The Traps of Small-Town Dating

This week's toll necessitates the oak
but the only seat in the house
is right next to another botched attempt.
You take it anyway
because if you don't
then you've lost twice.
There are worse fates
than sitting next to the most beautiful woman
in the room who's pretending not to notice.
You could be laying in a hospital burn unit
or your socks could be wet.

Of all people
she's with the biggest fraud in town
laughing at his overplayed jokes
writing notes on napkins
shoulder dancing on stools to the band
you wish you'd cordially ignored.
The first time her arm brushes against yours
you think she's rubbing it in
but by the fourth offense you realize
it's that you're not even there.
You could tell her how much
that latest painting moved you
a moment captured in a medium
respectfully out of your grasp
but you settle for watching her buy
their round of beer
and take the consolation
in knowing you wouldn't
have let that happen.
You wash your aspirations
of chivalrous nobility
down with one last swig
clap for your friends
descending from the stage
and walk back to the guillotine
where you pay to lay your head.

On your way home
a handful of stars
maintains your gaze
and you remember
that you met her
at a barbecue
where you caught fireflies.
One of you's still trying.

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