The Vanishing Mediator

Having fun on the internet.

a lifetime to forget

DTX, a story of the Machine of Death by Chris/0

“I used your soap this morning.”

That was the first thing Amanda said at the start of our date.

We met under the statue of George Washington. She had arrived first, a vision in sky blue and white with matching parasol. She must have designed them herself; they both looked as though they were made of countless clouds. She spun the parasol slowly as we walked and talked.

“That’s what I get for not locking the front door,” I said in reply.

“Ha, ha. I was shopping, and I saw the three swooshes. So I decided to give it a try.”

“And?”

“Nothing special. Though I did learn that Ivory doesn’t float anymore. At least, not the kind with the microbeads.”

“Huh? What’re those?”

“The scrubby ball-things. Did they do their advertised job? Do I look any cleaner than the last time you saw me?”

I pretended to inspect her face carefully. “Hmm. Well, I don’t know about cleaner. But in the daylight, you look even prettier.”

“Do I, now? I don’t think it’s from the soap. Must be the award-winning packaging.”

“You know, if we play this game every time I compliment you, our date will take all day.”

“That…” An enigmatic smile crossed her face. “That has its ups and downs. But you’re right. Let’s get all of the standard things out of the way. Then we’ll see what comes next.”

And so we learned each other’s favorite color. We learned which foods the other couldn’t stand, and which were our secret favorites. What things made us smile and what things made us scared.

“Needles,” I said. “Definitely needles. I can’t stand them. I’m really glad that I’ve been lucky enough never to need surgery.”

“Surgery, I would still be skittish about, probably. I have some… bad memories associated with the hospital. Needles are fine, though. I was scared when I was younger, but I grew out of it.”

“Well, maybe I still have some growing to do, then.”

“I’m just glad I didn’t have to go to the hospital to get my blood drawn last week.”

“May I ask for what?”

“For modMatching. The STD test. You got that, too, right?”

“Oh, uh…”

Amanda stopped walking.

“You got that, too, right?”

I turned back to her. She grabbed my hand and pulled down until our eyes were level. Normally, I would have had no complaints about looking a beautiful woman in the eyes. But there was a serious glimmer deep within them that made my heart skip a beat in an unpleasant way.

“Eric,” she said sternly, “tell me the truth. Did they take a sample of your blood at modMatching?”

“They –”

“Just yes or no, please.”

Well, given those two options…

“Yes.”

She inspected my face carefully. It was in much the same way as I had pretended to earlier, but with clear seriousness as its motivation, rather than flirting.

After an uncomfortably long time, she smiled.

“Good.”

“I pass?”

“Mhm. Just wanted to be sure. I can tell a liar.”

And we started walking again. I was a little flustered, so it took me almost five minutes to realize something that made my heart skip a beat… in a pleasant way.

She hadn’t let go of my hand.

Later, we rode on the swan boats, she to port and I to starboard. Amanda made it very clear to the attendant that “the lady” would not be needing to “check her umbrella” before getting on board.

“My amorologist mistook it for an umbrella when I met her, too,” she said as we pedaled and paddled. “Not this one in particular, though. I made it for this da–this kind of day. She laughed when I corrected her. But skin cancer is no laughing matter.”

“No, certainly not.”

“My heritage turns out to have its drawbacks sometimes. And if I can look stylish while staying healthy, then why not?”

“You definitely pull off stylish.”

“And healthy?”

I shrugged. “Still gathering evidence.”

“Oh, are you? Well, what would it take to convince you… No, focus, Amanda. Standard things.”

“I wouldn’t mind –”

“Standard things!” she said vehemently. “Anyway, it was my turn to laugh when she told me what her job title was.”

“Is amorologist a funny word?”

“It’s less ‘ha-ha’ funny and more ‘this milk tastes’ funny. Amor- comes from Latin and -ology comes from Greek. It should be philology.”

“But that word’s taken for something else. It’s the study of language from historical sources. Or something like that. I had an ex who got her degree in that field. Don’t know what she expected to do with it, though.”

“She must have been smart.”

“Smart, but upsetting. My friends have a collective nickname for the women I’ve dated: shrieking harpies.”

“Oh, my.”

“I… have not had the best of luck in love. So far. That’s what got me to sign up with modMatching. How about you? Any ‘interesting’ ex-boyfriends?”

Amanda didn’t answer, and she stopped pedaling. I waited as long as I thought was polite before speaking.

“You don’t have to –”

“I don’t have any ex-boyfriends. I… have an ex-husband. Sort of. He died.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It was a long time ago. We were very young, to be married. It just felt like the right thing to do. He didn’t tell me that he was sick. I don’t know why; I probably never will. But it all… everything fell apart so suddenly. I was mad, at first. I felt… tricked. Or cheated. If I’d known he was steadily deteriorating, that would have been one thing. Maybe I could have taken it more in stride? I don’t know. Just knowing that kind of thing in advance, it really helps people. It’s meaningful. You can prepare, you can be ready. It’s like clenching your jaw in anticipation of being punched. Even if it doesn’t soften the blow, it… it helps. Just knowing.”

She sighed.

“I don’t like deceit. I’m the suspicious type. So… Yeah, this is also a roundabout way of apologizing for overreacting earlier, about the blood sample. I hope you can see how…”

“No apology necessary. Not at all. What, are you apologizing for being yourself?”

“Hey… Eric?”

“Yes, Amanda?”

“How long have we been going in circles?”

After our somewhat dizzying boat ride, Amanda was noticeably quieter. Times when I expected her to launch into a story, she would only say “Yeah.” It was a difficult mood to feel out.

We bought sandwiches and a Harvard logo blanket, and had a makeshift picnic dinner on a hill. The sun was just beginning to touch the horizon as we lay and watched it.

“You know, I have tried dating other people,” Amanda said, apropos of nothing.

“I will try to be appropriately jealous.”

“You asked before if I had any exes. And I should. It’s been so long. But none of those relationships lasted any longer than a week. None of them… clicked. That’s what got me to sign up for modMatching.”

“Do you think we click?”

“Hang on, we’ll get there. Why did you let me talk about him?”

“Him?”

“Why did you let me talk about my late husband? We’re on a date. You and I, not anyone else. You’re supposed to try to steer the conversation back to you. Or be dismissive, at the very least. I… I shouldn’t be bringing up things like that on a first date.”

“We…” I took a breath, and started again. “We are on a date. And the goal of dating you, to be honest, is to see if I fall in love with you. To do that, I need to know all of you, not just the parts I can deal with easily. If talking about it makes you feel better, then who am I to say no?”

“I do feel as though a certain weight has been lifted.”

I took her hand and said, “It’s really just a long way for me to say that it doesn’t bother me. But in a way that’s, you know… charming, rather than begrudging.”

“Charming? Let’s not go crazy. Endearing, at best.”

“Only endearing? I couldn’t push it over the line?”

“Just short, sorry. But there’s still a little sunlight left. Do you think we’ve exhausted all the ‘standard things’ by now?”

“Nothing else comes to mind.”

“Good. Now for something non-standard!”

Amanda sat up and dug into her purse. She tossed onto the blanket two sheets of paper and two sharp #2 pencils. I picked up one of each, and the papers turned out to be Scantron sheets.

“You’re not asking me to rate our date, are you? It would be pretty favorable, but it’s a little –”

She thrust a finger up to my face. “No matter how endearing you act, you are not getting out of our race so easily, Mr. Award-Winner. You get checks, I get Xs.”

We did several heats. Just to be scientific, of course. We filled in bubbles until the sun disappeared.

“All right,” I said, “I admit it. Xs are faster… as long as you don’t care about accuracy. Look at this, here. You missed the column completely. No one would know which one you were trying to mark. B. C? Hidden option F?”

“Ah, but I was faster.”

“True. As long as we ignore accuracy, evenness, neatness, consistency…”

“Ahem.”

machine legibility…”

“Ahem!”

“As long as we ignore all those things,” I said jokingly, “I do see certain advantages to the swooshing method. I guess I have to say that you win.”

“Ooh, I win. But what do I win?”

So I kissed her.

And I honestly think I managed to take her by surprise. For an instant – just an instant – her hands flew up to push me away. But her conscious mind caught up with what was happening, and she leaned into it.

We eventually separated, and turned to stare at the horizon.

“Look at that, our date took all day anyway,” she said. “I guess that’s what happens when two people click.”

“Oh, that’s what happens. It’s been so long, I’d forgotten what it was like.”

“Me, too. But… but a memory is coming back, just vaguely.”

“Of what?”

“Of other things that happen when two people click…”

I’ll write no further of that night.