It starts out slow, always slow, the thrum thrum thrum pulses rhythmically. A wrong turn, thrum thrum thrum. A gaggle of jaywalkers, thrum thrum thrum. A traffic jam en route to work and the gentle thrumming has exploded into a pounding heavy metal opera just inside the forehead. The vein swells and pulsates with aggressive vigor. Sweat glands along the hairline join hands and the forehead now glistens as it pulses.
Around his stout neck, Benny’s date wears a paisley ascot in muted earth tones to hide the ligature marks. His thing, his dirty little secret, is auto-erotic asphyxiation. A coiled telephone cord usually does the trick. He speaks animately of summers in Bristol and his parent’s mattress factory and the titillating sensation of wearing pants too tight.
His name is Ponce.
Ponce does not notice that Benny’s temper is about to flare worse than the pants he used to wear in the fall of 1972 and Benny hopes to make it through at least one cup of orange tea before Ponce starts to realize that behind Benny’s flaccid stature is a writhing sociopath ready to blow over brick houses.
Benny’s cheese danish has still not arrived and he feels the old familiar thrum strum-strum-strumming of impatience’s gnarled fingers against his angry vein. He blots with the back of his thick and hairy palm, fans his neck with his thick hand-sausages.
I should get one of those to wrap around my head, hide the angry worm that undulates beneath my skin, Benny thinks as he eyes up Ponce’s silken ascot. With a quick flit of his hand, he self-consciously paws at the rivulets of perspiration sopping down his temples. Benny hopes Ponce won’t suspect that behind his nervously smiling countenance lies a percolating human decanter of vitriol and acidic impatience, a real hot head, they call him.
The last time Benny didn’t get the proper danish at a cafe, he tossed the waitress onto the grill and gave the owner a Mexican necktie. Not today, not today, I’m on a date. Benny coaxed himself silently, breathing evenly past his thickly capped teeth.
But the sizzling track light, paired with the tardy danish, has quickly turned Benny’s face into a flush sheath of moist flesh. Benny swats at the drizzling sweat with his napkin. No one knows, he encourages himself. No one knows I’m a hot head.
Ponce talks about his chess club and his favorite mug crafted from hardened lava and is that your sweat plunking onto the table?
No, it’s coming from the waterlogged tile in the ceiling. And Ponce resumes talking about riding bareback on his prized gelding.
Benny hates the way Ponce’s tongue darts across his lips each time he pauses between sentences. Benny strains to maintain aloof. Don’t let him see you’re a hot head, Benny. Don’t let anyone see. Benny quickly glances around the room. No one is looking at him. No one knows.
Where’s that fucking danish? Thrum thrum thrum.
Ponce tugs at his ascot. It’s stuffy in here, let’s leave, he suggests. Benny blows a tuft of sweaty hair away from his brow and his chest caves with relief. Another minute under that track light waiting for his cheese danish and a gasket would have been blown.
No one here has to know I’m short-fused, Benny is happy to think.
At a nearby table, two women giggle at the sight of Benny’s broiling dome, not yet cooled from the harrowing brush with bad lighting and bad service. "He must be a real hot head," the one woman chortles to the other in a thick Southern drawl. Benny hears this as he and Ponce loop arms and walk past. Benny slows to a halt and stares at the women. His left nostril flares slightly.
But Benny leaves the coffee shop still thinking no one knows — Benny only speaks French.