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A Midwinter Night's Match
She brushed her hair back, repeatedly. He couldn’t tell whether it was to highlight her natural waves or to express agitation. He cleared his throat. “So, Andrea, where were you born?” It was a lame question and he knew it, so well, but what could he do? The low light grazed his face and illuminated Andrea. It bathed her face in streaks of ever-shifting light.
“Well,” she said slowly, “I was born in New Hampshire, and then I moved here, to Minneapolis, for college, and I decided to stay ever since.” She looked at him briefly, but then her gaze darted away and she used her index fingers to pull back her hair into an austere bun, repeatedly. The look didn’t suit her, but then again, it probably wasn’t about that.
A waitress came to the table. “So, what would you like,” she blared, her voice loud and inauthentic. “For today, the special is our onion soup and Greens salad. Anything to drink for the two of you tonight?”
He cleared his throat. He hated himself at that moment. The night was all wrong. He didn’t know what was supposed to have happened, but even he could tell that this wasn’t it. He said quietly, “Uh, I’ll have a glass of wine, the pasta Carbonara, and . . . a salad.” Why had he said that? He hated salads.
The waitress chirped, “I’m sorry, what was that?” Her voice irritated him, irrationally.
“A pasta Carbonara and a salad.” His voice sounded rusty and ancient. He looked at his watch. 6:23. Only six twenty-three. About forty-five more minutes of dinner and waiting to fill. They would, he guessed, most likely be filled by silence or ravings as a newly-turned madman, as well as empty conversation from a very chipper member of the wait-staff. That, at least, was somewhat plausible, unlike surviving this date.
The waitress inquired, “What kind?” Why, he wondered, would it matter? It was just a few pieces of lettuce and spinach with a dressing. Who really cares, at the end of the day? Nobody likes or dislikes their salad very much, no matter what kind it is (unless, of course, they’re some type of dietician or something, which he obviously wasn’t). He felt listless, yearning to counteract her -undoubtedly weary- exuberance.
“A Greens salad,” he spat. Even the simple word, “greens”, tasted vile in his mouth. The waitress left quickly, apparently eager to move onto her other, more polite customers. He couldn’t blame her. After all, he would have done the same. You can only be a hypocrite to a certain extent; after that, you’ve gone too far. He looked at his silent dinner companion. He brushed his hand through his short jet-black hair, mirroring his acquaintance. He sighed, hinting at unhappiness. No, by then it was more than hinting. The woman across from him brushed her long bangs, which looked rather like feathers, off of her forehead. “Andrea, what’s your problem? Who—what are you? I mean, what’s up?” It wasn’t polite, he knew, but he was beyond polite. He was confused and hungry and irritated. He had come here in search of a dinner companion, not a statue to sit across from him while he ate his dinner. Apparently, match.com wasn’t always successful, oddly enough.
Still, Andrea –if that was truly her name- had looked so good on paper, perfect, almost. Sometimes hope seemed so foolish, so fleeting. He waved down a waiter and got another glass of wine. Right now, he needed it. He downed it and wiped his mouth hastily. He lowered his voice, and tried to slow his torrent of hasty, uncharitable thoughts directed toward his possible match. Their harmony as a couple didn’t seem likely, considering that they couldn’t get through a first dinner date together. “Andrea, I’ll be frank. I just—I don’t understand you.” She looked up at him with the sudden even gaze of a Sphinx, and pulled back her hair into a perfectly coiffed bun.
“What, exactly, is it about me that you don’t understand?” She spoke with a trace of an accent. Her eyes were green, the shade of an evergreen tree. They seemed to shimmer, but almost anything would, against the beige restaurant walls and grey tables. She reached up, as if to pull back her hair, and then stopped. She bit her lip, while looking at me. She seemed to phrase a question in her eyes. What was it?
“I don’t know.” He slammed his wine glass on the cheap table, harder than he meant to. “I don’t know. You seem so foreign, and cold, and undefeatable, and condescending—What does it matter?” He stood up, suddenly self-conscious, and his knees jostled the edge of the table. At that moment, the perky waitress came back, bearing plates. Andrea stared at him coldly, now unwavering in her gaze. Well, good. He had wanted that, anyway. She reached up and pulled her hair down from its intricate twist, and started playing with it. He looked at the waitress, and her smile was now only a taut line.
“I’ll have it to go,” he said, as he pushed in his chair, still standing.
“The salad and the pasta?” He almost felt bad for the waitress, but this was her job, and she was rather squawky. Besides, he’d had enough. “Yes.” His voice was curt enough to cut ice.
The waitress left, and then a few minutes later returned with two Styrofoam containers, messily labeled. Who had labeled them, he wondered. An overworked chef, perhaps. He deliberately didn’t meet Andrea’s stare, though it bored into the side of his rough, unshaved face like a woodpecker. He took the two take-out boxes and turned to leave.
He stopped a moment, and then returned to the table. He looked at Andrea, whose face held a plea for help, and stiffly picked up his coat and walked away.
“And here’s the bill,” the waitress remarked delightfully. Andrea looked up at her, with worry clouding her dark green eyes. The waitress left the table.
“Michael, come back,” Andrea implored. Her voice sounded slightly scratchy. “I need you.” She sighed, although it was lost amidst the bustle of the restaurant. Where was he? She stared down the bill, her fingers absent-mindedly plaiting her dark hair. “Michael,” she whispered, “I thought you might be the one. I never eat at restaurants, though.” She talked sadly to herself; although it was not meant for herself, she knew nobody else was listening. It was the best she could do.
He walked outside of the restaurant, his shoes squeaking on the new powdery snow. With a sigh, he walked out to his car. He was about to step into his Ford, when he stopped. He stepped away from his car, and looked up at the sky, something he hadn’t done since he was a little boy. Back then, he stared at the clouds; now his eyes searched the star-sprinkled, slightly cloudy sky. His breath wafted out in white streams, matching the night.
In the restaurant, his date still sat. She gazed at the bill and the wall alternately, and at last she spoke. “My name is Elena, in case you’re listening.” She fell asleep in her chair as the night rushed by, clad in restaurant grumbles, snow, and bitter winds.