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Sometime in late spring of 2010 I ran across a blurb about a writing contest based on eavesdropping; all participants were supposed to go out and listen in surreptitiously on their fellow man on one particular day, and then write something inspired by what they'd overheard. (I believe the contest was called "Bugged", but I could be mis-remembering that.) The contest, alas, was only open to people in the UK (cruelly excluding those of us who merely wish we were in the UK) so I decided to write something anyway, based on the best conversation I'd ever overheard. Hope you like it! --S

Two Tables

by Suzanne Palmer
(all rights reserved)
It's a simple and cheap lunch before us, standard fast-food fare 
	on plastic orange trays in a small shopping mall 
                in New England.
You're telling me a work story, started before we sat down, 
        likely to last until long after we are done
                and have gone home.
In six months we'll be over. Not because you were bad -- far from it --
        but because there was never anything new
                about you.
And you didn't want there to be anything new about me.

I know your story's important to you, but I can't help it
        I listen to the teen dressed in black, face full of rings,
		one table away.
Still pimply and awkward and loud, he is wild-eyed and raging, 
        narrating a breathless, epic declaration 
		of his fury.
His girlfriend listens to him as he spills his tale and curses
        speed traps and fines and especially the police 
		that caught him. 
I think she's a better girlfriend to him than I am to you.

I smile and nod as you speak, contribute a "hmmm" or an "oh",
        but all the words I hear are stolen from his lips
		and not from yours.
At last he pauses, inhales the breath of a giant into lungs 
        emptied by saying fuck a hundred times
                in three minutes,
And in the pause his girlfriend has a chance to speak up at last. 
	"I got a ticket too," she confesses to him, 
		and does not swear. 
He asks the same thing I would, if in somewhat different words.

She is not embarrassed, sees no reason for shame or regret,
        is disinterested in her own answer, unlike him, 
                and unlike me.
"No," she informs us, "not speeding. Driving on the sidewalk."
        He is stunned silent and I am frozen in place,
		afraid to move.
You're still unaware my attention has left you, as the teen
	asks, with almost reverence, how it could be that she
		had been doing that.
Now she shows emotion, how clearly unfair this all has been,
        as she sets down her cheeseburger, leans back and frowns,
		and explains,
And we are all wiser: "I was trying to pass a school bus."

I wonder if you still wonder what part of your work story
        Was so funny that I laughed so hard that my drink 
                came out my nose.
It stung, as did tears of laughter, like and unlike tears that came later.