Dinner Date

By Pete Able

Gwebive me the money,” he says, trying to sound intimidating. Adam is not, nor has he ever been, intimidating. Nevertheless, he points the gun at the shop clerk trying to look mean. The gun is a toy gun. Though his partner assured him it did, Adam is not confident it looks real. The clerk also thinks it doesn’t look real, but, at the same time, is afraid it might be. He looks from Adam, to the gun, to the register, and back to Adam again.

To Adam’s great relief the man opens the register without protest. Adam takes the money, also without protest, and, offering a quick apology, turns toward the door. A surge of relief at his success wells up inside of him, but it was too soon.

Before he turns the corner, there is a loud bang and he feels a sharp sting. Adam is incredulous. Aghast, really. They shot me with an actual gun? he thinks. He can’t believe they would keep an actual gun behind the counter. It’s such a nice neighborhood. There’s no hardship here. Children have large, elaborate slumber parties here, he thinks.

Adam is running now. Running and running. He doesn’t know how much longer he can. Due to his exhaustion, and perhaps his injury, Adam’s ability for course correction is impaired. In his wake, he leaves a slew of geriatrics and small school children sprawled on the sidewalk.

Adam curses his partner for parking so far away. They had argued about it. Initially his partner had wanted to park on Leech, five blocks away. Adam had wanted him to park on Union, one block away. They had compromised on Neptune, three blocks away. Adam is wheezing when he finally reaches the orange Mustang.

Inside the car he evaluates his condition. He finds he is shot squarely in the left buttock. He’s grateful he is shot in the left buttock. He could have easily been killed, or paralyzed, or made incontinent, he thinks. His partner doesn’t share in Adam’s gratitude. The unnatural angle of his pencil moustache gives him away. He’s angry with Adam for bleeding on the white leather seats. Then he is angry with him for getting shot in the first place.

“You should have urinated on the magazine rack,” he says. “And work on your maniacal laugh. You have to baffle and scare them. Everyone knows not to shoot a lunatic.”

“Well you go in next time. You won’t have to pretend,” says Adam.

“I’m no crazier than cat breeders or winter sports enthusiasts,” he insists. He goes on to expound on all of the ways in which he is not crazy.

“I too cut out the brown parts of bananas.”

“I too keep my receipts,” he says with fervor.

Adam doesn’t pay any attention to his partner’s dramatics. He is thinking he is quite possibly in shock. He assumes he must be because he doesn’t have any pain. Again he’s grateful. Feeling no pain means he can keep his dinner date. It’s a first date and he is hopeful. He always is. Even when it’s a blind one, like tonight’s will be. He would see his doctor friend, get fixed up and then have a nice romantic evening.

The bright colors of the affluent suburb gradually fall away and are replaced by the shaded grays of the inner city. The drive does little to de-escalate his partner’s anger. He rejects Adam’s request to swing by his doctor friend’s before the date. “No. Uh-uh. It’s one or the other,” he says. After many internal debates, some weighing of options, and a quick pros and cons list, Adam is dropped at the restaurant an hour early. He’ll wine and dine for just a couple of hours, and then he will see his doctor friend. Yes, just a few hours of wine and dine, he promises himself.

“Asshole,” his partner says as Adam exits the car. Adam isn’t sure he deserves it. Perhaps he should have offered to help clean the seats.

The restaurant looks very nice. There are paintings of cherubs and elaborate blown glass chandeliers. Adam’s sister had recommended it. She assured Adam of its quality. “Every time I’ve gone there, the night has turned decidedly romantic. It has great aphrodisiacal powers,” she said. Adam had never been to such a restaurant. At least, not that he knew of. Now he can see that he was right. He has indeed never been to a restaurant like this. It looks like what Adam imagines a sheik’s pool house would look like.

In the bathroom, the amount of blood that has soaked through his pants is disconcerting. He is also disconcerted because he is wearing his favorite pants. They had been a gift from an ex-girlfriend. So not only did he like the way he looked in them, but they had sentimental value as well. He cleans them as best he can and stuffs a handful of paper towels into his underwear over his wound. There is some pain now. Wine will help, he thinks.

On his way back from the bathroom Adam forgets where his table is. A waitress eyes him unhappily as he approaches three different vacant tables. Giving up, he sits down at the third, which feels just as unfamiliar as the previous two. He signals the unhappy waitress and orders a bottle of red. The combination of her demeanor, makeup, dimples and narrow lips remind Adam of a fatigued rainbow trout. She is annoyed with him, or her job, or her life, he thinks.

Adam observes his surroundings more carefully. First he studies the layout and design of the restaurant, which he finds soothing, then he studies the people, which he doesn’t. He thinks they can sense his paranoia. He has known people with remarkable intuition. His mother had it. She always knew when he’d done wrong. He regards it as a kind of magic. Someone here must possess it, he thinks. The only question, is who? He must be on the lookout. And he must try to act perfectly normal and calm.

It is a long wait. The warm basket of bread in the center of the table looks like it would make an excellent pillow. He stares at it for a long while before he decides that using a basket of bread as a pillow in the middle of a crowded restaurant wouldn’t be considered normal behavior, no matter how warm and soft it is. Instead he rests his head on his hand, now fantasizing about a large theater and a musical number with barelegged women in blue sequined dresses. The women are singing a bawdy song and Adam is sitting in the front row. The most attractive one breaks from the chorus line and walks off the stage directly toward him. She shoves her knee in between his legs, leans in close and licks his ear.

“You’re bleeding,” she whispers.

“Only a little,” says Adam.

“I could help you.”

“I’m waiting for someone.”

“Well, take care, teddy bear.”

“The veal is divine,” she says standing up.

“Divine,” she says once more over her shoulder before walking backstage.

The vision vanishes just in time for Adam to see a real woman being shown to his table. He stands to greet her. She is wearing a blue dress not unlike those from his fantasy. Adam decides this is yet another form of undocumented magic. People always talk about dreams coming true, but they never say anything about daydreams. He feels he’s on to something. He must remember to examine it further.

“You must be Adam,” says the woman.

Adam realizes he doesn’t remember the woman’s name. He pushes back a shock of black hair.

“How do you do?” he says.

“I’m starving,” says the woman.

They sit. The girl comments on the chandeliers.

“They’re spectacular,” she says. “This is a nice place.”

“I was thinking, not that I’ve ever seen one, that it kind of looks like a sheik’s pool house,” The woman laughs.

“Like not his main house, not even the guest house, but his pool house.” The woman laughs harder, resembling a teenage girl for just a split second, reminding Adam that youth is not to be reclaimed, only borrowed. He fills her wine glass almost to the brim.

As the nameless woman across from him peruses the menu, Adam peruses the nameless woman. He gives her a few cursory glances. Head. Shoulders. Torso. Upon careful consideration, he finds that she lands safely within the wide margins of what constitutes his “type.” Also, inexplicably, he decides she has milked a cow before; an attribute he has always been keen to find in a woman. He imagined a woman that milked cows would have to possess a certain measure of otherworldliness.

“I’m having the steak,” announces the woman.

She announces this with an unaccounted for pep and/or perkiness. Adam decides he likes unaccounted for pep and/or perkiness. He decides he likes it very much. The rainbow trout waitress comes. Along with his veal, Adam preemptively orders a second bottle of wine. He thinks he can saturate himself with it, like, in lieu of blood, he’ll have wine coursing through his veins. This logic sounds vaguely okay to Adam. And as this goal is never far from his mind, his glass is never long from his lips. That’s why he is surprised when he finds the woman keeping pace with him.

“I’m catching up,” she says.

“Don’t slack off now,” he says.

The woman takes this as a challenge. They look into each other’s eyes for a full minute, sipping their wine in unison. Neither speaks. It is decided that this is the silent sort of game. They take in each other’s pale faces and sip their wine. The woman smiles. Adam grins. He is confident with his grin. He has often been told that the grin is a good look for him. Not the smirk, the beam, or even the smile, but the grin.

So the date starts well. They are relaxed and themselves. The forum is open for further dialogue. One asks the other about his or her jobs and hobbies, and the other returns the questions, so that each has a chance to talk about said jobs and hobbies. It is a well-balanced exchange.

“I like pigeon racing,” says the woman.

“I enjoy coloring,” says Adam.

“I’m a food stylist. I style food,” says the woman.

“I thieve things. I’m a thief,” says Adam. “Office work gives me eczema,” he adds.

“I’ve never dated a thief,” she says with one raised eyebrow. “I’ve dated crooks before, but never a thief.”

“Thieves are nothing like crooks. We’re typically much more reverent.”

Adam’s pain is growing. The shock must be completely worn off now, he realizes. Sitting is becoming increasingly painful. He endeavors to keep all of his weight on his right cheek, and so, sits with a slight lean in that direction. It is quite a noticeable lean but the woman makes no comment. Adam thinks it peculiar she doesn’t say something. If it’s hemorrhoids, thinks the woman, I’d rather not bring it up.

Entrees are served. The dishes are of elegant proportions, meaning miniscule, and the plates are designed like modern art canvases, meaning extortionate. Adam and the woman comment on these for what seems like an appropriate amount of time.

“The dishes are very attractive looking,” says the woman.

“Yes, they look sufficiently handsome,” says Adam.

Moving on, they find they are of the same opinion on several important issues. They agree that family should be visited rarely, that friends are not to be trusted, and that time spent alone is invaluable.

“Of course I trust my friends, but you can’t really trust them, can you?” says the woman.

“The friends I’ve liked most have always proved to be the least trustworthy,” says Adam.

“I usually tell my family and friends that I have a date on Thanksgiving,” says the woman.

“My parents wouldn’t believe it,” says Adam.

“My friends don’t believe it either,” she says.

Adam likes the woman, and the woman finds herself liking Adam more and more. Adam senses this and worries about messing things up. The woman senses his worry and so also worries about him messing things up. It’s always the man, she thinks, that messes thing up. To Adam’s thinking, she isn’t wrong. There are so many opportunities for the man to make a mistake. But he really doesn’t want to mess it up this time. He has already grown somewhat attached to the woman’s blond hair, her pointy nose, and the dewy glow of her company. But, for the life of him, he can’t remember her name.

The second bottle of wine is almost finished. They are feeling lightheaded and happy, or at least happy that they are lightheaded. Adam hardly takes his eyes from the woman. He watches her eager green eyes bounce from her plate, then around the room, then to her glass and back to his face again. He is transfixed by their activity. He is mildly dizzy from it. It might be more practical to study her breasts, he thinks. It might get him in trouble, but at least looking at them wouldn’t make him nauseous. The trout waitress comes back. Do they dare? Yes they do. A third bottle of wine is ordered.

“Have you gone on many blind dates?” asks Adam.

“I’ve gone on sixty-seven blind dates,” says the woman.

Adam has been on at least that many. Together they share in their misadventures.

“One had two missing incisors,” says the woman.

“One wore a posture corrective brace,” says Adam.

“One was a street performer. He wanted me to visit him at work,” says the woman.

“One was a Chilean spy. She was overly interested in the Pledge of Allegiance,” says Adam.

“In the last four years I’ve only been on three second dates. And they all proved to be homosexuals,” she says.

“I wish I had a second date with a homosexual. At least then I could say I made it to the next level.”

The woman laughs half-heartedly.

“How’s the steak?”

“It’s delectable,” she says. “How’s your veal?”

“It’s divine.”

The chemistry they both feel is quite nice too. Adam thinks it must be the aphrodisiacal effects his sister had mentioned administering their sway. And, indeed, between them there are many silly, romantic ideas floating around. He’ll do, thinks the woman. She’s neat, thinks Adam. I wonder if he flosses, thinks the woman. I bet she’s divorced, thinks Adam. Also, he thinks he is not feeling so good.

The wine, Adam decides, isn’t holding up its side of the bargain. Or, at least, it’s not accomplishing what he had hoped it would. Sure he’s lightheaded and happy, or happy that he’s lightheaded, and sure his tongue feels pleasantly thick and courageous in his mouth, but where is the vitality? Where is the physical cocksureness? No, the invigorating, strength-giving blood that’s supposed to be found surging though his veins is tragically absent. As he reaches for his glass, he hardly feels his arm is there. This should have been a clear signal that things were turning grave, and that it was past the time that he should be visiting his doctor friend, but Adam’s priorities are in an incorrect order. Love over life is only supposed to occur in the movies. But Adam is adamant. For the time being, I will continue to act normal and calm, he tells himself. That is what is important, he says. The date is rapidly approaching what is sure to be a satisfactory conclusion, after all. And he likes her. He will see the date through, he says. Then he will see his doctor friend. Yes, the plan is in place now. All is well, he says.

Their comfort zones have been successfully navigated. They’ve plied each other with wine, so much so that they don’t remember who did the most plying. It goes down easy. Almost too easy. But that’s normal. Normal for Adam, at least. But, by the way she grasps her glass like a goblet, drinking from it greedily, he expects the woman is a kindred spirit in this regard.

From up out of the primordial ooze, the dialogue continues. They ask each other where the other lives. They ask each other where the other was born. Systematically, they cover all the typical, first-date questions. When they run out of these, and most all of their other well-rehearsed stories, for a time they slip into a juvenile sort of pillow talk, asking silly questions which they carry out in low mutinous tones. The wine is partly to blame.

Adam (playful): Can you stand on your head?

Woman (deadpan): Do you still have your wisdom teeth?

Adam (hesitant): Have you ever been to Epcot?

Woman (expectant): Were you a cute baby?

Adam (chagrinned): Well, no, not especially.

In this way they come to feel that they know each other. And having accomplished this on a rather timely schedule, both prospective lovers begin to project. Will we have dessert? Will we kiss? How will we kiss? Will we kiss only once? Will the kissing taste like the dessert? Both look forward to addressing these dilemmas. They look forward to addressing them very soon now. Adam, in particular, is hoping to speedily address the aforementioned dilemmas, for, though he is still too stubborn to admit it, he is rapidly losing his vigor. Yet he is desperate to get every last drop of life out of the evening he can. Their closeness is remarkable.

Woman (animated): Do you like the Red Sox?

Adam (hopeful): Would you ever go to Alaska?

Woman (rapt): Are you familiar with the pentatonic scale?

Adam (curious): How do you like your eggs?

Woman (dejected): I’m allergic to yolk.

Adam is now sure he isn’t feeling so good. There is no denying it anymore. He fears that acting normal and calm may soon prove to be decidedly out of the question. Suddenly he is very drowsy. He’s cold and perspiring. He notices his chair is wet with blood. It has become difficult to remain upright. It has become difficult to lift his eyelids after blinking. It has become difficult to follow the woman’s longer anecdotes. He tries, with little success, to focus on her lipstick red, roller coaster lips.

“I was working on a burrito commercial in Pittsburgh. The director was a deaf woman who was irate most of the time. I couldn’t understand a word she said. (Adam chuckles.) The interpreter was an imbecile. I didn’t know what to do. The only other professional in the room was the burrito. (Adam nods knowingly.) I even talked to it a little just so I wouldn’t flip out.”

“Huh. Hah. Hmm,” says Adam. It proves an adequate response.

“Do you know any sign language?” the woman asks.

There’s a pause. Adam is thinking with difficulty. Again he lazily pushes back a shock of black hair.

“What’s your name?” he says in Spanish.

Adam doesn’t hear the woman’s response. Adam faints, falling from his chair in the process. He lands with his bloody posterior sticking high up in the air. Through the bullet hole in his pants one can just make out his underwear, blue ones with little white unicycles on them, now stained with blood. Despite the unique ambiance of the restaurant a measure of chaos ensues.

Amidst everyone’s confusion and gesticulations, one man, a nurse, comes forward with his dirty dinner napkin to apply pressure on the wound. What a shame, thinks the woman. He was a good one. Given his career choices the woman just assumes he’ll be going to jail now. Yes, he is going to jail and she has no interest in conjugal visits. Maybe it’s better that he couldn’t remember my name, she thinks. It’s Stephanie, by the way. And now I’m alone again.

___

Pete Able has been published in Tsuki Magazine and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. He is thirty-two and lives in Philadelphia.


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