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David A. Schwinghammer

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The Cynic
By David A. Schwinghammer
Posted: Monday, March 14, 2011
Last edited: Friday, April 01, 2011
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.
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Recent stories by David A. Schwinghammer
· All the Good Stories Are Taken
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter One
· Black and White and Red All over
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter Three
· Little Crow
· Calliope's Revenge
· Mengele's Double, Chapter 9
           >> View all 71
Bob Goodrich can't get a date until he summons up the courage to ask out the office wall flower.

The Cynic

“What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”
–-Oscar Wilde

On his desk Bob Goodrich kept a picture of his loved ones: two little towheads huddled in the lap of a smiling, flaxen-haired beauty in a flowered sundress. Thing is, they weren’t really his family; the photo came with the frame.
Bob should have been out on the job, checking insurance claims. An angry squall had swooped down into Minnesota from the Manitoba tundra, fifty mph winds and golf-ball-sized hail downing trees and battering roofs with frozen shrapnel. Customers from Albert Lea to Tower had harangued insurance agents; they in turn had sought out Crown Insurance Inspection. But Bob was playing solitaire on his computer, despite the dozen cases he should’ve been investigating.
Bob was looking for a red queen to go with his black king when a bevy of administrative assistants (secretaries in layman’s terms) came sashaying by in a cloud of perfume and satin on their way to lunch. They were joking and laughing, practically skipping toward the elevator and they looked straight through Bob, none of them even bothering to say hello. What is it about me? he thought. I still have all of my hair. I’m not a bad looking guy. Okay, I’m a little bit short, but other short guys have all the girls they want. Even Vern Troyer, the midget in those Austin Powers movies, has women beating down his door.
Or . . . it could have been the way he was dressed. Since he spent a great deal of time crawling around on rooftops, Bob was allowed a bit of latitude in respect to office attire; he wore a Munsingwear golf shirt, the kind with the little penguin on the pocket, and permanent-press slacks. The August sun beat down pretty hard up there on the roof, resulting in a farmer’s tan, the bronze skin tone ending where his sleeve covered the top of his arm.
Couldn’t seem to get going today. He had tired blood or something. Maybe it was the job. He’d always said the last thing he’d want to do was sell insurance and here he was doing the next worst thing. He’d taken the job because he couldn’t find anything else after dropping out of school with only a quarter to go. Student teaching hadn’t been what he’d thought it was going to be. He kept thinking that every one of the kids in every one of his classes was a Dylan Klebold waiting to happen. That and the fact that he couldn’t see why a sixteen-year-old would want to know about the Russo-Japanese War or the Boxer Rebellion. He couldn’t remember what had possessed him to think that he could be a teacher. He guessed it seemed like an easy enough profession, especially the three months off every summer.
Bob shook off the malaise and was about to turn off his computer when he noticed Miss Pettifog still sitting at her desk. Now was his chance. Nobody else around to witness his humiliation if she shot him down. Heck, he was twenty-seven-years-old; he couldn’t wait around for Britney Spears to notice him forever.
“What’s that you’re reading?” he said. He already knew what it was, since he’d been stalking her for at least a week. He’d strolled by her desk, whistling as if he were on his way to the Coke machine, picked up the book and checked the title. It was ROOM WITH A VIEW by Virginia Woolf. She was one of those authors they tortured you with in general education English in college. He checked it out of the library so he’d be conversant if Miss Pettifog ever agreed to go out with him. He didn’t get very far into it. It was one of those stream-of-consciousness novels, a “tale told by an idiot signifying nothing” as Shakespeare would have put it. He looked Virginia Woolf up in the encyclopedia; the entry said she’d committed suicide. Then he remembered where he’d heard that name before. Nicole Kidman had played her in that movie, “The Hours.” Not exactly a chick flick but close enough so’s he’d rather take a sharp stick in the eye than sit through it.
Miss Pettifog looked up at him with this bewildered look on her face, the kind you get when you accidentally walk into the women’s lavatory.
“Oh . . . ah, it’s Mary Higgins Clark.”
Drat, she’d finished the Woolf book. Now what was he supposed to say? “Is it any good?” he stuttered.
“It’s okay; I like the lead characters; they’re always so nice. I can identify with them. Not that I’m that . . .”
Miss Pettifog ate at her desk every noon hour; the other girls would ask her if she’d like to go down the block to Walgreen’s where they usually went. She’d usually refuse, having brownbagged it again. She normally had what looked like a chicken-salad or tuna fish sandwich. That and an apple and some juice.
He put out his hand and said, “My name’s Bob Goodrich.”
“I know,” she said, taking his hand. It was a little sweaty; She’s just as nervous as I am, he thought.
Miss Pettifog was the kind of girl he usually went for, the kind who tried to downplay her looks and figure. Her hairdo, a permanent that had gone out of style in the fifties, and her wardrobe of fuzzy sweaters and skirts that reached well below the knees spoke volumes: I’ve reconciled myself to staying home Friday nights with my cat, they said. In high school, Bob always set his sights on girls on the second rung of the popularity ladder. He knew he had no chance with those who wore candy-apple lipstick and miniskirts that barely covered their derrieres.
“You know who I am?” he said.
“Yes, I’ve seen you looking at me; I was wondering when you were going to come over.”
“So then, you don’t find me totally repulsive?”
She scrunched her face at him. “Don’t put yourself down like that. You’re a nice-looking boy.”
People said Bob looked a lot like Bobby Darin, one of his mother’s favorite singers before she finally saw what he actually looked like on American Bandstand. I couldn’t believe how homely he was, she always said.
“So are you. I mean, you’re a nice-looking girl.” Actually, if a good make-over artist got hold of her, she wouldn’t have a thing to do with him. She had a perfect heart-shaped face with lovely burnt-almond eyes, hidden behind tortoiseshell frames.
“Oh, come on,” she said. “I know I’m not much to look at.”
“I’ll be the judge of that. Would you like to go out for dinner and a movie this Friday? The Hulk is playing at the multiplex.”
“Is he that comic book character who turns green when he gets angry? Much too violent for me.”
Had to give her credit; she wasn’t so desperate she’d jump at the chance to go out. “You can pick then,” he said.
“Oh, I can’t go this Friday night. I live with my grandparents; I couldn’t leave them alone.”
Bob felt pathetic. He couldn’t even get a date with a girl who looked like a fifties commercial. “That’s admirable,” he finally said, trying hard not to sound too crestfallen. “Most grandchildren don’t have a thing to do with their grandparents until Christmas rolls around. “How about I come over for dinner?”
“You’re going to hate me,” she said. “I couldn’t possibly put you through that. You know how seniors get. Bert is especially crotchety and judgmental.”
“If you’re not a Baptist, you’re a devil worshiper. You’re not are you?”
“I’m Catholic.” Not that he’d seen the inside of a church since Bush # 1 was president.
She laughed. “They think the pope is the anti-Christ.”
“How about you?” he said. “Do you have anything against Catholics?”
She removed the tortoiseshell frames and trained those brown lasers on him. “Some of my best friends are Catholics.”
He looked at his watch. Where had all of the time gone? It was already one o’clock and he had to meet one of his insurance claims. “Listen, Mary,” he said. Her first name was Mary, but he always thought of her as Miss Pettifog; the name had texture and mystery. “If you want me to buzz off just say so.”
“I don’t want you to buzz off, Robert,” she said. He hated being called Robert, but coming from her it sounded like The Count of Monte Christo. “You’ll just have to be patient with me.”
The next morning he brought her a vase full of Day Lilies he’d picked from the flower garden of one of his insurance claims. The other administrative assistants practically fell over with shock when they saw him give them to her, along with the box of chocolate-covered cherries he’d bought at Walgreen’s.
As she’d said, he was patient, and it only took another six months before Bert got to be too much of a handful and had to be put into an old folks home. He and Gert had been married for sixty-three years and Gert couldn’t sleep without the old codger next to her, so she wasn’t too far behind.
And so they went to a Brad Paisley concert and, before long, they were an item. The other administrative assistants were paying a lot more attention to Bob than they had before, he supposed just to see if they could lure him away. He’d been down that road before so he managed to resist temptation. Besides, Miss Pettifog had begun to shape up. She’d had her hair done in a more fashionable style, she’d ditched the specs for contacts, and she wore sleeveless blouses with skirts that accentuated her figure. She was now the hottest chick in the office.
Bob began to actually think he might actually get a life.
A few months after they started going steady he noticed the tracks on her arms. “Oh, great,” he thought. “She’s hooked on heroin. Why does everything always happen to me?”
When he finally got around to asking about them, she admitted to being a diabetic. “It took me forever to get used to giving myself a shot,” she said.
“I don’t think I’d ever be able to do it,” he said. “Is it very expensive?” She looked like he’d just hit her in the back of the head with a two by four.
“You’re such a cynic,” she said as marched off, her heels beating a tattoo on the marble floor and their relationship. “What the hell did I say?” he asked himself.
It took a couple of weeks before she finally forgave him. “I guess I’m a bit sensitive about it. I’ve always had this ‘Why me?’ attitude about it. I know that’s really immature. Everybody has their cross to bear. What’s yours?”
He couldn’t think of anything, but he said, “Guys are always saying ‘We don’t want no short people round here.’ I hate that song. I’d like to get that guy who wrote that song.”
She thought that was hilarious. She was laughing so hard tears were streaming down her cheeks. She was a good five feet nine in her stocking feet and these days she wore those clickety clack heels. He felt like one of the Seven Dwarfs around her.
This time it was two weeks before he spoke to her, during which time she went out on a date with the owner of the company’s son, who was 6'3" and played quarterback for the Minnesota Gophers.
When he tried to talk to her, she said, “We need to talk.”
Even Bob knew what that meant. He’d had it all, the nicest, most beautiful girl in the world and his stupid cynicism had screwed the pooch for him.
“I’ve been going out with Milton,” she said.
“I know,” he said. “I can’t blame you. I’ve been a real jerk.”
“The only reason I went out with him was because you weren’t talking to me. I’ve known Milton for years and he’s never given me the time of day until you and I started going out. If you’re not still mad, I’d like to . . .”
Bob felt like he could leap tall buildings in a single bound. “I want you to slap me in the face as hard as you can,” he said.
He never thought she’d do it, but she wound up and nailed him so hard that there was a hand print on his face when he looked in the mirror later on. But it felt like she’d just given him tongue.

Dave Schwinghammer's published novel, SOLDIER'S GAP, is available at, used and new.  

Web Site: Mystery Writer  

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