Where are you going, Mommy?” my daughter asks, peering into the steamy bathroom. “Out, just out,” I snap, staring at my dazed reflection as I hurriedly dab on eyeliner.
“Where’s Mommy going?” my older daughter demands, pouring her thin frame against the wall.
“Out, just out,” the smaller one chants.
“Leave me in peace,” I hiss, as I rub ineffectually at a misplaced line. The eye makeup intended to enhance my appearance has, instead, given me a satanic leer.
The little monster likes to watch the show, and I feel her eyes rivet on my changing face. As usual she has an honest, if unsolicited, comment: “Why do you put on that stuff?”
“Because I want to.”
I know mothers aren’t supposed to have wants, but I put the idea up the flagpole from time to time just for an argument.
“You look better without it.”
From downstairs the sound I’ve been dreading: the knock on the front door. Mother has arrived. No longer the vague hope that she would, for once, not show. No longer the possibility of the perfect alibi. I can hardly believe my own reaction. Usually I long to go out, an evening on the town, without the kids. But not tonight. This is something different. Another knock. No escaping my fate now. My daughters are caught between the mother-in-makeup show and seeing their grandmother. Both girls wait for the other one to go down and open the door. I tell Belinda to go and she responds with surprise at my hoarse voice. Fear, I guess.
The image in the mirror is not a pleasant one. I put in another round wrestling with my short, curly hair, which no amount of brushing will I flatten, and glare threateningly at the familiar face trying to get out.
“Did you have a bath?” Sally inquires, kicking the damp towel lying on the floor.
“But you had a shower this morning.”
“I like bathing,” I offer. She grimaces.
“Go and say hello to your grandmother.”
Jacket on, purse in hand, I hesitate amidst the hubbub in the hall, kiss my mother a hello-goodbye, and search for an excuse not to go. As usual, the threesome wants to get rid of me. T hey have something planned of which I have no part. I am unceremoniously pushed towards the door. “I won’t be late,” I say, fondly remembering the day when the children seemed to care. I have no idea when I’ll be back. It could be five minutes or five years, I chuckle to myself, trying to make it all sound routine.
“Where did you say you were going?” my mother asks suddenly wary of my expression.
“Out, just out,” the children chant.
“Anyone I know?” Mother asks hopefully.
“No,” I mumble and rummage in my purse. Maybe I’ve lost the keys again. That would be a good excuse. “Have you kids seen my keys?”
With a critical sigh Mother retrieves the traitors from their usual spot behind the sink. “You look lovely, dear. Is this a special date?”
“No,” I shout. Only my dear mother would say I look lovely. I’d seen the results of my efforts at glamor in the honest mirror upstairs, my hair was a frizz ball, my hips too heavy, my skin lined. Women of 36 with two kids and wide hips don’t have special dates.
The children exchange knowing glances with their grandmother and propel me out the door. My older daughter, at 12 worldly wise and anxious that her mother have more fun, hisses at me to “have a good time,” in a voice even a more determined figure could not refuse. Mother has turned to more important concerns.
“Why don’t you kids go for a bike ride while I clean up the supper things,” she cheerfully suggests. “Then we’ll plan something fun to do.”
The girls vanish out of the back door before I get off the porch. Homework, did I remind them about their homework? I turn back eagerly to tell mother but she is shaking her head disgustedly.
“Go,” she shoos me off. “Go. Do you think I can’t look after two kids for an evening?”
There is not much more I can do to delay the inevitable unless nature intervenes, which I suspect it might. My stomach is lurching in a way which suggests disaster. What if mother knew what I was up to? That would end the jovial send-off. What if my friends find out?
In my agitation I stall the car, drive uncertainly around the corner, and stop before the neighbors report me. This is impaired driving for sure. I am so terrified I can’t think. Am I crazy? Life to this point has been so predictable. Not always pleasant, often frantic, sometimes just plain tedious, but wonderfully, warmly, cozily predictable.
And now, tonight, it is anything but. I’m going to end up making a fool of myself, or something worse. It isn’t too late to call it off. Who would ever know? I could drive into town and go to a movie instead.
He would know of course. Left waiting, at first imagining I will arrive momentarily then, as the minutes pass, increasingly embarrassed. The waitress returning from time to time to demand impatiently if he is ready to order yet.
What if he does it to me? I’ll be furious. No I won’t, it’s a wonderful idea. Maybe he will. I may yet be saved.
Even so, it wouldn’t be fair. No, everything has all been above board until now – or as above board as such arrangements can be. Better bite the bullet and proceed. I take one of those old standby deep breaths that serve to kill time if nothing else, glance at my flushed face in the car mirror, and slap down the tuft of hair like so much of my life – unmanageable.
I sigh, suddenly burst out of my thoughts by the sight of five goggling children surrounding the car.
“What are you doing here, Mom?”
Guilty as a burglar caught in the act, I fumble an excuse.
“Just dropped my contact.”
“You have your glasses on,” a helpful daughter points out.
“Goodbye,” I nod firmly, quickly starting the car and weaving down the street.
I must admit I am no adventuress. I hate new situations, avoid meeting people. That was one of the problems with my husband – now ex-husband – and I. Morris was forever Mr. Adventure. I deal with strangers in my job at the credit union, of course, but I decline invitations to parties unless I know the other guests. Put brutally, I hate taking risks.
“Comes with age,” I explain to my friend Sandra who scoffs I have been a coward all my life and, as a case in point, is pleased to note my refusal to raft down the river as a child. In my defence I must add it was a wide and unruly river. I shudder to think of what Sandra would say if I confessed to this escapade, which I have no intention of telling her about. Confess to it, I’ll be lucky to survive it.
Preparing for the big evening has been nerve wracking. All week I vacillated between casual, fancy and in-between clothes. The meeting place was in-between I guessed, although I have never been inside. It is neutral ground, mid-way geographically. When the location was decided I speculated he was as fearful as I for anyone discover the liaison. Perhaps that only shows my innocence, his motives might be more ominous.
Earlier in the week I felt pleased with the dress I finally chose. It is a fashionable Dowered print which nicely hides my generous hips; the bright colors accent my dark hair. Even my usually pale complexion is lively in pink tonight.
Like Lady Jane Grey I intend to go to my beheading in style. Or so I had thought when the meeting was still a distant future. Now I am less pleased with my appearance, and angry at myself for caring so much how I look.
Who is he to expect me to get all dressed up? Men expect you to take time and effort, and half the time they don’t bother. Morris hadn’t. I shudder. Why am I still fighting with Morris two years later? Better concentrate on the problem at hand.
What had induced me to set up the meeting? A joke? A dare? What if it turned out unpleasant. Who would ever know? I should have left details of my Whereabouts with my mother.
To delay the moment as long as possible I drive more slowly than I have since I was bumping into things with a learner’s permit. But I finally arrive. Worse luck, I actually find a parking spot near the entrance to the restaurant. I can still escape, no one has seen me. An hour from now I could be cozily cocooned in a comfortable womb-like theater. Munch popcorn, drink pop, drift into a nonthreatening story of someone else living happily ever after.
That’s what everyone expects of me.
“You’re a chicken,” Sandra scoffed recently when I refused to go to the singles bar.
Some of my friends from the credit union go to see the men strip. They say it’s fun, call me a stick-in-the-mud. Am I? At 36 I have been out of action for so long I feel 100. In my teens a wild time meant you had a few drinks too many, now at parties they pass around drugs I don’t even recognize.
I watch the restaurant door as suspiciously as if I were on a stake-out: an older couple enjoying a familiar argument enter, followed by three talkative men. It’s 7:30 on the dot. Time to go, he is probably inside.
I dislodge myself from my car, adjust my skirt and pull the door shut cursing as I realize I’ve locked the keys inside. So much for a fast escape route. Relieved to discover the back door unlocked, I retrieve the keys, swallow back my lunch and march to the door. Pretend you are on stage someone once suggested. Pretend you are just saying stage lines.
I push open the heavy ornate door and step from the brightly lit street into a humid black hole. As my eyes adjust, a garish red and black room reminiscent of a Gothic movie set materializes. Dracula awaits.
A pale Peter Lorrie figure emerges from the shadows: “Table for one?”
“No,” I squeak. “Table for two, under the name Bower.”
“Ah,” the thin face shimmers knowingly. “The gentleman is already here. Follow me.”
As we sweep across the dining room my eyes dart ahead to spot the unknown liaison. I can still duck out, I lie to myself as my courage fades. But it is too late. We are heading for an elderly, heavy set man with an unruly crop of brittle grey hair. He must be 65; had I mentioned age? To my relief the maitre d’ sails on past two other likely candidates and heads for a darkened corner table designed for unsavory meetings.
“Mr. Bower,” the maitre d’ inquired of an ornate menu which hesitantly lowered to reveal a worried face.
“Ms. Perkins?” the anxious patron cried, jumping up and rattling the table. I nod gayly, thrusting my hand towards the hesitant creature.
After a hearty shake we both fall back into seats. A short pause follows, both of us waiting for the other to begin. Then we both blurt out something, stop short, laugh, try again. Finally, he begins, timidly at first, his voice strengthening as he continues. Stopping for my comments which come more easily by the minute.
Like survivors after a brush with death, the two of us cheerfully recount our adventures, our anxieties. We laugh at the thought of our friends’ reactions, our sweaty palms, loss of courage, adding, correcting, telling one another what we like to do, waxing on about our favorite books, movies we’d like to see.
Over wine, he confesses to his embarrassed wait. I protest I was on time.
“I was early,” he admits. “And certain I had been stood up.”
“Like high school all over,” I laugh.
“Worse,” he sighs, rolling his eyes. “In high school I was young.”
“You don’t look that old now,” I offer, noticing his face which at first seemed anxious now seems boyishly handsome.
“Well, I admit I feel somewhat younger than I did a few hours ago,” he smiles ruefully. “I was taken aback to see what an attractive woman you were.”
“You looked worried, not pleased,” I protest.
“Worried you would ask someone else to dance,” he laughs.
Of course we are supposed to be eating not dancing. The waiter returns twice to get our order but each time we pick up the menu we think of something else to say.
By dessert we have laughed at every agonizing second that we have had since the ad was put in the paper, how we had vowed never to do something so foolhardy again, but still we find more to talk about. Plays we have seen, nightmares we have had, crazy things we might do someday.
Before we know it, it’s midnight. Instead of leaving a shoe, I leave a telephone number. He promises to call. I’m sure he will.
~ Melodie Corrigall
Originally published in: BC Woman to Woman