The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 5, No. 3


by Mark Schultz

PETER, a very attractive, well-dressed man.

A restaurant. FRAN and PETER on a date.

FRAN: Charity work mostly. In my free time. I work at a bar. But real work, my real work—now—charities. I help with kids and stuff. Give money, that sort of thing. Big sister stuff. I enjoy it. I work in a soup kitchen too. Giving food—soup—to people. Hungry people.

PETER: Hungry people.

FRAN: Soup kitchen. Hungry people. It feels good to help people. You know?



FRAN: So how about you?

PETER: I don’t work. Really. It’s new to me. Money. Just came into it.

FRAN: What’d you do before?

PETER: Very little. I drank. I read books. Wandered around. Very day-to-day sort of thing.

FRAN: You seem very smart. Intelligent.

PETER: Perhaps. Perhaps it’s all the books.


I don’t like smiley people. I feel I have to get that right out in the open. I don’t like them.

FRAN: Smiley people.

PETER: Smiley people. Exactly. Me. No like. I hope you’re not a smiley person.

FRAN: You don’t like happy people?

PETER: No. Happy people are fine. They’re fine. It’s the smiley people I don’t care for. I don’t like them. They annoy. I’m sure you know what I mean.

FRAN: A smile brightens a day. You don’t smile?

PETER: Rarely. I leer. That’s what I do, I leer. I don’t smile. Bad for the teeth, I say. Rots the teeth. I have perfect teeth, you see.


PETER: Bad for the whole disposition, really. I mean you can never really tell what smiley people are thinking because, and I don’t think this is any revelation, because being smiley is not an emotional state—nor is it any real reflection of the inner person, the inner human being. Rather, I think it is the ultimate in deception. Self-deception as well as deception of others. Our good friend Mr. Shakespeare, I assume you know him, our brother Mr. Shakespeare tells us, “To thine own self be true.” Be true, he says, and the smiley person is not, I repeat, is not true. I say forgo the whole business altogether. Were I king or president or what-have-you, the penalties for smiling, I assure you, even by accident would be quite severe. I’m telling the truth, I’m not lying.


I’m sorry. I’m ranting.

FRAN: Death? You’re talking death? For smiling?

PETER: No. Perhaps not death. But harm to the body would certainly be involved. Excruciating amounts of pain would most certainly be involved. That much I can tell you.

FRAN: I’m not sure that I like you very much.

PETER: Sorry?

FRAN: I’m not sure I like you very much.

PETER: It’s a little early for that, no? I mean—we’ve only just started...

FRAN: I’m not sure. It’s just a thought. You know. Thought I’d be honest. Forthright. We’re talking about the truth, right? We’re talking honesty. I thought I’d be honest. With you. It’s a policy with me. Always be honest.

PETER: Well, I appreciate it. An honest woman is something to appreciate and I appreciate that.

FRAN: So where does that leave us?

PETER: I’m not fond of your hair.

FRAN: What?

PETER: Your hair puts me in a rage of disgust. I saw it when you walked in, before you sat down and I thought, GOD, what the hell is that? But I kept such a judgment to myself, thinking that just blurting out silly little things just because we happen to think them in a moment of uninformed passion, I’ll use the word passion, is not only rude but absolutely random and is in incredibly bad taste.

FRAN: I see.

PETER: I hope you do.


You haven’t touched the soup.

FRAN: You’re right. I haven’t.

PETER: You no like?

FRAN: Could you maybe speak in English, please?

PETER: I thought garbled English was endearing.

FRAN: To some, maybe, and in certain contexts. Maybe. But from you? Maybe not.

PETER: I can be very endearing.

FRAN: No endearing person hates smiling.

PETER: The world is full of contradictions, sweetness. And I too am full of them.

FRAN: Of contradictions?

PETER: Of course. For instance, I mentioned hating your hair. And I do. With a passion. It disturbs me with the shininess and the—blondness. Is it bleached?


PETER: Doesn’t matter. It hurts me. But (and here is the contradiction, part of the beauty of my nature) simply by hating it, I am drawn to it like a moth to the flame. I want it. To experience it. Every facet of it. I want to run my fingers through it, I want to pull it out of your skull and shit on it, it arouses such passion in me. The obscenity of my desire for your disturbing hair alarms even me. You are a vixen of the grotesque, and I mean that in the best possible way.

FRAN: I think you’re frightening me.

PETER: Think all you like. It’s good to think.

FRAN: In a bad way. You’re frightening me in a bad way.

PETER: There are no bad ways. Fear is a great motivator.

FRAN: To what?

PETER: To anything. To desire. We often fear what we want. I believe you are experiencing the first pangs of longing for me. And they frighten you. This is natural. I am a new creature. A new thing.

FRAN: What?

PETER: A new thing. For you. A new creature. On the most basic level, I am a new thing with a penis. A penis. A substantial penis, I assure you. I will show it to you later.

FRAN: Your penis?

PETER: My penis. Now is not the appropriate time, my darling Gorgon of Love.

FRAN: I’m taking offense.

PETER: As well you should. I’m sorry. My passions—they sometimes—occasionally they run free of my reason and I am reduced to a mere puddle of wanting. I think the soup is good and if you know what’s good for you you’ll eat it. Soup makes healthy.

[He eats. She stares at him.]

FRAN: I like smiling.

PETER: Do you? Well, that makes two of us.

FRAN: But you said...?

PETER: Another contradiction. You were attempting to get on my nerves. I noticed that. You thought to yourself, “I will get on his nerves.” And so you blurted out a non sequitur.

FRAN: But...

PETER: I am an enigma. Look. See. I smile. See? I smile and smile. I am a feast of smiling. Eat your soup. It’s very expensive and it’s good for you. I assume I’m paying.

FRAN: This is not a very good date.

PETER: Stimulating conversation. Good food. It is a good date. You’re deceiving yourself. It is a very good date.

FRAN: You’re freaking me out.

PETER: Freaking you out? I’m doing nothing of the sort. You don’t really know yourself, do you? I interest you. I am making myself interesting for your benefit. For your sole benefit, you, at this moment, are the center of my world and you know that, instinctively you feel it. You know it. And you want it. You desire it. But in the expression of this desire, you are at a loss and you call it “freaking me out.” That is what you’re feeling. That. Desire. You want me. That’s very nice. The soup, woman, the soup is a fucking delight and I wish you would eat it. I wish you would condescend to eat it. Just eat it. Just fucking eat it. Put it in your mouth and eat it. EAT THE FUCKING SOUP.

[She rises.]

FRAN: I think I’ve had enough.

PETER: You haven’t.

FRAN: I think I’ve had more than enough. I think I’ve had it. With you. With your soup. The soup? What’s with the soup? What are you talking about?

PETER: I’m making an effort. I wish you’d notice.

FRAN: An effort.

PETER: I’m making an effort to impress you.

FRAN: Impress me?

PETER: Yes impress you are you deaf I have to repeat myself? IMPRESS YOU.

FRAN: You are doing nothing of the kind.

PETER: Assertive men. Women like assertive men.

FRAN: Assertive men are one thing, buddy, riddle-people, puzzle-people are quite another.

PETER: That’s mysterious.

FRAN: Mysteries end. Mysteries are solved. Mysteries are not always so fucking contradictory—they leave clues. You can figure them out.

PETER: Then figure me out.

FRAN: What?

PETER: Stay and figure me out.

FRAN: Stay and figure you out?

PETER: At least eat the soup.



[Pause. She sits.]

PETER: Thank you.

FRAN: OK—no. Let me tell you something, mister. I like to smile. I like to smile, I like it I like it I like it. I do it. Often I do it. I do it when I sleep even, people’ve told me, they’ve said, hey, you smile in your sleep and I’ve said, I do? And they’ve said, yes. Yes. I smile.

PETER: But you’re not a smiley person.

FRAN: I am THE smiley person.

PETER: You’re not.

FRAN: I am.

PETER: You’re really not.


PETER: Fine. I hate you. I hate you very much. I hate you with a great passion which is virtually all-consuming. I have never met a more reprehensibly inane person.

FRAN: I haven’t even said anything!

PETER: You don’t have to. I hate you. Clear. Clean. Unadulterated. Blah blah blah. Is that what you want?

FRAN: What?

PETER: Is that what you want? For me to hate you?

FRAN: Why would that be what I want?

PETER: I don’t know. It sounds like it’s what you want.

FRAN: Well, then, maybe it is. Maybe it would make things easier. Maybe I do want you to hate me. Maybe that’s it. Perhaps that’s it.

PETER: Good. Mission accomplished. Please. Eat.


I have no problem with me hating you. It doesn’t deter me. It doesn’t make me want you less. It complicates and enriches my passion for you.

FRAN: You’re a sick mother-fucker.

PETER: Never on a Tuesday.

FRAN: You’re sick. There are such things as hate and love. And whatever “passions” surround each of them are very different. Very different.

PETER: I disagree.
FRAN: Of course you do—you’re you. You don’t make sense. There are reasons for this difference, between love and hate, there are reasons. The most basic, I mean, most fundamental, I think, is friction, conflict—the prevention of the extinction of passion, something you seem to talk about a lot but maybe you have no idea what it is.

PETER: I know what it is. I choose to be its ruler. I choose to define its parameters. I choose how it operates.

FRAN: What kind of passion is that?

PETER: My passion. It’s mine. Wholly mine. I can bend it whatever way I please. However I choose. Your passion is your ruler. Your king or queen or whatever—however your own personal monarchy works. You are not in control.

FRAN: I pity you.

PETER: Don’t pity me.

FRAN: For your inhumanity. I take pity on you.

PETER: Don’t take pity. Never take pity. Always be in a position to give it.

FRAN: What are you, Yoda for the misanthropic?

PETER: What made you come here?

FRAN: Huh?

PETER: What made you come here? Tonight. To be with me.

FRAN: You seemed like a nice guy.

PETER: A nice guy. Why’s that?

FRAN: I don’t know. This isn’t Twenty Questions.

PETER: Fine. True. You don’t know.

FRAN: You seemed sincere. You’re cute. I needed a date. You had a nice car.

PETER: Three years. Three years you wouldn’t look at me. Three fucking years you wouldn’t even look at me. I was not in the best place for some time. You wouldn’t look at me. I had troubles. You couldn’t stoop to glance in my direction. But people die. Other people benefit. Family, friends, and so forth, and things change. And now? Now you look at me. Now I have a car. Now I can look sincere. Now I can be your date. Now I don’t seem so disgusting.

FRAN: I don’t remember you.

PETER: Of course not. You didn’t try. Your passion prevented you. Your revulsion prevented you. Because you let it. Because it rules you. I say these things not to distress you but only to prove a point. I may have eccentric ideas. But you are a viper’s den of inhumanity because you cannot control yourself.

FRAN: I don’t remember you.

PETER: Good. Fine. It only proves my point. Now please. Eat your soup.

FRAN: I work at a soup kitchen. I don’t want the soup.

PETER: It’s good for you. I know the chef. Eat the soup.


FRAN: You knew me?

PETER: From the kitchen. Yes.

FRAN: From the kitchen?

PETER: From the kitchen. Every Wednesday. Three years. You smiled a lot. With other men. I hated you. Still do. I hate smiley people. I’ve said that. Perhaps if you smiled less I wouldn’t hate you so much. If you care. I don’t know that you care.

FRAN: I’m not sure I do. You’re so contradictory.

[He smiles.]

FRAN: You’re smiling.

PETER: Leering, darling. Leering. I don’t smile.

FRAN: I’m sorry.

PETER: Don’t apologize.

FRAN: I feel awful.

PETER: Don’t. No one knows. No one else knows or cares. I may not care. I don’t know. Eat your soup. It’ll make me feel better if you eat your soup.

[She hesitates.]

FRAN: If I had known.

[She eats. Gags. Spits it back into the bowl.]

PETER: The taste of charity.

FRAN: Awful.

PETER: But good for you. Very good for you.

[They stare at each other. He leers. Silence.]