Skipp pulled the black necktie with grey smiley faces through the space held open with two fingers. The double Windsor knot complimented the ash-white button-down collar shirt and black pants with fitted cuffs. He looked at himself in his full-length bedroom mirror.
“Grey or black Stacy Adams?” The question cut through the quiet bedroom bouncing off no one.‘The grey oxfords look best’ he decided while getting a black pair of waved silky socks from his dresser drawer. He sat on his bed, carefully putting on calf-length socks and then shoes. He stood up and checked himself in the mirror. Satisfied with the look, he turned to his bed. The few wrinkles that formed where he sat he pushed out by hand and tucked the top sheet tight under the mattress giving the bed a hotel-made look.
In the bathroom mirror, he checked his teeth for food, then realized he hadn’t eaten yet. He smiled to himself as he opened the seldom-used medicine cabinet. A fancy cologne bottle, PURE BLACK-, was still full. Fingers pumped the nozzle, filling the room with a sandal-woody lavender aroma. On the way out the door, he popped a Red Bird peppermint in his mouth and placed a few in his pant pocket. Skipp Giles was going on his first date in ten years.
Skipp drove his 2002 Volkswagen to meet Charletta at her home. It was in pristine shape and had a sunroof, which he opened for the 40-minute ride to the other side of town. He wanted to drive his new Cadillac Escalade but friends warned him not to show up smelling like money.
“You’re 58 years old,” they told him. “Gold diggers love desperate men in their late fifties, financially secure and romantically ignorant.”He hadn’t met her in person yet. They communicated online and then talked on the phone for 3 weeks before he asked her on a date. The photo in her profile suggested about age 35 or so, a short black woman with straight hair and a curvy build. She was standing by a park bench in heels and a tight dress smiling at the camera. The blooming cherry blossoms implied springtime somewhere.
Skipp was good at reading people. Charletta wasn’t looking for a sugar daddy. When they talked on the phone it was about cooking, places they traveled, social media, (her thing), and getting back into the dating scene. He remembered commenting on her profile picture, saying she was very attractive. She immediately chastised him. “I don’t like to talk about my beauty” was her response.
‘Don’t mention her good looks when I arrive’ he decided as he pulled up in front of her house. He was on time. 6 pm on the dot. He liked to be on time. It showed part of his personality. He rang the bell. And waited. No response. He rang the bell again. Three long chimes echoed. No one would miss the ring, if inside. The door slowly opened with eyes peeking at him.
He saw the partial view of a woman looking at him through a cracked chained door. Someone short, in their early sixties, with salt and pepper hair, continued to stare at him through the opening. It was Charletta, had to be. He was at a loss for words.
“I, I, I’m Skipp Giles, here to pick you up for our date? His statement came out as a question.
“Charletta, it’s me, Skipp.”
“How do you know me?” she asked, her voice sounding vulnerable as her body pressed against the door keeping it from moving more even though the chain gave it permission to.
“We, we met online about 4 weeks ago. You told me you’d be away for a few days so it’d be best if I stopped by this week for our date. Here I am. At 6 pm, as promised.”
She continued to appraise him, eyes looking up and down at his shoes, then tie.
“I’m not ready yet.”
“No problem… I can come in….” CLACK, the door closes with the sound of a chain shaking.
‘Or I could wait outside’ he thought, walking away from the door.
“Well okay. I’ll be out here, by my car,” Skipp said, non-committed to the evening.
’This is not the way I envisioned my first date would start,’ he thought as he waited.
Intent on leaving, he started up the car but decided to stay since he was dressed to the nines. He wanted to date again. More than enough respectable time had gone by since he lost his wife to dementia. While waiting he streamed music from Miles Davis, Stanley Turrentine, and Herbie Hancock.
‘Harry Bosch, my favorite fictional detective would love this playlist,’ he decided. While toe-tapping, he turned the volume up. Doing a car dance version of ‘the snake’ and ‘da dip’ to the song Chameleon, Skipp was in his own world playing air drums when he noticed a hand on the passenger door.
“What are you doing? You look stupid.”
Charletta was standing by the car looking in. She wore black wide-leg crop pants with matching heels. A white jacket partially covered a halter top which complimented her waistline. She carried a small purse with the same colors.
‘Damn! she looked good’ he thought. Her straight hair was the same as the picture profile, just grey strands mixed throughout now. ‘If she cut her hair short she could be taken for a black woman in her 40s. She had an old but young Pam Grier look going on. Black don’t crack,’ he mused to himself.
Charletta tested the door handle. It was unlocked. She looked inside, eyes fiery.
“I did ask what you were doing.”
Skipp turned off the Spotify radio playlist.
“Oh, just ahh”,- Skipp suddenly grew warm, prompting him to turn on the air conditioner, forgetting the windows were down.
“Music by Herbie Hancock puts me in a good mood. Let me get the door for you,” he said trying to do something to change the subject.
“I can do it. I thought teenagers did that goofy crap. Not a grown black man.” She continued with her criticism.
“Anybody happy might,” he shot back more annoyed than embarrassed now while getting out to open the door for her.
“I said I CAN DO IT!” her voice rose, combative. She quickly opened the door and jumped in before he reached her side of the car. Her chest began to rise and fall rapidly as she glared at him with a clenched jaw from the passenger seat. A sharp daggered stare from her eyes froze Skipp in place.
“Okay,” he acknowledged, backing away slowly with both hands raised, feeling scolded like a rebellious child. “What the hell is wrong with you?” he fumed, not caring if she heard him.
Walking back to his side of the car shaking his head, he wondered for the second time why he didn’t leave in the first place.
The silence in the car was thick enough to cut. Charletta looked straight ahead, remaining still.
‘Maybe play some music to break the ice in here’ Skipp thought, reaching over to turn on the radio but noticing Charletta giving him the evil eye as if to say ‘just try something.’ He decided silence was more desirable than a possible meltdown by this woman in his car. Something changed. This was the woman he talked to for weeks on the phone, but not the personality.
He thought about the old black-and-white horror film ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.’An anxious woman in the film felt a family member had been changed or replaced and said “That isn’t my uncle Ira.” In the quietude, Skipp imagined his Charletta was replaced too.
He wanted to tell her she looked fabulous but remembered the thing about compliments. Skipp settled for “We’re wearing matching colors today… as if we planned it.” No response. He chanced a look at her from the road briefly to witness something like an eye roll directed at him.
Skipp reached the end of his patience. He was about to tell Charletta he was taking her back home, ending this nonsense when he observed her intensely reading something outside the car. It appeared she was reading a street name sign at the intersection he passed through. The eye roll thing happened when he passed by a sign before she could read the street name. She then laced her fingers together, then apart, and back together again. She continued to read signs as her body language alternated from satisfied to conflicted as he drove.
‘Light Bulb Moment!‘ he thought. ‘I understand now. She’s like…. cousin Lawrence.’
“Charletta, I forgot to tell you where we are going for our first date,” he said calmly as he could muster. She remained quiet, looking directly ahead as Skipp talked.
“I thought I’d take you to La Grand Cafe, an elegant French restaurant for dinner. It’s at 303 Center Street. We’re on the…” he hesitated, “the 500 block of Market Street.”
“I can see that,” Charletta said, irritated being told about a location she already knew.
‘At least she’s talking,’ he thought. Skipp drove another block, deciding to test her response to music.
“Would you like to hear music by Aaron Neville? His voice is soft and soothing, but that’s up to you if you want to try it or not.”
“Okay” Charletta replied, in a voice just above a whisper.
“I’m turning right onto Center street around the 100th block. The numbers are going up.”
“I know that. I’m not stupid.” Charletta said with sarcasm, her voice defiant.
“Just giving you information.” he responded, glancing a smile her way, then singing ‘tell it like it is,’ with Neville.
Skipp drove passed valet parking, taking a self-parking space on the side of the restaurant.
“I’ve been to this restaurant a few times. I know the owner. If you go with me inside, I’ll ask him for a quiet table on the side away from any crowd. Charletta, would you like to go?
“Yes, I think I would.” she conceded.
He got out of the car but didn’t offer to open her door. He waited until she got out before remote locking the car. Charletta followed him inside while taking in the new environment. When they were seated Skipp told the waiter he wanted to order drinks.
“I’ll have an orange peel beer. Charletta, would you like sparkling water or spring water with a lemon twist?
“The sparkling water. Since your ordering for me,” she grumbled.
“Good choice,” Skipp answered, ignoring the dig. “Bring the lady sparkling water please.” Charletta looked at Skipp but didn’t say anything else.
“The Veal Ragout is very good and so is the Gratin Dauphinois. It’s a very good potato dish. Which one would you prefer?
Charletta became comfortable with Skipp and her surroundings. She actually smiled at times. Now was the time to ask questions.
“Why did you use a younger photo of yourself on your profile?” He asked.
“When I look in the mirror, that’s who I see. I wanted people to see me that way.“That’s the way I feel when I’m not..not..”
Charletta shook her head glumly, eyes cast to the floor. “Yes. How did you know?”
Skipp wanted to say ‘How could I miss it?’ instead, he settled for “My cousin Lawrence. When he stopped taking his meds, he became short-tempered, combative, and sarcastic. He could only handle a few changes at a time. What made me realize you are struggling with mental health issues was the stimming, then the reading of street name signs. He did the same with license plates.”
“I wanted to remember going out. That’s why I stopped taking my meds. I didn’t mean to ruin things,” she said. A few tears spilled down her face. The dam ready to give way.
“No worries.” He handed her a soft unused hand towel on their table.
“It all turned out fine. By the way, when I look at you, I see the lady in the photo too.”
“Oh…thank…” Charletta sniffled. Holding a hand over her mouth she politely stood up to excuse herself. Her emotions ran wild. She had to step away.
“I’ll be right back. I want to check myself in the ladies’ room,” Charletta answered, tears in a holding pattern ready to drop on command.
“Take all the time you need love.”
Now that they were talking Skipp wanted to tell Charletta she showed signs of memory loss and confusion when he arrived for their date. Her behavior reminded him of the early stages of dementia his wife suffered before she passed, ‘God rest her soul,’ he reminded himself.
Looking at the dessert menu he decided that particular conversation was not appropriate for a first date. His friends told him “T M I. Don’t bring up past women in your life unless asked.”
“Good advice,” he said under his breath as he watched a beautiful middle-aged woman making her way back to his table.
Copyright © 2018 Darnell Cureton. All Rights Reserved.