Glen Pourciau ~ Two Stories

Mr. One

If Nathan want­ed to know where I was, I was think­ing, he could come and look for me. He couldn’t oblig­ate me to sit at a table with that man when he was the one who accept­ed the invi­ta­tion. I’d told him to decline but Mr. One was per­sis­tent, Nathan said, and his wife Tyra missed see­ing us. The sun hadn’t quite set and I was head­ed home on foot, fif­teen min­utes still walk­a­ble for me and bet­ter to be in the open air than to breathe the hot air from that man’s mouth. He alone chose the table where we sat and right away he gave the serv­er his cock­tail order, which nei­ther the serv­er nor Nathan and I had ever heard of, though Mr. One claimed it was becom­ing pop­u­lar and the serv­er should know how to make it and would he mix the drink for Mr. One him­self? I’d warned Nathan on the way to the restau­rant that I wasn’t up to anoth­er evening of Mr. One’s bar­rage of opin­ions. Nathan sug­gest­ed I deal with him by remind­ing myself I didn’t want to go to prison. I told him he should take my knife and fork away from me. I’d eat with my spoon.

As we lis­tened to Mr. One, Nathan dis­creet­ly lift­ed my knife and put it on the far side of his plate. I then set my fork on the oth­er side of my plate so Nathan could reach it. He picked it up also. Mr. One blinked at the maneu­ver yet did not com­ment, pre­fer­ring to con­tin­ue his mono­logue in which he dis­par­aged var­i­ous peo­ple, ask­ing what some of the men saw in their wives or what some of the wives saw in their hus­bands and crit­i­ciz­ing peo­ple for donat­ing to orga­ni­za­tions that, in his mind, had plen­ty of mon­ey with­out addi­tion­al help from oth­ers. Tyra tried to break through his wall of words, and he held his hands up between them and said he’d told her many times nev­er to inter­rupt him. What did she see in him? I won­dered, and what did he see in him­self? I inter­rupt­ed Tyra’s inter­rup­tion, object­ing to his dis­par­age­ment of a man who’d been a friend of mine since child­hood. “I wish I didn’t have these thoughts and feel­ings, but I do,” he replied.

The appe­tiz­er Mr. One ordered for the table was brought, and he sug­gest­ed we start. Nathan and I waved. We didn’t care for the appe­tiz­er, nor did Tyra. He dug in, com­plain­ing the crust wasn’t fla­vor­ful enough as he shook salt all over it.

Look who’s being seat­ed by the win­dow,” he said. “The most bor­ing man in town and his almost-as-bor­ing wife. I hope they don’t come over here and try to bore us to death. They prob­a­bly got mar­ried to cure each oth­er of insom­nia. All he’s ever done—”

I rose and left.

The wind behind me, I looked straight ahead, try­ing to for­get Mr. One’s per­for­mance and curs­ing the sound of him in my head. Nathan rolled up beside me, low­er­ing the win­dow. “Would you rather walk?” I got in the car. “No need to explain,” he said. “He was unbear­able and enjoy­ing him­self every second.”

When we were in bed lat­er star­ing at the tele­vi­sion, Mr. One called Nathan’s phone and left a mes­sage. He said he knew some­one I could talk to about my rage issues. According to him it would prob­a­bly take just a cou­ple of vis­its to get me cor­rect­ed. We should call him if we want­ed the con­tact information.



I’d been hav­ing recur­rent prob­lems with a col­league I hard­ly knew named Hranicky. He kept sit­ting at the table in the staff lounge where I sat almost every day, the table I thought of as my table. I liked to plop down in the same chair with my sack lunch, eat my sand­wich and read a book in silence, not mak­ing chat, not stir­ring up some con­trived good cheer. My lunch hour, my time, my search for a mod­icum of peace in my work­day. Other col­leagues in the lounge had learned to keep their dis­tance, but my dis­tance from oth­ers seemed to be what pro­pelled Hranicky toward me.

He sat down oppo­site me one day, eyes on my face. He had his own brown bag con­tain­ing a sandwich.

I hope you don’t mind if I approach the wall,” he said, smiling.

I didn’t smile back. Why encour­age him to say more? He told me his name. He knew I knew his name and I knew he knew my name. I chose not to par­tic­i­pate in the name exchange. He ate a few bites of his tuna sand­wich, look­ing annoyed. I picked up my book.

Would it both­er you if I ask a slight­ly per­son­al question?”

Yes, it would,” I answered.

Hranicky took offense at my abrupt­ness. He huffed. He soon fin­ished his lunch, left the table and the lounge, his emp­ty chair at an angle.

The next day Hranicky sat down again. As far as I could tell, he nev­er peeked at me while he ate. He asked no ques­tions and made no com­ments and qui­et­ly depart­ed, replac­ing his chair this time. I could take no issue with what he did, but I sus­pect­ed the sec­ond lunch would not be the end.

A cou­ple of days lat­er he appeared. He sat and began to eat, and after chew­ing up a bite he spoke.

I get tired of lis­ten­ing to people’s griev­ances and opin­ions. They get angry and their anger dri­ves what they think. Many of them nev­er real­ize they’d see more clear­ly if they weren’t angry. Have you ever thought that?”

Was that sup­posed to be an ice­break­er? Was he imply­ing some­thing about one of us or both of us? I reject­ed the idea of a one-word answer and of a mul­ti-word answer. He chuck­led at my silence.

What are you reading?”

I held up the book so he could see the cover.

Is it good?”

I haven’t got into it yet,” I said, think­ing this reply might cut off fur­ther questions.

Have you lived around here all your life?” he asked then.

I imag­ined ask­ing ques­tions of my own. What made Hranicky this way? Was he express­ing hos­til­i­ty and aggres­sion? Did he have a his­to­ry of being reject­ed in ways he expe­ri­enced as humil­i­at­ing? I restrained my urge to ask. If I did, he’d have a license to bom­bard me with any num­ber of ques­tions he was hold­ing at bay. I stood and peered at him.

I rode the ele­va­tor down and went for a walk to clear my head. I spent my lunch hours out of the build­ing for a few days, enjoy­ing the change and fresh air but miss­ing the read­ing time and the quiet.

My first day back in the lounge he was already there and halfway through his meal when I took my seat.

Where have you been?” he asked, chew­ing.  He paused. “Do you have any broth­ers and sisters?”

I won­dered why he asked and what he imag­ined the answer would say about me. Did I want him using the infor­ma­tion to form an opin­ion? I didn’t care the least bit if he had broth­ers or sis­ters. Did he expect me to shrug and ask myself what dif­fer­ence it made if he knew if I had broth­ers and sis­ters and how many and what my place was in the birth order? He want­ed me to open the door to more ques­tions. I could see his inten­tion in his face, with­out under­stand­ing how or why it got there. Was it because I’d declined to answer his first so-called slight­ly per­son­al question?

Do you stay in touch with them?”

Was he think­ing he’d manip­u­late me into say­ing I was an only child? Was I over­think­ing it?

Why won’t you answer my ques­tions?” he asked.

I didn’t want Hranicky sniff­ing around inside me, adding to his list of pry­ing ques­tions, and I didn’t see why he expect­ed me to answer to him. I closed my eyes and focused on my breath­ing, and even­tu­al­ly he rose and retreated.

He was at the table again the next after­noon, eat­ing a frozen din­ner he’d microwaved.

This is actu­al­ly not too bad,” he said with a smack.

As soon as I got set­tled he started.

I’ve got some men­tal-health issues in my fam­i­ly,” he said.

Was this state­ment a provo­ca­tion? Was he think­ing he could use my curios­i­ty about him to get me hooked into talk­ing about his fam­i­ly, which could lead to him ask­ing about me and my his­to­ry? Did he imag­ine I might end up feel­ing a kin­ship with him?

My par­ents both suf­fered from para­noia,” he said, “and lived at oppo­site ends of the house.”

I inter­rupt­ed, hold­ing up my hands and shak­ing them. His mouth opened as he stared at my hands. He picked up the plas­tic con­tain­er that held his food and got to his feet.

I don’t see why you find me so repulsive.”

He walked off, toss­ing the con­tain­er in the garbage. I heard him rinse his fork, stick it in the dish­wash­er, and leave the lounge. I resumed eat­ing, my jaws seem­ing to grind on his lin­ger­ing presence.

Hranicky didn’t turn up for some time. I’d accept­ed that he was right to say I found him repul­sive. Had he said that to make me feel sor­ry for him? Was he try­ing to maneu­ver me into an apol­o­gy that could begin a con­ver­sa­tion between us?

On a Tuesday fol­low­ing a Monday hol­i­day, he sat across from me at the table. Had he been plan­ning over the long week­end what to say?

Have you had a chance to rethink things?”

I didn’t ask what he meant.

Do you want to know what I’m thinking?”

Had he rehearsed his ques­tions in front of a mirror?

If you knew, you’d wish you didn’t.”

I was sure I agreed with him, though it sound­ed creepy to hear him say it. I was tired of being tan­gled up in his mind and hat­ed the way he’d spoiled the refuge of my table. I hur­ried through my food and left.

I con­sid­ered stay­ing away from the lounge, but I resent­ed the thought of giv­ing him that pow­er over me. I returned with­out miss­ing a day and saw Hranicky sit­ting at a dif­fer­ent table. I took my place, and I could tell by the way he ignored me that he was angry.

Two days lat­er, he sat at my table, no lunch in hand, and made eye con­tact with me as he sat.

Do you see your silence as a kind of prison? Has it occurred to you that you alone can do some­thing about that?”

Did he hope to trig­ger an erup­tion? I stared at him, which was as much as I was will­ing to yield.

He lin­gered, gaz­ing back at me. Then he shook his head and pushed his chair from the table. He walked out, leav­ing the impres­sion that he was gone for good.


Glen Pourciau’s third sto­ry col­lec­tion, Getaway, was pub­lished in 2021 by Four Way Books. His sto­ries have been pub­lished by AGNI Online, Green Mountains Review, New England Review, The Paris Review, Post Road, and others.