The waitress’s eyes light up as she jots down their names. “Oh, like the movie! How adorable!”
Harry and Sally smile through gritted teeth every single time. Harry hates it because having a defining characteristic of his life be a pop culture reference sickens him. Sally hates it because she truly believes her relationship with Harry runs in a close parallel to the iconic film, and each event – whether with their longtime tax accountant every April or at the local diner like tonight – is another painful reminder that their 14-year dalliance is going nowhere.
- Harry met Sally at one of those airport bookstores. Sally wanted the latest Nora Ephron book, Harry wanted to make sure she knew how predictable it was for a young woman in a pantsuit to reach for a collection of feminist essays. (Harry will forever insist it was an awkward joke; Sally will forever insist it was the first of many red flags she ignored.)
- Harry was seated opposite Sally in row eight, both in aisle seats. Harry asked if she came to this airplane often, Sally laughed at the truly terrible pickup line. (Harry stresses that all he has is awkward jokes and, to quote, “no game”; Sally saw this as both a red flag and a little endearing.)
- Harry and Sally definitely had sex at their hotel later that night following drinks at the dive bar next door. (Harry knows she faked her orgasm that first night; Sally knows she has faked every other one since then as well.)
- Harry and Sally are not just friends, and not just lovers, but instead that weird in-between where you’re more than roommates but less than married. (Harry finds the entire construct of marriage to be a farce; Sally still has her grandmother’s wedding gown hanging in the closet, and knowing how she would have looked in it at 27 compared to 42 often makes her cry.)
- Harry and Sally are basically an old married couple even though they are not all that old; not at all married; and only function as a couple at events, when engaging in intercourse, and when emptying their wallets for the landlord. (Harry would not be the breadwinner of this arrangement were their bank accounts in joint status; Sally knows that Harry doesn’t know the extent of their two-person wage gap and avoiding the topic of marriage means it will stay that way.)
To see such superficial joy in the eyes of those who meet Harry and Sally has hurt whatever one might call this arrangement more than anything else. Their best friends, a now-married duo who were at one point independent acquaintances of both Harry and Sally respectively, are the perfect match; the two puzzle pieces that make everything fit, the sort of disgusting love story that inspires romance films and makes most other couples say “that isn’t real.” When people learn of Harry and Sally’s married friends, keen observers inevitably remind them of Marie and Jess from the film, and the gritted teeth make their return all over again.
Sally stares at Harry, who reads the faded menu as if he will order something different this time… as if the routine lovemaking he and Sally will engage in later tonight will not result in another premature disappointment… as if this time he’ll get his shit together and finally get that certification… as if, as if, as if…
All she wants to do is scream.
Sally takes a deep breath to do exactly that, but immediately realizes the tortured metaphor of a woman named Sally making a loud scene in a restaurant with her significant other named Harry. She instead turns her head and looks at a woman at a nearby table. The relief and gratification on the woman’s face as she bites into her sandwich is something Sally hasn’t felt in nearly 15 years.
Sally points at the woman and says to her waitress, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
J.R. Handfield (@jrhandfield on Twitter) lives in Central Massachusetts with his wife, his son, and his cat; not necessarily in that order. He is a co-editor of ProleSCARYet: Tales of Horror and Class Warfare, and his work can be found in Hellhound Magazine and Punk Noir Magazine, as well as multiple Hundred Word Horror collections and the coming Chlorophobia, all from Ghost Orchid Press.