I was at Kate’s house settling down to a plate of stir-fried noodles, the London lady’s default dish. It was our fourth date and my second visit to her flat. Her housemates were out, leaving us alone in the dank Victorian terrace. I raised a crystal goblet to my lips, feeling the way Pip would have, had he slept with Ms. Havisham.
“More wine?” Kate asked.
“Why the hell not.”
“Alright, bit rude.”
“Sorry, it was meant to be commanding.”
“Well, you can command your own dinner next time.”
Kate was wearing her glasses; her eyes were the size of saucers. Not fair, I thought, she didn’t wear those in her profile pictures. It should be mandatory for everyone to dress in their everyday attire – sun-kissed festival snaps are at best unhelpful, at worst downright deceptive. In fact if I were running match.com, I would hire a team of photographers to snap every dater at the outset. It would be my shtick, my quality assurance if you will.
“How is it?” Kate asked.
She peered over her glasses.
“Great,” I said.
“Have I shown you my carving?”
“No, not yet.”
I was going to leave it then added,
Before getting up Kate took a sip of red wine, appearing to wince slightly. It was my choice, regrettably cheap but fairly effective.
Alone in the kitchen I took a moment to examine my gloomy surrounds. There was a wooden babushka doll on top of the fridge. Kate, who lived with two other women, once told me that they turned it to face the wall if any of them had male company. To my mild discomfort it was facing the peeling floral wallpaper.
Kate returned holding a piece of red jagged wood. She held it out and I instinctively took it.
“What do you think? I made it last year.”
With the bare bulb above her, she resembled a bespectacled Wiccan priestess.
I turned the thing over in my hands.
“I like it,” I said.
Kate smiled and I followed up with a few questions related to its craftsmanship. I finished my stir-fry and wine, she offered more but I declined. She had placed the thing at the far end of the table but I couldn’t keep from glancing at it. It reminded me of a recurring dream I’d had as a child.
Shortly after I excused myself; it was a Tuesday night so I had ample reason to take my leave.
“Big meeting in the morning,” I said rolling my eyes.
She kissed me at the door and I pulled my cravat close.
I said, “Actually, mind if I grab a quick drink of water before I go?”
I left Kate in the doorway and headed back to the kitchen. I turned the babushka doll around to face outwards.
Its smiling visage leapt out like some kind of Egyptian death mask, its sightless eyes boring into mine.
“Good god,” I said aloud.
I took one last look at the red wooden totem on the table then walked out the door.