TO THE NEXT GIRL WHO DATES W by Jane Dickenson
YOU WILL MOST LIKELY meet him somewhere charming. Say, on a four-day canoe trip upstream with mutual friends. He’ll have a long-term girlfriend back home, a fiancée even, but this won’t matter because he’ll have guns the size of ridiculous and he’ll power the canoe like a speedboat. You’ll relax and enjoy the scenery. You’ll leave your friends and their slow husbands behind as you cruise the misty river. He won’t say much, other than to tell you he practices Wing Chun, that he knows three ways to kill a man in three seconds. You’ll say, That’s three men in nine seconds! And he’ll laugh.
You’ll probably not think of him again for a year or so. Until a mutual friend tells you he broke off his engagement with the non-canoeing fiancée. She’ll suggest you and he go on a date. You’ll say, I don’t think so!
Nearly a year later you’ll see him at a backyard party on Halloween. He might be dressed as a vampire, you might be dressed as a robot. (Earlier that night your mum might call and ask what costume you’re wearing. When you tell her she might say ‘You get it wrong every year! Halloween you’re supposed to be scary.’) You’ll be happy in your plastic Power Rangers mask and a cardboard box with a flashing bicycle light sticky-taped to your chest as a heart. The happiest you’ve felt in a while. You’ll avoid him most of the night till only the drunkest people are left, gathered around the fire, then you’ll challenge him to a dance off. This will be serious business, the cardboard box will go flying as though part of a choreographed move to Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’. Layers of clothing will be thrown precariously close to the fire: his, yours, everyone else’s too. He will cheat; stop dancing when he thinks you’re not looking. You’ll be focused on winning with a diligence that only excessive consumption of margaritas can achieve. You’ll dance for an hour before declaring your victory and collapsing onto the cold concrete.
He’ll follow you into the kitchen, talk drunk at you for ages. Friends will peer through the window to see if you’re making out. You’ll want him to kiss you even though his face is painted white and he has fake blood smeared from his lips. He’ll touch your leg, that’s all. He’ll tell you he thinks you’re a rockstar and he’ll piggyback you back outside.
Monday your legs will be so sore you can’t walk. You’ll carry your bicycle light heart in your handbag all week. You’ll tell your mutual friend you kind-of, sort-of, a little bit, have the hots for her vampire friend. She’ll see him at a wedding and give him your phone number. He’ll send you a message. Send you lots of messages, sometimes not waiting for a response before sending the next. He’ll come visit you on your birthday and show you a new tattoo that is not yet coloured in. He’ll invite you over for dinner.
You might go. His house might be a long way from yours, his ‘hood might scare you a little. He might answer the door with his top off, tell you he always cooks naked. Inevitably there’ll be people living at his house, a family who needed a place to stay and a dog that he doesn’t know the name of. He’ll cook his first vegetarian meal ever, via telephone instructions from his sister, then he’ll take you to the milk bar and buy you a raspberry ice pole, walk you down to the river. Together you’ll lie on the grass. He’ll say, I don’t think we need mozzies on this planet, I’m sure the flies can do their job for them.
He’ll talk a lot. It will be clear that he’s nervous. When he leans in to kiss you for the first time he’ll say, Man, you’re in trouble now.
At this point you should stand up and walk back to your car and drive home. He is warning you, he is speaking the truth. Under no circumstances should you continue this thing.
If you stay he will kiss you. He’ll say, Who would have guessed way back on that canoe trip that two years later we’d be lying by a river kissing. You’ll say, Not me! And mean it.
You will kiss until the mozzies have drawn lumps on every inch of your bare skin. He’ll go to take your hand. He’ll say, Oh my God you’ve got massive hands! (Even though your hands are actually quite petite.) You might find his lack of suaveness refreshing, endearing even. You’ll walk back to his house with one of your monster-huge hands in his and your sticky ice pole wrapper in the other.
Back in his fluoro-lit house you’ll compare mozzie bites. His will be bigger, you’ll press crosses into them with your fingernails to help stop the itch. He’ll show you his pet stick insects and a pet lizard called Captain El Stauncho. You’ll say you prefer dogs.
In his bedroom he’ll show you a little jar of precious stones and crystals, some that he has collected and some that he has stolen from his sister. He’ll give you a shiny oval one because it has purple in it and he’ll tell you to take it home. You might say you’re worried you’ll lose it, he’ll say, She’ll be right, just put it in your pocket. And you probably will. You’ll lie on his bed while he tries to fix the overhead fan. When he turns it on you’ll envisage yourself being sliced into pieces, blood all over his bed. Every now and then he’ll practice a New Zealand accent, pretending to be a parched whale from a cartoon he saw on YouTube. You’ll wonder if you could fit him in your pocket. If you could take him home.
You’ll kiss some more, he’ll touch your back. He’ll tell you that you have a ‘backy’ kind of back. You’ll ask him what this means, he won’t explain. Yet again you’ll find this endearing.
He’ll go mountain biking with some of your friends and when they get back you’ll hear through the grapevine that he thinks you’re awesome, that he worries you didn’t really like the meal he cooked.
Next, he’ll come to your place for dinner. He’ll watch you cook pea and mint risotto and wait till you’ve finished before telling you he hates peas. He’ll eat them anyway. He’ll ask for seconds. You’ll go for a walk to buy him cigarettes. He’ll hold your monster hand the whole time. He’ll dance in the supermarket and you’ll try not to get embarrassed. He’ll say he likes your neighborhood a lot. That it’s different to his. He’ll ask if there’s water nearby, you’ll say, Yes, a creek, and you’ll point but not take him there. You’ll take him back to your house. You’ll laze around on your bed and he’ll tell you how the kids at school called him Blinky Bill because he blinked a lot. And how the blinking problem went away when he punched one of them in the head. He’ll show you how he can fold each of his ears into four. He’ll tell you how he loves it that ears continue to grow your whole life. How when he’s an old man his ears are going to be huge, like satellite dishes, so big he’ll hear EVERYTHING. You’ll say, I’m not sure that’s how it works. He’ll say, Yes, yes it is. You’ll kiss his tobacco-y mouth and wonder how he ended up in your bedroom. He’ll take a strand of your hair and wind it around his finger and stare at it. He’ll say, Your hair is the weirdest colour I’ve ever seen! You’ll say, It’s blonde.
He’ll tell you he bought you a ticket to his Wing Chun break up party, you’ll say, When is it? He’ll say, One night coming up soon. He’ll tell you his sister wants to meet you, he’ll invite you to drinks at the factory with the boys. He’ll invite you to his house for a tofu cooking challenge.
When it’s time to leave you’ll walk him to the door, he’ll say, Stay inside, it’s cold. He’ll say, I’ll see you soon.
You’ll tell your friends he’s so different to you that he might just drive you crazy but you’ll be secretly excited to see him again. You’ll be waiting for his call. Which will not come. After four days you’ll send him a message and he’ll respond, friendly enough, but you’ll know it’s over. You will not hear from him again. Your housemate might make you some tea while you cry. She might agree that all men are arseholes. Your workmates might tell you it was the peas. Mutual friends might tell you the writing was on the wall, that he never was a safe bet.
Still your chest will ache for a few days.
You’ll wonder when you got to the point where you didn’t even need to properly fall for someone before you let them hurt your heart. Then you’ll work out the problem. You’ll realise you should never wear your heart on the outside of your clothes even if you’re pretending to be a robot. If you’re sensible you’ll put your flashing bicycle light heart back on your bike.
JANE DICKENSON is a writer and yoga teacher from Australia whose fiction and poetry has been published in several Melbourne lit magazines. Her first novel The Story of Being Here is out fearlessly hunting for a publisher, while she works on her short fiction, second novel and the website www.clothingforcorrespondence.com where words are traded for hand-me-down clothes.