In November I went on a date with a lawyer in his early forties named Brian so ridiculous that it ended my dating spree semi-permanently. In his pictures he had a faint scar crossing down above and below the socket which made him look like an incredibly handsome Bond villain. We met at a Dim Sum restaurant in Soho.
I got the feeling, as soon as I began talking to Brian, that he went on dates only to tell his story, which I could not blame him for.
“So,” he began, “I suppose we better get the scar story out of the way.”
I giggled back in response, eyes widening a bit with faux-shock, faux-embarrassment, faux-something anyway.
“It was summer, about three years ago now” he said, “and I was high to the hilt on valium. I was never off valium in those days,”
He was very attractive as he told the story, gesturing in the vaguely camp manner that mysteriously drives me wild.
“My wife and I had just come back from visiting her parents in South Africa. Well, it was such a terrible trip that I had told her on the final night that I wanted a divorce. And so I had taken a helluva lot of pills to get through that night. And then another lot to get through the flight the next day. By the time we got back to our apartment I was more or less a zombie, I’m afraid.”
All the while he was saying these things, the waiters were bringing us exquisite, tiny dishes. A buttery puff of venison melted immaculately in my mouth. I was enjoying myself.
“So we get in- we lived near St Paul’s at the time- and I drop right off- poof! My wife stays up, drinking and talking on the phone, all the while, I can only imagine, getting angrier and angrier.”
“What about?” I interrupted, scooping up the last of some oyster sauce with a little baby leaf of pak choi.
“Oh, everything, anything. She wanted to leave me, you see, but I got there first and that irked her. Or it could have been that the cleaner didn’t line her cosmetics up correctly, or her sister hadn’t answered the phone. Anything. And so she works herself into this tremendous state.”
Brian was removing more and more of his clothes as he told the story, animatedly loosening his tie as he approached its peak. He was leaning over and grabbing me every so often, to emphasise a syllable; not romantically, but in the naturally over-familiar way of actors and the very rich. He violently speared blushing slices of duck, seeming not to taste them at all.
“Of course, I’m tucked up fast asleep all this time. I haven’t a clue what she’s doing. The next thing I know, the next thing I am aware of after having gone to bed, is waking up with this searing white pain and my face drenched. I’m still more or less out of it now, you see, and also in shock, so I can feel the pain but in a sort of abstract sense. And then- THUD- I’m knocked back against the headboard. There’s a tremendous pressure exerting itself on my eye. By now I’m awake. I’m awake, and I can see my wife kneeling over me. She’s still wearing what she was wearing all day- white, all white, and it’s splattered in blood now.
“Melissa!” I cry out, “Melissa! You’ve punched me!” and she leans further down so her hair is sweeping over me and says:
“Darling. I haven’t punched you. I’ve stabbed you.” And she had. The bitch had stabbed me. First she had cut me- down here, like this,”
He broke off to mime a quick slash along the line of his scar.
“And then she had plunged the knife right into my eye. Right into the far corner. It went right through the ball.”
I stared at him aghast, and then down at the slippery scallop dumplings I’d been working my way through.
“It went right into my brain.” he said wondrously.
“My god,” I said, thinking, this is absolutely the best date I’ve ever been on.
“And do you know what happened then?” he said
“What?” I said, leaning in.
“Nothing!” he cried delightedly. “Absolutely nothing! It barely affected my vision. There was absolutely no lasting damage to the eye. It was a miracle. Something got fiddled in my brain though, so I can only taste about half the right amount, and can’t smell at all. Still!” he said, raising his glass to a toast.
At the end of the two hours when his story was completely over and our wine glasses were empty, he stood up, seeming a hundred pounds lighter, to have shed some dead skin he had been hauling around, and kissed me chastely on the cheek. He bounded off into a cab without a glance back, having gotten what he needed from me. He was just out there trying to save his own life as we all were in some way or another. He needed to keep telling his story to make sure that it was real.
I knew what this was like- when my friend Cian had died we all sat around describing the last encounters we had had with him, trying to convince ourselves they had really taken place, as if to say to each other “And that was the last time I saw him. Wasn’t it?”, as if to say, “This is how it happened, he moved from point A to point B, and then he died. He died, didn’t he- didn’t he?”