"Dinner at 7"

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“Dinner at 7” was written as an exercise in economical storytelling. It contains exactly 300 words.

Seven restaurants sat juxtaposed within one elongated building, each with a glass door opening to the same expansive parking lot. Colorful signs bearing the restaurants’ logos hung above each door, clashing in a manner distinct to corporate America.

Charlie stood near the entrance to the restaurant on the far left, a chain featuring vaguely Asian food that many ate but none loved. Cellphone in hand, he scrolled mindlessly through old text messages to avoid eye contact with other patrons. He was, to his own annoyance, early.

When his phone’s clock read 7:01 p.m., a minute past the agreed-upon meeting time, Charlie sent a single-word text message: Here!

Feeling a familiar nausea induced by his inclusion of the exclamation point, Charlie pocketed his phone and hazarded a gaze toward the parking lot. The lot was still, steeped in the dry heat of a Midwestern summer, packed with dusty SUVs baking in the sun.

Charlie’s feelings of dread toward the ensuing meal were so slight that they bored him. He knew what he would order; he knew what would be said. He could feel the perfunctory hug that would mark the evening’s end. A brief fantasy of walking to his SUV and driving home floated through his mind, interrupted by the sound of footsteps approaching from around the corner.

“Charlie! Hi! Sorry I’m late,” she said.

“Don’t worry, I just got here. Great to see you.”

“You too.”

Charlie’s emotional investment in the embrace that followed this exchange was so minimal that the act of hugging suddenly seemed absurd to him. He opened the door to the restaurant and followed her inside. As they walked to a booth of her choice, Charlie looked around at the faces of the families and couples dining together.

He sat down. They had a nice meal.

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