Table For Two

Allison Hay ©

A blind date at Vicky’s age was a little out of her comfort zone . . .

“Table for two?” the waiter asks and Vicky nods. She follows him to the back of Gino’s Trattoria to pink-clothed tables behind pillars with (presumably fake) vine leaves twined round their bases.

Accordion music leaks from unseen speakers.

Her table is in the part of the restaurant that is positively gloomy, or perhaps atmospheric?

“Your coat, madam?”

“Oh, yes.” She hands it over, adjusting the bow on her blouse.

It’s a pussycat bow, and the blouse is emerald green. It was Shona’s idea.

This whole thing was Shona’s idea.

Why did Vicky let herself get railroaded into such things?

“It’s only a blind date, Mum,” she told Vicky. “If you don’t click, you never have to see him again.”

“Click” being the operative word.

Vicky had, in a moment of madness, allowed her daughter to sign her up for an over-fifties dating app.

An app. Only you didn’t swipe right or anything so ruthless.

You set up a profile with all your details, then the agency suggested matches, which both of you were free to accept or decline based on mutual interests, before you saw a photo of each other.

This removed the awfulness of waiting for someone to like the look of you.

And now here she is.

The waiter pulls out Vicky’s chair.

She sinks into it, hanging her bag over the back.

The waiter catches his foot in the trailing strap.

She has to reach down and disentangle him.

The formalities aren’t over yet.

The waiter unpicks the swan-shaped napkin on the table, flares it out and drapes it over her lap.

Then he gives a bow.

“I’ll be back soon.”

“Yes, thank you.” She picks up the menu to hide her blushes.

Why aren’t there breadsticks on the table?

When she came here aeons ago with Dan, he’d say “En garde!” and they’d have a mini breadstick fight.

It had all been so natural back then. Now look at her.

The waiter does return, this time followed by a man.

Her heart beats faster.

Waiter and dater go through the same introductory dance until the man plonks down in his chair, planting elbows on the table.

Immediately, he slips his mobile phone out of his pocket and peers into it.

How rude, Vicky thinks, but then wonders if he’s received an urgent text on the way in and has to deal with it.

As if sensing her half-disapproving, half-quizzical gaze, he looks up with an apologetic grimace and says, “Pet cam.”

“Sorry?” Vicky replies.

“Or is it vet cam?” he asks. “My Medusa’s in overnight after a little emergency op. Look.”

She leans towards his phone and sees a sweet marmalade cat asleep in a cage with a caption above that says Live stream.

“Medusa?” Vicky asks.

It’s a funny name for a cute ball of fluff.

“Will she be OK?”

“Oh, yes, crisis over. Actually, my wife named her.”

A shadow crosses his face.

“Oh, and your wife . . .?”

“Larissa died two years ago.”

“Now that’s a lovely name,” Vicky says warmly.

“Greek, too.” He smiles. “Larissa was a nymph. And it’s a city in Greece.

“That’s where her parents met on holiday.”

His face closes up again.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Vicky says, conscious of her own feelings coming to the surface.

He picks up on this.

“Sorry to go on. What about you?”

“You weren’t going on. My husband died three years ago. Dan.”

It still gives her a jab of pain to say his name out loud to a stranger.

“I’m sorry. It’s hard, isn’t it?

“Changing the subject a little, who put you up to this?” he asks, somewhat mischievously, as she looks at the table.

“You have the look of someone who wants to cut and run.”

“Oh, not at all! It was my daughter’s idea initially,” she admits. “The blind date angle, I mean.

“I’d never considered anything like a dating agency before. And you?”

“My son’s the culprit,” he confesses, then lowers his voice. “Gino’s is well-known for blind dates, apparently.

“Well, this bit, anyway, behind the pillars.”

“I know this place from before,” she says hesitantly. “I must admit, I never sat in the gloom this far back.”

Then she feels an urge to giggle.

“Do you think the restaurant is hiding us away in case they get a reputation for senior lonely hearts?”

“Well, they shouldn’t discount the grey pound,” he replies mildly. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve reached that age where I just think if I want two puddings, I’ll have them!”

“Me, too!” She laughs. “I mean, I have to watch my salt intake, but I do a lot of rambling and gardening, and I think it’s important to treat yourself.”

“With me, it’s Nordic walking,” he says, sneaking a quick look on his phone at Medusa.

“I’m surprised our paths haven’t crossed out and about.”

They compare notes and it turns out their respective walking groups have very nearly crossed paths, in a literal sense.

“You might not have recognised me in my fleece and muddy boots.” Vicky laughs.

“I’m pretty sure I would have,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. “That’s a cracking colour on you, by the way.

“What shade is that? I want to say teal, but . . .”

“Emerald,” she corrects him. “And this is called a pussycat bow, to continue a feline theme.”

She’s finding him easy to talk to.

They talk more about family, lost but not forgotten loves, hopes and dreams.

He admits he is here for his third blind date since joining the dating agency.

“Oh, not that I’m working my way through the database,” he adds hastily. “It just takes a while to meet someone you really click with.”

He looks flustered as he says it and she likes him for not being too smooth.

She can even forgive him his occasional sneaky peeks at Medusa.

In fact, she barely notices time passing until she sees the waiter hovering, looking at a loss.

“I never realised the time,” she admits. “I was too caught up in the atmosphere.

“I’ve thought of a Greek phrase for it, too – Stygian gloom. After the Styx River in Greek mythology.”

“Larissa would appreciate that.” He nods, then pauses. “It does rather look as if our respective dates have stood us up.”

“It does,” she admits, though in truth she’s all but forgotten that she was waiting for her date before this man sat at the next table over.

“Would you mind if I moved to your table?” he asks.

“Be my guest.” Vicky smiles.

He shimmies over.

“I’m Oscar,” he tells her. “Which is more of a cat’s name than my cat’s actual name.”

“Vicky.” She grins, shaking his hand, glad of that warm first contact.

“Shall we go straight to the mains and leave room for two puddings?”