David Klausmeier, April 17, 2012
From the moment he met her, Arthur Davies began having second thoughts about online dating.
She stood before him outside Hereford's, grinning with hand extended. Gaudy, oversized bracelets jangled about her wrist, and her nails glowed electric-orange. He found her smile unsettling: large, Chiclet teeth surrounded by full lips greased in fire-engine red. Her eyes sparkled, unblinking, beneath heavily-mascaraed lashes, which reminded Arthur of . . . something.
Spiders, thought Arthur.
“Shanti,” said the woman.
Arthur was visibly confused.
“Shanti,” she repeated, “Shanti Dubois? From the computer? Yogachick67? You must be A.Davies. Gawd, but you're a cute one!” she cackled. She gripped his hand and pumped it up and down.
Arthur was suddenly overcome with the scent of her perfume, and the sensation was not unlike being smacked in the face with a fruit basket. He managed a smile and gazed at his feet, at the boots that he'd nervously polished three times before leaving home. They couldn't have been any more dissimilar: the fifty-one year old Baptist in his pressed slacks and drab, buttoned-down shirt, and the forty-something Shanti in leopard-print lycra pants, her tight, low-cut halter top barely doing its job – or doing its job perfectly well, depending upon who you asked.
“That's right,” managed Arthur, “Arthur Davies,” and after a pause, “Pleasure to meet you.”
“The same. I hope I didn't keep you waiting long. Well, shall we?”
The steakhouse had a good crowd tonight, and happy conversation could be heard in the dim of the restaurant over tables marked with tea-lights. A perky teenager – Carli, her name tag read – seated them at a small table in the middle of the room. Immediately, Arthur noticed that his place setting had been hurriedly arranged, and this bothered him. He moved his fork to the left of his plate and turned his knife blade inward.
“So,” said Arthur, “Your profile said you're a personal trainer?”
“Oh, I teach yoga. Got my own little studio up in the mountains near Schweitzer. I've got a small but regular clientele. Mostly granola people if you know what I mean.”
“I do,” said Arthur. He didn't.
“How about you, hon? What do you do?”
“I'm an accountant.” He felt like something more should be said about that, but couldn't think of anything interesting to add to the statement. It was an answer sufficient for most people, but she looked like she was still waiting for more. Instead he gave her a smile, and then – fearing that the smile didn't really work – he stopped, and plucked nervously at the pleat on his pants.
“Well that's... real good,” she said in that tone that adults use to praise children. Just then, the waitress broke what could have become an awkward silence and took their drink orders.
“I'll have a caffeine free diet soda, please,” said Arthur, thankful for the distraction.
“Martini,” ordered Shanti, “Grey Goose. Extra olives.”
The waitress flitted away, leaving them alone again.
“I love this restaurant,” said Shanti, “Best prime rib I've ever had. Have you been here before?”
“I have,” said Arthur, “though I've never tried the prime rib.”
“Oh wow,” she exclaimed, grabbing his wrist from across the table, “you gotta try it. Make mine rare. Practically mooing. Hell, slap it's ass and run it past the table and I'll just tear a hunk off!” She pounded the table and howled with laughter. More than one patron glanced in their direction.
Arthur felt his face redden. “Your job certainly sounds interesting,” he said, changing subjects. “What else do you do for fun?”
She beamed. “Oh, I love traveling. I've done Thailand and Nepal. I hope to get to every continent eventually. Sometimes I dunno why I stay in Sandpoint. Family's here; that's mostly why. Ooh! And I love the nightlife. Not like there's much here. Some nights I just wanna dye my hair and go dancing!” She winked and flashed him a grin. “So what's a hot night in Sandpoint for Arthur Davies?”
“I... I can't say I travel much.” Arthur mentally filtered out things not to say: Don't tell her about coming straight home after work. Don't tell her about Lawrence Welk reruns on Friday nights. Don't mention how much better I feel after doing the laundry... twice. “We traveled a bit when I was younger, so maybe that's out of my system. I... read. I like to help out around church. On Sundays I sing in the choir, and I enjoy that.”
“Well it sounds like you do,” she said politely.
Arthur faked a smile, and nervously tugged at his neatly-trimmed goatee. He suddenly felt as if the restaurant was ten degrees warmer. He'd stopped talking. And now she'd stopped talking. And now they were just smiling and nodding and – oh God – the waitress wasn't coming. As Arthur smiled and nodded, he had a fleeting, childhood memory of that plastic Mickey Mantle bobble-head on the dash of his father's '62 Buick, grinning at Arthur, head bouncing as they hit potholes. And this is a pothole, thought Arthur.
“I – I know it doesn't sound too exciting,” he finally conceded. “I wish I could talk to you about travels, or dancing, or – “
“Oh no, that's fine”, she said, looking more relaxed than she had all night.
“ – it's just that, when the website paired us... well, I mean Sandpoint is such a small town and all... I was just so shocked to see – ”
“ – that we were the only two results?” they finished together.
They both had to laugh. Just then, the waitress approached with their drinks.
“Ready to order?” she asked.
“I'll do the prime rib, honey,” said Shanti. “Rare.”
“You know,” said Arthur, “I think I'll have the same,” and then with a grin and a quick glance at Shanti, he added, “or just run it past the table and I'll tear a hunk off.”
By the time they'd caught their breath, the waitress was already gone.