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The Big Wheel Date

Flash Challenge short story –

The rule is simple – a thousand words or less and it has to be inspired by this picture of the Manchester Eye. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Manchester Eye

***

I tilt my head right back and spy the highest point of the wheel. Hells-bells. It makes me dizzy.

People mill about me, not quite catching each other’s eyes. We’re all thinking the same – who’s going to be sharing my capsule. I could back out, wander away, but I would screw up the arrangements and leave some poor sod looking like a dork.

I clutch my ticket. I’d bought it from a singles website and turned up at the appointed hour, wearing a warm coat. It’s a cold evening. The Manchester Eye is lit up, rotating and depositing the previous occupants, capsule by capsule. The rest of us wait. A few gather in little groups, mainly women, probably ganging up to boost each other’s confidence. The men are more solitary, glued to their mobiles as if waiting for a bus or train.

Somebody shouts and the soft hubbub of chattering voices calms.

“Right. I’ll call out your ticket number when the capsule arrives, then you come up. Capsule one, and number….” People jostle forward, up to the barrier, craning to hear and his voice is drowned out. Not my ticket, another woman steps up, waving hers and she is joined by a man. They grin at each other. He’s not bad looking. I hope she enjoys the ride.

My stomach churns. What if I’m sick at the top? Image the humiliation. Puking over a blind date high up in the sky. What if he’s twice my age, fat, dull as dishwater, a chatterbox or worse, the silent type, who sits and stares? There’s no escape, short of killing myself. That’s the point, isn’t it? Forces you to, God forbid, talk. Ten minutes spinning around in circles.

The website called it a novel approach to speed dating. Three turns, three different men. At the end, you can walk off with one or none. It had cost me a small fortune.

Why am I here?

Because Trish made me. She’s tired of watching me turn tissues into a soggy mess. She soldiered through the long phone calls while I repeated my reasons for ditching Jack. I need to get laid or something, she announced. The Manchester Eye dating night became her goal, she harped on about it. So I signed up, assuming she’d be there too, and surprise, surprise, she’s double booked elsewhere.

I could have ignored the event. But, I’m adventurous. Stupid, too.

Capsule twelve. They’re loaded in a pattern. The crowd thins out.

“Ticket thirty-three!”

Fuck, mine. I scuttle forward, squeezing between two men. To one side of me, a bloke moves forward, squinting at his ticket. No, dear God. He’s got piggy eyes and tiny feet. Sorry, but it bothers me. He totters, pauses then slides backwards, shaking his head.

Phew!

Am I mean, expecting Casanova to serenade me in a twirling carriage? I snort. That’s it, once I’ve done my three, I’m off home. Chalk up the evening as an experience.

I hand my ticket to the official and he ticks off the number on a list. “This capsule.” He points at the one arriving. No sign of my companion. I spin round, expecting him to emerge from the crowd, but nobody moves.

I’ve been stood up. Ironic. It’s not me that’s scarpered, but my first ride. How bloody embarrassing.

Walking backwards, I bump into the gate. Somebody holds it open for me. I might as well sit in the capsule. I’ve paid for the privilege.

I turn to climb up the few steps and he’s standing right next to me. My eyes widened in shock.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” I exclaim.

He keeps his lips pressed together, while my jaw plummets to the ground. “The same as you. I’m here for a ride. Are you going to join me? Please.”

Damn it. He does that so well.

Everyone is waiting. I’m holding up the proceedings. Feet are shuffling. If I back off, what would they think? I mean, why run away from the handsomest man on the planet. At least, that is what I believed for the year we dated.

“Jack— ” I glare, wanting an explanation.

“Please, I just want to talk.” He cocks his head at the wheel.

I sigh. Puff out my lips and climb into the capsule. Talking won’t hurt. I’ve been avoiding it for four weeks, ever since we spilt.

He follows me in, sits opposite and the wheel rotates, moving us up. We sway and I grab the seat. My heart is thumping and it’s not due to the motion of the wheel. It’s having Jack in close proximity. He’s dressed in a suit and a dark overcoat, he’s come straight from his office. I knock my knees together, bunch my arms into a self-inflicted embrace. He’s got that intense Jack-is-in-control expression plastered on his face.

“How did you know I would be here, I mean, the ticket?”

“Ah, you’re not going to like this.” He purses his lips. “First off. I want to say I’m sorry. I screwed up. I didn’t give you my time, I walked all over you. I regret the way things went…. I just want you to know, I’m missing you.”

I stare at him, ignoring the scenery, the bright lights of Manchester. “Missing me?”

“Crazy missing you.”

I slowly unravel. Stupid tears, twitching lips. I shuffle to the front of my seat. “Really?”

He nods.

“Me, too.” I whisper. “The ticket?” I have to know.

“I booked all the tickets. Hired a bunch of people, set up the website, the links. I wanted this to be the best blind date ever.”

“Trish?”

He has a sheepish look.

I’ll kill her.

“So we’re the only ones… everyone else…. That must have cost you a small fortune.” I gawp at the street below. No sign of anyone else.

“Yes. It did and it’s worth every penny.”

Boy, do I love this man. I lean forward, pucker my lips and he’s there, ready for me.

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