FIRST DATE, TWO
Friday, September 23, 1977 (Henry is 36, Clare is 6)
Henry: I’m in the Meadow, waiting. I wait slightly outside the clearing, naked, because the clothes Clare keeps for me in a box under a stone are not there; the box isn’t there either, so I am thankful that the afternoon is fine, early September, perhaps, in some unidentified year. I hunker down in the tall grass. I consider. The fact that there is no box full of clothes means that I have arrived in a time before Clare and I have met. Perhaps Clare isn’t even born yet. This has happened before, and it’s a pain; I miss Clare and I spend the time hiding naked in the Meadow, not daring to show myself in the neighborhood of Clare’s family. I think longingly of the apple trees at the western edge of the Meadow. At this time of year there ought to be apples, small and sour and munched by deer, but edible. I hear the screen door slam and I peer above the grass. A child is running, pell mell, and as it comes down the path through the waving grass my heart twists and Clare bursts into the clearing.
She is very young. She is oblivious; she is alone. She is still wearing her school uniform, a hunter green jumper with a white blouse and knee socks with penny loafers, and she is carrying a Marshall Field’s shopping bag and a beach towel. Clare spreads the towel on the ground and dumps out the contents of the bag: every imaginable kind of writing implement. Old ballpoint pens, little stubby pencils from the library, crayons, smelly Magic Markers, a fountain pen. She also has a bunch of her dad’s office stationery. She arranges the implements and gives the stack of paper a smart shake, and then proceeds to try each pen and pencil in turn, making careful lines and swirls, humming to herself. After listening carefully for a while I identify her humming as the theme song of “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
I hesitate. Clare is content, absorbed.
She must be about six; if it’s September she has probably just entered first grade. She’s obviously not waiting for me, I’m a stranger, and I’m sure that the first thing you learn in first grade is not to have any truck with strangers who show up naked in your favorite secret spot and know your name and tell you not to tell your mom and dad. I wonder if today is the day we are supposed to meet for the first time or if it’s some other day. Maybe I should be very silent and either Clare will go away and I can go munch up those apples and steal some laundry or I will revert to my regularly scheduled programming, I snap from my reverie to find Clare staring straight at me. I realize, too late, that I have been humming along with her.
“Who’s there?” Clare hisses. She looks like a really pissed off goose, all neck and legs. I am thinking fast,
“Greetings, Earthling,” I intone, kindly.
“Mark! You nimrod!” Clare is casting around for something to throw, and decides on her shoes, which have heavy, sharp heels. She whips them off and does throw them. I don’t think she can see me very well, but she lucks out and one of them catches me in the mouth. My lip starts to bleed.
“Please don’t do that.” I don’t have anything to staunch the blood, so I press my hand to my mouth and my voice comes out muffled. My jaw hurts.
“Who is it?” Now Clare is frightened, and so am I.
“Henry. It’s Henry, Clare. I won’t hurt you, and I wish you wouldn’t throw anything else at me.”
“Give me back my shoes. I don’t know you. Why are you hiding?” Clare is glowering at me.