THINK OF A NUMBER • by David Klotzkin

“I read minds,” I told the man across from me at the speed-dating table.

He cocked his head skeptically.

“I do. Literally. Think of a number.” He did and I read him.

“Three-point-one-four-one-five-nine,” I said immediately. That was pi, an important number in geometry. A pretentious choice, but at least he took me seriously.

He fell right out of his chair. I focused on him again and read that his prior boozy appreciation of my tight-fitting Mantis costume had been replaced by fear. Damn. He’d seemed nice otherwise.

Resigned to it by now, I got up. “I don’t think this is going to work out,” I said, and went to the bar.  

“You doing alright, Mantis?” I’m a regular here and the bartender knows me, but I was pleased she recognized the costume.

“I’m just fine,” I said. Then she seemed troubled, so I read her and saw that she was worried about me, why I never meet anyone. So many people are so kind; but some aren’t, and when you’re looking to meet someone, you have to know.

She gave me a Coke on the house and turned away.

It’s not fun to read minds. Between the creeps, the guys I scare away, the guys who have ideas how I can make them rich, and the ordinary issues of attraction and compatibility, there aren’t a lot of people I can be with. It’s worse than being really tall or having bad skin.

Anyway, I liked speed dating at The Cave. The place is shabby but friendly, and the gloomy spaces lit by the chandeliers with real candles have great ambiance. Here every day is Halloween; everyone dresses as they like, and the costumes and dim lighting give anonymity.

And when the conversation doesn’t sparkle, you can always dance with the guy a few minutes.  

The bell rang as that speed-dating session ended and we rotated. I returned to the table and found myself sitting down across from a guy dressed as Hulk Hogan, bare to the waist with a blond wig. I looked him up and down appreciatively.

“Hi,” he said. For a change, I wanted to postpone the disappointment, so I gestured towards the dance floor. He was amenable. We spent the next seven minutes twisting together beneath the chandelier, the candles flickering to the heavy beat, him stomping and jerking with no rhythm but great enthusiasm.

We sat back down and started chatting, and I cooled on him a bit, since he was all, “When can we get together,” and, “My apartment is just down the street”. Then he went to take my hand and I pulled it away.

“I can read minds.”

“Sure,” he said, staring at my boobs in the Mantis costume.

 “I can,” I said. “Think of a number.”

Grudgingly, he did, leering. I read him. Sixty-nine.  

“Nice meeting you,” I said, standing up. Back to the bar. A little wholesome lust is nice but we hadn’t exchanged more than three sentences. I swear, the more people I read, the lower my opinion of humanity sinks. 

We rotated again. The next guy was short and dumpy, but had a nice smile, kind of melancholy. He’s a fellow Marvel fan, dressed as Dr. Strange.

We said hello, and I figured I would make this quick.

“I should let you know, I read minds,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. “I can tell the future.”

I laughed, momentarily put off my game.

“You think I like it?” he said. “Whenever I meet someone, I have to keep on being polite and act interested even if I already know it’s not going anywhere. I’ve wasted a fortune buying drinks,” he added morosely.

I gave the man credit for creativity and quick thinking and played along. “I don’t believe it.”

He laughed. “Why would you?” He pointed at the dance floor, where a woman with big hair dressed as Morticia Addams was now dancing with Hulk, jiving beneath the jittering chandelier. “You see Morticia out there? In a minute, one of those candlesticks is going to fall off the chandelier and light her hair on fire. Excuse me.” He stood up, walked up to the bar. “Could I get a pitcher of water, please?” The bartender handed him a pitcher and two glasses, which he took back to our spot at the table. He poured us each half a glass, and we waited.

I watched in utter astonishment as, on cue, Hulk flung up one of his arms and accidentally tapped the swinging lights. A candlestick dislodged and tumbled into Morticia’s giant hair. It caught fire immediately and she beat at it with her hands.

Hulk, not quite realizing what had happened, beat his own head like it was a dance move he was copying.

Dr. Strange strode onto the dance floor and poured the rest of the pitcher of water over Morticia’s head, extinguishing the flames in her hair. He stomped out the candle. Hulk Hogan, still not clear what had happened, shoved him angrily. Morticia stepped in and explained, and moments later Dr. Strange returned to the table.

“He almost hit you,” I said.

“People have hit me. Once I pushed a woman out of the way before a tree fell on her, and not only didn’t she thank me, she called a cop and had me arrested.”

“Sounds like a terrible situation.”

“It is.”  

I realized that he had it worse than me. But he still helps who he can, even when he might get hit. He’s a nice guy. I know that when I read him, he’s going to be nice all the way down.

Suddenly, short, dumpy Dr. Strange looked a lot sexier.

He took a drink of water. “Anyway, you said you could read minds.”

I hoped, hoped, that he wouldn’t be scared off by my own talent. “Think of a number.”

He thought of two. “Two,” I said.

“That’s right.” He laughed. “That’s the number of kids we’re going to have.”

David Klotzkin is fortunate to live, work, write, and bike in the Southern Tier of New York State, which is a very beautiful part of the world. He has not quit his day job.

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