Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My Blindish Date

I was happy to learn my short story submission "My Blindish Date" received an Honorable Mention in the 85th Annual Writer's Digest Competition. Here's the story which began as a writing assignment in my Gotham Writer's Workshop. Hope you enjoy.



My Blindish Date

Incurably prompt is how my mother always described me. And there I was, fifteen minutes early, sitting at a table for two at Lo Sole Mio. I had calculated my approach to conversation by combing through the paper that day. Conflict in the Middle East. The volatile stock market. The election. The World Series. Of all the articles I skimmed, the one on taxidermy is the one that lingered.
Arriving first to a blind date is undoubtedly uncool. I tried not to fidget with my phone which I was certain would offer me a text with an apologetic cancellation. As the seconds ticked, and no such text arrived, I nibbled on the warm, sourdough bread to alleviate my nerves. Just as a grabbed another piece, I realized something. I had nibbled through the entire loaf.
Once 7:00 hit, regret consumed me. It was my first date in three years. Allison, my best friend in the office, had been trying to set me up as soon as the signatures were dry on the divorce papers. For obvious reasons, such as my profound distrust in men, I had no interest. But one Monday morning, on a whim, and after a weekend of Nora Ephron flicks, I gave in.
At one time in my life, I was confident. Maybe even indomitably. Isn’t it funny how shaky indomitably can be? I was climbing the corporate ladder at an alarming rate, lioning the ranks our social circle, vacationing in Spain with Dr. Romero. Then Dr. Romero, also known as my husband, made an ear-numbing confession.
The flirty nurse. The new one.
I was zombied.
For three years, I’ve been a zombie. Still immersed in work, but only work. And romantic comedies on the weekend. I’m well aware watching such movies needle the wound. It’s like a bruise I can’t stop pressing.
So, back to the story.
My impending date was precisely three minutes late when I began to panic over my apparel. I looked down at my bloated belly of bread and cursed the sales woman for convincing me of the clingy, rayon dress. Black wasn’t working its magic. As I adjusted the fabric and practiced sucking in my gut, a smooth, deep voice startled me.
“Alice?”
I jumped out of my seat. And swallowed a chunk of bread whole. I stood to meet a specimen of man fitted in a steel-hued, shimmery suit. His dark eyes and tousled hair made him seem a beautiful fixture of the restaurant.
“No need to get up.” He coached me back into to my chair. Then introduced himself.
“I’m Ben. So pleased to meet you here, Alice.”
I nodded, now mute. Ben kept talking.
“I love this restaurant. Delicious food and even better service. And this music!” Ben lifted his hands to Frank Sinatra crooning in the background. “Well. It’s romantic.”
Romantic. Within the first two minutes, the man was talking romance. Instead of responding, I picked up the menu. And was relieved when our server checked in.
“Give us a bottle of your best Merlot.” Ben smiled at the waitress in a charming sort of way. If she wouldn’t have been in her seventies, I might’ve thought he had designs on her. 
He turned to me after she scooted off. 
“Red wine okay with you? I hear of its health benefits.”
Again, a nod with no words. The cat had devoured my tongue.
“You look really pretty. Nice dress.”
“Thank you.” 
My words sounded meager. I tried to study the menu, but I wasn’t comprehending the words. No, it wasn’t written in Italian. You see, I had been ambushed. I let my eyes drift to the rippling fountain in the middle of the room. Ben took hold of my hand. I stiffened.
“What are you trying to do?” I asked.
Ben released my hand, and let go of his dapper smile. Even in suddenly serious mode, he was incredibly attractive.
“I’m trying to apologize. Again. And convince you to come back to me.”
Before I had a chance to respond, the server brought us the bottle of wine and poured it into our glasses. Ben went back to charming grandma waitress, and I slurped the largest drink I could manage. My mind took flight as Ben chatted with his new friend.
Suddenly vexed with my recurring thoughts of late, I wondered how many women he had been with. I wondered what movies he had seen without me. I wondered what books he had read and discussed with someone else. I wondered how many lives he had saved that I knew nothing about. Mostly, I wondered how many women he had been with.
“Too difficult to choose!”
His voice interrupted my momentary splosh as I realized our server had been standing there, communicating the specials of the evening. When he recognized my bleary expression, he asked her if we could have a moment. Then he asked, “Have you been eating?”
“Obviously.”
As Ben sipped his wine, he kept an unflinching gaze at me. 
I told him I wanted to leave. 
“Do you remember when I said you would always be the love of my life?”
Words I did not need to hear. I wanted to cover my ears, but instead I kept listening as he drew in closer to me.
“I fired her. The day after it happened.”
“I know. That’s why she told me all about it.”
“Ashamed doesn’t come close to how I feel.”
I had heard him say this before. The words bounced off me when he said, “Did you hear my mother died?”
That punch landed. I felt tears well up. Ben’s mother was a saint. An Hispanic Mother Teresa with seven kids. The opposite of my bulldog mother, who found her only child a burdensome distraction.
Ben took my hands again. His eyes, glossy.
“Before she died, she told me to fight for you.
“What if I don’t want you to?” I asked with an embarrassing sort of sob.
Ben didn’t respond. I watched his face fall, his head drop.
I stonewalled the sobbed growing in me. 
I ached for him. His mother had died. I knew he adored her. I felt a crack in the wall between us. But I did not want to go there. I didn’t want to be on his side. Sort of. My mind rummaged through other topics. The highly charged air seemed to be clouding my brain. Then I spoke. Words from my subconscious invaded. 
“Did you know taxidermy is becoming a lost art form?”
What else could Ben do but grimace?
I wasn’t sure how to retract. So I said the next thing on my mind. “How can I ever trust you again?”
Ben’s posture lifted. “Maybe you never will. I can only tell you this, I won’t do it again.”  
The server stepped in to take our order. Thankfully, Ben pushed the task away. “A few more minutes sweetheart?” Grandma blushed as she backed away. The interruption revived my manners.
“I’m really sorry about your mother. She was entirely lovely. How’d she pass?”
“Pancreatic cancer.” Ben was solemn again. “I keep blaming myself for not getting her into see a specialist sooner.”
“That’s tough.”
Ben shrugged, as if he were unconvinced. “I should’ve told you.”
“About your mom or the nurse?” 
Ben responded by blinking. 
“I’m sorry,” I said with sincere regret. “That was mean.”
“Deserved.”
“No, it’s not.” I sighed.  “I wish I would’ve been with you at her funeral.”
“Me too.”
“I wish you wouldn’t have cheated on me.”
“Me too.”
“I wish I wasn’t so sad about it. Still.”
Ben gently took my quivering hand. “My nature is to fix things. All this aching.”
I let him squeeze my hand to stop the quivering. Then I whispered, “Okay.” 
“Okay? Okay what?”
“I’m not really sure.”
“You still love me,” he said with an annoying stamp of confidence.
I had a notion to leave. I had a notion to stay.
I went to the ladies restroom. To pace. And splash water on my face. And decide how to proceed. After a few deep breaths, I stepped back out.
Ben was gone.
I stammered to the exit as my heart verged on exploding. As I opened the door, Ben met me on his phone, conferring over a patient. He touched my shoulder while continuing to give medical instruction. Compassionately. Instinctively. Expertly.
I turned back inside and settled in at our table. Then waited for him to return. I anxiously waited for him to return.
He did. And we ate dinner together, as if it were our first, or possibly last date. I couldn’t decide. 
Maybe I’ll know next week, if I take him up on his invitation. And bail on Nora Ephron.

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