I sat nervously in the restaurant, alternately checking the time on my phone and surreptitiously checking my breath. This is so cliché, I thought. Waiting for a blind date in a restaurant. Why didn’t I ask her to meet in the park across the road? That way, if she didn’t show up I was just some dude sitting in a tuxedo in the middle of a playground, not here in the restaurant like a weirdo.
I met her on Cindr, the app for the bottom of the dating barrel. Their slogan was, “Feeling burned out by the dating scene? Sounds like you’re a Cindr!” You got matched up but could only swipe right on everyone. All the personality questions when I was setting up my profile only had the option to choose Yes. Apparently, I was really into ballroom dancing and crocheting tiny hats for abandoned kittens.
Then I saw her enter the restaurant, tall and slim with long hair cascading down around her shoulders. She walked sensuously towards me and my heart started to pitter. She smiled and it pattered a little as well. She walked past me to a table with a handsome young man sitting alone and my heart cracked a little. Just a hairline fracture on the right ventricle, nothing serious.
Luckily, I kept watching because the handsome young man looked confused and they had a hurried conversation that consisted mostly of questions. Then the woman stood up. She scanned the room and with a look of melting expectations, her eyes rested on me.
“Terry?” she asked, the question punctuated with a cringe mark.
“You must be Aspen,” I said. We shook hands. Her hand was warm, which made me think that my hand must feel cold and clammy.
“You’re wearing a tuxedo,” she said. The four words contained a whole encyclopedia of subtext in a language I couldn’t read.
“You’re wearing jeans,” I replied.
“This is a diner,” she said. I didn’t know if this was a real conversation or if we were just swapping declarative sentences.
“I wanted to look nice,” I said. “I got this free at work. My clients are very generous, not to mention the strong silent types.” I chuckled, if only to encourage her to laugh.
A look of horror gripped her face like an octopus. “Please tell me you don’t work in a morgue.”
“No,” I said, laughing in a sweaty way. “That’s crazy. A morgue. It’s actually, uh, a crematorium.”
She tried to stand up way too fast, and her epic legs hit the underside of the table, knocking her back into her chair. I seized the opportunity, as well as the sides of the table.
“I’m an environmentalist,” I blurted out. She blinked. “I believe in recycling,” I continued. “I have my own charity where I take the clothing from bodies about to be cremated and donate them to young people who can’t afford formal wear.” I rewound the conversation in my head, just to see how I had gotten to the point of describing stripping corpses of their last earthly possessions before we’d even ordered dinner.
“But you’re wearing it,” she said. She wasn’t trying to run away; we were making progress.
“I guess I’m a charity case too, eh? Hey, I’m on Cindr.” I stopped just short of winking.
“Yes,” she said and frowned in a very attractive way. It suddenly hit me that she was gorgeous and yet she had found me on Cindr. Since I have the social tact of a rabid hyena, I asked her.
“So, why are you on Cindr?” I asked. “I mean, what’s your crippling defect?”
She picked up the menu and studied it a moment. “I’m a kleptomaniac,” she said quietly.
“Well, you’ve already stolen my heart,” I said as gallantly as I could muster.
“And a pyromaniac,” she added.
“And you’ve already set me . . . set me on fire,” I said. I was getting a bit lost in the metaphors, but forged ahead anyway.
“Don’t worry, I only set fire to the things I steal,” she said quickly. “I’m not a monster.”
“You got any other manias?” I asked, feeling suddenly hopefully.
“Oh. Just checking.”
After we had ordered, I went to the bathroom and came back to find my wallet smoldering under the table. Honestly, I was just impressed she had been able to take it without my noticing. Plus, this meant she was definitely paying for the meal.
We sat there eating and talking for hours. Every so often Aspen would steal a napkin from another table and light it in her French fry basket. The owner was lurking behind a standing fern with a fire extinguisher but as long as we kept ordering, he didn’t seem inclined to blast us.
“I don’t want to steal anymore,” Aspen slurred into her fifth root beer float. “I can’t help it and it’s exciting and all, but I don’t want to get arrested. I live every day in fear of prison. It’s so hard to set things on fire in there.”
“My charity is a failure,” I said. I was getting maudlin too. “Sure, I get the stuff, but no kid wants to go to the prom smelling like embalming fluid.”
“That stuff burns pretty good though,” Aspen said. Our eyes met, and I thought I hear cherubs singing above us at our mutual epiphany. It turned out to be the smoke detector.
That was four months ago. I still have my charity going but I don’t actually donate any of it. Aspen just steals all my dead people clothes and sets them on fire in the abandoned parking lot behind the self-storage place I use. Sometimes I join her and we snuggle up in each other’s arms in front of a pile of smoldering formal wear. We’re not always the perfect couple, but hey, we met on Cindr.