Mark looks younger than his picture on the dating website – his hair is cropped shorter and he’s not wearing glasses. I suck in my gut to hide the bulge above my waistline.
He’s the first man I’m seeing in a decade. I’ve been busy raising my son, Danny, driving him to Taekwondo and tennis practices. Now that Danny is a licensed driver, empty hours fill my day. So, sitting at the computer one evening, I clicked on an ad for a dating platform and created a profile.
Mark shakes my cold hand with his toasty one. I miss human warmth. He is strikingly clean: sparkling teeth, trimmed nails. We talk about kids – he has a 15-year-old daughter – and the messiness of divorces. Before we leave, he moistens a napkin and wipes the pie crumbs from our table.
Back home, I hop on the treadmill and watch my belly jiggle with each step. After a shower, I examine my face and apply cream to the lines around my eyes.
I invite Mark home. I cook penne pasta with shrimp while he assembles a salad. Unaccustomed to having company in the kitchen, I keep bumping into him. After we eat, he sprays and scrubs the counters.
We are watching TV when he kisses me – gently, then hungrily. When inside me, he pushes his fingers into my ears – an unexplored territory. Is this a modern quirk that I, a dinosaur, am unaware of?
As bacon sizzles on the stove the next morning, he walks into the kitchen, probing his ear with an earbud he says he found in the bathroom. When he leaves, I find the bed made – the sheet stretched taut on the mattress, the pillows fluffed, the blanket rolled into a bale.
He invites me to his place, which belongs in the pages of a glossy magazine. The hangers in the coat closet are wooden, evenly spaced, and point in one direction. Gleaming copper pots and pans hang over the kitchen island.
That night, his fingers dig so deeply into my ears that it hurts. Another woman might object; I let it slide.
A couple of days later, I receive a package from Mark. A frisson of excitement runs through my nerves. I tear open the FedEx cardboard to reveal an oak-wood box with “Premier Ear Cleaning Set” engraved on it. Inside, lying on purple velvet and restrained by elastic loops, are stainless steel ear picks of varied sizes and tips.
‘For cleaner insides’, says a note in his handwriting, followed by a smiley.
My fingers drop the box, and steel clatters on the tiles. I stumble upstairs and open my computer. To ‘Are you sure you want to permanently delete your dating profile?’, I say ‘yes’.
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American. She was born in a middle-class family in India and will forever be indebted to her parents for educating her beyond their means. She is a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee; her work has been published online in Fictive Dream, Lunch Ticket, Spelk Fiction, and also in print, most recently in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. She blogs at Puny Fingers and can be reached at twitter @PunyFingers.