My Best Worst Date
We met on a dating app and had texted and Face-timed for a couple weeks. Not obsessively, but things were going well. We decided to finally meet up in-person. I decided to drive down to see her, about a 45 minute drive south.
Scene I: day before the date
Her: I know a great Pakistani place. A co-worker recommended it to me. Wanna go?
Me: Totally! That would be great. I haven’t had Pakistani food in forever.
Her: Perfect. Let’s check it out!
Me: Fantastic! I’ll text you when I’m out of work.
Scene II: day of the date
As I leave work, I text her: On my way. Be there in about 45.
Twenty minutes into the drive, I get a response: Cool. Just so you know, I ate already, so not up for dinner.
Okay, I think. Not a big deal. Maybe we’ll still go, and she’ll have something light, or we can check out another place, and I can eat. I’m starving. It’s verging on 4:30 p.m. after a day on my feet trying to teach 6th graders. Lunch was at noon. My stomach burbles expectantly.
Ten minutes later, she texts: Have a webinar 4–5. Heads up.
Okay, I think. I can entertain myself. I turn up the music.
Scene III: the date
Binghamton, New York. Turn of the century house, once gorgeous, now a shit hole. There’s no other word for it. One of many of the same houses on the block, its yellow siding deteriorating and porch sagging. I climb the spongy front steps and ring the bell. It doesn’t work. I knock and my date appears.
“Hey,” I say. “I made it!”
“Come on in,” she responds, without a smile or hug or otherwise inviting body language.
I enter the house, hear her webinar in the distance, and she shows me to her room. Old blue carpet. Twin bed on the floor. Not even a closet. Clothes hung up on some sort of portable trolley, flimsy desk with a Mac Book opened. Nothing on the walls. Minimalist would be a nice way of putting it.
“Let me just respond, then I’ll show you around,” she says. I take off my coat, fold it across my lap, and sit down in a ragged recliner next to her bed.
She types for a few minutes. Some response. I check my phone.
“Okay,” she says. “Wanna see the place?”
We walk around, and she shows me the digs. It’s grossbad. It’s worse than my best friend’s place in undergrad, who lived in a frat house. Not just any frat house, because fraternities and sororities were banned at our school, but a broken down apartment five guys decided was a frat house.
“Wow,” I say. “There’s some really nice architecture here, if someone put some work into it.”
“Oh, they are!” she responds, and the amount of enthusiasm in her voice startles me. “My upstairs roommate, his mom owns the place. He does all the renovations and work.” She nods appreciatively, casting her gaze around the room.
“There’s been … renovations and work done?” I survey the disorderly kitchen. Cigarette butts, bottle caps, and dirty dishes litter the counters. Linoleum peels up with every step. An old cabinet door hangs off one hinge, its varnish thick with grease and dust. The faucet is dripping slowly but regularly. I haven’t taken my shoes off, and I won’t.
We walk back toward her room, and I spot a door.
“Door to the basement. No one likes to go down there,” she says, without looking back. I stop.
“How come? Dirt floor? Cobwebs? That sort of thing?”
“Yeah,” she shrugs, “and there’s a tunnel.”
“A … tunnel?”
“Yeah, who knows,” she moves to go back to her room, but I stay where I am.
“Wait. You’re telling me there’s an entryway to a tunnel down in your basement.”
“Where does it lead? Is it part of the Underground Railroad?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugs again. “I’ve never been in it.”
“Wait, what?!” I explode. “You’ve never been in it?! What if there are bodies? What if it’s a portal to another dimension? What if it leads to somewhere previously unmapped? What if — ”
“Listen, I need to get back — ” she motions toward her room.
“Okay,” I acquiesce.
Scene IV: the date continued
She’s wrapping up her webinar. I sit on her floor, 33, but feeling like I am 18. She told me she is 30 but now I have my doubts.
“So, I know you ate already, but there’s a couple cool spots I saw driving in. A couple brew pubs. Maybe we could check them out? I’m starving.”
She shakes her head distractedly. “Nah, I’m good.”
I pick at the pale blue of the carpet.
“I can’t believe you’ve never been in that tunnel. Have your roommates?”
“No. It’s just … whatever,” she says. The webinar ends. She turns her attention toward me, sits in the chair I had first sat in. I’m still on the floor. She shows me photos of her ex-girlfriends. Lots of photos. Tells me the music I like is dumb.
It’s going well.
Scene V: outside
“I’m going to go smoke,” she says abruptly, then considers me. “Wanna come?”
“I didn’t know you smoke,” I reply.
“Yeah. Not a ton.” She’s already standing, grabbing her jacket, pulling out a hard pack of Marlboro Menthols, shorts.
We walk through the apartment, across dirty floors, to a back porch complete with a cigarette-stuffed urn. It reeks.
She moves past the back porch onto the swatch of yellowed grass, and I follow. A few paces from where we both stand is a claw-foot tub, half sunken into the ground.
“Oh my god,” I breathe as she lights her cigarette. “Is this tub actually buried into the ground?”
I don’t have to see her to know she shrugs as an answer to the question. I don’t look at her as I walk to the tub, inspecting it.
“It’s actually cemented into the ground. It’s buried. They had to dig like, six or eight feet to get it in there! And then they poured concrete! Someone wanted this in there!” I’m talking excitedly, running my hands over the cold rim of the tub. I turn. She saves the shrug for me to witness this time, puffing impassively on the Marlboro.
“What if this … is a passageway into the tunnel?” I gasp. She stubs out her cigarette, completely indifferent.
“It’s cold,” she says. “I’m going in.”
When I announce I’m leaving ten minutes later, she’s actually surprised. What?
I never see her again.