I must say, I was very reluctant to meet the blind date fixed up for me by my best friend, Debbie.
“He’s a real catch,” she said.
“Besides, you need to get away from your job every once in a while.”
I sat in my car, making one last check for lipstick-stained teeth in my compact. Locking the door, I smoothed down my skirt and headed for the restaurant. I peeked around the bamboo partition inside the entrance to Sayonara, my favorite Japanese restaurant. It was only 5:00, so the sushi bar was relatively unoccupied. A couple sat chatting at one side of the bar. At the other end, a man perched at the tip of his chair. He jerked his head first left, then right, then left again. I watched while he gulped down an entire glass of water, then repeated his head-swiveling dance.
I took a deep breath and resolutely walked up to the man. “Excuse me,” I said. “Are you Gil?”
He whipped his head my way. “Yes, I am. Hi! You must be Carla. Debbie’s told me so much about you. Have a seat.” He flipped his hand toward the chair next to him. I tried not to notice the ugly way his lips seemed to kiss the air. Thanks, Deb. Real catch.
“Well,” I said “She talked about you, too. But she didn’t tell me where you two met.”
“We hooked up on a boat trip, watching out for whales.”
“I see.” Strange syntax . . . must not be from around here.
Gil ordered vegetable tempura from the dinner menu, while I asked the sushi chef for a Special California Roll. Vegetables at a sushi bar? Geez, maybe I picked the wrong place.
“So what do you do for a living, Gil?”
“I’m a loan shark . . . ha, ha! . . just kidding, I’m a loan officer at Sea Coast Fed.”
So we made the usual small talk that accompanies blind dates, like: his ancestors were Finnish; mine German and American Indian. The waitress filled Gil’s water glass for the third time, while I sipped my delightfully sweet plum wine, letting it glide down my throat.
I lifted a piece of the California roll with my chopsticks, proudly showing off my cross-cultural manual dexterity. Gil stared with aquamarine eyes – unblinking – following the rice-laden circle on its trip to my mouth. Looking back hard at him – how rude he is! – I noticed his scaly skin. Man, this guy needs some Oil of Olay!
Just then, a small Japanese man scurried from the kitchen and came directly toward us. Tapping Gil’s shoulder, he said, “Please, sir, you come with me, please.”
“Please sir, is very important. You have calling, sir.”
“A call? I wonder who?” So the man lured Gil away to the kitchen.
I returned to stuffing sushi into my mouth – now that I had no audience. I ordered an Unagi hand roll.
A metallic clatter rang from behind the swinging doors at the rear of the restaurant, startling me to splatter wine down my chin. “Geez! What the hell was that?” wiping my face and hoping no one noticed. It sounded like a fight – a cacophony of dishes, silver, trays, and yelling. Couldn’t figure out what the yelling was, though. I should’ve taken Japanese.
Then silence. The sushi chef placed my eel on the counter before me. “Arigato,” I said.
Soon, the man who had approached before came from the swinging doors and stepped behind the sushi counter carrying a covered bundle. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight, we have extra special treat. Our fisherman have caught one-hundred-eighty pound very rare fish found off coast San Diego. Please join in sharing feast.”
Oooh, I love trying new food.
The sushi chef took great pains to delicately slice the bright pink slab into thin strips. He meticulously wrapped the catch into a futomaki roll, with cucumber, avocado, masago, and pickled carrots. My mouth salivated as I watched every move.These rolls are so big around they need to be eaten in two bites instead of one. He presented me his fishy fashion statement.
“Well, looks like my date must’ve slipped out the back door,” I said. The chef just stared at me. Gil probably set the whole thing up with the Japanese guy.
I secured one of the pieces with my chopsticks and bit off half of the roll. “Oh, that’s delicious.” I told the chef. “The meat is so tender. Tastes like chicken!” Then I giggled at my joke.
I stirred some more wasabi into my soy sauce and ate a piece of pickled ginger. I’m gonna have to tell Deb: no more blind dates! Now I hafta pay the damn tab. Oh, well, tastes good, anyway.
Picking up the half-eaten piece, I shrieked. Staring straight at my mouth was an eyeball. A non-flinching, non-blinking, green-irised eyeball. Gil’s eyeball. The world went black.
PS: No fish were hurt during the writing of this story 😀