When Mr. Brown Met Ms. Fox: A Love Story
by Rich Russell
Quickly, Mr. Brown jumped ahead of Miss Fox in the queue. “Excuse you,” she huffed.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” Mr. Brown apologized. “I didn’t realize you were all ready in line.”
“Well, I was, and––did you say––did you just say ‘all ready’ as in two words, ‘all’ and then ‘ready’?”
"No, I mean––how would you know if I said already (one word) or all ready (two words)? And even if I did say all ready (two words), would it be so uncouth, seeing as how you were ready, all of you completely, to be in line, which I failed to realize––?”
“No, I’m sorry,” Miss Fox insisted, “but––I really think that only the adverb would do in such a case.”
“Well,” Mr. Brown began to acquiesce, “then I defer to you and your most exquisite attention to detail, Miss––Miss––?”
“Fox. Glossy is my first name. And some would call my attention to detail more my being a horrible stickler. I’m supposed to be trying to disabuse myself of the habit, actually. My boyfriend––my now ex-boyfriend used to say, ‘Glossy, why can’t you ever unwind? You won’t even let me split the occasional infinitive, even when we’re alone, even when it’s now perfectly acceptable. You’re so stuffy,’ he would tell me. And it wasn’t just him. I’ve lost a few friends because of my correcting instinct, Mr.––?”
“Gerund––I mean, Gerald. Brown. Gerald Brown is what I am called. And I think it’s charming, Miss Fox. Here, can I help you convey your groceries on to the check-out belt?”
Miss Fox smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Brown. I have always depended upon the kindness of––”
“Oh, I’m an accountant,” Mr. Brown offered. “A numbers man.”
“Well, I have always counted upon such kindness, then.”
“It’s quite alright, Miss Fox,” Mr. Brown said.
Glossy’s face pinched. The cashier began ringing up her purchases. A tense em-dash hung in the air between them––Miss Fox was the one to walk the tightrope.
“Sorry, I know I shouldn’t ask this,” Miss Fox began. “But did you say it’s quite alright?”
The boy behind the register stuck his head into one of the brown bags as he packaged up the purchases. Mr. Brown, a bit buffaloed by the call for clarification, conceded, “Yes, I did. I said, It’s quite alright.”
“Yes,” Miss Fox confirmed, handing over her bank card to the check-out boy, who looked like a scared little misplaced comma caught between two intractable independent clauses. “Well,” Glossy Fox continued, “I know that––I know that I shouldn’t ask this but, it sounded like––”
“Here it comes,” said the comma, handing back the bank card to the woman.
“It’s just that it sounded like you said alright as one word instead of two.”
“Yes, I did. I think alright as one word is very modern and efficient. Character space is at a premium these days, after all.”
“Hmm,” Miss Fox mused a moment. “I’m not sure that that is something I could ever put up with,” she said, maneuvering her cart out of the check-out lane.
Mr. Brown called out after her: “Are you just going to let that preposition hang there?!”
Miss Fox turned back, shaken; then, she smiled at him. “I should learn to appreciate the suspense,” she said, leaving the lazy dog to dangle.
* * *
"When Mr. Brown Met Miss Fox: A Love Story" by Rich Russell was the first runner up in the 2011 National Grammar Day short story contest.