I am meeting a man at 307 Lockland Ave. A sanctioned stranger, someone told me has a warm and easy laugh and a house on the East Side, in the historic district.
It’s a new tapas place, one that he recommended. His name is Darren, a name weighted with the sense that it was given by a mother, deliberate and hopeful as she paused in the Ds.
I walk toward the entrance and see him standing just outside, akimbo, his jacket patches indicating elbows. His smile is broad, his hair gone, and though he does not, it seems as though he wants to hug me. His thick trunk is bisected by a slim brown belt, upon which rests the lip of his belly. He’s sweating slightly. His face is the pink of soon-gray meat. And there’s a faint scent hovering about him, the same warm, sick sweetness that radiates from someone who has just done yard work.
“It’s lovely to meet you,” he says. “You’re prettier than she said.”
“Thank you.” I look forward at no one as we move through the doorway and find myself fixated on the phrase, wondering if that’s the way he meant to say it. And wondering what, exactly, she said about me.
At the table, he orders chopito and chorizo. He wants to know what I do for fun.
“I don’t know,” I say. I don’t. I can’t access anything. It’s as if I were born into this moment, with no past to reach back to.
“Sorry,” he says. “I’ve not done this in a while.”
“Me either,” I say, without meaning to.
He moves his hand over the plate and pinches a piece of chopito between two eager fingers.
“Did you know squid have three hearts?” he said and tossed the piece behind his teeth.
“I didn’t know that, no.”
We don’t speak. The only sound is his chewing, like the pasty smacking of some ruminant.
“But I did know that cows have four stomachs,” I say.
“Yes, of course,” he says, and pinches more chopito.
“What do. Um. Do you do anything for fun?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he says, interested now in the chorizo.
The harsh light from the pendant lamp between us glints off his shiny forehead. If I let myself get close enough, I might be able to see my reflection.