THE DATE by Cheryl McGuire
“What’s wrong,” I said as he reappeared at the table, his eyes cold and flat. My date left the table. Mr. Hyde returned.
“I couldn’t find the ashtray,” he said. “I had to walk all the way around to the front of the building to put my cigarette out.”
I knew that wasn’t the problem. “Most of the world is non-smoking now,” I said.
“I doubt that I will ever be a non-smoker.” His pissy tone landed hard. I looked away. Smoking is a deal breaker for us, and he knows it.
“He didn’t bring you another beer. Do you still want one?”
“I told him not to,” he said. “I’m going to pay the bill. We’re leaving. Or I am. You can do what you want.”
We’d come to The Roost to have dinner outdoors, to watch the sun set, to listen to my friends play music, and to read through a script for timing.
He walked inside to pay. I watched him go. I didn’t want to leave. I felt forced, like a dog on a leash. I calculated the walk home, the shoes I had on. I considered calling my son. Mostly, I contemplated knocking my date out with a rock.
When he returned, I asked if he’d like to sit by the fire. He accepted. I handed him my wine glass to finish—I felt sick. I’d endured too many moody men. I wanted to get things straight between us.
We walked to the limited seating around the fire pit. On the way, he said I had ignored him at the table when my two friends sat down. I explained I started the conversation about music so he could join in, since all were musicians. It wasn’t my idea for him to sit like chunked cement and pout.
A couple approached us at the fire. “Do you mind if we sit here?” the woman said, looking down at my seat.
I recoiled like a snake. “I don’t know how you’re going to do that,” seeing only six inches of space.
She lowered herself into a single chair next to me, leaving her husband to stand. “Are you from here?” she said.
Oh god, no, no, no, no, no! We’re in a private conversation here. I nodded.
“I’m from Alaska,” my date said, chirping into high gear at the stranger’s intrusion, wearing the forty-ninth state on his shirt like a medal. My mood blackened.
“He’s from Long Beach,” I said. “He went to Alaska when he was twenty-two.”
This triggered the woman to yammer on about her son living there, about her boat, about how even though they’re from South Carolina and Texas they’ve retired to the desert, about how they like to go to the river. Shut up shut up shut up!
I’m not sure how we got from the Kenai Peninsula to her age, but there it was.
“You’re 46?” said my date, almost bouncing in his seat. “You look like a kid!”
My jaws locked. I leaned forward and picked up my purse and my script from the rim of the fire pit and pressed them like a shield across my chest. My stomach burned.
My date leaked the fact I had horses. “Oh, when I was eight,” she began. My eyes rolled to white. “When I was eight, a horse ran away with me.” I don’t care I don’t care! “But my cousin jumped on and turned my horse.” She took a breath. “I didn’t know you had to turn horses.” My stomach flipped. Why am I still sitting here?
My date, who thrives on superficial conversation, inhaled her prattle. “I have twelve grandkids in Alaska,” he said.
His hand dropped onto my knee. I looked at him. “Is that right?” he said.
“How would I know?” I hated faking the happy couple making new friends.
“He bullshits,” I heard myself say.
The woman’s husband—as much an outsider to the conversation as me—howled with laughter. I looked up at him, the muscular, retired marine, and laughed alongside him like one of the boys. For the first time in more than an hour, my date and the marine’s wife were speechless, our laughter puncturing their sissified airs.
I felt resurrected, energized. I looked over my shoulder at my friends, my escape. The woman noticed. “Am I bothering you?”
Yes yes yes you dyed-blond simpleton! “No. My friends are packing to leave. I’d like to say goodbye.”
“Oh, by all means,” she said.
Is she granting me permission? I stood. “Nice to meet you.” I hissed the words through my teeth like dried ash and toxins.
I bid goodbye to my friends and sped ahead of my date to his truck, teeth clinched, blood frozen. Why hadn’t I driven my own car? He opened the door for me, his chipper mood nauseating. All was right in his world, the superficial cluck. With his ego fluffed by his conversation with the dyed-blond, he’d forgotten his chilly snub of my friends.
I rode home stone cold, propped like a stiff in the cab of his truck, walled in and suffocated. Why was I doing this; did I really want another relationship? Two and a half months in and already my guts were heaving.