Tired from shopping at the mall, my purse getting heavy, I took a rest on a new sofa near the up escalator. A woman engaged with her smartphone sat at the other end, speaking loud enough that I couldn’t ignore her side of the conversation. She and her husband had been taken to dinner by a man who’d spent the evening asking about them but saying little about himself. They had “an inkling” that he wanted something from them, but he never said what he might be selling or why he’d invited them. Curious, they invited him out to dinner at a restaurant “on a similar level,” and with them picking up the check the man ordered “every expensive thing on the menu.” She ate only a salad and her husband ordered an appetizer for his main course, yet their bill was “astronomical.” All during dinner they felt they were being “interviewed” by the man, though “what was worse was imagining his unrevealed thoughts.” She and her husband agreed afterward never to have dinner with him again. “I suppose we sound suspicious,” she said, “and you probably think I’m cheap. I can’t help it. Whenever we eat dinner out we don’t order much food or have much to drink, and we’re always amazed at what the bill adds up to. We think: does this belong to us?” She nodded, a few times saying, “Right, right.” And “Isn’t that the truth.” She soon said goodbye and ended the call. She stared ahead, then eyed me.
“Guess you got an earful,” she said.
“Do you know yet if he wanted something?”
Her eyes, narrowing, looked straight into mine. She didn’t like the question. The annoyance in her face annoyed me, and I didn’t avoid her look. She was in a public place and knew I was sitting there. What did she expect? She’d spoken to me in a way that implied awareness I’d heard her. Was she worried she sounded cheap?
“We haven’t heard from him,” she told me.
“So it’s up to your imagination. Or you can give him a call.”
“I have a right to sit here,” she huffed.
“So what? So do I.”
“I was speaking when you sat down.”
“Was the sofa therefore off limits? You’re not renting it, are you?”
“It’s a matter of respecting boundaries.”
“You’re trampling my boundaries right now.”
“I’m standing up for myself.”
“On your sofa? You’re pretty stingy with a sofa that doesn’t belong to you.”
Her phone buzzed and she answered it.
“Hello,” she said and listened. “Talking to a jerk on a sofa at the mall. She thinks she’s entitled to intrude.” She listened. “My husband says I should tell you to leave.”
“I’m not going anywhere. You might charge me a toll.”
She shook her head and kept listening. “I can’t believe he asked us to dinner again,” she said under her breath. “Did you say no? I can feel his hands in our pockets.” She paused. “Who knows? Look, I’d better get off. I feel like I’m being recorded.”
Glen Pourciau’s second collection of stories, View, was published in 2017 by Four Way Books. His first story collection, Invite, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. He’s had stories published by New World Writing, Mississippi Review, AGNI Online, The Collagist, Little Star, New England Review, The Paris Review, Post Road, and others.