Arnold didn’t know why he agreed to do this. “She’s very kind and a great conversationalist,” his daughters had said.
He wasn’t too interested in appearance. His widow Anita had never been a looker. But she, too, had been kind, warm, generous, and always a talker — the only person he would allow to ramble on so he could drink in her wit.
But why had his daughters suggested he date Pamela? Strike one: Pamela brought her dog on a dinner date. It was an emotional support animal, but it seemed like the dog, a miniature Brittany spaniel, needed the support as it whimpered non-stop.
When he suggested they dine at a restaurant with a patio, Pamela was flummoxed. “But why? Beatrix is a support dog. She can come in.”
“Well, the other diners may not like it,” Arnold said.
They ended up at the patio of a vegan restaurant in Toluca Lake. If the dog wasn’t enough of a sideshow, Pamela had to inquire from the waitstaff, “What is vegan anyway? Oh, and aren’t fries always gluten-free? Why do you need to put gluten-free French fries as the description on the menu?”
Maybe this is what his daughters thought: this is how old people talked—in complaints. But if his wife were alive, the two of them would have made fun of a woman like Pamela.
“I’m going to run in to wash my hands. And I’m not wearing my mask. It’s not mandated anymore. Can you put your foot on Beatrix’s leash so she doesn’t run off?”
“Sure,” he flirted with the idea of letting his foot slip. I mean, if it was that easy to rid of the Queen Bea? He laughed inwardly. At least he still knew how to be his own company.
“Was the pup crazy while I was gone?” Pamela said as she returned to the table.
“No.” But how could you tell? Compared to how she always is. He wanted to ask.
“Let’s see. Have you decided? I just don’t know. I guess I’ll get the Pad Thai. Is it spicy?”
“No, it’s just peanut sauce they use,” Arnold said.
“The sauce? The sauce is spicy, right?”
“No, it’s just peanut sauce, “ Arnold repeated.
“Okay, let’s order.”
The Gen Z waitress arrived at the table, buried within her order pad as if it were a library book and she didn’t really have to ask these senior citizens what they would like to order.
“I’ll have the Pad Thai,” said Pamela.
“Would you like that with chicken, beef, or tofu?” the waitress said.
“Are chicken and beef vegan?” Haha! I mean…” Pamela said.
“They’re soy and seitan,” Arnold said almost in unison with the waitress.
“What? Satan. Haha. This place!”
“Do you want to go somewhere else?” Arnold said.
“No, we’re ordering. That would be rude.”
“Right, that would be rude,” said Arnold, emphasizing the that, as if he were commenting on Pamela’s broken barometer on manners.
Once settled in and the food arrived, Arnold said, “This cashew cheese,” (he had ordered a steak quesadilla) “is just delicious.”
“That!” Pamela said. “It looks like Velveeta. Are you sure it’s not Velveeta?”
Arnold forced a laugh and pulled out his phone to check the time.
“What’s the matter?”
“Oh, nothing. I thought I got a text.”
“Are you expecting a call? Are you a doctor?” Pamela said.
“No,” Arnold said. “You know I’m retired.”
“Let me guess. You are the President of the U.N.”
“What?” Arnold said, as Beatrix sat flatly on the front of his left shoe.
“Well,” Pamela said. “You must be pretty important to have to check your phone on our date.”
Arnold withheld. He wanted to say, “I was checking the time. I can’t take much more of this.” But instead what came out was an “I’m sorry,” followed by sputtering some water down his chin. And then next, a wipe of his napkin in his eye with some hot sauce appended to it, and finally, a single tear.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Pamela said. “It must be too soon for you to be dating after your wife’s…”
“My wife’s death?”
“Yes,” Pamela said. “I’m sorry.”
Arnold agreed. “Yes, that may be it. But the tear is from the hot sauce on my napkin.”
“Oh,” Pamela said. “Now that’s funny.”
“It depends on what you find funny, now isn’t it?”
“Ah, come on. You cried a single tear. You were like Denzel Washington in Glory.”
“Hardly. He was playing an enslaved person being brutally beaten in that scene.”
“I know. I know. I just thought your tear was Oscar-worthy.”
“Excuse me,” Arnold said. “I wasn’t acting then. I have been the rest of the night. And by the way, Pad Thai is not exotic!!! It’s every day. As are you. How’s that for rude?”
“Arnold, I must have upset you. Beatrix, sit. And not on Arnold’s foot!”
“No. No. You didn’t. You can’t help yourself. And for that, I’m truly sorry. I really don’t know what my daughters were thinking. We are not a good fit.”
“Wow. Okay. You could have waited until after the check for that. By the way, you got this?” Pamela said as she tucked her purse under her armpit like it were a football.
“How about we go Dutch?” Arnold said.
“Figures! You know what? I’ll just head inside and get a box. You can take care of the check. It was something meeting you.” She grabbed her plate and hurried in the restaurant with Beatrix looking moony-eyed and longingly at Arnold the whole time.
“Thanks Pamela. Best news all night. It certainly was . . . something.”
After their exeunt, Arnold nibbled on the last bites of his quesadilla, chugged his peach iced tea, and thought, “I got to come back here for that cheese, and this tea is delicious.”
With thoughts like these, Arnold found comfort. Even after a disastrous evening and in his solitude, he wasn’t alone. He had Anita in his heart, and his voice, the voice he had shared with his wife, forever in his mind.