Once upon a time Mr. Frederick Tingle was irate. Someone had left chewing gum on his favorite chair at Alfonso’s. The chair overlooked the square and had the perfect combination of morning sun without blinding you while you read about the world’s atrocities over a perfectly brewed cappuccino. Alfonso himself had offered to give Mr. Tingle the secret, but Frederick had blocked his ears and hummed the national anthem. After all, some of life’s secrets were meant to be kept. But now some gum-snapping bobbysoxer, smeared with too much makeup no doubt, had left her saliva and her gum on his chair. Doubtless she had enjoyed the hot chocolate, which was basically a chocolate bar melted into a cup, and imagined herself capable of the high refinement necessary for dining at Alfonso’s.
Mr. Tingle contemplated using his pristine monogrammed handkerchief to remove the offending blemish. He certainly would not sit down on such a disdainful blot. But the concept of having to then launder out the offending matter troubled him. Frederick looked around for Alfonso or one of his obsequious minions, but none was in sight. If he did not sit promptly, then the whole rhythm of the morning would be thrown off. He could not enjoy a rushed cappuccino, not before a hard day of crunching numbers for his stately and well-regarded investment bond firm.
With a sigh that only Christ on the Cross could have mimicked with any accuracy, Mr. Tingle moved forward one table and sat himself down with his neatly folded paper. Within three minutes, Alfonso himself would be there with his cappuccino. The dear man was likely already off brewing the secret concoction. Mr. Tingle smiled slightly at the thought. As he did so his gaze drifted upward to lock unexpectedly with the very blue eyes of a pale young woman at a table two removed from his own. Despite his haste to look away, the young woman broke eye contact first and blushed slightly.
Mr. Tingle wondered at himself. He wasn’t given to staring at strangers, much less smiling at them. But he had been smiling when he stared brazenly at this young woman, enough to create embarrassment on her part. It was very out of character. Mr. Tingle kept to himself, never making any eye contact when he could help it. Certainly not with strangers, which invited intimacy in a large city. Unwanted intimacy that might encourage the riffraff to approach him for a loan of some kind. The type of loan that was never repaid and then further encouraged the requesting of further loans. Oh, no, Mr. Tingle was not given to looking at anyone if he could help it. He set his lip firmly against such trivial distractions. From the corner of his eye he caught the flicker of a glance from the young woman. Horrors! Now she had seen him grimacing at himself. She must think him some sort of mad man, smiling at strangers and grimacing as if he needed to have a bowel movement in the middle of this elite coffee shop.
Where was Alfonso with his cappuccino? Mr. Tingle snapped open his paper, too loudly. He felt exposed in the morning sun, in a spotlight that caught every hair of his perfectly coiffed head. Was it perfectly coiffed? Mr. Tingle had a momentary nervous tic. Perhaps his hair was standing straight up, a bizarre Mohawk or stray spike of hair waving in the breeze at this poor woman across from him. Without willing himself to, Mr. Tingle felt his hand drift upward to caress his hair. Knowing it was a terrible idea, he risked a glance at the young woman. She was studiously ignoring him, too studiously. He knew she was watching him in the reflection on the window, glancing nervously over her book.
No matter. One couldn’t spend one’s time worried about strangers. Even ones with very blue eyes. Especially ones with very blue eyes. Mr. Tingle had made it a policy at a very early age to approach any possibility of dating with a prenuptial agreement, signed in triplicate with a notary witness. Thus far, this had the remarkable result of his never having had to deal with the fairer, if more flighty, sex.
The cappuccino arrived. Mr. Tingle thanked Alfonso and told him about the offending gum. Alfonso shared his outrage and removed not only the gum, but the entire chair for cleaning. When Mr. Tingle turned back, satisfied, he caught another glance from the young woman. Not just a glance, a slight smile.
This would not do. Mr. Tingle had only fifteen minutes before he was expected at the office. And that was a brisk walk of seven minutes, including one stop at a light which a conservative man like Mr. Tingle took into account. Sighing, Mr. Tingle reached into his immaculate briefcase and withdrew the manila envelope containing his prenuptial agreements. He stood resolutely and strode to the young woman’s table.
“Excuse me, miss,” Mr. Tingle bowed as he always did. “We seem to have shared a bit of mutual interest, and before things go any further, I’d like to present you with prenuptial agreements to be signed and notarized.” He had this part and the next memorized, so did not hear the young woman when she said: “Let me see them, please.”
Mr. Tingle continued on. “No? I thought not. I’m sorry to trouble you miss, enjoy your day… What did you say?”
“I would like to see the agreements, please.” The young woman had her hand out for the manila envelope. She snapped out the agreements with a practiced hand and went down the first and second pages at an alarming rate. Either she was skimming or she had a very efficient reading ability. Mr. Tingle could not help being impressed by her thoroughness. She stopped on the third page and tsked to herself. “No, no, this simply won’t do.”
“What is the issue?” Mr. Tingle glanced over her shoulder, suddenly aware of the color of her hair, which remind him pleasantly of old apples for some reason.
“Here you state the clauses upon which termination is to be faultless on your part. But there is no equivalency part for me. Seems a bit one-sided, don’t you think?”
Mr. Tingle felt a bit at a loss. None of the other girls had ever read his agreements. Mostly he’d gotten horrified looks. Once he’d gotten a cheap sherry in the face, ruining a fairly expensive dinner jacket and the white shirt underneath.
“You have no objection to my attorney looking this over?” The young lady looked up at him over the agreement. “I think it might be workable with some minor alterations. We should be ready to proceed by next week. Next Tuesday, then, a bit earlier than this to allow for signing. I must go now, as it is eight minutes brisk walk to my work.”
Without a word or a second glance, the young lady took the agreements in the envelope and walked out of Alfonso’s. Mr. Tingle had to gulp his cappuccino and leave more than the established tip to make it to his work precisely on time. He was in a bit of a daze, but put the matter from himself. Doubtless she was bluffing, and would not show at the allotted time. Mr. Tingle did up another set of his agreements for himself. One never knew when some floozy in public transport would start eyeing one up and down.
The next Tuesday, Mr. Tingle did arrive early to Alfonso’s. He did not suppose the young lady would show up, but he was a precise man and this was what he had agreed upon. The young lady was there, along with an older gentleman. Both stood when Mr. Tingle arrived.
“You must be Mr. Tingle?” The older gentleman shook Mr. Tingle’s hand. Mr. Tingle was unsurprised, as all his basic information was included in the agreements. “I’m Bartholomew Bench, and this is Ms. Katherine Sprinkle, my client. I’ve taken the liberty of adding some language to the agreements, just here and here.” Mr. Tingle looked over the material and saw that they were simply equivalency clauses that, in fairness, should have been part of the original agreements.
“It looks to be in order,” he said to Mr. Bench. “Are you certain?” Mr. Bench looked carefully at him. “If you’d like your attorney to look things over, we can arrange another meeting…”
“That won’t be necessary,” said Mr. Tingle. “As long as the at-will termination clauses remain unchanged, we can proceed without risk for either party.”
Ms. Katherine tsked. “When you work as an actuary as I do, Mr. Tingle, you realize there is always risk. We can only minimize it for our clients.”
“Quite so,” Mr. Tingle bowed to her superior logic. “Shall we sign?” Alfonso and two of his aproned minions witnessed the preliminary signatures and Mr. Bench left Mr. Tingle with two copies of the agreements, one for him and one for his attorney. Then the two were left to themselves. “I’ve only two minutes, before I must begin my walk,” stated Ms. Sprinkle. “Quite so.” Said Mr. Tingle.
“Tomorrow then?” Said Ms. Sprinkle. Mr. Tingle bowed and she left. He sighed and got his cappuccino to go. Walking in the spring sunshine with his hot cappuccino held well away from his linen suit, Mr. Tingle felt something in his belly that had not been there before. Were these butterflies, then? The fabled harbringers of personal joy? He half-smiled at the thought and headed into the office.
At the precise time, Mr. Tingle was at Alfonso’s. He had his paper, but was uncertain if he would even get to open it. Ms. Sprinkle was already there, drinking her coffee. He notice she took it black, without cream or sugar. “Mr. Tinkle.” Ms. Sprinkle inclined her head. “It’s Tingle, not Tinkle,” Said Mr. Tingle.
“Oh,” Mr. Tingle saw Ms. Sprinkle blush slightly. “Forgive me, Mr. Tingle. I am unused to these flights of fancy. You are the first reasonable man I have ever met.”
“It’s nothing.” Said Mr. Tingle. “I will admit that you are the first person to ever look over my agreements.”
They looked at each other for a moment, each realizing the depth of the meaning behind their words. Mr. Tingle could see Ms. Sprinkle calculating the odds of finding another man like himself. In his mind he was weighing the probably futures of any other woman accepting his offer. Now that he had someone, it was suddenly possible that a whole range of possibilities he had given up on might come to pass. It felt as if he had found an entirely new bond market untapped by any other investor.
The two of them exchanged quick questions. Children, parents, living situations, life expectancies, financial and social networks. By the time their allotted time was up and Ms. Sprinkle was standing and preparing to walk to her office, they had a very rough draft of what a life might look like together.
As Ms. Sprinkle walked away, Mr. Tingle saw her hop, just a little. Was that a tiny little skip, or had her sensible pump gotten caught on a floor tile?
By the next day both Mr. Tingle and Ms. Sprinkle had drawn up preliminary contracts. Within two weeks, they had a working document, and the next month they were married. The combination of household went smoothly and now the Tingles live on the upper-west side. Mr. Tingle is doing well, although he is prone to fits of unexplained smiling and occasional humming. Mrs. Tingle has been known to hug herself in the restroom and pinch herself to make sure she’s awake. Both are statistically likely to live between two and six months longer as a result of their matrimony.
Moral: Whatever your personal faults and eccentricities, there is someone out there for you. Stay true to yourself and take chances.
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