over your eyes like you're searching the horizon for likely candidates. Open your hands. Who knows? Look hopeless, vague, it's such a hopeless task. 

OK. Nevertheless. Gotta start somewhere. 

Let's see the candidates. Drum roll. Let's get rolling, build some momentum. The lady looking for her dog. A little bit older; blonde, a little too friendly. Wants to talk. She's looking for her dog, no you haven't seen her dog, but she's in no hurry to keep looking. It's a warm night in the city. She's looking for a reason to stay outdoors. 'So,' she says, 'what are you doing?'      'Nothing, just walking.' 

'Sounds like fun. It must be nice to be on your own.' 

It's not. (You don't tell her that.) You're not her dog, you think, but maybe with a little encouragement she'll take you home instead. But what's that? Somebody 'calling?' She tries to ignore the voice. 'Do you go out like this and just walk around a lot?' But the voice keeps calling a name -- hers, apparently -- and so she has to answer. 

'I'm talking to someone! About the dog!'

Then the voice calls 'Who are you talking to?' So then I know I'm on my way. Dog lady is not the one. When she said to me 'it must be nice to be on your own,' what she meant was 'it must be nice to be able to walk down and the street and have a conversation without having him ask who you're talking to.' 

Ladies, let me tell you right now. When a guy asks, 'who're you talking to?' it's time to move, change all your numbers, and talk to a lawyer. 

Candidate number two. Age appropriate. She's probably a few years younger, actually, but that's the way it should be since guys are like so slow to get it. She works behind the counter of the 24 Store on the waterfront. I'm there late. She wears this black a top that leaves a little midriff, and little bare on the shoulders too -- is that topdriff? I come by to buy my late night coffee... and to look at her. 

My turn to start the conversation. 'Like this neighborhood?' 

'It's great.' 

'It's very Italian.' 

'I'm Italian.' 

'You are?' The black hair, the build, the dolce vita personality. Big surprise! 

'I love being Italian.'

My turn again? I say -- what? 'I'm not Italian. I'm not anything! I used to be special, but now what the hell? I would like to get close to you! I can't imagine how!'

I do a little dance. Demonstrate. Twirl around, palms in the air around shoulder high, belly in close to make-believe candidate number two. Get chest to chest. 

What I actually say is: 'Bye. Nice talking to you. Maybe I'll come back and we can talk some more.'

Verdict on number two: good to look at. Not college material. Undoubtedly has many relatives, most of them male, with an outlook all their own. I would like to go undercover as 'Rico,' I think. Could I pass for Rico? 'Hey, paisano! I'm lost here! I'm dying! I don't know what happened. Somebody opened the back door of the car and I fell on my head!'

When I woke up, feeling destitute -- we've already covered desperate -- I get the job in the hospital. Paydirt! Candidates everywhere! 

Walk around the stage, staring, hungrily. Women! Everywhere! The only guys around wear blue smock-like pajamas, their heads wrapped in cloth the same color. I think it's a cult, but somebody tells me they're medical students. They hang in the doorway waiting for me to crank out the day's operating room schedule. Showtime in the OR! 

Darleen finds me in my little room as well. Darleen comes to work, I think it's work, I have no idea what she does, dressed to the nines, big heels, jewelry, tight dresses, short skirts, one of those walks. Many of the women here, like Darleen, are African American women. None of the others talk to me, but Darleen sort of makes up for it. No one who looks like Darleen has ever talked to me.

'You know what, Bob,' she says, amusing herself with my existence, 'I don't have a boy friend.' That's really surprising, Darleen, I would never have imagined it. 'Tell me, Bob, can you think of anyone who would want to be my boy friend?' 

'Pretty much anyone I could think of, if I could think of anyone. Unfortunately I am unable to do much in the way of thinking in your presence, Darleen." 

'You can't think of anyone you know, Bob? Oh, that's too bad.' 

'I can't think of anyone I know. Or anything else.'

'How about you, Bob? How would you like to be my boy friend?'

Mouth opens. Demonstrate. Mouth open, a kind of invisible stickiness coating everything. Teeth sort of vaguely chewing the air. Eyes doing little, independent circles.

Darleen appears unoffended. 'Maybe you already got a girl friend, Bob? How about that little girl, Cathy? Is that little girl Cathy your girl friend?'

Stutter. Uhm. Look like man trying to swallow his Adam's apple. Shake head, but understand the reference. Little girl Cathy is half the size of Darleen. If Darleen takes up more than her share of the world's attention, Cathy makes up for it. Pale, short. Everything about her says 'C student, good attitude.' Minds her big brothers' children. Dots her 'i's with little hearts.

Cathy has somehow been assigned the task of occupying a few of my empty after-work hours. She lives in a modest house with her father, the kindly shoemaker. We visit the amusement park by the waterfront and walk on the sand, Cathy's schedule for the evening, so I bring my beach-walking sandals in a brown paper bag and change out of my real shoes. I leave my shoes at her house, to the merriment of the admissions office when she brings them to work the next morning in their paper bag. On our next not-a-date we visit her aunt, Judy, a gown-up version of little girl Cathy, with children, a husband, an eye on promotion. 

Here is life: life has brought you little Cathy. A 'garden apartment' in the suburbs. The sad, warm, familiarity about all that is known beforehand. The temptation of the familiar. 

Look wistful. Hand over your heart; feel it beat a little. 

You could fit in here, heart tells me. Would it be so bad? 

But Darleen was teasing me. That little girl Cathy is not my girl friend. Not even she thought so. 

The last temptation -- sorry, candidate -- is... what shall we call her? The blonde. I can't remember her name, but I know what she meant: keep looking. She pops into my little room with the Xerox machine now and then for a talk. Blonde is intelligent, college grad; can't really say what she's doing in this hospital either. Spending time until... She is 'engaged,' she tells me. (Do people still do that?) 'He' is studying in another city. Perhaps to be a doctor. So, blonde girl, what are you doing here? As in 'this room'? 

Stare disapprovingly. Walk around the stage. Rattled. Point at chest. Confused? Me? 

Blonde girl is strikingly attractive. (Strike musing pose, remembering.) She sounds smart, has a sense of humor, catches at least some of my jokes. Comes back for more little talks. Drops hint about wishing to see the neighborhood where I live (in world's shabbiest apartment), which I ignore. Downside: engaged. Told me so herself. 

Do I dare to eat a peach? I have heard the sea girls calling, each to each. 

Would you close the door for a moment? She tilts her head, smiles with becoming curiosity. Privacy? 'Private talk,' I say. 'Quick one.'

Door closed. Blonde girl's pretty smile grows slightly frantic.

'Listen, (name), you're really beautiful. And I think you're smart, too. So if you're really going to marry this guy, wherever he is -- be sure that he really appreciates you. And if you have any doubt -- put me on the list."

Stare at audience. Dead serious. 

Of course... Shrug. Hopefully engaging shrug. This little talk never actually took place. But you knew that. 

And so I stand before you a lonely man. Look sad. Very, very sad.

Break out laughing. That's not true either. Right one came along very soon after that... But that's another story. 

Thank you all for listening. Take bow.

Wait for applause.



Robert Knox's poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals. His story "Marriage" placed in a fiction competition held by Words With Jam and was published in the anthology "An Earthless Melting Pot." Other stories have appeared recently in The Tishman Review, 3288 Review, and Lunch Ticket. He is a contributing editor for Verse-Virtual.com, where his poems appear monthly. "Suosso's Lane," his novel on the origins of the Sacco-Vanzetti case, is available at www.web-e-books.com.

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