This is a short story I wrote at Antioch University, called Three Dates.
She hadn’t been to bed with a man in three months. She was twenty-one years old and had spent the summer of 1983 on the French Riviera. There, Leah sensed the possibility of a new kind of life that waited for her. Back in the City she got the job she wanted, an apartment and a cat, and she mingled with men from the art/ music/ theatre scene, but without the sense of optimism from the summer. The idea of having a relationship with a man—stretched her imagination after so many years at a woman’s college focusing on her studies. She was open to all the categories of relationships that did not serve in the long run: I want some human connection, I want drama—I don’t have enough drama. And lastly—and this Leah was sure was her favorite, this is just too good to pass up.
She was living alone for the first time, in an apartment, south of Houston St. As she approached home, the silhouette of her cat, Minou could be seen in the window. The neighborhood dealer muttered, “smokesmokesmoke,” as she approached.
“Still looking for your dog, Smoke?” she joked.
The dealer recognized Leah, this was the first time she had responded to him. He changed his pitch, “Cocaine…White girl drugs,”
Leah laughed and let herself into her building’s foyer. She passed as white, with blonde hair, green eyes and delicate facial features, but was aware of a nagging maternal voice that reminded her she had spent most of Shabbat shopping for her date that evening, and not resting. She collected the mail and was out of breath by the time she reached the 5th floor. Minou the cat pressed against her leg and complained until she offered a scratch. A street rescue with one eye, when she tilted her head just so, Leah thought Minou resembled Olivia Newton-John. Leah had so far preferred to use the little money she had left over after rent, for clothing and art. She and Minou had been surviving that week on bowls of chickpeas and discount shark meat.
Leah was to meet for a first date later with a man her friend Beverly knew from work. All she knew was that he was a successful banker, “Peter, not Pete.” Beverly had encouraged Leah to accept hospitality where she could find it, now that her parents had cut her off. Beverly had explained that there was a circle of high earning men who would happily pick up the bill three times for beautiful women struggling in the arts. But after the third date the woman was expected to “give back”, if they made it so far.
She flopped down to look through the Saturday mail with her legs up on the ottoman. The red Eero Saarinen womb chair—a graduation gift from her grandmother, was her only furniture beyond her bed. Barnard College was already requesting alumni donations and there was the October issue of National Geographic. And there was a postcard. The front of the postcard was from Antonio Gaudi’s, Park Guell in Barcelona. Leah held the postcard. She knew without flipping it over, it was from Alejandro. A warm feeling coursed through her and she hugged the postcard to her chest. They had met the old fashioned way—on the dance floor in Nice, one evening in July, David Bowie on the record player, lets face the music./ and dance. She placed the postcard on the end of her bed as a treat to turn over after the first date.
She opened the National Geographic magazine to a piece about the praying mantis. A study had found that if the female praying mantis was malnourished and starving for food then she almost always killed the male after sex for food. In cases when the female was not malnourished, she almost never killed her mate for food. Leah dumped the rest of the shark meat in a bowl for Minou. The phone rang at exactly 4 pm, Peter wanted to confirm the details for their date.
“Grand Central Station,” she answered. There was a long pause. Then, sensing that he didn’t get the joke, she offered, “Peter?”
“Oh! Beverly said you were a funny girl. I’ve never been out with a funny girl before,” he said. He talked through his nose. “I made reservations at the River Park Café for us at 7pm,”
Yes, she had been there once before. Yes, she would be dressed formally and ready to be picked up at 6.
She began the ritual of getting ready but did not sing along when “Total Eclipse of the Heart” came on the radio. She had bought a bright blue Thierry Mugler dress that day and it clung to her figure with contrasting sharp shoulders. She added a black turkey feather bolero for warmth, white heels, a blue clutch and a red lip.
The buzzer buzzed promptly at 6. Peter, to her surprise, was not wearing a turtleneck as she had imagined, but she suspected he owned many turtlenecks. He wore a black jacket, and a burgundy tie with his dress shirt. He had a hawk like appearance and stringy brown hair that was receding. His face softened when he saw Leah. They shook hands. Peter’s hand was clammy.
“Leaving Manhattan for a first date, you are brave,” she told him inside the car.
“How long have you lived in New York?” he wondered.
“I grew up in the city,” she replied.
Their driver turned on the windshield wipers as an evening mist formed. They drove past Thomson Square park which was a homeless tent city. Peter tried to pull up his pants a little more and suck in his gut while he talked. He was a Yale graduate, wanted to go to more concerts, wasn’t a big reader, lived alone on the Upper West Side.
Tucked under the Brooklyn Bridge like a secret garden, was the River Park Café restaurant. Peter lent Leah his arm to steady herself on the cobblestones. He walked with his feet turned out, like a penguin. A crisp water breeze blew past them and lanterns flickered.
They got a table away from the crowd. It was cool and quiet in the corner. Peter ordered a delicious bottle of wine. It was the kind of place where the waiters wore suits and scraped crumbs from the tablecloth when you weren’t looking. Peter went for the pork belly and Leah went for the steak. Peter continued to talk. Leah continued to drink. Leah was a secretary? She was not, she was an assistant to an editor for Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine.
The steak tasted good in her mouth and she drank it down with the wine. She declined to taste his pork belly and this was how Peter figured out she was Jewish.
“The chosen people,” he boasted.
She ordered a cocktail—a dirty gin martini.
“Oh, you like it dirty?” Peter asked.
There were too many funny responses to this to choose from and Leah did not feel Peter deserved any of them. She replied instead to his commentary on the Jewish people.
“The true test of chosenness is how humble you are,” the words clung in the air. Peter looked quite besotted with her and she considered ordering a separate steak to bring to Minou.
“So Peter…You are good with money, what’s your best financial advice you can give me?”
“Don’t spend your money,” he snickered. Leah leaned back slightly in her chair, and smiled daintily.
“Maybe you could give me some more detailed financial advice. Maybe you could write it on my body with a marker, so I would absorb the information to help me build a better portfolio.”
“I could probably do that…Just you wait, you’ve never been with anyone like Peter,” he undulated his tongue, remnants of pork bouncing in the back of his mouth. He would be a sloppy kisser but she felt lonely for male attention, and fine dining. She remembered the post card on her bed, a reminder that a great man could love her. She remembered too, the female praying mantis, in the honorable pursuit of survival. There would be a second date and third date. Maybe even a fourth.