Ed yawned as silently as he could and didn't respond. The hollow, tinny voice inside the receiver continued.
"I mean, what the fuck were you thinking? She called me after you left, literally in tears. In tears, for Christ sake! And I don't care what you say, she wasn't as drunk as you thought she was. From what it sounds like, you were drunker than you thought you were."
He opened the freezer and took a quick inventory of his library of Lean Cuisines. Why'd I buy the tuna? I hate tuna.
"When I was with her, do you know what I would have done to get her in bed the first date? Jesus, it's not as if I was in it for the conversation."
The black tray of tuna made its way into the microwave. The corner of the microfilm over the tray found itself peeled back. Ed set the timer for two-thirty-eight.
"I don't even know why I'm arguing with you. It's your loss. One hell of a loss, too. That girl could get the Pope out of his robes."
Something tugged a perfunctory chuckle from Ed's lips, some remnant of a long-past surface sociality. He wasn't quite sure what he was laughing at; he was very sure, however, that dinner that evening was going to suck mightily.
"I think you owe me an apology, Eddie. I went to a lot of work to hook you two up. Least you could've done was keep her from getting all weepy on my ass."
Ed opened his silverware drawer to get a fork and noticed a book in the back of the drawer. He fished it out. It was a worn copy of Voltaire's Candide. Forgot about that. Should finish it sometime.
There was the sudden realization that he had no idea what was going on. Ed knew the feeling well. "I'm sorry?"
The voice seemed satisfied. "You're a good guy, Eddie. Always ready to admit when you're wrong. Listen, I have to get going, but I'll see you down at Tab's on Friday, all right?"
The microwave timer dropped into the one-minutes. How time flies. "Yeah. Yeah, Friday."
"Bye." The line clicked. Ed walked the phone back to its wall cradle, careful not to tangle himself in the cord, and hung it up. He couldn't quite remember the name of the guy on the other end. Mike or Matt. Mitch, maybe.
Ed suddenly felt uncomfortable. The drone of the microwave was all that stood between him and silence. Well, not silence, there was always the city rumbling on outside, but after a time one grew so accustomed to the dull mechanical roar of so many thousands of people that there might as well have been no sound at all. It was as if one's eardrums vibrated with such constancy that the tone permanently left its mark on the brain, resonating inside the skull in perfect sync with the city.
The timer approached tee-minus-one-minute-and-counting. Ed stepped over a stack of magazines to a boombox on the floor and flipped on the FM. Something heavy on the bass and hard on the ears came on, a club hip-hop song that had been stripped of what little lyrical coherency it may have had after being edited for radio broadcast. Ed didn't bother changing the station. He barely heard the music, anyway.
Something fluttered in his hand, and Ed looked down. He was still holding Candide, loosely pinched between his thumb and index finger by the spine. After a pause, he tossed it onto a knee-high mound of paperbacks across the room where it landed neatly on top of a Twain collection.
The song ended, and the DJ assured his listeners that these beats be bouncin'. The microwave beeped mechanically. Ed maneuvered his way back into the kitchen nook. He could already smell the tuna. It smelled like machinery.
Sunday evenings were rarely so eventful in Ed's apartment. Granted, the only thing that was out of the ordinary so far was the phone call, but that was enough to startle him into an early dinner and most likely a late, late bedtime. He'd considered getting rid of the phone, seeing as he never called anyone and the calls he received were, as a rule, full of bad news, but the phone and the line came with the apartment, and hey, why the hell not?
It wasn't just that evening that had been startling: the night before had been an anomaly as well. Edward Smith did not date. He was a quiet, reclusive shut-in, a workaholic, even. In fact, he'd have liked to be at Tab's right then. The only thing stopping him was Tab's policy of keeping closed Sundays. It was really spending so much time there that got him into this date situation in the first place: he'd met Mike/Matt/Mitch at the bar, who fancied that they really "got to know each other" over the course of a few weeks, and M had taken it upon himself to hook up Ed, the shy but available young man, with whomever possible. It was a strange fusion of Cheers and Hello, Dolly. Ed assured M that his efforts would be futile, and that any such hook-ups would be a disaster. Five minutes of coercion, and he agreed to do it anyway.
To Ed's surprise, the evening had started off well. Ed met her (she had an M-name as well, Melanie or something like it) at a home-style Italian place where the servings were gargantuan and the waiters served wine like water, as if it were an insult to the establishment itself if one ever found his wine glass empty. She looked uncomfortable at the outset — who wouldn't be, being set up on a blind date by her ex? — and while the never-ending supply of wine probably had something to do with it, Ed couldn't help but feel a little proud with his own charm. A classy introduction, a quick joke and a compliment, attentive listening with questions at all the right places– Ed didn't just break the ice, he melted it clean away like a summer afternoon. After dinner, they walked a few blocks to a club she insisted was the best in the city. The bouncer smiled at her and called her by name (Michelle, that was it) and gave Ed a polite nod without asking for ID. The inside of the club was a madhouse of flashing colored lights and thundering bass, and after another drink that Michelle seemed to pull from nowhere she dragged him onto the dance floor. Ed couldn't remember much else past that as his memory dissolved into swirls of ultraviolet glows and sensuality, but he must have been an impressive dancer because she invited him back to her high-rise apartment. It wasn't even ten o'clock.
Ed was yanked out of his reverie by a pressing and increasing need for a fork. He'd gotten all the way to his faded burgundy recliner across the room with his dinner, had settled comfortably into it with an old issue of Rolling Stone on his lap, only to be confronted by his lack of a utensil with which to eat his shitty tuna platter.
By the time he'd gotten the fork and sat down again, he'd forgotten about Saturday with what's-her-name and the phone call from earlier. The boombox rattled as it tried to keep up with the bass. Outside, the city never missed a beat.