“He needs to be tall,” said Single Girl, outlining the revised list of attributes required for her next boyfriend. She was discussing this with Married Girl, who had long been her advocate for higher standards.
“I didn’t mean physically,” said Married Girl, picking condiments out of the burger on her plate. The baby slept in its car seat atop an adjacent patio table. On the other side of the railing joggers, matching couples, and zero-body-fat mothers pushing econoline strollers passed along the seawall. The silver chrome globe of Science World glinted rays of a particularly cozy October sunlight, and dragon boaters chanted and pulled in unison as their narrow boats swept out between the rock walls of the bay. Nearby, beneath a cherry tree, a young girl played an unfamiliar tune on a pink outdoor piano that was chained to the tree trunk.
“I’m just saying,” said Single Girl, through a mouthful of salad, “I’m through with short men. They are a total nightmare. I’m not even generalizing, I’ve dated two! Never again.”
Married Girl’s lips twitched but her voice remained sympathetic. “Fair enough,” she offered. “But if you’re going that route, you should also probably stay away from musicians.”
Single Girl nodded in agreement. “I would prefer a blue collar guy, you know? A man who works in dirt, with his hands. Like a labourer. A guy in construction, or an electrician.”
Married girl fixed the toque on her baby and pulled the blanket up closer to the plump, tiny chin. Single girl continued outlining her fantasy man, as she watched a swarthy bartender through the pub’s windows. “He should also have a full head of hair. I’m tired of bald guys too.”
Married girl’s sigh was almost inaudible and she stared at Single Girl in the contemplation only a wife would understand and sipped her water through a straw. Single Girl was contemplating herself as well, and what had been an unsuccessful – increasingly impossible – mission to establish a relationship of epic love proportions. Her dating failures reminded her of a particular event in middle school, when she was walking home one winter afternoon. It had become apparent along the journey that her crush was walking several meters behind with a friend.
Flustered by the excitement of his nearness she managed to get the laces of one boot entangled with the other and tripped herself, sprawling out onto the icy sidewalk in graceless humiliation. She glanced back over her shoulder while scrambling to get back up, only to see her crush and his buddy laughing as they approached. She then managed to fall again half-way to her feet, as her impractical but cute footwear did not have the grip needed for appropriate traction. While single girl lay there like a flopping fish on land, the two boys passed by holding their sides in laughter.
It was a defining moment of youthful misadventure that seemed to shadow her adult life of further fish flopping debacles with the opposite sex. She felt quite doomed to dating disasters, as if she was living at the base of an active volcano and unaware of the world at large, kept moving from place to place around the mountain in a frantic, bewildering circle. She was vaguely aware she might be doing something wrong but did not have enough internal guidance to fully grasp this possibility and analyze it in its entirety. So she continued to date the same way she approached life; headfirst with enthusiasm and minimal filtering.
The month’s warm weather tapered off, passing into a wet November that froze in December. Single Girl packed up and headed north to spend Christmas with her family in the woods. After two weeks amongst the trees she’d had enough of thinking, to say nothing of the deafening birds, and was ready to immerse herself once more in the hustling distraction and inconspicuous solitude of the city. She dressed to leave for the airport, realizing how much she’d let herself go having spent her days far more active in the outdoors than was her usual routine. Her parents thought a sunny day not spent glorifying in it took one year off of life, so to them Single Girl was half-dead and starved of essential vitamin D nutrients. As a result, she was forced to wobble around on skates across the rugged terrain of a nearby lake, and whack about on cross country skis through the snow drift woods, as crystallized sugar trees wept snowflakes on her wool toque. While there were moments that took her breath away for reasons other than exhaustion, it was mostly all very patronizing.
She felt quite doomed to dating disasters, as if she was living at the base of an active volcano and unaware of the world at large, kept moving from place to place around the mountain in a frantic, bewildering circle.
By the time she was ready to head out and catch her plane back home, she looked more or less like a windswept banshee with her chipped nails, frizzy hair and chapped face. A thought passed that she should at least have a shower before leaving, but determined that going from a 12-seater airplane to a cab back to her apartment did not warrant any extra effort. What were the chances the cab driver would be hot? She thought to herself. Unlikely.
On the way out of the house, her father remembered that she needed to take a salmon, and wrapped an enormous sockeye in newspaper that poked out of her carry on. Despite being frozen, the oily fish smell trailed along after her in a somewhat disturbing manner.
After boarding the plane, Single Girl shuffled down the aisle checking seat numbers until she spotted the one assigned, three quarters of the way back. She glanced into the row, and saw that it consisted of only two seats and not the usual three. Sitting in the window seat was one of the most attractive men she’d ever laid her eyes on, so much so that for an instant she questioned his existence as nothing more than a mirage. She glanced back at the numbers above the seats, matching them again to her boarding ticket, and then looked once more in the direction of the handsome stranger half expecting to see an empty seat. He was still there, watching her politely. Excitement was overshadowed by the knowledge of her disheveled appearance but surely, she thought to herself, she was still cute in a girl-next-door type of way? Mustering a reserve store of elegance, still trailing eau de salmon, she stored her bag overhead and sat down beside him, patting down the flyaway frizz on her head and smiling her most dazzling smile. He smiled back, flashing a grin and looking like he’d just come off the shoot for a razor or deodorant commercial. This was it, thought Single Girl. She was certain fate was intervening and years from then her and Mr. Handsome could look back on their clandestine meeting, where he’d been won over by her charmingly disheveled condition.
“Hello,” she told him, feeling that the word was as layered as a piece of Tiramisu.
“Hey,” he said affably. He was sitting with his hands on his legs and by the tree-limb length of his thighs she could tell he was tall. He was also noticeably broad shouldered, with thick walnut brown hair that appeared to wave to her alluringly as it blew in the air from the overhead fan. Knowing she had the next hour and a half with him for herself, she tried to play it cool. This did not come naturally and he noticed. “Are you alright?” he asked, watching the struggle of her facial expressions. She nodded, smiling again. She had heard once that smiling broke down all barriers. So she smiled and smiled and let him believe she was nervous about flying.
“You live in Van?” he asked, attempting to distract her. Single Girl was profoundly touched by his kind heart. She told him she did, and asked if he lived there also. He confirmed this to be true and next she asked him what he did for a living. “I’m an electrician,” he told her, rubbing his hands along his dark-denim clad legs. Single Girl glanced heavenward, letting out a silent prayer of joyful gratitude. He was her perfect man, dropped from the Universe into the little plane beside her. All she had to do, she calculated, was make him fall in love with her by the time the plane landed. With disregard of her previous battle to remain laid back, she shifted from eight to somewhere around 11 on the eagerness scale, while the little plane rattled with a deafening roar and ascended into the air.
Once they were evened out at 10,000 feet, she peppered him with questions. “Where in Vancouver did he live?” “Did he grow up in the north?” “Where did he work as an electrician?” To the third, he replied somewhat sheepishly, “Oil sands.” Single Girl let this information sink in, her grin wobbling slightly. The wish granted by her magic genie apparently came with a catch. A small voice called out, muffled as though from a locked drawer inside her head; offering the notion that perhaps he was a mirage created to make her question what she thought she wanted. She ignored the voice, letting her own louder fantasies of what he would look like without his shirt on drown it out. If they became serious, she thought, she could ask him to look into other employment. Besides, it wasn’t as if she was an actual activist out picketing on the weekends. Her feelings towards his job, she decided with finality as he explained his two-week on one-week off work schedule, were flexible.
She changed the subject to ask about his time at home over the holidays. Again, while he answered, she tried to focus on what he was saying as she stared at his face. She was aware that the minutes were ticking by and she needed an opportunity to blow him over with her humour and allure. It came like a hook at the end of a fishing line when he said: “Did a lot of sledding.”
Like a hockey player with a breakaway shot Single Girl charged forward towards the goal, her adrenaline pumping. “I love sledding!” she interrupted. “Once in high school, I was out at a friend’s birthday and we were sledding at an elementary school on a hill behind the playground, which had those giant metal swing sets.” She maintained eye-contact while talking because she’d read that it was a good way to establish a connection. She also knew her eyes were her best feature, hoping that as she told her story he would fall in a drown as lovers did. “So, I’m on a flying saucer and I take off down the hill, picking up more speed than anticipated. After hitting a bump I can see that I’m heading straight for one of the poles. I try to roll off – you know, like I’m throwing myself out of a moving vehicle.”
She read his smirk as amusement in her tale, and fueled by this perception of his interest continued on with wild animation. Passing the point of being unable to dial it down, she reached the crescendo of her story with her hands flailing: “I hit the pole ass first. I’m pretty sure I was knocked unconscious, when I came to I could hear everyone whispering at the top of the hill, ‘is she dead?’ So, I thought I was fine and I went home that night and went to bed. I had a water bed – and when I woke up the next morning I couldn’t get out of the bed, my parents had to come and lift me out and take me to the hospital. It turned out I had broken my tailbone.”
Single Girl fell into a bout of giggles and as she wiped the tears from her eyes she hoped her mascara was not smudging. Patting her hair again she collapsed against the seat and watched his expression. He seemed definitely amused. With his eyebrows raised he said in the silence that followed, “I was talking about skidoing.”
This revelation was slow to process, and she was still working out whether or not to be embarrassed when they exited the plane. She was hoping he would walk her to the luggage carousel, and despite her best efforts in keeping up with his long strides she lost him to the bathroom. “Oh this fish sure smells,” she said loudly, for fear he thought it might be coming from her. When she caught up with him again at baggage claim she was as determined as a bulldog with a rope; feeling the need to really ensure she’d done everything she could to keep hold of him. After he had obtained his suitcase from the conveyor belt she handed him her business card. “If you ever want to grab a coffee or something,” she offered, blowing her bangs from her eyes. He nodded, slipping the card in his leather jacket. “Sure, okay.”
She’s pretty confident he will call any day. Though she knows he’s likely out at camp now, he’ll call when he gets back. Give or take a few days to get settled again.