A Short Story by Bill Garwin
One more time, am I dining in the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory?
I’m sorry, what?
The darkest place on earth.
A little obtuse, but okay. They call this dining in the dark.
Because it’s very dark.
No shit. But why are we dining in the dark? Our first date and you bring me here. Is this your online dating debut? Are you embarrassed?
Of course not. You’re beautiful. After two weeks of serve and volley, I feel like I know you. I wanted something special, something you’ll remember. They say the other senses are heightened when you’re deprived of one. The food will smell better, taste better, the conversation will be sharper, more focused, absent visual distractions.
Glad I spent so much time getting ready. I should have cut a slit in a little black trash bag. Would have been more in keeping with the ambiance. Can you help me find my water?
Right side at two o’clock.
You’re saying that only because water is always right side at two o’clock. I absolutely assure you, if I spill, it will not be in my direction.
You won’t spill.
Is that your chair I heard sliding away?
You didn’t spill, did you?
Just having fun?
At least they let us order in the foyer. Do you remember what we ordered?
Honestly, no. I couldn’t keep from staring at you. You’re so much prettier than your picture. Why?
Life lesson. Set a low bar and exceed it. Instant success without effort.
You’ve done a lot of this social app dating?
Some. How about you?
Madam and monsieur, my name is Aramis, and I will be serving you tonight.
Aramis, as in the cologne?
No madam. Aramis as in the Three Musketeers. My mother was a Dumas fan. But enough of me. I am prepared to serve your appetizers. Please place your hands in your laps to avoid any culinary catastrophe.
How can he see our hands?
Night vision goggles.
Why can’t I have night vision goggles?
Kind of defeats the purpose.
For the madam, the fried squash blossom stuffed with a savory ricotta filling resting upon a cushion of our house-made marina featuring local heirloom tomatoes,
And for the clearly more adventurous monsieur, the pan-fried pufferfish tails with a delightful sweet and sour apricot accouterment.
Wait, I didn’t order pufferfish tails.
I may have made a menu modification for you when you went to the restroom. You surprised me with this dark dining. Thought I’d spice things up for you.
Aren’t pufferfish poisonous bottom feeders?
Monsieur, our chef is highly skilled and can only remember a single instance of adverse reactions to this most delicious morsel.
Aramis, you’ve tasted them?
No. But more importantly, I’ve served them numerous times.
More importantly, to whom?
That would be who. But I assure you, prepared by a knowledgeable chef, the toxins in these delicate tidbits cause nothing more than a pleasurable tingling or numbness in the lips and mouth and a slight high.
And the chef is knowledgeable?
So he has informed me.
I’d like to change my appetizer.
Aramis, you still there? Where is he?
I think he’s gone. Left in a puff of smoke. Man up. If I hear a loud thump on the table, I’ll call for help. Besides, I’ve got more important problems. I’m certain the squash blossoms are wonderful, but how do I find my mouth.
It’s below your nose and above your chin.
Eat up. I’ll just wait for the thump.
Too late, I already took a bite.
I’d put you on the clock, but I can’t see my watch.
You feel okay?
Did you hear me? Are you all right? That was your fist hitting the table. Say something.
May I offer you a taste?
Very funny. Not a chance.
Can I ask you a question?
Why do people do that? Ask if they can ask a question. You’ve already asked a question. You should say, may I ask you two questions? Sure, you can ask a question. After you answer mine. What do you think of Hawaiian pizza?
Suddenly I wish I could see your face. Are you kidding? No answer, so I’ll assume you’re not kidding. You’re serious.
Okay, a question demanding a multi-layered response. Medically, adding a food group to an otherwise divine entre can only be a healthy choice. Theologically, there are those who say God didn’t intend pineapple on pizza. Structurally, the wet of the fruit may damage the integrity of the crust. Politically, liberals are more likely to accept, while conservatives will look back for guidance to Queen Marguerite of Italy. And of course, libertarians believe it’s the domain of the individual to decide. Philosophically, is it still pizza, although possibly quite delicious, does it become something else? Sociologically, can Americans justify making radical changes to a dish created by Italians or is it an inappropriate appropriation?
How’d I do? And as important, why’d you ask? Maybe this restaurant wasn’t such a good idea. I wish I could see your face. A little help; I’m working hard here. You still there? Why so quiet?
You are different.
Different good. Right?
Yes, intelligent, funny. A good man. You care about this. It’s not just dinner.
Finally, this stupid restaurant is serving a purpose. You can’t see me blushing.
You wanted to ask two questions. You’ve asked one. What’s the other?
Madam and monsieur, we will be removing your appetizers and serving your entrees. You have both selected the salt-encrusted branzino. The chef has chosen a little-known method which allows the crust to seal in moisture. The fish will steam in its own juices, while the crispy skin prevents the salt from penetrating. The crust is a mixture of kosher salt and egg whites reminiscent of the appearance and texture of wet beach sand. Please enjoy.
The madam has a question. This branzino, does it have a face?
Of course, madam.
Can you guide me as to where I might find the face?
Above the shoulders.
Great question, but he’s gone again. Am I right?
I believe you are. I’m going to use my finger to figure this out. I’m not eating fish eyes. Give me a second, then you can ask your question.
Right with you.
Ditto. Executing a lobotomy. You ready for my question?
The wind-up has been massive. The question better be commensurate.
How do you feel about short-term relationships?
Short-term relationships? Isn’t that an oxymoron? I’m not even sure what it means.
Let me help. Picture your normal relationship, but with an abrupt ending.
You do remember this is a first date? You’re proposing some relationship with a baked-in exit strategy? Is it because I’m only semi-worthy?
No. No. It’s not you, it’s me.
Finally, we agree.
I have an expiration date.
What are you, a bottle of milk?
I’ve got cancer. A year, maybe eighteen months. I don’t want to be alone, but I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to make impossible promises.
Suddenly dining in the dark makes nothing but sense. You’re hiding in the anonymity of the shadows.
It’s a balancing. I’d love to see your reaction, but I’m not sure I could ask the question in the reality of full light.
You’ve done this before and I’m guessing with zero success. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. Look, I like you, although it’s more accurate to say I’ve enjoyed our 45 minutes together, but this is insane. What if I just commit to give you an answer sometime in the near future?
I can work with that. I just don’t want to hide anything.
Can you get our waiter’s attention? I need to use the ladies’ room. I’m feeling the stress of your second question in my bladder.
Did you just whistle?
Sorry, trying to be helpful.
Monsieur, you beckoned?
The lady wishes an escort to the restroom.
Madam, please place your hand on my shoulder.
If I can find it.
Monsieur, I am sorry for the delay, but the madam seems to have vacated the premises.
Aramis, she’s not coming back, is she?
No sir, I do not believe so.
Did you offer her the money?
Yes sir. As always.
Quite typical. She hit me.
No. Hit me. Fist to face.
I knew I liked her.
She did leave you this note. Take my flashlight. Please place the note under the table as you read it.
The Dance – Garth Brooks
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
Thank you, Aramis. Did you read the note?
I must admit, I did.
The lady should have paid more attention to the last two lines of the song.
I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance
Will you be dining with us again tomorrow night?
It seems I will.
Bill Garwin has several degrees and a third-dan karate black belt. He believes stories indelibly enrich our lives and relishes in their telling. His novel, City of Schemes, received first place, Utah League of Writers 2020 Quill Awards for its opening chapter.