The Purple Onion

You gotta a lotta nerve

To say you are my friend.

When I was down,

You just stood there, grinning. 

– Bob Dylan, “Positively 4th Street”


“Don’t you love how the capital O in Onion is shaped like an onion—?”

“—And the neon inside it is purple?”

“It’s so perfect, yet it’s so simple: The Purple Onion.”

“It’s so perfect because it’s so simple.”

“Two steamed milks? One with caramel for the lady—”


“—And one with vanilla for the gentleman.”





“Steamers. Started drinking them whenever I went to write—well, to try to write—at Hard Times on the West Bank. Because, well, what else do you drink at a coffee shop when you don’t—”

“—Drink coffee?”

“‘When you don’t drink coffee,’ exactly. I love it—I mean, like it—when we finish each other’s sentences.”


“Um…. So….”


“So… you don’t drink coffee, either?”



“Let’s not start that again.”

“No, no—”

“Hey, that’s my line.”


“That second no. I thought we were starting a new pattern of repetition.”

So, so, so, um—”

Um, um, um, so—”

No, no, no—”

No, no, no!”

“I love—I mean, I like—that! The music of language!”

“Exactly! That’s why I picked this place for our first official date.”

“I was wondering about that, seeing as—”

“—Neither of us drink coffee?”

“‘Seeing as neither of us drink coffee,’ exactly. So?”

“So, I picked The Purple Onion because you are a writer, and you go to the University of Minnesota, so—”

“—I must admire Bob Dylan.”

“Exactly! And when Bob Dylan—

“—Who was a writer, and who—”

“—Went to the University of Minnesota, one of the places he played was The Purple Onion.”



“That wasn’t this Purple Onion.”


“No, that was a pizza place in St. Paul, not—”

“—A coffee shop in Minneapolis? But isn’t this on—?”

“4th Street? Positively.”

“You’re positive?”

“That this is 4th Street?”

“That Dylan never played here?”

“Positive: Dylan never played here.”

“Then why is his song ‘Positively 4th Street’?”

“Because he lived here.”


“Well, there.”

“There? In Gray’s Campus Drug?”

“Well, above Gray’s Campus Drug. In a rented room.”

“But I thought he lived in—”

“—Your apartment?”

“Exactly. Because—”

“—Your landlord told you Dylan had lived in it?”

“Exactly. How do you know that?”

“Because my landlord told me the same story.”

“That Dylan had lived in my apartment?”

“That Dylan had lived in my apartment.”

“What? You used to live in my apartment?”

“What? No, no—”

“Hey, that’s my line.”

“I love—I mean, I like—you.”


“Um…. All I meant was—”

“It’s OK. I feel like that about you, too.”

“You do?”

“I do.”

“Whoah, there. I know I’m the one who let the L-word—the L-words—slip, but isn’t it still a little early for I do?”

“Is it? Apparently, we’ve already lived in the same apartment.”

“No, no—”

“Hey, that’s my line.”

“You’re—I mean, that’s—adorable. Really. But—”


“We haven’t lived in the same apartment.”

“Then how did you know—”

“—Your landlord told you Dylan had lived in it? Because, in Dinkytown, every landlord tells every tenant that Dylan lived in their apartment.”

“And every coffee shop—”

“—puts a photo of Dylan next to its performance space?”

“Looks like it.”

“So, Dylan didn’t play at every coffee shop in Dinkytown.”

“No, he didn’t.”

“But did he play at any coffee shop in Dinkytown?”

“Yes, he did. At the Ten O’Clock Scholar.”

“Where is the Ten O’Clock Scholar?”

“That, unfortunately, isn’t the question to ask.”

“Well, what is the question to ask?”

“Where was the Ten O’Clock Scholar?”

“Well, where was the Ten O’Clock Scholar?”

“Only about a block from here. Do you want to see?”

“I do.”

“Isn’t it still a little early for I do?”

“Is it?”


“This is—I mean, this was—the Ten O’Clock Scholar, the coffee shop in Dinkytown where Bob Dylan played.”

“An empty parking lot?”


“Next to a closed Hollywood Video?”

“Yes. This is it, my friend.”

“You gotta a lotta nerve—”

“—To say you are my friend?”


“Well, what are you, if not my friend?”

“I don’t care about all of that.”

“About all of what?”

“I don’t care what we were to each other then—back at The Purple Onion, back at the start of this date—”

“—Or what we are to each other now?”

“Or what we are to each other now. And I don’t care that the Ten O’Clock Scholar was here then. I don’t care that Bob Dylan played here then. I do care, though, that you and I are here now—”

“—Because you want to play with me here now?”

“Exactly. And don’t just stand there, grinning.”

“The Purple Onion” was originally published by Flash Fiction Magazine in 2014.

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