Carla had arranged yet another blind date. Nervously she brushed at her long, black hair. Her reflection in the bathroom mirror revealed a forlorn expression. A part-time legal secretary and widow of the last six years, she dreaded the familiar question that would surely be asked of her by her date. In this world she was cursed to be looking for love when all she was continually finding was heartache.
In her search for the most appropriate apparel for tonight’s occasion she had already discarded the newly-purchased long blue dress in favour of a white top and shorter black skirt. The choice of black was not made with intentions of disclosing any formal demeanour of mourning. It was selected more with an eye to showing off her shapely white legs. She considered them to be her best feature. At least that was what Bruce had always said, when he was still alive. Black matching shoes and her small black leather handbag had also been chosen as accompaniments. She had already completed the arduous task of making up her face and now all that was left was the equally difficult chore of fixing her wanton hair. It would never stay how she wanted it to, regardless the generous amounts of spray repeatedly applied. Each black follicle appeared to stubbornly retain a dissenting will of its own.
In the mirror, she saw every wrinkle and blemish she had ever acquired in her forty-three years on this Earth so far. She shook her head in despair at the apparent disintegration of her youth when, in reality, she was still very much a pleasingly attractive woman. Perhaps, blinding her eyes to this realisation was the almost certain possibility of that annoying, constantly recurring question:
“How did your husband die?”
She had answered the query more times than she liked to remember, and truthfully on more occasions than she considered wise. Truth can be a bane for the honourably frank, and ‘the question’ formed a strange type of human caveat that seemed to regulate the disappointment that was sure to follow. With the sincere answer provided, for Carla, the night would always end in complete disaster.
“Another blind date…” Carla bemoaned as she continued to brush her hair.
The dating website she had recently joined seemed to predominately match her with only two types of men: those who were attractive, intelligent and just wanting sex; and those who were unattractive, unintelligent and just wanting sex. There were a few exceptions… though once ‘the question’ was inevitably posed, and she had honestly answered it, their collective reaction left her with little doubt they were not her type, and never would be.
The last man Carla had dated, Brian, had seemed somewhat promising. Unlike her previous suitors he didn’t seem to be only after sex. He was around her age, good-looking and evidently quite well off. Dressed in a fashionable black coat and tie, he was the epitome of style. He had, noticeably, also acquired for himself a Shane Warne-type hair transplant.
“Got the hair done for a song,” he related, “the plastic surgeon’s investments went bad and I helped to bail him out of trouble.”
Brian was not a famous sportsman admired by the public, though he did seem to hold himself in high esteem.
“I also had the surgeon do a job for me downstairs,” he said with a pronounced wink.
Carla ignored this new information.
He did have a slight case of bad breath and she tried not to focus too much upon that. It was only really noticeable when he related his lengthy stories about his success in the world of commerce, which was, in reality, a good deal of the time. They were dining together in a French restaurant and, apart from the bad breath issues, they seemed to be getting on reasonably well, until he asked ‘the question’…
Carla briefly hesitated, before truthfully replying:
“Bruce was killed by a camel that had escaped from the local circus. He was walking home from the shops and was waiting for a walk sign when it ran right over the top of him. Poor Bruce never had a chance… the camel was very big, you see, and was running very fast. ”
At first, Brian looked like he was going to choke on his sautéed snails. He doubled over as if having some sort of fit. Immediately Carla became concerned for him, until she quickly realised, just like the others who had come before him, he was simply laughing uncontrollably.
“Sorry…” he said through his chuckling tears, “but that’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.”
Rapidly she concluded that ill-fated rendezvous, stating she was feeling ‘unwell’. It was a relief to escape such torment, even if it meant returning to her empty home. She felt so slighted she reminded herself of his halitosis, which now became much worse on reflection than it had seemed at the time. Lately, such disappointing episodes when meeting men had become a common occurrence.
On the date before she had encountered a former school teacher who had gravitated to buying real estate.
“I’m already a millionaire,” Darren announced to her, “my next step is multi-millionaire.”
“Money is not everything,” Carla offered.
Ignoring her comment, Darren said, “You don’t get much food in this place for your hard-earned.” He looked down at the bountiful dishes of Mexican food that Carla saw as more than enough for the little prices the small cafe had stated on their menu.
“It looks fine to me.”
“The table is too small then,” he countered, “I can get us another table.”
He was loud and did most of the talking, and upon finally hearing her same answer to the same question she was always asked, he had inadvertently regurgitated his previous mouthful of red all over the Mexican dish they were currently having. As he raucously laughed, that large man’s already rosy cheeks had turned such an unhealthily red that Carla feared he may be suffering a high blood pressure-induced coronary. His ill-fitting and cheap-looking large black-framed glasses threatened to fall from the bridge of his rather large nose to join with the pot of wine-stained, now pinkish sour cream.
He was now arguing with the waiter, saying the table was ‘too small’ and that was the reason why ‘the accident’ had happened.
Soon after, when Carla had swiftly departed and left him to pay the bill for the soggy mess of sodden tortillas, she couldn’t help but consider that with his unhealthy glow his days on Earth were probably numbered. She consoled herself with the thought that with him as a future partner it may be only a matter of time before she would be widowed once again.
Still standing in front of her mirror, Carla finally laid the brush to rest on the basin beside her.
“Tonight is the last time I’m going to do anything like this,” she firmly told herself.
Her younger sister, Lucia, had recommended that she lie to the prospective beaus about the circumstances of her husband’s death.
“I’m not going to lie about it!” Carla had shouted, “I never lie.”
“You could just tell them… a little fabrication,” Lucia suggested. “Six months later, you might be able to tell them what really happened.”
“No,” Carla insisted, “it’s what happened. I’m not going to live a lie. Lies create lies. They only lead to more trouble.”
“You’re so damn stubborn,” Lucia warned, “you might end up alone forever.”
Carla angrily tossed a hand in the air.
“I’d rather be alone than lie. If they somehow think it funny, if they want to make a joke about it, then they’re not the men for me anyway!”
She knew that Lucia often quarrelled with her husband, Joe. For Carla, it wasn’t like Lucia had a perfect relationship herself, even if her sister claimed ‘arguments are the Italian way’. There was never any physical violence involved in Lucia and Joe’s quarrels, but still… Carla thought that if two people had enough in common, why should they argue at all? She had decided that she wanted to meet someone she had something in common with, someone whom she could trust; someone who wouldn’t laugh when she honestly answered that infernal question!
That night she met her latest date for dinner at an Italian restaurant. It was a promising beginning. The date, James, had chosen the cuisine of her heritage.
James was five years her senior, handsome, in his own way, softly spoken; a university history lecturer. His shot of silver hair gave him a distinguished appearance. When he spoke of his students he did so in a gentle, caring way.
“They are very bright,” he said. “It is my hope that one of them will eventually supersede me in my role,” he gave a small laugh, “but I also hope I will not be found to be completely antiquated before my time. I’m not quite ready to be consigned to history just yet… there’s so very much life yet to live, so many new untried paths to follow, but I also know that the world doesn’t revolve around me.”
With his use of language Carla considered he was certainly an intellectual, though his delivery while conversing with her seemed carefully considered, and he was not at all overbearing. She discovered that like her he was a widower, and his two children had already left the family home.
“Enough about me,” he said with a smile. “Tell me about yourself. What do you most like to do?”
They chatted easily over their entrées as they lightly sipped crisp glasses of wine from the finely chosen bottle on the table. It had been James’ choice, a South Australian Chardonnay. Carla found her voice and told him of her likes, and her dislikes.
“I never thought I’d actually do this blind date thing,” James soon confided. “It’s not really the sort of activity I would usually do.”
“Me neither,” Carla agreed.
He looked at her and smiled. “But tonight I’m very glad that I did.”
Their mains arrived and they continued their pleasant conversation. They talked about books and films they liked and found similar interests. Carla was enjoying his company to such a degree that she had forgotten all about her fears.
Suddenly, she was abruptly returned to reality.
“How did your husband die?”
Carla pondered lying. She tried her best to lie but found she couldn’t. Instead, she took a deep breath and told the familiar truth. Then she lowered her eyes and waited for the inevitable laughter. But no laughter came.
“Oh… that’s so terrible… you poor thing.”
Carla raised her eyes and tried to detect in him any signs of sarcasm. His soft expression showed none at all. To her surprise, there wasn’t even a trace of a smile on his honestly concerned face.
“What a horrible misadventure,” James said. “I feel so very sorry for you. You poor dear…”
“Yes, it was terrible,” Carla agreed.
She felt a warm glow grow within her, a small tingle of excitement that she may have finally found her man. With so many disappointments, she never thought it would ever happen, but here he was.
“I rarely talk about my late wife,” James confided. “When she was alive we loved to travel overseas.”
“How did she pass?” Carla gently asked.
“We were staying in a reserve in Africa. She liked the wildlife so very much… she was standing too close to the elephants and, unfortunately, one of them, one of the bigger ones, sat down on her.”
Carla swallowed nervously. During the ensuing silence that followed, she suddenly lunged across the table with her right arm, grasped his hand in hers and held it firmly. With her teeth biting down hard on the flesh of her inner cheek to prevent herself from bursting into uncontrollable laughter, she whispered, “I’m so sorry for your loss…”