The goat neck arrives at the table looking more like itself than Louise expected. The tacos are DIY, it turns out, so rather than a tangle of shredded meat that could quickly be wrapped in its warm, round delivery device and dispatched into her mouth, the protein is still intact, cylindrical and headless, balanced on a wooden plank beside a stack of steaming tortillas and five little dishes of assorted salsas and crunchy elements.
Clive needles the point of his knife into the meat, wriggling it until a chunk comes loose. Is it the spine that is now exposed? He says, “I sort of want the restaurant to do the cooking for me at this price, you know? This is a lot of work.”
He assembles what looks like a fantastic taco, the meat crowned with red and green sauces and a sprinkle of pickled radish. She extends her hand.
He eyes her palm, the taco, her. “Because this is a first date, Louise,” he says, passing it to her. “And only because.”
She polishes it off in a few bites. “My compliments to the chef,” she says, wiping the grease from her fingers.
“At least you give credit where credit is due.” He pops his own taco in his mouth, finally. He closes his eyes as he chews. “Oh yeah,” he says.
They trade first date stories, surely a faux pas, but better than running out of things to say. She tells him about a guy from last week who, when faced with a pool of sediment at the bottom of his wine glass, cried actual tears. “‘I’m so sick of getting the dregs,’ he said. And I was like, ‘Well, excuse me.’”
“I went out with this girl who seemed a little glassy-eyed,” Clive says. “Turns out she had norovirus. I was on the toilet for like three days after that date.”
Louise separates a juicy chunk of goat flesh from its bone, squeamishness gone. “I have to ask, did you make out with the norovirus girl? To have gotten so sick?”
“I don’t kiss and tell,” he says, then cocks his head, mischievous. “But, I do fuck on the first date.”
Louise nods over his shoulder toward the restaurant bathroom. “Should we, then?”
He hesitates, licking a drop of tomatillo off his thumb. She smiles—closed-mouthed in case there’s anything in her teeth—watching him struggle to decide if she’s joking. Honestly, if she could get her hands on a toothbrush first, she would do it. Clive has that most reviled of hairstyles, his long, dark locks gathered into a knot on top of his head, but his jeans and denim button-down fit him so well he must get his clothes tailored, and, unless he is some sort of internet imposter, he seems to be the documentarian behind a film that inspired her to donate real money to a cause after seeing it last year.
They eat the spicy chocolates that come with the bill, and he pays. This is something she allows when the income imbalance is clear—a banker, doctor, or lawyer will always pay. A teacher? She offers to pick it up, and usually they split. He’s a semi-successful filmmaker, so she assumes the best of his wallet.
Outside on the sidewalk, the night is balmy, and Clive invites her to hear his friend Frogger’s jazz band perform, a thing it seems they are doing a few blocks away. She pulls her hand through her hair. A goat neck she can abide, but not jazz, not a friend with a hilarious name. They make out on the street corner for a few minutes, until the angle gets too tough—he is tall enough that she really has to crane to get to his mouth—and then they say their good nights. “I’ll text you,” he says.
The next morning, Louise walks to her brother and sister-in-law’s apartment. Céleste buzzes her up; she wants to hear about the date. “My stories are all the same,” Louise says. “Don’t you get sick of them?”
“Sicker?” she asks, raising the ridge where her eyebrows used to be.
Louise swats her arm, a thing she wouldn’t have done a few months ago, but Céleste responded well to treatment and is getting better now—she thinks. Céleste makes the occasional dry cancer joke, but actual information is hard to come by from either her or Louise’s brother. Louise can never tell if Eddie’s protecting Céleste’s privacy or if he really doesn’t know what the hell is going on either. The former, she decides, because her baby brother loves his wife. Poor Eddie—he’s a true high-powered account executive at the kind of advertising firm people work their whole lives to join, but Louise still pictures him as his fourteen-year-old self and laughs when she sees him in his three-thousand-dollar suits.
To read this story in its entirety, please purchase a copy of Issue #18, which will be released in December 2023, or become a subscriber to the magazine.