And that's when I was finally able to look away from her. I looked down at the open book in my lap, a paperback copy of (Dickensian coincidence!) The Collected Stories of Vladimir Nabokov, and said, "No."

I was sitting on a concrete bench at one of the bus stops in front of University Town Center, a mall in San Diego. I hadn't actually been in the mall; I was here to change busses. I had to travel thirty miles out of my way to keep an appointment with my current "primary care physician" (fuck you very much, HMO), and was on my way north, back to Oceanside.

Obviously I couldn't go back to reading my book after what had just happened, but I could look down at it and pretend to read, and let Raggedy Darcy Raggedy Jane Raggedy Judy know that she would have to find another date that afternoon.

I heard the same question again, less than half a minute later, and from a few feet to my right, presumably addressed to the next male she could find who looked old enough to be interested in girls: "Do you want a date?" I didn't hear the answer, but I knew what it was, because a few seconds later, and from a few feet farther on, I was able to hear the same question: "Do you want a date?" And so on, every couple of dozen seconds and every dozen feet farther away, and I couldnít hear any of the answers, not one, but I could hear that question every single time it was asked: "Do you want a date?"

"A Date with Raggedy Darcy" copyright © 1999-2002 by Tom Hartley.