No Right Turn, by Katherine DeCoste
“I’ve got this bad habit.” I’m twisting the cold wine-glass stem around in circles, leaving marks on the tablecloth. “I can never finish sucking the mint. You know? I always crush it in my teeth.”
The man looks at me through wire-rimmed glasses, a bit of goo in the corner of his brown eye.
“Cough drops too?”
“Yep. Cough drops too. It’s cold in here.”
Through a mouthful of pasta: “I think it’s all right.”
Easy for you to say, I’m thinking. You in your suit jacket. I pull a package of chewing gum out of my purse. Lint sticks to it. “Want a piece?”
“We’re still eating.”
“It goes with the wine.”
I hate date-silences. This is the third time I’ve met him and already I know it will be the last. He’s pleasant. In a sense, the murmur of the restaurant is what makes me certain I can’t see him again.
I know the man is considering my biting down compulsively on hard candies, mints, cough drops, whatevers. I even chew up non-chewable medications. The doctor had to explain to me once why I shouldn’t bite on the codeine tablets they gave me after my wisdom teeth surgery. I blink. A waiter takes my plate.
The man tips too much, 30% of the bill. I swallow my gum and pop a breathmint. This time he takes the one I offer and we crunch in tandem. “Too cold,” he says. “Hurts my teeth.”
“Taxi,” I say, and we climb in. The backseat vibrates with hesitation. I’m not initially sure where we’re going, then the man gives his address. This is our third date, I think. I’ve had enough to drink already and he is going to invite me in for another glass of wine. On the ride over he talks about a play he saw where some of the actors were dressed in black bodysuits representing mortality. I nod. I’m not artistic. I prefer for things to represent reality. In the play, the sound designer left complete silence during the scene changes so you could hear the stagehand’s footsteps and the scraping of set-pieces on the floor. The idea makes me cringe.
“I never go to the theatre.”
“There’s never anything I want to watch.”
“You don’t go to the theatre because you want to watch a play.” He looks knowingly out the window, the fold of his black turtleneck crooked. The cab lurches to a stop in the yellow glow of an old streetlight. I don’t let the man pay, instead I shove a twenty into the driver’s hand and say thank you as I’m already clambering out onto the street. The air bites.
I forgot to turn off my curling iron, I remember.
The man is quiet, but he takes my hand in his and leads me to the front door. It’s red. I wrap my other hand into a loose fist, fruitlessly trying to keep my fingers warm.
Inside, the furnace buzzes and an old-looking clock on the wall keeps time five minutes behind. The man pushes Pinot Noir into my hand. It’s too dry for my taste. “Anyway,” he says, “I appreciated the show because it really made me feel full and empty simultaneously, like a grain silo.”
“When I left the theatre it was raining and on the street there was an old man begging for change. Of course I’d spent all my cash on the ticket, but I felt a tenuous connection with him. You see?” The wine-glass, slick with condensation, clinks as I set it down on the table.
When he kisses me, he tastes of garlic and rosemary. All night, the room never warms.
I wake with a jolt at 4:17AM. The blankets are a cold sort of sweaty; beside me, the man is sleeping peacefully, still naked, the blonde hair on his back shining in the dim light coming from the window. I put on my socks first, then everything else, find my purse discarded by the front door, and slip outside.
I wonder if I should change my phone number. Maybe it isn’t important. My mouth miraculously tastes of mint still. Standing on the sidewalk, I wonder where I am and how long it will take me to get home.
At the street corner, an orange cat slinks into the halo of light cast by the streetlamp. He stares at me with green, vacant eyes and gives a mewling coo. I crouch on the sidewalk and stretch out, my fingers reaching for him, beckoning him. For a moment, I think he isn’t coming. I close my eyes in tired defeat and imagine the cost of a cab back across the city. Then I feel his furry face shoved into my outstretched hand.