It is what it is
Telling herself that the black dress would be slimming enough, Elaine proceeded to shovel a granola bar into her mouth as she stomped through her apartment, kicking heels to the floor, and expertly flinging her tote to the nearby chaise. Friday evening could not have come soon enough, and having finished a double shift with no break, Elaine could not silence a rumbling gut. As she swallowed the last morsel of a dark chocolate with quinoa cluster that probably should have been called a pebble instead, an ominous buzz rattled the chaise.
Eyes widening, Elaine scrambled through her tote for her phone. Pulling it out and praising the skies for preserving shreds of a percentage of battery power, she saw two unread messages from SmoothVibes29. Nervously fumbling fingers across the screen, Elaine logged into her online profile on a dating site she was far too embarrassed to let anyone know about with an account name too hilarious for her to ever forget. He was running behind. That was all. Rather to be more specific, she couldn’t help but pause at the lack of a proper pronoun. “Running behind”.
Spiralling in an erratic rabbit hole of doubt at the scarily bland and blunt message from the ever-witty and clever SmoothVibes29, was a mental maze Elaine couldn’t escape. A veteran soldier from the battlefield of cynicism and crippling insecurities, Elaine was her worst enemy and best friend; an enabler of self-doubt and a murderer of self-esteem. The very scent of a “What if?” or “worst case” tickled Elaine’s prematurely scrunched up nose, as she was always ready to jump ship at the first sign of rejection or disappointment. After a lot of wailing and complaining from her friends to “try something new”, Elaine agreed to take a brave step out into the dating scene and actually believe in finding a glass slipper her size. As she absentmindedly applied make-up, pretending to know what she was doing, Elaine sniffed in apparent disgust as SmoothVibes29’s rudely cold message about being potentially late. How dare he. With flourish, she smashed fingers on her phone and sent a piercing “Kk” with a cruel smile curling on questionably lip-glossed lips.
Having incited indigestion with her belly-dancing routine in front of the mirror, Elaine gave up on being able to suck-in her stomach to fit in the dress she had ordered from halfway across the world. Two degrees, a six-figure job, and a black belt in karate did nothing to rival the power her bedroom mirror had over here. The mirror was undeniably the best friend to her worst enemy. It seemed that no amount of research and translation with the sales team in China could have hinted that this dress would look and fit any differently from the suspicious product photos online. Disappointed but not surprised, it seems that measurements had also lost their meaning in conversion. Nonetheless, if one were to ask her closest friends, it would be assumed that no matter what Elaine was wearing, she didn’t feel great in her skin. Hashtags and body positivity campaigns by influencer models were not enough to phase her wall of misery, but tonight something was different.
Punctuality problems aside, SmoothVibes29 had been an absolute jewel thus far. He was a great listener, never pushed video chat, hated pineapples on pizza, and actually voted in the last election! She had spent many lonely evenings enjoying the music of chat notifications beeping and buzzing back and forth as she and this virtual beau would recount cringe-worthy high school memories or favourite bucket-list destinations. There was an ease in sharing silence. There was an unshakeable spark in exchanging laughs. While she couldn’t put her finger on the right words to describe this feeling, it was certainly something that for once…she really liked.
Several laps around her closet, mirror, and bathroom later, with the occasional detour to the terrace for a smoke, Elaine found herself fastening a strap on a pair of high heels far too new to be worn tonight. Still feeling a bit of indignation to her date’s earlier message, and choosing to ignore the quieter voice telling her to simply “move on girl”, Elaine leaned by her door and checked her work emails for a few minutes with the hope of stealing the role of “fashionably late”.
Walking the long way twice over didn’t seem to have any effect as Elaine arrived to Casa Brasata and saw that no one had arrived to sit under her assigned reservation. Furtively looking around the relatively empty restaurant, Elaine spotted a small group of women laughing by a U-shaped bar while a few couples spoke quietly leaning into softly-lit booths. She followed a waiter to a similar booth and sat down, immediately pulling out her phone to draft a menacing essay of vitriol at the not-so SmoothVibes29. Feeling the blood slowly start to boil under her skin, Elaine caught herself already jumping to her usual self-sabotaging thoughts and feelings and took several deep breaths, signalling a waiter over with a stiffly-poured Negroni in mind. A tall waiter painfully resembling the boys who had always failed to notice Elaine at Studebaker Polytechnic Institute, approached Elaine’s table with a smile so cheery that Elaine immediately choked back a gag.
“Anything to drink ma’am?
“Ma’am?” snapped Elaine without lifting her eyes from the abused phone screen.
“Sorry, my apologies. I’m new on the job. If I could interest you in something to drink, we currently have a featured uncorking of a house merlot bottled on the evening upon which –”
“Not to interrupt you, but I could care less for wine”. Elaine slowly raised her eyes from a warm phone having just sent out a scathing “Hope everything is okay…just got here”. Looking over jet-black horn rimmed spectacles, she sent daggers from her eyes to the waiter who now stood drenched in sweat. “I don’t need something to sip on, and clutch to my bosom as I laugh at the trivial issues that seem to plague our days in the hustle and bustle of cosmopolitan living. I don’t need a toy to swirl around and sniff as I dare to lose myself in an identity complex within a murder mystery novel that for some reason I’m enjoying far too similarly to that of a romance. No young sapling, I’d rather you pour me a stiff rye and ice and save the grapes for the sitcom sisters to knock back during happy hour”.
“The flavour profile of this bottle is incredibly complex as there are rich aromas of both persimmon and meatiness with notes of black cherry”, replied the stunned waiter, seemingly unabashed by the movie-worthy monologue his patron seemed to have embarked on. “It is best paired with…erm well now …I seem to have forgotten, heh heh. Like I said ma’am, new to the job…Oh wait! Sorry I meant not ma’am…ah, you know what let me get that whiskey.” And with that the shrivelled-up server scurried back to the kitchen, safe from Elaine’s now maniacal glare.
Ten minutes became twenty, and small-talk with the waiter had left him in near tears in between refills of double-whiskeys with ice. Her efforts to hide her worst fears were starting to wane, and despite what seemed to be a frustrating evening to begin with from her mindset alone; even the narrator had to confess that we hoped SmoothVibes29 would show up.
The waiter came back once more, but without the stiff highball that had normally rested on his tray. “Complimentary fresh bread and organic butter,” escaped his lips, immediately fearing her retort. Suddenly reminded of her day’s diet being relegated to only a granola bar, Elaine mustered a smile and almost whispered a “thank-you”. Conjuring the curses she knew, she was weaving an incantation that was undoubtedly going to incinerate the waiter where he stood. When her eyes rose to find him however, he was already gone. How long had she stared at the bread for him to escape without her noticing? The golden crust was glossy with the kiss of olive oil, cracked beautifully by heat and freckled with flecks of salt and herbs. Made to look like pillows, the restaurant’s playful take on dangerously tempting carbs as comfort food made Elaine smirk. Rich butter was sliced and served as thin wafer sheets and the neat filigree on the porcelain bed for the bread was more than inviting... save for the almost instant and brutal image of skin stretching around her body, needing to be covered by oversized sweater and blazers.
The buzz from her phone felt so foreign. She had been waiting on SmoothVibes29’s message for so long that she considered not entertaining it. Still, wondering what airtight, acceptable excuse he had ready was guiding her fingers through the choreographed routine to get through the lock screen. To her dismay, she read, “Thank you Elaine for shopping with us. Please take a moment to leave a review.” The double whiskeys did little to curb her hunger now that her anger had reappeared. Immediately cursing herself for coming to an overly priced tapas joint that was too hipster for her own liking, she began clenching her fists in the conveniently unfashionable pockets of her black dress. Maybe the perfect pair of artisanal bread and butter is exactly what she needed to further punish herself for another night of wilted hearts.
Whatever glow was left in Elaine’s face was all but comprised of copious libations, the fake candles on the table, and perhaps the undeniable joy that freshly baked bread can have on a furiously rumbling tummy. Having paid her bill with a rather generous tip for the verbally-skewered waiter, Elaine rose to leave, slightly swaying on the spot before putting a firm foot forward towards the exit and out of the hopes of wherever that damned SmoothVibes29 must have ghosted off to. Walking home, Elaine saw a wine shop slowly closing and rushed inside. With a mischievous smile beginning to spread across her face, Elaine marched in for a late nightcap ready to demand every bottle of merlot with the hopes of finding the one she turned away just hours ago.
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