LATE FOR LUNCH • by Frances Howard-Snyder

“Nothing for now,” Hannah told the waiter as she slid her narrow hips into a seat at the window table. “I’m waiting for someone.” She reached for the green glass water bottle. Ben would be late, of course, she thought, shaking her head with half a smile. But she preferred to be early. You could never predict how bad the traffic would be; or how easy. You couldn’t guarantee that you’d be perfectly on time; and she preferred to err on the side of early, the side of courtesy.

She poured herself a glass and examined the restaurant. The room was gloomy in a velvet Parisian way, and popular. Another reason to be early. If she hadn’t arrived when she did, perhaps they wouldn’t have gotten a table.

She took a sip. The water tasted stale — as if it had been recycled a million times.

She pulled out her phone. 12:55. No message. Silly to expect him to arrive before the agreed upon time. He’d regard that as wasteful. Why arrive early, he’d often protest. Arriving early just means you have to wait– which is a waste of my time. Arriving early for a date made you look eager, in a way that put you at a disadvantage. But arriving late, she would counter, meant putting the other person at a disadvantage. She’d have to wait for you, and waste her time. Why suppose her time was less valuable than yours?

False dilemma, Ben would retort; there was a third option, a perfect option: being exactly on time. But who could control that? Had they ever — when arriving together — arrived exactly on time?

There must have been times when they did — for plays or flights, say. But mostly when they arrived together they arrived late. It’s not a big deal, Ben would insist, it’s just a few minutes. Normal people don’t care.

Hannah closed her eyes recalling the signs of annoyance or humiliation — narrowed eyes, tightened jaws, or blushes, of friends or business associates when they arrived late. It wasn’t my fault, she’d wanted to tell them.

His lateness was just carelessness, Ben hinted; he had more important things to worry about than the trivia of five or fifteen or thirty minutes. But then, she would reason — more to herself than to him — why are you never early? If you were simply careless about time, wouldn’t you be as likely to be early as late? If it doesn’t matter to be kept waiting, why not sometimes be the one kept waiting yourself?

She glanced at her phone. 1:02. The waiter returned and frowned discreetly. She ordered a glass of wine and a bowl of pistachios. Perhaps Ben wasn’t coming. Perhaps she shouldn’t wait. Other people could use the table, after all. And she’d hate them to see her being stood up. But of course, he was habitually late. Two minutes didn’t mean he wouldn’t arrive eventually.

She examined the menu chalked on a blackboard near the door: soufflé, quiche, Welsh rarebit. Perhaps she should leave and find a place more suited to her taste. But then the waiter brought her order. She sipped the cold, sour liquid. She didn’t really enjoy wine, just drank it because it was preferable, in different ways, to beer and hard liquor and soft drinks, and it gave you something to do with your hand and your mouth while you waited.

She opened her purse and felt the rounded rubbery corners of her phone. She should wait before checking the time. Doing so every minute made one look desperate.

How often had he kept her waiting in all the years they’d been married? It depended on how you counted: whether you counted the times waiting at home with two little girls, expecting him to relieve her as he’d promised. Or the times she’d come to pick him up and he’d stayed inside working — a time before cell phones. Or the times she’d been ready and dressed to go to a party and he was still playing Call of Duty.

She pulled out the phone, and frowned at her image in the dark screen. She adjusted a stray mahogany hair, but could do nothing about the creases around her eyes and mouth. 1:15. “Where R U?” she typed; but then hesitated before hitting the send button. Getting impatient after only fifteen minutes wait was absurd, he’d say, with a laugh as cold and sour as the chardonnay. And he was right. If the sum total of her waiting were fifteen minutes, then her reaction would be absurd. Fifteen minutes was nothing. But a million nothings became something, in the way a collection of extensionless points became a line; or the way a million paper cuts could kill you.

 

“Hey!” Ben was beside her all of a sudden. She hadn’t noticed him enter the restaurant. He kissed her neck.

“What?” He protested, drawing back. He must have seen the irritation on her face. “Traffic.” He shrugged. “You’re not going to make a fuss and spoil lunch, are you?”

“Of course not.” She made an effort to smile. “It’s nothing.”


Frances Howard-Snyder teaches philosophy. She is currently working on a novel.


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Rate this story:
 average 4.5 stars • 2 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Four stars, because it hits so close to my heart. Not screaming at habitually late people is what causes ulcers. And if Ben knows how much it bothers his wife, why doesn’t he make the effort? There’s only one answer. He can’t be bothered. Tells us a lot about Ben, and also tells us a lot about her, without telling us all about them. Great writing.

  • Four stars, because it hits so close to my heart. Not screaming at habitually late people is what causes ulcers. And if Ben knows how much it bothers his wife, why doesn’t he make the effort? There’s only one answer. He can’t be bothered. Tells us a lot about Ben, and also tells us a lot about her, without telling us all about them. Great writing.

  • Alie Bell

    Well this was a punch to the gut.

    Great job putting the feeling of being the Partner Who Waits into words.

  • Alie Bell

    Well this was a punch to the gut.

    Great job putting the feeling of being the Partner Who Waits into words.

  • PCH

    I have real problems with this. The relationship seems virtually indistinguishable from the one we read about in “Fender Bender,” the MC is less a woman than a woman-shaped outline filled with clichés (down to her beverage choice, which the author herself calls out as indefensible and un-genuine), and there’s no story, only a recitation of an argument that has the sole advantage of making everyone in the world take one side or the other, thereby creating an artificial sense of connection with the “story.” Zero originality. One star.

    • I was also reminded of my story Fender Bender. That’s probably why I liked it so much. But then, I am a fan of literature in which much of what happens is psychological, processes/thoughts within someone’s head. The story is where the character goes in their thoughts and emotions. The story is also in the character’s relationship(s). Also, is describing ordinary or common behaviors or traits necessarily using cliches? I don’t think so.

  • PCH

    I have real problems with this. The relationship seems virtually indistinguishable from the one we read about in “Fender Bender,” the MC is less a woman than a woman-shaped outline filled with clichés (down to her beverage choice, which the author herself calls out as indefensible and un-genuine), and there’s no story, only a recitation of an argument that has the sole advantage of making everyone in the world take one side or the other, thereby creating an artificial sense of connection with the “story.” Zero originality. One star.

    • I was also reminded of my story Fender Bender. That’s probably why I liked it so much. But then, I am a fan of literature in which much of what happens is psychological, processes/thoughts within someone’s head. The story is where the character goes in their thoughts and emotions. The story is also in the character’s relationship(s). Also, is describing ordinary or common behaviors or traits necessarily using cliches? I don’t think so.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    To make a story so exciting over whether someone will be late for lunch or not takes some doing.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    To make a story so exciting over whether someone will be late for lunch or not takes some doing.

  • S Conroy

    Gulp. This story got a big guilt response from me. I’m Ben and can’t explain why. It’s not lack of respect (at least not in my case), but there’s definitely something psychological going on there. I will not be late at least for the next appointment. A story that can change ones behaviour deserves a fair few stars…

  • S Conroy

    Gulp. This story got a big guilt response from me. I’m Ben and can’t explain why. It’s not lack of respect (at least not in my case), but there’s definitely something psychological going on there. I will not be late at least for the next appointment. A story that can change ones behaviour deserves a fair few stars…

    Back again for another read! It does a very good job too of showing how the person in the wrong actually can get to be the cool, laid back boyo, while the person in the right turns into a hysterical bunch of nerves denying her own natural response.

  • MPmcgurty

    Although there were some lovely lines – “a laugh as cold and sour as the chardonnay” and the line beginning with “But a million nothings” – I’m not a big fan of a work in which the main character sits and we learn everything by the thoughts in her head.

    Pet peeve of the day: Why do writers use semicolons where commas or periods should be? E.g., “You could never predict how bad the traffic would be; or how easy.” Semicolons are not followed by “but” or “and” or “or” (except in a list of items with commas).

  • MPmcgurty

    Although there were some lovely lines – “a laugh as cold and sour as the chardonnay” and the line beginning with “But a million nothings” – I’m not a big fan of a work in which the main character sits and we learn everything by the thoughts in her head.

    Pet peeve of the day: Why do writers use semicolons where commas or periods should be? E.g., “You could never predict how bad the traffic would be; or how easy.” Semicolons are not followed by “but” or “and” or “or” (except in a list of items with commas).

  • The psychological nonsense pulled a little weight to the effort, but for me, I couldn’t raise an eyebrow.

  • The psychological nonsense pulled a little weight to the effort, but for me, I couldn’t raise an eyebrow.

  • joanna b.

    There doesn’t seem to be any change in the characters. I don’t demand change but I do need more action. Her complaints and examples, while described with writing skill, got old fast. It seems to me that someone her husband angered or humiliated, especially the former, would have confronted him. It also seems to me that she would have confided in someone, a friend, a psychotherapist, about how insensitive he was to her needs. Also, we don’t hear her reasons for staying with him. I agree with PCH that there isn’t a story here, just a monologue that ends at the same place it started. I liked incredibly well the line “But a million nothings became something, in the way a collection of extensionless points became a line; or the way a million paper cuts could kill you.”

  • joanna b.

    There doesn’t seem to be any change in the characters. I don’t demand change but I do need more action. Her complaints and examples, while described with writing skill, got old fast. It seems to me that someone her husband angered or humiliated, especially the former, would have confronted him. It also seems to me that she would have confided in someone, a friend, a psychotherapist, about how insensitive he was to her needs. Also, we don’t hear her reasons for staying with him. I agree with PCH that there isn’t a story here, just a monologue that ends at the same place it started. I liked incredibly well the line “But a million nothings became something, in the way a collection of extensionless points became a line; or the way a million paper cuts could kill you.”

  • macdabhaid

    I wanted to be able to say, poor writing, good story at least … but the former – characterised with contrasting “bad traffic” with “easy”, rather than difficult/easy or bad/good – was exacerbated with the fixation on soap-boxing about timekeeping, rather than building a story. Better as a six-worder. She’s early, silently agitated. He’s late. The rest is static.

  • macdabhaid

    I wanted to be able to say, poor writing, good story at least … but the former – characterised with contrasting “bad traffic” with “easy”, rather than difficult/easy or bad/good – was exacerbated with the fixation on soap-boxing about timekeeping, rather than building a story. Better as a six-worder. She’s early, silently agitated. He’s late. The rest is static.

  • Erin Ryan

    It’s a good story. Lots of possible layers here. When I first read it, I was on Hannah’s side against habitually late people. I read it again, and I thought more about her problems: “Why did she put up with this for years? She should just leave every time he’s not there at the agreed-upon hour. Then, eventually, he’ll get the message.” And then I thought: Ah, perhaps there’s a deeper reason to her hesitation … perhaps his cold voice indicates something more sinister …

  • Erin Ryan

    It’s a good story. Lots of possible layers here. When I first read it, I was on Hannah’s side against habitually late people. I read it again, and I thought more about her problems: “Why did she put up with this for years? She should just leave every time he’s not there at the agreed-upon hour. Then, eventually, he’ll get the message.” And then I thought: Ah, perhaps there’s a deeper reason to her hesitation … perhaps his cold voice indicates something more sinister …

  • Chinwillow

    Not a fan of this story although the mood was set exceptionally well. I found myself tapping my fingers and glancing at my own watch in anticipation of the ending.I had wished, in my own petty way thet the description ‘cold and sour ‘ wasn’t used twice. Great line that lost it’s punch when I read the same words again. Too much thought, not enough action…

  • Chinwillow

    Not a fan of this story although the mood was set exceptionally well. I found myself tapping my fingers and glancing at my own watch in anticipation of the ending.I had wished, in my own petty way thet the description ‘cold and sour ‘ wasn’t used twice. Great line that lost it’s punch when I read the same words again. Too much thought, not enough action…

  • I really enjoyed this story, as I related to it. I’m one of the ones who are habitually early, or on time. As I have little patience for those who are always late, I couldn’t help but wonder about the rest of their relationship. I found it interesting that he was her husband. Learning that in the middle of the story was a turning point. Well done.

    • I wonder. If we took the negative and positive responses to the story, then invited everyone to an event, could we predict who would be on time and who would be late?

      • Definitely. Those who liked it would be early. Those who didn’t like it would be late. And those on the fence would either be precisely on time, or early, or late.

        • PCH

          Good theory, but it’s not that easy: I’m an early bird. Can’t stand being late, for precisely the reasons elucidated above. That’s probably why I see this as merely a recitation of a tired old argument and not a story. 😉

  • I really enjoyed this story, as I related to it. I’m one of the ones who are habitually early, or on time. As I have little patience for those who are always late, I couldn’t help but wonder about the rest of their relationship. I found it interesting that he was her husband. Learning that in the middle of the story was a turning point. Well done.

    • I wonder. If we took the negative and positive responses to the story, then invited everyone to an event, could we predict who would be on time and who would be late?

      • Definitely. Those who liked it would be early. Those who didn’t like it would be late. And those on the fence would either be precisely on time, or early, or late.

        • PCH

          Good theory, but it’s not that easy: I’m an early bird. Can’t stand being late, for precisely the reasons elucidated above. That’s probably why I see this as merely a recitation of a tired old argument and not a story. 😉

  • Oh yes. I recognise this story and it is told very well.

  • Oh yes. I recognise this story and it is told very well.

  • Gerald_Warfield

    This story didn’t make it for me. It was told well, although I agree with Chinwillow about the repeated words. If there were a lot more going on beneath the surface it might have worked, but I felt was what we saw was what we got. There was no hook. We’ve all had issues about being late/early/on time, but we needed a stronger narrative to hang those issues on.

  • Gerald_Warfield

    This story didn’t make it for me. It was told well, although I agree with Chinwillow about the repeated words. If there were a lot more going on beneath the surface it might have worked, but I felt was what we saw was what we got. There was no hook. We’ve all had issues about being late/early/on time, but we needed a stronger narrative to hang those issues on.

  • Brick

    Well done. I enjoyed the subtle way in which we learn this woman’s story without the use of dialogue or other characters.

  • Brick

    Well done. I enjoyed the subtle way in which we learn this woman’s story without the use of dialogue or other characters.

  • Frances Howard-Snyder

    Thanks for all the encouragement and CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.
    Frances

  • Frances Howard-Snyder

    Thanks for all the encouragement and CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.
    Frances

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