He asked if I would join him for dinner. I wondered what we might have in common to talk about. Seasonal yard work was his thing in Mulligan’s Cove, so I hired him to clear some overgrown areas on the property. His work was good and he seemed nice. I said yes. Worst case it would be a one time event. Best case, I was not going to sit alone sipping too sweet wine and reading a romance novel. He said he would pick me up at 6:00. Early I thought, but no problem, I said. Where shall we go? Where would you like to go, I asked, thus allowing him to make the decision. Why be held responsible if I could pass the torch? The Moorings in Southwest, he asked, raising his eyebrows. I wondered if he had ever been there. Is that where you like to go? No, he admitted,he’d never been. He liked The Lobstah Trappe. The Lobstah Trappe it would be.
He took a few steps back on the path, away from the bottom of the stairs where he stood. I held the door ajar with my foot and remained on the porch. A little shower of sawdust sprinkled the ground in front of him as he moved. I promise I'll be a lot cleaner, and I'll iron my pants, said he. I smiled as he didn't seem like the ironing type, plus I'd never seen him in anything but his grimy work ensemble. See you soon. I moved my foot. The door released and thwacked shut. I leaned against the wall. It felt cold behind my back. I pressed in hard. My first date in a year since my husband had passed. Who was I kidding, my first date in 17 years. And with a guy who looks a little like Paul Bunyan. What would we talk about? Our only conversations were seasonal chitchat about the weather. Winter? Heard it was a mild one. Heard there was more snow than usual. The conversation wrapped up on the cleanup of the garden and whatever trees had fallen that I could see through the damp mossy woods.
We spoke little on the ride, and when we got to the restaurant, he came around and opened the door for me. It was a long step down from the very clean truck.
Inside the Lobster Trappe, he slipped his hand onto the small of my back and nudged me forward to sit down. The red leatherette, or do they call this stuff Naugahyde, stuck to my calves. My leg squeaked, as it stuck to the seat. We laughed and broke the heavy air. I took a deep breath. I felt the oxygen rush to my brain. Hello, Hun, said Lonnie, our waitress to my dining companion, not to me. I’d never seen her before, but her nametag made the introduction clear. Hiya Hun, he returned. They knew each other well. I envied the joshing banter. Two Coronas, please. He winked at me. I nodded in approval. I flipped the table-top jukebox with the yellowed button at the base. Hip-hop and rap were recent additions. He put his hand under the table and produced a shiny quarter. Do you have a favorite? Beach Boys fit the décor and I imaginged a miniature Brian Wilson stuffed inside the plastic box crooning away.
Once beyond the woods and cutting them, we found a lot of subjects to discuss. He loved foreign films, and independent ones as well. He knew Wagner to Verdi, and between the Surry Arts Barn, the Camden Opera House, and the Mulligan’s Cove Music Center, he attended many of the summer performances. But I’ve never seen you at the Mulligan’s Cove Music Center. You never looked, you mean, but I saw you sitting in the front row, three seats in from the left. Same seat for years, he added. I raised my left brow. Have you been watching me for a while? I wanted to know. Why didn’t I see you there, I needed to know that too. You never noticed me because I was out of context. You look for me in your garden covered with dirt, not at a summer concert. Agreed. And until a year ago I was a plus one, but that did not need saying.
He ordered for us. I checked to make sure the ketchup bottle, hidden behind the smudge-marked ripples of the sugar bowl, was full. It would serve as cover if the dinner proved inedible.
The fried fish and onion rings were succulent and toasted a golden brown. All tasted pleasantly of olive oil, instead of mono-oleo whatever. I gave a mental sigh. For a booth that I stuck to on arrival, a beer served without a glass, and a Formica table top that looked older than the two of us put together, the food was quite good. Great meal, I assured him. Even the congealed blueberry pie we shared, melted between us.
He stopped the car. The gravel settled underneath the tires. May I walk you to the door, he asked. What a gentleman, I thought. Yes, if you would please. I had a nice time. I did. It was a simple evening, and the conversation refreshing. An autumn crispness filled the air. It felt sharp in the back of my throat. The stones beneath the first step felt cold under my thin leather shoes. We stood side-by-side for a moment. He moved around me, faced me, and paused. He was a good head taller than I, and his shoulders still carried the broadness of youth, compared to my shrinking frame. If he kissed me goodnight, would I be able to tell that his lips were ten years newer than mine? Would my mouth feel old? Had he ever kissed someone as old as I? I was pushing past forty. Was he in his thirties? I gasped at the thought. What if he was younger than that? You okay, he asked. You look like you swallowed a bug. I assured him I was fine, and there were no bugs buzzing about.
I looked up. The moon behind him looked like a ball resting on his head. Thank you for a nice evening and a break from thinking about all the other things I should have been doing. Good conversation, he said. May I ask you out again? I gulped. I had not been expecting a second date so soon. Sure, why not? He slid his hand around my back and stepped towards me, closing the solid block of cold that held him just far enough away. This time his hand did not direct me into a booth bench. Rather it drew me closer. As he pulled me against him, I felt a rush inside. Did butterflies remain dormant in one’s abdomen until aroused? It had been years since I pushed back against that feeling. He kissed me. I let the butterflies go free. His mouth was soft. I expected him to smell of pine, to taste of sap. I kiss a man and can think only of pine tar. It was a short kiss. And then another came. It doubled in time. Or maybe it lasted a week or two. It might have snowed, but I would not have noticed the cold wet flakes.