I hadn’t cooked dinner for a woman in a long time. There just hadn’t been any women to cook for. But I was cooking dinner for her. This was our third date; the one that mattered. I liked her. She was pretty. I could see why men once chased her; and even in her late 30s she still seemed to expect it. She said interesting things. We were similar in a lot of ways. She was self-absorbed, though, and a bit nutty. She had been institutionalized twice. And we already had a weird date during which I made her cry, simply because I complained that she didn’t ask me any questions. But she also had these big, beautiful lips. And she had said that she liked mine. I had sent her a song. The first line was “I like your lips.” We wrote long emails to each other every morning. She was the type who would move with me to the country. She was not a giver, though. She took. I had done all the work each time. She hadn’t made any reciprocal moves. Her interests were local; they didn’t go far beyond her.
I bought the freshest, most succulent looking shrimp Whole Foods had to offer. For the appetizer, I wrapped rice skins around bean thread and vegetables to make summer rolls. When she showed up at my apartment, she hadn’t brought anything, which she announced, grandly, to preempt any complaints.
We ate the summer rolls and then I began to cook the shrimp curry. I fried some onions in oil and when they started burning I panicked.
“Don’t freak out,” she said.
I liked that.
As the curry finished cooking, I added coconut milk and chunks of pineapple. The meal turned out well. She ate two helpings.
I liked that, too.
We leaned back in our seats, listening to our digestive systems. No dessert was coming, because she hadn’t brought any.
Then my cat walked by.
“I don’t think he likes me,” she said. “He swiped me when I tried to pet him.”
“Max gets jealous. I don’t think he likes women.”
I told her about Mary, who complained that Max bit her feet when we were in bed.
“I think he’s gay,” I said, laughing, ha ha ha.
“Well, he likes some women. So maybe he’s bi.”
“Are you bi? Or are you gay? You’re gay, right?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I have this theory that you might be gay.”
My heart sank. She had no interest in me whatsoever. It would have been better if she had just wiped the curry off her mouth and walked out. I would have been left with a sweeter memory.
I foresaw writing this absurd episode down. I saw myself writing: The more I open my heart to these cunts, the more ways they find to kill it. But I decided against writing it down, because of its crude desperation. And even in that moment of humiliation I thought of her ass, an ass that I’d never see. On our second date, I had stared at it when she walked ahead of me. Was it a kind of boyish ass, after all?
“Your whole aura is gay,” she continued. “You like cooking. The things you talk about. Very metrosexual.”
“I’ll admit to that,” I admitted. I realized then that I should never have told her about the time I walked into a soap shop during a date in Soho.
“That coat you wore on our second date,” she said.
“Very, very gay.”
“I hadn’t worn that coat in years! I wore it for you. I thought you’d like it.”
“I call you ‘the gay one’ to my friends.”
Was this really happening? Did people really talk this way to each other?
She wanted a baby; she had told me this. She was 38 now. But she was still acting as though nothing mattered but her stupid observations and that she would always get what she wanted. She had been beautiful, but the blush of youth was gone. The imagined memory of her past beauty was the pathway to seeing how she was now, like following a ghost to its body.
With the dinner crawling to an end, everything I did and said suddenly seemed undeniably gay: the way I held my glass with my pinky finger extended. My body language: gay. Describing how I put together the summer rolls: gay. Unbelievably, Bossa Nova began to play from the stereo. Gay.
We stared at each other across the table, contemplating in our own ways the ruined evening.
Max, my gay cat, hopped on my lap.