Blind Date by Gabe McFadden
“How do I look?”
“Shut up. You know you look fine. Now give me a spin. Your skirt is on backwards.” said June.
“See? This is why I need you,” I said as I swirled my skirt the correct direction. I remembered what the outfit looked like thanks to my diligent planning, but the whole being blind thing made June’s eyes for detail absolutely necessary.
This was going to be my first date since the family curse set in. Well, not so much a curse as a “multi-generational, genetic disorder passed down from mother to daughter for as long as anyone can remember.” So I had known the blindness was coming. And I had taken precautions. I’ve planned my wardrobe for the next 80 years, chosen a timeless hairstyle, and learned long ago how to put on makeup without mirrors. My look is simple and not super exciting, but at least I know that June isn’t making me wear a t-shirt with “slut” written on it or something. She thinks she’s hilarious.
“He’s cute, right?” I asked for the thousandth time. “You had better not be lying to me. I remember what I look like and I deserve at least an eight, seven if I have a zit on my face.”
“Yes, Meg. He’s actually surprisingly cute.” I could actually hear her rolling her eyes. “Think All American High School Football Star goes punk rock but kind of shy and adorable. If it doesn’t work out between you two send him my way. I always think cute boys are wasted on you. You don’t even get to fully enjoy them.” June sighed, I laughed. June was one of the only people outside of my family who didn’t coddle me because of my blindness and I love her for it.
There was a knock on the door. June screamed. I winced at the noise, composed myself, felt my nose for boogers, and prepared to walk downstairs. When I finally made it down, June was already chatting away.
“Uh, the opera.” I heard him stutter. His voice quiet and deep, not at all what I expected.
“Oh la la,” June said. “Fancy, fancy! You seem very cultured.” I could hear her starting to get closer to him. Time for my entrance.
“June, would you really steal something from a poor, helpless blind girl? Hands off my date.” I smiled in her direction. “Are you Andy? I’m Meg.” I held out my hand, he took it hesitantly. It was rough and bigger than I had anticipated with callouses on his fingers. “This gives a whole new meaning to blind date, eh?” I joked. His hand stiffened.
He laughed nervously, “Um yeah….ha. I’m Andy. It’s nice to meet you. You look great.”
“Thanks, you look dark.” His breath hitched. I realized (once again) that most people don’t get that I’m joking.
I felt June smack my arm, “Stop being mean, Meg! I’m sorry, Andy. She’s just kidding. I promise the rest of the date she’ll be on her best behavior. Have fun, you two!” She pushed us out the door, and I heard it slam.
“So where are we going tonight?” I asked.
“The opera. Is that okay?” He sounded so timid.
“Of course!” I grabbed for his arm and it was much higher than I anticipated. I ended up grabbing a handful of blazer pocket instead. “Oh, sorry. How tall are you?”
“Six four,” he said. And after a short pause, “Sorry.”
“What? Don’t apologize. You’re fine. I’m sure it looks great on you. June assured me you’re not completely terrifying looking. You two better not be in cahoots. I’m gonna ask a stranger if you’re good looking. I’m sure they won’t lie.” I nudged him. He laughed softly.
“Here’s the car,” he said. I heard him open the door. And felt it when it hit me. “Oh no…” He got quieter as he got more embarrassed. “I’m so, so sorry. Are you okay? I’m ruining this…”
I began to laugh. “No! Stop. It isn’t a big deal. I should have seen it coming.” Crickets. The poor guy. “I’m kidding. I promise, when I first went blind, my dad forgot and hit me in the face with the car keys. He threw them at me and told me to go pick up my brother from school. I still have the scar, look.” I pointed at the little notch above my left eyebrow. I felt him lean in, his thumb barely brushing it, then just as quickly he pulled away. He coughed quietly. And sighed.
“You smell like peppermint,” I said as I briskly got into the car and pulled the door shut.
We made it to the Opera without any major incident and I managed to get out of the car without falling, bumping my head, or getting hit by the door again, though I suspect a lot of it was due to the careful hand of my giant date, Andy. We walked from the parking garage to the theatre arm in arm, more out of necessity than romance, but I could still feel how tense he was.
“So why are your fingers so calloused?” I asked. “I noticed them when we shook hands.”
Andy gave me a quiet laugh, something that I was beginning to recognize as distinctly his. Quiet and genuine, but guarded--he clearly was timid about laughing openly.
“You promise not to laugh?” A pause. “I’m in a band. Well two actually. I play bass guitar in my brother’s punk band, Ash Wednesday, and standing bass for my sister. She’s a jazz singer and calls us Penny and the Beignets. I wanted to be called Girls and Gumbo but that was quickly nixed because Penny doesn’t like gumbo, but I don’t like beignets...”
He stopped and sighed. I could feel him shudder as he exhaled. “I’m sorry. When I’m nervous I start to babble on and on...it’s apparently very out of character for me.” There it was. That laugh again.
“You’re fine,” I said. “I played harp when I was young, but I was never any good. I was hoping that now that I can’t see anything, I would miraculously be amazing at it but, not surprisingly, I was significantly worse after six years of not practicing.”
“Well, lucky for us, tonight other people will be playing the music. We can just sit back and enjoy.” Andy led us into the main hall.
I heard him give the tickets to the lady and we surprisingly didn’t go up any stairs before I felt the gust of antique-smelling wind that always accompanies walking into the beautiful Opera Hall.
“You got us really good seats,” I said as I noticed the long walk down the carpeted floor. “You know that for me, the back row sounds just as good as the front. I’m just here to listen.”
He squeezed my arm lightly, “Well you’re not alone on this date, are you? Maybe I want to be able to see and hear it. Plus, the acoustics are much better on the floor.”
He actually likes Opera? I thought he was just humoring me and being a good court-er. I began to grow wary. Am I his beard? What cute boy likes Opera?
I was shaken from my thoughts by the feeling of his hand over mine--somehow we had gone from linked arms to handholding.
But I felt him turn sideways as his whisper tickled the top of my head, “We’re here but we have to go sideways. These dumb aisles are always so narrow and there are lots of knees between us and our seats. Are you gonna be okay?” He sounded sincere, not patronizing or worried, just concerned for my well being.
“Yeah, I’m old hat at this,” I said. “Plus I can pull the whole ‘Sorry, I’m blind’ card if I accidentally sit in someone’s lap or something. Lead the way.”
Next thing I knew, the music was starting and my hand was under Andy’s. Somehow, we had both forgotten to let go after we found our seats. I wasn’t too upset about the development so I just enjoyed it while I waited for him to realize. But I began to think that he wouldn’t. He was so into the show. I could feel him reacting to the music unfolding around us. The slight pressure as he got excited, or how his heartbeat in his thumb would subtly quicken at tense moments in the story. Once or twice I could feel the vibrations of him silently humming along.
“What did you think?” he asked. “Be honest.”
“I loved it,” I said. And I wasn’t lying. Not only was the story compelling and beautiful, feeling it through his eyes was the closest to seeing I had felt in a long time. “Thank you for taking me. Have you seen it before?”
“No,” he said. “I’ve just listened to it. I found the cassette tapes forever ago when I was looking for something in the garage and my dumb car only has a cassette deck. So it was either learn to love opera or listen to the only other cassette tape in my car, How to Raise a Baby with Dr. Spock--my parents have had my car since before I was born. I chose opera.”
There was a comfortable silence in the car as we drove back. I felt like we clicked. I was really hoping it wasn’t a pity date at this point. I had forgotten to ask a stranger if Andy was actually cute, but I was slowly starting to really like the quiet, tall boy that loved opera and hated beignets.
I felt the car slow down as he pulled onto what I was pretty sure was my street. This was it, the moment. The always awkward end-of-date silence. Our comfortable silence suddenly became heavy and expectant. I heard Andy clear his throat and take a shaky breath.
“Uh…” Another shaky breath. “Thanks for coming tonight. I really, really had fun.”
Silence. I realized that it was my turn to fill it. “No, thank you. I haven’t been out in a long time.” What? Stupid Meg. Don’t tell him that! How could I recover? How about: I may be blind but I can still totally see us kissing right now. No. I couldn’t believe I almost said that.
I suddenly became aware that I had been sitting in silence for my entire inner monologue. I probably had a dumb look on my face too. “Well… I’m--”
I felt a calloused hand on my cheek. The smell of peppermint and the sound of his shaky breath. I heard him lean in and felt myself lean in too.
It was short, chaste. But I heard him smile and sigh in relief. And then that laugh.
“Well I didn’t see that coming,” I said before I could stop myself. Worst joke ever. I felt my whole body turn to ice. The entire date, at first going so well, crumbling to dust. I could imagine his face: eyes widening, jaw clenching as he struggled to be polite. I had just condemned myself to spinsterhood forever. I had to get out of there.
Clapping my hands over my mouth, I opened the door and just ran. Trusting my memory to lead me back into the house, I bumbled through the lawn until I was stopped by a hand grabbing my arm.
“Meg, stop. Wait.” He was actually laughing now. Unrestrained, unguarded. He pulled me into a tight hug.
“Did I ruin it?” I was torn between laughing and sobbing. Peppermint mixed with the smell of grass. I realized I was still pressed against him.
I felt him holding back laughter as he struggled to compose himself. Then, completely serious, he said, “Well, it may have been sight-ly cliché.”
And that’s when I knew.