Erin Gilbert

Then Nothing

When I lived downtown I went out on a date with this guy I really liked but didn’t know too well. It got late and we were pretty drunk by then, so he said he’d walk me home.  I knew what that meant but I didn’t say anything and we started walking.

He was a slim guy with that Buster Keaton quality that makes it hard sometimes for people like him to walk down the street in a straight line without balancing along the edge of the curb or climbing things or swinging around lampposts as they walk along.  We went along slowly, I already said it was late and we were drunk, so his balancing was wobbly and there were no other people out. Our voices bounced down the black streets. We were walking through a part of town where there are no late night bars or clubs or anything, only fancy restaurants that had closed hours ago. The buildings were old imposing ones, pretty if you like that sort of thing, and there were no cars and no sounds except for us walking along and talking and the echo of our voices and sometimes, very far away, the rumble of street cleaners.

Whenever we passed a restaurant my date would veer over to the entrance and try to pull the locked door open. At first I thought his hauling on the door handles was like all his climbing and balancing, but the way he approached the restaurants was methodical. Finally I slurred out a question; asking him about what he was doing.

He told me that once he went on a date with a girl and as they walked home he pulled on the door of a restaurant, just playing around, he said, and the door opened. Someone had forgotten to lock the front door. It was one of those really nice restaurants, he said, even fancier than these, he said, and he flung his arm wide and stumbled a little.

They both stepped inside and opened their eyed wide in the darkness. They held hands.  Light from the street lamps outside diluted the darkness, turning the velvety black to watery brown. Far back, in the kitchen, a fluorescent light had been left on. The tables glittered with silverware and glasses. They didn’t speak. They felt shy.

At first they whispered but there was no one to hear them and soon they grew bold. They each went exploring and called out their discoveries from behind the bar or in the pantry.  In a refrigerator as big as an apartment he found fancy cakes and fat slabs of meat. Her shadow made movements in the dull gleam of knives, ladles, stainless steel countertops, faucets and sinks.

He tried caviar for the first time. She opened a bottle of champagne and toasted his health, his luck, and the future success of the restaurant.  He joked that he would marry her and every year they would return to celebrate their anniversary.

“Then…” he paused and seemed suddenly to lose interest in his story.  He walked ahead of me with his shoulders hunched.

“Then what?”  I asked. The length of the lapse in his story made me think they had sex in the restaurant.  Maybe they fell in love that night.  I wished I could see if he was blushing.

“Then nothing.”  He began again, almost sullenly.

“Most restaurants have cleaners that come in the night. The cleaners came and we were almost caught. Now I always check to see if someone accidentally left a restaurant door unlocked.  Especially on dates.” He flashed a wolfish smile at me, the first thing he did that I didn’t like.

We had left the last of the closed restaurants behind us by then and he seemed to be getting tired because he swerved and balanced with less gusto. I felt a little less drunk when I realized that I was cold.

We reached the entrance of my apartment building and I said goodnight and turned towards the door.

“You’re not going to invite me in?” he asked, and tried to pass ruefulness off as playfulness.

I turned to look at him. I looked at him but didn’t say anything.

He started walking away and I called out down the street to him.

“Hey!”

He stopped and turned towards me but kept walking down the street backwards. His hands were deep in his pockets and he was smiling just a little. He was looking at me, waiting, but getting further away all the time.