Joey and Jane have been set up on a date, listen:
Jane’s doorbell rings. Footsteps. The door opens, a pretty young girl with full cheeks and crystal blue eyes opens the door. Her hair is the color of wheat golden with twilight and it frames her face in braids of woven straw.
“Hi there, I’m Joey.” He’s short, but stocky and muscular, so he stands up straight and confident nonetheless. He smiles nervously and extends his right hand.
She accepts his hand and smiles back, “I’m Jane. Let’s go.”
They walk out to the car. Joey opens her door, waits for her to sit, and shuts the door after her. He then walks around to the driver side and gets in. As Jane is sitting down, she says, “I think this is gonna to be fun.” But, Joe is starting the engine and can’t hear her, “What?” He says.
“Hmph?” She replies.
“I said, ‘What?’”
“Oh, I said that I thought that this would be fun.” By this time they are turning off of Jane’s street and onto route 50. With all the traffic, Jane has trouble hearing Joe’s reply.
“Yeah, thanks for going out with me.”
“Sure,” She says loudly in reply, “Do you want to listen to music?”
Rather than answer, Joey presses the ON button on his radio. The DJ’s voice comes through, “-ating Fourth of July this year. And how about Bobby Arki-” Joe switches the station to one with music. And they ride without speaking to the grunts of James Brown and wails of Michael Jackson. It is only a few minutes later when they pull into the parking space. Joe turns off the car, jerks open his door and stands up very quickly. He walks around to open Jane’s door but she has already stepped out of the car by the time he gets there. She grabs her purse and swings the door shut.
“It’s been so cold lately,” Joey says as they begin walking down the street in the direction of the restaurant.
Shivering, Jane replies, “I know what’cha mean. There’ve been a few nights this month when it’s been so cold at night I could barely stand it. I like your car.”
“Thank you, I do too. It gets me where I need to go,” Joe shrugs. “What I really want is a RX7.”
“It’s a type of car, a Mazda.”
“Oh. I don’t really know that much about cars,” Jane’s forehead wrinkles up and dimples form on the tips of her lips.
Joe laughs and replies, “That’s ok, I know enough for the both of us.”
They turn into the entrance of the restaurant, Joe holds the door for Jane and follows her in. The music is a gentle classical selection, which is for some reason being played very loudly. The only lighting in the entry hall is a single bare bulb protruding from ceiling. A frail looking woman dressed in black stands at a counter covered by a velvet cloth. As they approach she glances in their direction with sad eyes and says, “Just a moment.”
“I love this place,” Jane whispers to Joe.
“Why?” Joe says.
“I don’t know, I think it’s the atmosphere,” answers Jane.
Just than, a young girl dressed in a white blouse and black skirt arrives. She is very beautiful with long black hair and a warm complexion. She picks up some leather menus and turns toward them, “Welcome to Ma Merinos. I’m Dorothy and if you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to your table.”
They follow Dorothy to the table, sit down and open the menus she hands them. “Your server will be Vincent, but everyone here is your friend, does hesitate to flag any one of the wait staff down.” She turns and walks back toward the front.
When she is out of hearing distance, Jane says in a low voice to Joe, “Did'ja see her boobs? They were huge.”
“I didn’t notice.” Says Joe.
“You’re just saying that. It’s okay, I noticed.” She says looking skeptical.
“I really didn’t, sorry. What are you gonna to get?”
“Huh? Wha’d’ya mean?” She looks confused.
“Food? The menu.”
“Oh!” She exhales, “I thought you were talking about the waitress. It didn’t make any sense at all.”
Joe looks at her with a confused expression. “Sure.”
“Yeah, I didn’t know what to think! Gosh… I haven’t even looked at the menu yet.”
They read in silence for about a minute, Joe puts his menu down on the thick oaken table and grabs the drink menu, “Do you want a drink? He asks.
“Sure, I’d like a martini.” She says.
A man with slick dark hair, dressed in tight black jeans and a blank T-shirt approaches, he is unshaven but doesn’t look dirty, if anything it makes him look European. “I am Vincent. Would you like anything to drink?” He says loudly so they can hear him over the music.
“Well, we just decided, she’d like a martini, and I’ll have the same,” Joey all but shouts in response. “And I know what I’m going to order,” turning to Jane, “do you?”
“No, not just yet, could I have another few minutes.” She looks up from the menu at Vincent.
“Of course, just place your menu down on the table when you are ready.” He turns quickly and slinks back toward the kitchen.
The silence of Jane examining her menu continues after she has put it down and she stares at the wall behind Joey with a thoughtful look in her sparkling blue eyes. Joe is playing absentmindedly with his utensils and when he glances up at her face, is startled by how attractive she is. He nervously begins twitching his right leg up and down.
He looks down at the table and catches her eye when he looks up. “You look really great. I’m having a good time.”
She smiles at him and says, “Good, I’m glad.”
Vincent returns and as he passes out the drinks, he looks down at Jane with a sinister expression, which fades as quickly as it appears. “What would you like milady?”
“Oh, ummm, I’d like a burger, with no onions or pickles. And fries on the side.”
“Okay, and what’ll ya have Joe?”
Joe’s expression goes from shocked to angry and he bares his teeth at Vincent. “How the hell did you know my name?” he all but barks.
Vincent backs away and his eyes widen with innocence. “I’m so sorry sir, it was an accident… it’s just an expression! I say that to every man who comes in here.”
Joey apologizes quickly, “I’m sorry guy. Well, I want a baked potato and a Caesar salad with grilled chicken on it. And can I get Feta on that?”
“Of course.” Vincent replies as he sweeps up the menus with a genuine flourish and disapears behind a curtain.
Jane is staring at Joe but not saying anything. Joe is collecting himself and shudders slightly, “That was weird,” he says.
Jane pulls her hair back behind her left ear, then does the same on the right. “Yeah it was,” she replies. She sighs and looks away.
Joe sits up straight suddenly and puts his elbows on the table. Jane yawns.
“So what are your parents like?” Joe asks shyly.
“I asked you what your parents were like,” he says more firmly.
“Well, they’re great. They’ve always been there for me.” She answers.
“Do you feel protected?” He inquires. He grabs his martini and takes a sip. The strength of the drink causes him to shudder slightly.
“I’d say that I’m a independent person, if that’s what you’re asking. But yeah, I do think my parents have sheltered me somewhat.”
“In what ways, do they give you money?” Joe has an intense look in his eyes, his pupils appear very large in the dim light.
Jane had been leaning forward and now she pulls back and takes up her drink. “They gave me an allowance when I was in school, but they don’t anymore… they give nice presents though, why do you ask?”
Joe half smiles, “Oh I was just making conversation. Ask me what my parents are like.”
“What are your parents like?”
“Well, my mom is dead. But my dad is great, I love him a lot. We’re like best friends. I still live with him. I don’t think he ever really protected me, but same as you said, he’s always been there for me, thick and thin.” He is gesturing slightly with his hands as he speaks. He shrugs and looks away.
Jane looks sympathetic, “I’m sorry about your mom, that’s really too bad.”
Joe returns to her gaze, “It’s ok, I can barely remember her, just the general shape of her body. I can’t remember her face at all. It makes me sad, I look at pictures and they just don’t seem right. Like they are missing something.”
There is a pause and they each take a few sips from the martinis.
“Um,” Jane hesitates for a moment and then says, “When d’ya think-“ she is interrupted by Vincent arriving with the food.
He sets the three platters down, and refills the water glasses. “Would either of you like anything else?” He asks with a blank face.
“No thanks” says Jane.
“Alright, remember that every one of the wait staff is a friend, don’t hesitate to ask anyone if you need anything.” Vincent sidesteps as turns and is already gone when Joe looks up.
They both begin to eat, Jane quickly and Joe taking the time to cut up the lettuce leaves in his salad before he begins. A few minutes pass as they chew their meals.
Joe asks, “What were you saying before Vincent arrived?”
“Oh, I don’t think I remember.” She says apologetically.
“That is too bad, it sounded interesting.” Joe says.
“Oh wait, I remember, I was wondering when the food was going to come, and it came. Isn’t that always the way?” She laughs and looks up at him.
“It’s never like that for me.” Joe replies gruffly, “I always wonder when the food is going to come and it takes another ten minutes. I guess I’m just an impatient person. Same thing on car trips, it’s just when I wonder when we are going to get there that it is going to be another hour.” He takes a bite of salad and chews. A drop of the Caesar dressing sticks to his upper lip.
Jane laughs slightly as she takes a massive bite of her burger, she chews for a moment and says in a low voice, “you’ve got a little dressing on your face,”
“Huh, where?” He looks worried and rubs the edges of his lips with his thumb.
“No, up higher, above your lip.”
Joe licks his upper lip and rubs his thumb along it. “Did I get it?”
“Yup,” She says and glances up at Vincent who has again arrived without being seen be Joe.
Vincent’s crease wrinkles as he bends at the waist and leans in over the table toward Jane. He says, “How is everything kids?”
Joe looks annoyed again as he says, “No, everything is great, thanks.” Vincent flies from their side. “I don’t like that guy.” Joe says after a minute. “He gives me the creeps.”
“Yeah me too.” Jane replies with her mouth full. She finishes her burger and starts on the french-fries, dipping them two at a time in catsup. Joe realizes he has to catch up and begins eating very quickly, devouring his potato in less than five minutes. Jane is been staring down at the table, her face hidden from view. She looks at him for a moment and redirects her gaze to the wall on her right.
“Wow, that burger was great!” Jane says after a moment.
“Yea, hih alad ith rate too!” Joe says animatedly.
“What? Don’t talk with your mouth full!” She says quickly with a slight scowl.
Joe pauses and looks at her thoughtfully but she is it first to speak, “what were you trying to say?”
“Oh, I said that the salad was good… and it really is, would you like to try some?
“No thanks, I’ve still got my fries,” she replies.
Joe takes a bite of his salad and still hasn’t finished chewing when he says, “are you sure? Don’t you like Feta cheese? I love it.”
“I do like Feta, but no, I’m really full.” She absentmindedly brings another fry up to her mouth, but only nibbles on it before putting it back down on the plate.
Two girls in dark evening dresses walk by. Joe pulls the yellowed cardboard advertisement out of its plastic slot and scans both sides. He reads aloud, “Sunday seafood platter, eight ninety-nine for two people, popcorn shrimp, fish sticks, crab, fries, and hushpuppies! Wow that sounds good.”
“I don’t really like seafood,” says Jane, “but I love hushpuppies.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Jane raises an eyebrow, “but you said it sounded good.”
Joe makes a dismissive gesture with his hand and says, “I meant that I like hushpuppies too, not that I didn’t like seafood.” Joe takes the last bite of salad and drops his fork into the dish as he swallows. He exhales loudly and takes a long swig from his water, draining it until it makes a slurping noise.
Jane sighs as well, picks up another fry and pops it into her mouth. She grabs the apron string of a passing waiter and says, “would you tell Vincent that we’re ready for the check?”
The waiter says “Vincent?” and starts to walk away, but Jane is still holding the cord of his apron, it starts to come loose around his waist.
“Yeah, Vincent, the greasy, unshaven guy with weird slang,” continues Jane and she lets go of the belt. He adjusts it and slowly backs out of her reach.
“Yeah, I can do that.” He says and turns.
“That was funny,” says Joe with a laugh, “You are very straight forward.”
“Sure, some people like it.”
“I didn’t say that I didn’t,” he smiles at her largely.
“You didn’t say you did,” she quips with a smile.
Vincent arrives and hands the check to Jane, he spins on his heel and retreats without a word. Jane hands the check to Joey.
“Thanks,” he says. He looks over the check with a grim smile.
“Thank you,” she replies with emphasis.
Joe opens his wallet, takes out a twenty and lays it on the table with three ones. “Are you ready to go?” He says, standing and putting his wallet back in his back pocket.
She stands without speaking and they walk out slowly due to the dim lighting. As they step outside, they notice that it has begun raining sparsely, but with large drops. Puddles are already forming in the parking lot and in them, oil is glistening iridescently from the restaurant's neon sign. The reflection sparkles against Jane’s light hair, but so dimly that it barely creates the impression of color.
Joe unlocks the passenger-side door and opens it triumphantly. He stands aside and closes it firmly after she sits. He strolls around to the driver side, unlocks and opens the door. He gets in, shuts the door, puts on his seatbelt, and turns on the car, the lights and the windshield wipers in quick, fluid motions. As he backs out of the parking space, he turns the radio all the way down, but not off, and says, “Look at that car in front of us, it’s a Range Rover, pretty nice huh?”
“Sure, I guess it’s some sorta truck?”
“No, it’s a jeep, more all-terrain.”
Jane looks in his direction and says, “What does that mean?”
“All-terrain? It means it can go anywhere. It’s for off-roading.” Joe looks surprised by the gap in her knowledge.
“That’s cool,” she says.
The windshield wipers swish relentlessly, and water sounds metallic against the glass. Inside the car, time passes quickly in the dead air and in only a few moments they are back at Jane’s house. With a slight splash Joe pulls the car up to the sidewalk.
Jane gathers her purse in her lap and shrugs her shoulders inward. She shivers and says, “Thanks for dinner Joe, it was really good.”
“You are very welcome, thanks for coming. Maybe we could do this again sometime?” Joe looks nervous again.
“Maybe so, give me a call,” Jane replies, “and wish me luck with the rain.”
She opens the door, jumps out and shuts it quickly. She waves with one hand as she throws her bag over her left shoulder and runs for the door.
“Good luck,” says Joe quietly. He waits at the curb until she finds the right key, unlocks the door and steps inside, closing the door behind her. He half waves to the shut door and pulls away.
copyright 2000 - 2003, Danny Strack