The Young Couple: A Vignette

One day last week, Curtis (he’s very wonderful) brought me lunch, which we ate under a pavilion at a nearby park in the pouring rain. When we were about half way through our sandwiches, a police car drove by. Window down, driving slowly, the officer stared at us as he passed.

So I waved at him. He waved back.

It seemed like a perfectly normal interaction, but then, don’t they all? If it were in one of my stories . . .

I hate rainy days. They’re too cheerful.

Chuck Friedman took everything seriously. He never told dad jokes, or any sort of joke. It was a running competition among his fellow police officers to get Chuck to laugh at something one of them said—there was even a prize, a free steak dinner for two. The prize coupon hung tacked on the wall where it had been on display for 17 years, still unclaimed.

On the rare occasions when he did laugh, it was like a rusty gate in a silent room. Sitting quietly, he’d suddenly chuckle, then frown and glance around furtively, as if hoping no one heard him. The last time it happened, two years earlier, he was in the office with his partner, McGee.

“What’s so funny?” McGee had asked, trying to mask his look of astonishment with cool curiosity. After several moments, Chuck answered,

“Sure you wanna know?” Responding to the nod, Chuck continued seriously, “I’m laughing in the face of danger.”

McGee raised an eyebrow and let it drop.

This particular rainy day, Chuck swung through the park on his way to lunch. Keenly attuned to his surroundings, he noted the two women walking, the group of businessmen staring at their phones, the person smoking from their car in the parking lot.

Nothing out of the ordinary here.

Rolling out of the park, he suddenly noticed something unusual. At one of the picnic tables, a young couple was eating lunch. The man was smiling at the woman, who looked at him with attentive interest. Chuck slowed the car to a crawl. They triggered a memory in his mind, but they also triggered suspicion. His instincts warned him not to trust happy people, as often they were doing something of questionable legality.

“Hey, McGee, don’t those people look suspicious to you?” McGee was busy reciting the license plate of the car in the parking lot. He’d picked up the habit a few years back, and was trying to memorize the plate numbers of every car in town. It’ll come in handy someday, he’d always say. He replied,

“What people? That couple? Nah, I don’t think so. Looks like they’re just having lunch.” Chuck frowned and coasted past, still staring. Suddenly, the woman waved at him cheerily as if she knew his suspicions. He hesitated then waved back, tilting his head.

The incident stayed in his mind the rest of the afternoon, and later, as he walked out of the office with McGee on his way home, he chuckled. McGee, astonished and instantly alert, asked,

“What is it? The face of danger again?" Chuck nodded slowly, and McGee continued, “What does it look like?” Chuck asked,

“Sure you wanna know?” Responding to the nod, he continued, “That couple we saw at the park over lunch.”

*Inspired by one of you most faithful readers, who wonders what the people in my vignettes are thinking about us.