All Talk

By Will Ludwigsen

From her chair on the Café Potomac's sidewalk veranda, Valerie points to a middle-aged gentleman crossing the street. She swallows her sip of cappuccino and closes her eyes.

The man leans toward a woman in a burgundy business suit, clasping her arm. "You'd be surprised how long a midget can stay underwater when you're holding him down," he whispers.

The woman pulls away so quickly that her right heel snaps beneath her. The man covers his mouth and bolts to the other curb.

Valerie and Colin laugh.

"Your turn," she says.

Colin rubs his temples with practiced drama. His eyelids drop and his breathing slows. He holds up his palm toward a young blonde tour guide.

Stepping backwards and smiling towards her audience, the guide motions to the Old Executive Office Building and says in her smooth North Carolina drawl, "And here is the headquarters of the international Jewish conspiracy." She pales. Her charges, some self-consciously adjusting their yarmulkes, cough and look away.

Valerie and Colin giggle while their server sets down two more mugs beside their scone-crumbed plates.

"Wait," says Valerie. "Wait. Here we go."

A man in a dented hardhat clambers from a sewer access grate and shrieks, "Look out! The kitten pipe! She's gonna blow!"

Colin holds up a finger. A little girl looks up at her mommy from a stroller and announces, "Elmo strangles hookers!"

Valerie doesn't look up, but a nearby woman taps her wrinkled finger on the menu and asks her server, "Can I please have the cream of feces soup?"

Colin dabs his napkin at his the corners of his lips. An MTA driver seated behind him mumbles into his cell phone, "Sometimes Jesus tells me to crash the bus." He pulls the phone away from his ear and stares at it while a voice squawks from the speaker.

Valerie's smile fades as she turns her mug in her hands. "Why don't you ever make anybody say something romantic?"

Colin watches a uniformed Secret Service guard pacing beside the Pennsylvania Avenue checkpoint. The guard crosses the street, walks over to their table, and leans to Valerie's ear. "She was a fast machine, she kept her motor clean, she was the best damned woman that I've ever seen." Blinking, he staggers away.

Valerie crosses her arms and squints towards a Korean souvenir vendor. The woman abandons her FBI t-shirts and Jefferson snow globes to bow beside Colin. "When I think about you, I touch myself," she says in stilted syllables.

"Cute," says Colin as the woman rubs her eyes and stumbles back to her booth. "But you're all talk."

Valerie locks her leg against Colin's. "Me? You're the one who won't even say it."

"Say what?"

"You know. Without a middle man."

"Okay." He inhales sharply as though mustering his courage. "I love you," he says in a rush. "How's that?"

Valerie sighs. "It's not as good when I make you say it," she says, tipping her coffee to her lips.


During Will Ludwigsen's adolesence, school teachers and guidance counselors placed even odds on him ending up in a mental hospital or prison. He ended up working for the federal government, fulfilling both predictions at once. When not writing horror non-fiction for them, he writes horror fiction for Weird Tales, Cemetery Dance, and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.