Must Hate Dogs
Must Hate Dogs
She’s always talking to herself. Saying things out loud helps her keep track. Salami, yes, she says. Cream. Fresh basil. Check, check. Olives, yes. And oh, goodness, something fresh and floral in a white.
It’s too hot for red, isn’t it? Or not, she thinks, seeing a ripe ruby vintage Malbec. She talks it over with herself. The pros and cons of each option. “All right,” she decides. Puts both in the basket.
The checkout is usually a long wait at this hour, with everyone nabbing a few ingredients on the way home from work. She adds a quart of big bursting strawberries and some plain and perfect Swedish chocolate with a kitschy label. She’s taking in the folk art graphics, wondering if they are ancient or made with Canva, when she hears him.
“Looks like a great date ahead,” the voice says. She prickles instinctively at the intrusion, but his voice is a plush, rich alto, with just a touch of whisky gravel. She can’t resist looking up. “Hi there,” he says.
She hates people who say “hi there.” It rubs her the wrong way.
“Oh, um, hey, hi there,” she manages. No, oh goodness. She didn’t! She is more nervous than her usual.
The voice bearer laughs, as if he can read all the awkward turmoil in her mind and heart and laptop files and front hall closet of shame with nothing more than that to go on.
“Hi there,” he says again. “Javier here.” He’s holding a bouquet of asparagus spears in one hand and a nice varietal, another white, Pinot Grigio, in his other.
He smiles. He’s small and brown and beautiful. His teeth and jaws are wide, sturdy in a more delicate head. His hands are slender and tender.
She smiles back. It takes a while for that reflex to kick in but he doesn’t seem to notice. “Yeah, um, no date,” she says. “I’m cooking lemon and basil pasta and drinking tonight. Just needed a few things.” She nods. The thought runs through her mind that she’s glad she has on a sweet and flimsy little gold chain that sits just oh so subtly at the base of her throat, plain but real, and dainty pewter earrings that are treble clefs if you look closer. It seems to matter in this moment.
“Yeaaaaaaahhh,” he says with broad, big grin. His voice rolls with real mirth, sounds like a river. “You got the idea, yeah,” he says. He holds up the bunched-up stalks and gives a long nod, grin not fading. His eyes are twinkling. It takes her a moment to get it—he’s flying solo tonight, too. Really flying, that is, not trying to get out of his own company and finagle a date. Maybe he is the sort who guards his solitude as greedily as she does.
She thinks about her last date. Dude was cute and clumsy, big sweater, loveable sort, with as much sex appeal as a cocker spaniel. He had a labradoodle, a golden doodle and some other kind of doodle and they were all friendly and panting just like he was and his whole flat smelled of kibble and dog tongues. She politely slipped home early to her Siamese cats and a documentary about a composer she adored.
Dating was tricky enough for the rest of the world. For introverts, finding someone’s company you preferred to your own was a risky proposition. Who would get her? Who would see things the way she did?
Once a young reporter from the local college had asked her what she lived for. It was a little puff piece in a lean but glossy alumni edition and they’d sent a photog, too. She didn’t read too much into the small triumphs like these, but was gracious and grateful for them at the same time. She’d had a respectable, if unspectacular career crafting television themes and scores. She burned with music and culture, bled it, and she knew she was lucky. She didn’t have to log barista hours at Starbucks or work in medical data entry. She had work. She wrote, she played her flute and her violin.
“Yay, life, yeah,” she’d said, reeling back in from her imagination’s flight to answer the journalist’s question. What was that? What do you live for? Three things.
Oh, okay, three. Yes. That’s easy. Film score. The way classical composition merging with pop and rock had its own kind of choreography, an emotional life outside of her after she was done with it. Two, umm, yes, claro. Cats. Their easy grace and nonchalance, twisted with their intensity and their extraordinary beauty. Three? Well, goodness. Everything. Chess, kiwi birds, nun figurines, jellyfish, amethyst turtle carvings, wine from Porto, neon paint, the half-moon, Mexico, Hannukah, Tiffany’s, wooden clogs, Shalimar, olive oil, Inuit art, New York photography, the Dire Straits. The dictionary, hard copy. No, the thesaurus. Oh, either, both. The bounty of words. Sting. Emmylou Harris. Philip Glass. Berlioz.
The line moved, and the beautiful small brown man she’d done her best to ignore was slinging his Grigio into an eco-carry he’d pulled from his jeans pocket like a magician pulled something out a hat. The moment was almost past her. She looked him over again. Who was he? Drums? Cello? Folk singer? Trance? Music, for sure, in some way. No way he was about anything else. She pictured the tiniest viola, cradled against him. The trill of magic that might rise up, the siren melody that drowned out all the noise. The conductor? The thought of it sends a current of electricity through her. Him commanding all of it, him feeling every note, every instrument the way she did.
“Wait for me,” she says, impulsively, almost under her breath as he pays, but he hears her.
Man with Cat, by Cecilia Beaux (1898)
Note from the author: This is the painting that inspired the story.