--WHAT IF EVERYTHING WAS LIKE THE FIRST TIME?
…Tomorrow I leave for Nashville, back Monday, so I won’t be posting for a few days.
…The other day I wrote a happy story for the first time in a lifetime. Here it is:
Relics of Love
Years after my wife passed, friends finally wore me down. Anyway, I was through with those Widows Anonymous meetings where everyone whined or sat around looking like frail sticks of driftwood.
I’d been set up on a blind date. We met at an Italian restaurant, which was dimly lit, smelling of basil and spicy boar.
She arrived late, with a flourish, a breeze swirling at every swooping movement she made. Her silk dress, maroon-colored, looked like a sea of wine as it rippled against her pale skin.
Her spouse had died, too, about the same time as my Lily. I’d been told that ahead.
“Why did you wait so long,” I asked, “to, you know, try dating?”
She was particularly lithe for her age, long-limbed, hair the color of nutmeg, thick and clasped in back with a bejeweled barrette. Her arms shot up as she laced fingers behind her neck the way a football coach might do. “Oh, you’re not my first.”
“You were married. I know I can’t be your first.”
She passed over my pun without even acknowledging it. “I’ve gone on nearly fifty of these.”
I thought she was exaggerating, but her face and eyes were as steady as a bored lion.
“Nothing worked out, apparently,” I said.
“Old men are just so old. They’re no longer desperate. Their mystery has been erased.”
“I’m afraid I’m not mysterious whatsoever.”
“You look it.”
She leaned forward, head bent, almost the way a tarot reader might. “Your sideburns, they’re long and sculpted. You’ve only lightly spritzed on cologne, none of that wood smoke stuff, but yours has base notes of citrus, lime and apple.”
“Who knew facial hair and fragrance could make a person enigmatic?”
“Your hands are long and thin and look quite soft, un-callused, which means you were probably a lawyer or professor.”
“Didn’t my friends tell you?”
“I asked for no details.”
“But why keep going on these random dates if they never come of anything?”
She leaned back, tapping her forefinger on her face below an earlobe. “I just had a feeling. I don’t know why. I sensed you’d be different.”
“Should I try to be?”
“Please, whatever you do, don’t try anything.”
The waiter took our order and we ate mostly in silence. It didn’t feel awkward as it should have. A number of times she looked across the table, smiling, without a hint as to why.
When the wine arrived she said, “Tell me about yourself so I can decide if I want to see you again.”
“This feels like a test.”
“It is or it isn’t. Go ahead.”
I told her, sparing details, focusing on the latter arc of my life, how she was correct in my being a professor, but that I also wrote poetry and had published five volumes.
“Tell me one of your poems.”
“You mean read you one?”
“I don’t suppose you have a book handy, so you’ll have to tell it.”
Naturally, I had several memorized, or nearly memorized, so I decided to share the one about Lily that I’d written after her death. It surprised me how nervous I was, my voice croaking a few times. Even the title, Relics of Love, sounded hackneyed to me now.
“That is so beautiful,” she said. “You really loved her.”
“Of course. Didn’t you love your husband?”
She took a full gulp of wine, draining half a glass. “Not really. He could be a brute.”
“As am I. Plus he never wanted sex.”
I choked on a swallow of wine. I’m hardly prudish, but her frankness came out of nowhere.
“I think I could fall in love with you,” she said.
I felt myself blush. When had that last happened?
“I’m sure you’ll fall in love with me. All men do, usually, too quickly. But it’s getting near the end and I realized the only thing I want, the only thing in the whole wide world, is love.”
“It’s what everyone should want,” I said, not necessarily believing myself.
“But they don’t. They want companionship, someone to fall asleep with while watching television. I’m looking for grand romance, and of course, magnificent sex.”
I felt flustered again. “Is it difficult to be so forthcoming about your feelings, even to a stranger?”
She reached across the table, taking my hand in hers. “Are we really strangers?”
Her hand felt like warm bread. “But aren’t we?”
The restaurant had a fountain imbedded in a circle driveway out front with a moat formed to collect the splashing water. While we waited for my car to be brought around, she clicked her heels off, hoisting herself over the side and into the fountain, not even bothering if her dress got soaked.
“There’s no time left for that,” she said, collecting palm-fulls of water and shooting them my way. “I’m seventy-two.”
“I’ll go ask for towels.”
“No, no. Come in. The water’s quite warm.”
She was either insane or the most spontaneous and adventurous being on earth, a seventy-two year old being at that. I had a dilemma. Not joining her would be rude, spoiling what had been a fascinating night. Getting in would be a step over the void to a place I might never leave.
I took off my shoes hastily, afraid the car would arrive, and clumsily maneuvered the fountain curb.
She was right—the water was the same temperature I use to brush my teeth.
She slapped water at me in a steady rate, some clipping my eyes and blinding me, something that hadn’t happened in decades. Before I could open my eyes, I felt her lips on mine. Her fingers gripped the hair on the back of my head, tugging lightly yet urgently.
I heard a car coming around, the valet saying, “Sir. Sir?”
She kept kissing me. Water slapped all around us. It seemed outrageous, nothing more than a miracle. I held her tight and did not let go.