Fran was reading a trashy magazine. Bernard usually kept a little stack of them somewhere to use in place of a door mat when it rained. They tended to be about four years old or older, and someone had gone in and opened all the perfume samples on the one Fran was looking at, but it was better than listening to Bernard go on and on and on. And on. And on. He was on a kick about Dickens at the moment, though he seemed to be taking both sides of his argument, leaving Manny to hop back and forth, playing some sort of Socratic tennis.
While the other two moved on to the topic of dialogue, Fran flipped to the magazine's quiz: Are They Doing It Behind Your Back?
You've got a couple of friends, and you know they're getting close. But just how close are they getting? Is someone not telling you everything? Take this quiz and find out just what's going on, or not, behind your back!
Sure. Why not?
Question 1: You call up one friend to plan your weekly shopping trip. What does she say?
Fran looked over at Bernard and Manny. Out of the two, Manny had the better hair and the better hygiene. And they did like to go shopping together. But then, he'd been busy the past two weeks. Something about having to help Bernard clean the attic over the flat. Which she'd only thought odd at the time because Manny never helped Bernard do anything. Manny did it while Bernard sat around and criticized him. But now that she thought about it, the flat didn't have an attic at all.
She circled "She says she'd love to go, but she's got plans with him."
Question 2: You're out at lunch, just the two of you. What does she talk about?
Come to think of it, Fran realized that she hadn't had lunch with Manny in quite some time. It was always just drinks with Bernard in the shop, or maybe pizza, but that only happened when Fran was willing to pay, because Bernard always weaseled out of it and Manny never had any money. So what had they talked about when she'd last gone to lunch with Manny?
Fran frowned, watching as Bernard dug through his desk for something. Manny had disappeared into the flat's kitchen. She could hear him doing something in there, though what he was doing was up for debate until he reappeared with some toast and jam. He offered the plate to Bernard, who took one look at it, grabbed a piece, took one bite, then slapped the plate out of Manny's hand.
"You call this toast?" he demanded. "I've had better toast made on the pipes in the bathroom!"
"There's a toaster in the bathroom," Manny pointed out. "There's no need to use the pipes."
Ah, right, they'd talked about Bernard's breakfast, and how he didn't appreciate how much trouble Manny had gone to, making him toast and eggs that morning. She circled "She monopolizes the conversation with stories about him."
Question 3: All three of you are at lunch together. Who's talking to whom?
Tricky one, since they all tended to talk over each other when they were drinking. Like now, for instance. Bernard and Manny had forgotten about dialogue and were arguing over the end of the book Bernard had been tearing pages out of earlier that day.
"It was rubbish!" Bernard shouted.
"But why was it rubbish?" Manny asked. "I liked it!"
"Do you have any idea what goes into a good narrative? A decent plot? Characterization that doesn't make me want to kick you? This book was marketed as a tense thriller full of surprises. And do you know what it had?"
"Surprises!" Manny tried.
"The main character turned into a duck at the end."
Silence reigned for a few minutes while they all sat back for a sip of wine and some contemplation. Fran tried to come up with a scenario where a duck transformation at the end wouldn't be quite as pathetic as it sounded, but before she could think of anything Bernard had begun to talk again, only now he was off the topic of ducks and back onto Dickens and,really, Fran didn't care about Dickens. She wasn't much of a reader, but then she wasn't the one with the book shop.
Manny, on the other hand, seemed utterly transfixed by Bernard's opinions on A Tale of Two Cities.
Anyhow, back to the quiz. She circled "They mostly talk to each other and I can't get a word in edgewise."
Question 4: You're with both of them, when suddenly you find yourself alone. Where did they go?
Well that was just silly. It wasn't like they'd be out together at the movies or something and all of a sudden Manny and Bernard would vanish into thin air. Of course, it wasn't like Bernard went to the movies ever. But how on earth was she supposed to answer that question? It seemed utterly unrealistic.
"Listen here," she said to them, looking down at the magazine. "This question is completely ridiculous!"
Neither Bernard nor Manny answered. Fran looked up from the magazine, but they seemed to have disappeared. She left the magazine on Bernard's desk and got up to check under the tables, then in the alcove, the bathroom, under Bernard's desk and under the couch cushions. All she found were some half-smoked cigarettes, which she pocketed, a hedgehog, and a customer who thanked her for letting him out of the bathroom, paid for the book he'd been reading, then went on his way.
Well, they might have gone to get more food. Fran peeked behind the curtain over the flat doorway, expecting to see Manny at the kitchen counter and Bernard scrounging through the mound of old takeaway containers. But they weren't there either. And then she heard a loud thunk from upstairs. It might have been a headboard against the wall, and Fran was rather familiar with that sound, or it might just have been Manny's head. It was difficult to tell from downstairs.
They were still talking about Dickens. She thought.
Fran went back out to the shop and picked up the magazine again to look over her choices. A was "They went their separate ways." B was "They went to go and buy me a surprise birthday gift." And C was "They left together for an unknown destination."
Well, they were obviously together, and they weren't buying any birthday gifts, so she circled C.
Question 5: Do they spend a lot of time together?
Now that wasn't quite a fair question. They were flatmates and they worked together, so obviously they spent a lot of time together. That was only logical. So she took that out of the equation. Did they spend a lot of time together that wasn't spent at work, and wasn't when they both just happened to be home at the same time?
Upstairs she could hear both of them still talking. Bernard was still on about narrative devices and overused plot twists and then Manny was agreeing quite vociferously while Bernard listed all the various mistakes authors could make when trying to build tension. The conversation seemed to be going on for a lot longer than Fran thought it really should have. Long enough that a customer actually came into the shop while Fran was the only one there.
"Do you have the new Tempocalypse book?" the customer asked from the doorway. Fran poured herself more wine and gestured to the Tempocalypse display in the corner. It had all four Tempocalypse books, including the newest (Someone in the office might be releasing Anthrax! And the plucky heroine has to figure out who it is before her big date!). It had started out with a large banner advertising the upcoming movie, but Bernard had burned it in the kitchen sink.
While the customer poked through the display, the conversation upstairs culminated in a resounding agreement between Bernard and Manny that yes, Dickens was amazing. And then there was some rather blissful silence.
Fran went back to ignoring the customer - who wasn't her customer after all - and picked "They spend a lot of time together."
Question 6: Do they anticipate each other's needs?
"GET OUT!" Bernard said from the flat doorway behind the desk. Fran almost fell out of her chair. They'd been so quiet for a few minutes that she'd almost forgotten they were upstairs. But Bernard wasn't talking to Fran. He was stalking over to the man at the Tempocalypse display. "OUT!" he shouted in the man's ear. "Take your book and leave my shop! DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END?!"
The man was clutching a copy of the book to his chest, cowering under the weight of Bernard's disapproval. "Ah... no?" he ventured.
"A DUCK!" Bernard roared. "HER DATE IS A DUCK!"
That wasn't how it ended at all. Fran was sure she'd have remembered if there'd been a duck at the end. But Bernard was on a tear, and when he got like that it was better to just enjoy the show. Manny sat down next to Fran and grinned as he watched Bernard berate the Tempocalypse fan.
"Amazing, isn't he?" Manny asked. Fran turned to look at him, then shrugged as Bernard came back to the desk to deposit the money he'd gotten from the customer in exchange for shutting up about the imaginary duck at the end of the book.
Bernard patted down his pockets, but Manny was already holding out a lit cigarette to him, which he took without a word.
Fran checked the answers and circled "All the damned time."
While Fran tallied her answers, Bernard sat back to enjoy his cigarette and Manny got up to start sweeping. When all was said and done, Fran ended up with 58 points, which she wasn't sure was really possible in a magazine quiz. But the next page revealed that yes, her two friends were most certainly "doing it" behind her back. She looked up and watched as Bernard flicked ash onto the floor and Manny swept it up.
Right. Like she needed a quiz to tell her that.