Samara doesn’t want to discuss her family because, They’re all crazy. At least that’s what she tells me, flatly, and I don’t think twice about trying to change the subject because I know better than to tack too far into seas where there be dragons. Especially on first dates.
She peels the bacon off her burger, confesses that she hasn’t quite adjusted to pork yet—a segue into the formative years she spent in Iran. I slide in a contrived reference to Zoroastrianism, ask about her grasp of Farsi, and we talk about how she owes her existence to the circumstance of revolution. That I’m conversant in these topics is something I hope that she’s impressed by but isn’t, and maybe I can’t blame her. American Intellectualism is what everyone else in the world is expected to know.
When I ask about her dissertation, she recrosses her legs beneath the bar, starts to stammer through an answer, but now I’m distracted. I know there’s only so long that I can safely steal a glance, but it’s difficult to look away from the cinnamon skin teasing me from between the hem of her floral dress and the tops of her knee-high socks. Suddenly I’m aware of the silence and I panic because I have no idea what her last sentence was, and she knows it. She smiles smugly, rubs it in by asking, Would you be up for that?
In the beer garden of a bar down the street, I wrap my fingers around her wrist. The tip of my index touches my thumb just like she swore it would. Using two hands, I do her thigh next, at her insistence. At mine, she learns that she can’t prod me in the stomach hard enough for it to hurt. But to be fair, she’s not really trying. I tell her, We may have come down from the trees three million years ago, but we haven’t outgrown these rituals. I’m sure she thinks I’m weird now.
Sometime during our second round, I lean forward and interrupt her sentence with a kiss. I can sense she’s caught off guard so I curse my intuition, but then she cradles my cheek and her jaw relaxes and so does my pulse. I ask her afterwards, Was that okay? And she says, You’re fine, so I kiss her again so she knows I meant it.
She says she’ll be alright riding on my handlebars despite my warning that it won’t be pleasant. For her sake, I try to avoid all the rough patches, but this city makes that tough to manage. The whole scene screams Whistle Like Jim, verse one, and I sing it to her without explanation even though I sound terrible. She knows the song, to my surprise, and sings along between the potholes.
In front of Blessed Francis, she tells me to stop because, she says, My bony ass needs a break, and I obey. She marvels at its massive door, tugs on the handle, and is startled to find it’s open. The Light of the Lord spills onto Dauphine Street. I grab her hand and yank her inside—lest the late-night parishioners think that we’re not here on purpose—and goad her into kneeling beside me in a pew in the back row. She follows my example: solemn face, fingers laced, as I show her how it looks when good Catholic boys say prayers that they don’t mean.
We drink our drinks on my balcony. The new June moon hides over our heads. She plucks a flower from the top of a towering shrub, says, These would be great in salads. She puts a few petals into her mouth, then shoves the rest into mine. Reluctantly, I chew and swallow. Ben, who owns the restaurant I live above, is taking out the garbage. He’s seen all of this, I realize, and calls up, You know that’s oleander, right? It’s sort of…poisonous.
On the floor of my living room, Samara sits cross-legged while I convince her we don’t need to call Poison Control. I’m sure we’re good, I say. It’s only the leaves that are dangerous. She demands to know from where I got my botany degree. Wikipedia, I tell her.
I make conversation to get her mind off it, but two minutes in, she begins to writhe in feigned pain. She grabs her throat, keels over, violently kicks her heels into the worn floorboards. I mentally shrug then join in because why should she be the only one who gets to act silly. She buries her face in my chest, attempts to wipe away her tears. We try to kiss once more though it’s not easy with all the laughter, but soon enough we get it right. I think, Who is this girl? And, Where has she been? And, Why me? And, Why now? And, Are we going to die?
In my bed, my head on her lap and her hand in my mat of thick hair, from her phone she reads to me a poem, eagerly, by Pablo Neruda. I have scarcely left you, she whispers, she insists, when you go in me, crystalline, or trembling, or uneasy, wounded by me. I shut my eyes, can’t stop a sly smile from spreading across my face—Or overwhelmed with love, as when your eyes close upon the gift of life that without cease I give you—because I know that this is exactly the screenplay I would write for an endearingly disastrous first date. My love, we have found each other thirsty and we have drunk up all the water and the blood. And maybe one day this will all become the bones of such a thing. We found each other hungry and we bit each other as fire bites, leaving wounds in us. And I think, one step ahead of the half-dreams descending, that if the oleander stops my heart before she finishes the final stanza, then that’ll be just fine.
Image courtesy of Peter Ostergaard. Some rights reserved.