Philia and Phobe

by John Young

Sitting at the corner table in the small café on a warm summer day, Timothy watched Sonia deliver meals to impatient customers. An hour had passed since he had finished his lunch, but he remained there, sipping an iced tea, watching her.

Philia shot hot arrows through his veins until his heart warmed, giving him the feeling that he could walk over to Sonia, tell her he thought she was not just beautiful — which she was, but “pure beauty,” like he had rehearsed so many times. Her genuine pleasure in seeing children, the hand she put on the shoulder of the elderly as they stared at the menu, the laughs and thank yous when saying goodbye. Pure.

Phobe sensed what Philia was up to. He woke up the butterflies and sent them to Timothy’s stomach, churning his gut until he thought he would be sick. He sat down, taking deep breaths between sips of tea.

Philia retaliated. She painted pictures in Timothy’s imagination: slow dancing with Sonia; taking in her perfumed, soft, nut-brown skin; her slender arms resting on his shoulders. He held her close — her presence warm, accepting.

Phobe reminded him about his halitosis, teenaged acne scars, and receding hairline. Don’t forget your two left feet, he whispered.

Timothy looked at his watch, knocking over his glass in the process. It shattered, sending tea and ice on the terra cotta tiles. He knelt and picked at the glass fragments, swept the ice together, and sopped the tea with a napkin frantically. Then the open-toed sandals of Sonia appeared, toenails creamy pink with white tips. Philia swallowed. Phobe stirred nausea awake.

Sonia knelt down beside him with a dustpan and hand broom. Let me get that, honey.


Philia ordered neurons to communicate with the lower face — smile immediately! Phobe reversed turkey and Swiss cheese fumes through the esophagus. Philia ordered a tight grin. Phobe stomped his foot.

“Thanks, Sonia.” He smiled. So did she.

Philia did a little dance. Phobe lost a little color.


Bio: John Young’s writing has appeared in The ChironReviewEdifice WreckedFlashquakeFlashShotHeavy GlowLaughter Loaf,LunarosityMythologThe Pedestal Magazine, and Susurrus Magazine. John’s story “Unconditional Love” won secondplace in Inkspotter Magazine‘s 2005 annual “Finding the Right Words” contest,and “Backward Planning” earned first-runner up in Future Fire‘s Mirror Mask 2005Flash Fiction Contest. “Instinct of a Man” received a Special HonorableMention in ByLine Magazine‘s 2006 Short Story Competition. John writes the monthlyfeatured market column for Pamelyn Casto’s e-newsletter, Flash Fiction Flash. He teaches elementary-school children stuff they ought to know, but rarelywant to know. He lives in Bellflower, California.

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