Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Short Story Challenge 2014

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Time flies, and this year's Short Story Challenge is here again! Here is what I was assigned to write:
Genre: romance
Character: a reporter
Subject: a fire

Although romance is not usually my genre of preference, I had a lot of fun writing this piece, and I hope you guys will enjoy reading it! Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

Mouth On Fire
 “I’ll have Lamb Vindaloo,” said Philip.
“It’s very spicy,” the waiter said. “Would you be ok with that?”
“Sure,” Philip nodded absent-mindedly, his gaze concentrated on Eve. “I like spicy.”
Spicy, he thought of Eve. She was one of the few girls he remembered from last week’s speed dating event. Her straight Tabasco-colored hair, now gathered in a ponytail, with a few disobedient strands falling down onto her fair, lightly-freckled face, that night had been loose, reaching her shoulder blades. Philip liked her hair loose; it tempted him to run his fingers through it, and his cheeks flushed at the thought. He wondered if she liked him the same way he liked her, but her large hazel eyes projected polite amiability, and he could not see beyond that.
Underneath the air of self-confidence, the product of six years of running his own website-designing company, and his invulnerable composure hid a tangle of insecurities. He did not feel attractive wearing his brown-rimmed glasses, but without them faces and objects appeared blurry, like crayon pictures, smeared by an eraser. As he did not want to look geeky, on his date with Eve he wore contact lenses, which showed off his blue eyes with long wheat-colored eyelashes. Contacts usually made his eyes itchy and watery, so Philip would avoid using them whenever possible. He also put on his favorite Calvin Klein shirt, whose shade of blue made his eyes stand out, and a pair of jeans. He would not normally put so much thought into his outfit, but he liked Eve and wanted to appear cool and fashionable in his business-casual outfit.
“Have you ever had Indian food before?” Eve asked, bringing him back to reality.
“No,” he said. “It’s my first time. But I remember you mentioned you liked it.”
“Yes,” she nodded with a smile. “You have good memory.”
She liked Indian food. She had a white Persian kitten named Snowball. She ran in Prospect Park every morning if it did not rain. These were the few things Philip learned about her during the three minutes of speed dating. The three minutes seemed like three seconds to him, leaving him longing for more, and he was overjoyed the morning after to see that she also picked him. During their mini-date, Eve talked a lot, but she did not prattle like some other women he met before; she spoke clearly, in a loud but soft and engaging way. It seemed to Philip that she would never run out of topics to discuss, and he nicknamed her, jokingly, to himself, “Mouth on Fire.”
“What’s your favorite Indian restaurant?” he asked.
“I like Amma on 51st street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. The entrance is quite inconspicuous. You might think you’re entering an apartment building, and in fact, it looks homey and cozy inside, like you’re sitting in someone’s living room.”
“That’s pretty cool.”
Introverted by nature, Philip often did not know what to say in the company of a pretty woman, and he liked listening to her sonorous voice, which, it seemed, bounced off the walls of the spacious dining room.
“There’re lots of good Indian restaurants in the city. I’ve reviewed a few for the paper, and I’d always get delicious and ungreased food and courteous service.”
“What paper?”
“Oh, I didn’t tell you? I write for Daily News.”
“No, you haven’t told me that.”
“Well, I do, and mostly reviews or interviews. I hate reporting news, although sometimes I have to.”
“Interesting,” Philip said, “how can I find something you wrote?”
“There’ll be a Mexican restaurant review in tomorrow’s paper,” Eve smiled, flattered by his interest in her work. “Here, I’ll give you my business card.”
Miss Evelyn Turner. She’s a Miss Head-Turner, Philip thought, smiling to himself.
“Yes, that’s my full name, but I only use it at work. I prefer Eve.”
“I like Eve,” he agreed, blushing, as he realized that the phrase came out ambiguous.
The food arrived, and Philip was glad that his mouth would be busy chewing food. He was getting more and more nervous as his date took off a black cardigan, and he could see her curves, flattered by a bright orange turtleneck, which made his body heat rise by a degree. He wished he could see her long slender legs, hidden under the table, and imagined what they would look like in high heels instead of the black flats with lush flowers she had on. To his surprise, “Mouth on Fire” was not as talkative as the first time he met her. Maybe, he thought, the glass of red wine she had last time made her chattier.
“Fancy a glass of red with your lunch?” he offered.
“No, thank you,” she declined. “I’ve got to go back to the office and work on a new story.”
“Understood,” Philip nodded, sipping his Taj Majal from a bottle.
Maybe I should not have ordered beer, he repented, afraid that his drinking would turn her off.
As though having read his thoughts, Eve noted, “Don’t get me wrong. I’ve nothing against afternoon drinking. It’s just that I can’t write when I’m buzzed or tired. And I need to write a lot today.”
Nodding to that, Philip picked up a piece of meat from his plate. The lamb looked juicy in the flame of dark orange sauce. He began chewing, wondering if he bored her, unsuccessfully thinking of current topics to bring up. Tolerable at the first bite, the sauce gradually ignited Philip’s mouth, making him want to gasp for air.
“Oh, wow! It’s really spicy,” he breathed out, wiping the drops of sauce off his lips with a white linen napkin. “He wasn’t joking.”
“Well, as far as I know, Southern Indian food is spicier than Northern Indian food. That’s why they always warn the locals about it.”
“It’s quite nice, though,” said Philip, his jaw moving in slow motion, fighting the impulse to spit the food out. All he could taste was fire; he could not even distinguish the texture of the meat, and he felt the flames from his mouth projecting onto his reddening clean-shaven face. Taking a gulp of water, he smiled at Eve, feigning enjoyment, “I don’t think I mentioned this to you, but I’m an experienced fire-eater.”
His date chuckled, but for Philip, this was no laughing matter. With every new piece, the fire in his mouth grew stronger and stronger. The feeling was so intense that he was not even paying attention to Eve telling him that she liked singing and playing the keyboard. He would reckon he could exhale fire like a dragon.
“Philip, are you ok?” she wondered, noticing that he was not listening.
He made a motion with his head, but the nod did not convince her.
“Could we have a glass of milk, please?” she asked the waiter, as he was passing by.
Stretching her arm out towards Philip, Eve picked up a napkin and wiped off a couple of sweat drops she saw on his forehead. Her soft touch tickled his skin, making his heart tremble in his chest.
“Water doesn’t help,” she smiled indulgently, like a mother at a five-year-old. “Milk will take the spiciness right out.”
Philip nodded gratefully, taking the first few sips out of the glass. It pleased him that she noticed his discomfort and found a quick and effective solution. To Philip’s surprise, the milk did help extinguish the flame.
“Thanks,” he said, putting the glass down. “And how’s your food?”
She could not help but giggle, and her cheeks rounded childishly, “It’s delicious. I’m not a fire-eater like yourself, so I usually get lamb curry unless I have to taste something particular for my reviews.”
“Have you ever had to review something you absolutely hated?”
“Oh, yes, I’ve seen a few bad plays, and I came across some vomit-looking foods,” she chuckled. “But as you see, I survived that.”
“Well, I’m glad you did. And I’m glad I survived that Vindaloo inferno.”
“Are you having more?” Eve asked with a straight face, but he saw a twinkle of laughter in her eyes.
She finds me funny, he pointed out to himself. That might be a good thing, or a bad thing.
“Yes, I’ll have more, now that I’m equipped with an antidote. The meat was quite tender and yummy.”
“Nice,” said Eve. “Try some of my curry if you’d like.”
Leaning down to pick a couple of small pieces from her plate, Philip noticed a barely visible light-pink stain on her water glass, left by a touch of her voluptuous lips, and felt a strange urge to kiss the imprint. He felt her mouth to be as inaccessible to him as a painting in a museum, separated from the visitors by a glass screen.
“Your dish is definitely more enjoyable,” he admitted. “I don’t even dare to offer you mine.”
“Why, I’ll try some,” she replied, drawing her chest an inch closer to him as she reached for the food. “Uh-uh, just as spicy as I thought.”
On a sudden impulse, he took her hand before she drew it back and kissed it gently. Her hand felt warm and delicate, and Philip noticed a V, made of two blue veins, discernible under her pale, almost transparent skin. Eve smiled, letting him hold her hand for a few more seconds.
“Your lips are so warm,” she whispered, even though they were the only people in the dining room.
“I wonder what yours feel like,” said Philip, startled by his own boldness and pleased to see her cheeks become crimson at that.
Seizing the moment, he quickly leaned over the table, took her face into his hands and kissed her on the mouth. He intended it to be a quick one, just a gentle touch, but he found it hard to let go of her, especially that Eve opened her lips a little, letting him taste her mouth from the inside.
“What?” she said quietly, as he sat back down, smiling at her from across the table.
“You’re spicy, with that taste of my food in your mouth. But you set my mouth on fire in a different way,” he said pointedly.
Eve chuckled again, placing her hand on top of his, as the waiter came back to take away the empty plates.
She finds me funny, in a likeable way, Philip beamed, with the excitement of a baby taking its first tentative steps.
“We’ll find something less flammable to eat for our next date,” Eve suggested with a wink.
“Well, I’ve never had Mexican food, either,” said Philip, and the two of them burst out laughing.

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