Pluto thrived for centuries as the outermost planet, the blue orb of frozen mystery, the final frontier and—according to certain astronomers—the last remaining celestial virgin. Pluto was given special consideration in the planetary field. To say Pluto was isolated, cold and frozen was not slighting it. In fact, it was encouraging the planet’s notoriety and claim to fame. People admired the planet’s extreme distance and the way it seemed to play sentinel to the larger planets that loomed before him.
Mercury would melt, and then eat, your face. Venus had sirens who would lead you to their lairs, and then envelope you in its atmosphere, a poisonous casserole of carbon dioxide and sulfur. Evil Mars had its Martians and consistently failing Earth colonies. Jupiter had its menacing eye of storms and, based on its circumference, an inferiority complex. Prissy Saturn had rings and a loose claim that the USS Enterprise would later be built upon its surface. Uranus was, basically, inconsequential without the numerous jokes and limericks associated with its name. Neptune’s dense atmosphere of helium, methane and hydrogen emitted a beautiful blue-green sheen but also made it nothing more than the drug-addled, artist cousin of Uranus.
Pluto, however, was the indefinable badass of the solar system. Its extreme distance and lack of proper satellite photography gave Pluto an infamy and a bevy of legends and admiring speculation as to what dwelled—and did not dwell—on its rocky terrains. Like the silent, good looking guy dressed in black sitting in the back of the class, Pluto was the recipient of many astronomical crushes, and studied as intensely as young girls studied pinned up posters of teen idols.
But Pluto’s true identity was eventually discovered. And was thusly stripped of its of planetary status and made subject to ridicule and dismay, not only from scientists, but also from many a disenchanted elementary school child who had committed to memory the anagram: My Very Eccentric Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. Successfully knocked down a few pegs, The Former Planet, Now Kuyper Object, Pluto was perceived as an astrological failure. The legendary stories once told had devolved into stories comparing Pluto to the remote ice world of Hoth, and the ensuing jokes about hidden rebel bases contained within.
Pluto, in essence, had become the inerasable typo at the end of the planetary sentence.
Shannon put the manuscript down and stared at Tracy curiously.
“So, this is what you like to write, then?”
“Yes, I think I’m really on to something!”
“Oh.” Shannon let out a sigh and looked over her shoulder at the couple sitting at the end of the bar. “Well, um, would you excuse me for a moment?” she asked without looking at him.
“Oh, of course!” he nearly sang.
Tracy thought his date was going extremely well. It was hard for him to hide the smile on his face, or to keep his hands from shaking. Nervously, he thumbed through his thirteen page manuscript, an as of yet untitled intimate biography on Pluto, the product of nearly five days of effort.
Happily he imagined which parts she liked best. Even more happily, he imagined discussing those parts with her, watching his imaginary Shannon thinking hard, biting her lower lip and looking up and to the right, trying to find that perfect word to describe his literary genius. Excitedly, he thought of that discussion taking place under the sheets. With his imagination beginning to inspire stirrings in his lap, Tracy quickly took a sip of his vanilla milkshake.
“Wait, you ordered a milkshake? You met your dream girl at a bar and ordered a milkshake? Who does that?” Julie asked.
“Yeah, what bar serves milkshakes?” Ledonn asked in his vaguely European accent.
“Come on, guys, just finish reading it. Critiques come later.”
“Thank you, Tom.” Tracy said with just the slightest hint of smugness.
It was quite a while before Shannon came back to Tracy. He had nearly finished his milkshake, and his excitement about post-coital literary theory with Shannon had also started to fade. Well, almost.
“I’m sorry Trey, it’s really busy tonight.”
“Trey?” He gave a sly smile at the thought of this nickname, the first, of presumably many, small acts of affection. Then he realized the confused look on her face.
“Oh, it’s Tracy. God, I’m sorry! I’m not so good with names. You’d think I would be, though. Not many guys are named Tracy.”
“Oh, well, that’s alright,” he sighed. “I think my mom was a fan of Dick Tracy or something.”
“The detective? They based a comic strip on him? In the 70’s?”
“Hey, they made a movie about that! I think I remember.”
“Yeah, with Christopher Walken as Dick Tracy.”
“Really? That’s interesting. Excuse me, I’ll be right back.”
“Sure thing, Shannon!” Everyone’s favorite word is their name. They love to hear it, he thought to himself, smugly.
He watched as Shannon moved down the bar, making conversation with people who weren’t him, ordering drinks that she wouldn’t drink with him, laughing at jokes that weren’t his. He looked down, depressedily, at his milkshake and the manuscript that no longer encouraged him. In a move he made aimed at preserving what was left of his manhood, he left five dollars on the bar, packed his manuscript, and made his way to the exit.
With one last look, he walked away from Shannon for the last time.
“Right. How many times do I have to tell you? If you’re going to make an interesting tale about your “unusual” name, then for god’s sake, get the facts right! First, Dick Tracy was entirely fictional. Second, the comic started in the 30’s, and ended in the 70’s. Third, it was Warren Beaty in the movie, not Christopher Walken. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this. Christ, you’re the American, here.” Ledonn said, rubbing his forehead.
"And, I don’t think that ‘depressidly’ is a word.” Julie added.
“Yes, it can be. It’s called poetic license,” Tracy defended.
“Fuck that! You can’t adverb everything under the guise of poetic license! “Poetic License.” What is that term, anyway? It’s nothing more than a condom for bad grammar. It looks safe, but it’s still a stain, it’s still WRONG!”
“Julie, calm down,” Tom made a consoling, downward motion with his hands.
“Besides, this is a FICTION GROUP. I thought we weren’t supposed to bring real stories? I thought the idea was to bring in new, original work! Why am I killing myself to get new pages written when I can’t use the story I wrote about my sister?”
“For your information, I did add part of my manuscript in there. That makes it creative non-fiction.”
“Yes, Julie, Tracy’s trying to work in new genres here. We have to let him explore those avenues if it makes him a more productive artist.” Tom consoled.
Julie finished the rest of her beer, swallowing it with the remains of her anger. Ledonn began to change the subject.
“So, Tracy. This was the Big Date that you kept telling us about?”
“Yes. Too bad it didn’t turn out quite the way that I expected.”
“You met her at the bar where she works?”
“And you sat at the bar?”
“And she kept leaving you? To talk to other people at the bar?”
“Are you sure she wasn’t working?”
“Oh, Yes…” Tom, re-reading, began noticing what Ledonn was pointing out. “‘ordering drinks that she wouldn’t drink with him, laughing at jokes that weren’t his.’ It definitely sounds like she was working.”
“Damn, Trace, did you even call her to set this up?” Julie asked.
“Well, no, I thought I’d surprise her.”
“That wasn’t a date, man.”
“Yeah, you were just a customer. How could you not tell?”
Tracy stared off into space. His heart, which had sunk to the bottom of his chest when he heard his friend’s revelations, started to lighten. “If we weren’t on a date, then she didn’t blow me off!” he thought to himself. He closed his eyes and saw Shannon. She was winking at him. She took a sip of her drink and nodded for him to come over.
Tracy looked around at his group, grin plastered from ear to ear.
“I guess I couldn’t… But that’s great news!”