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Still Not the Worst Blind Date That Lizzy's Ever Had
Fiction. He talks a lot.
That’s an excellent idea, Elizabeth—may I, in fact, call you Liz? Or perhaps even Lizzy? My understanding is that introducing informality might reduce some of the inevitable first date tension, in much the same way that your remarkable Two Truths and a Lie proposal is sure to grease our conversational wheels. With this in mind, I must insist and implore you to call me Teddy. Some of my Scrabble Guild buddies sometimes also call me T-Bone, but that’s up to you.
I would be happy—ecstatic, even—to go first.
Number one. Two years ago, a kite that I was flying in a park in Annandale was struck by lightning, and ever since I have been ever so slightly magnetic.
Number two. Though I often go to the beach because I like the feeling of the sand between my toes, I have never once touched the ocean.
Number three. I’m deathly afraid of jumping castles due to an… incident that took place when I was eleven. I was a very serious and careful child—my Mother occasionally referred to me as her ‘Little Boy Scout.’ This was a term of profound endearment from a woman that hugged me only twice in my life and otherwise exclusively referred to me as Theodore Milton Westlake Junior. It was a fitting nickname. Mainly it was inspired by my great fascination with compasses and different kinds of knots, but also for my overall preparedness. For example, I carried three inhalers with me on my person at all times, one of which was taped to the inside of my calf for emergencies. I was not then, nor am I now, asthmatic.
Elizabeth—sorry, Liz—just go ahead and interrupt me if you’d like to discuss what we’re going to order at all. I’m generally quite happy to eat anything, as long as it doesn’t have nuts, cheese, garlic, or too much salt. I’m also not a huge fan of gluten. Would you like to do share plates? I am, I assure you, extremely good at evenly dividing share plates.
We’ll circle back to the menu in a moment. Let us mull. As I was saying, though Mother saw great virtue in my diligence I was—there’s no denying—a deeply unpopular child. I didn’t mind. I just hadn’t found my tribe. We are each of us unique and special in our own way and I got quite a lot of extracurricular reading done. As you might imagine my passion for rules and regulations made me something of a pariah around the playground. I couldn’t participate in any game without, eventually, inevitably, researching, studying and then implementing, with an iron-fist, the official international rules of whatever dominos, forty-four home, Yu-Gi-Oh, or ball sport it happened to be. Even the asthmatics despised me. My only true friend in those final years of primary school was a completely mute boy named Shaheed, who had recently arrived from Bangladesh. He seemed to find great joy in routinely annihilating me in the highly regimented game of bootleg quoits that we played behind the canteen, and I enjoyed that he followed the rules exactly. He was also very interested in the full-sized Swiss Army knife that I kept in my pocket. Most kids were, actually, fascinated by it—for none of the reasons that I myself was fascinated in it. It was simply an extremely versatile and practical tool. I never even once deliberately unsheathed the knife implement in my whole entire childhood or tweenage years.
I lived next door to Jeremy Goff. I imagine there were jockish boys like Jeremy Goff at your school, too, Liz—his type is pan-human. Rough. Soccer-obsessed. Dirty. Stinky. Completely and totally inarticulate, emotionally unavailable, destined for nothing beyond a good few years in high school, so deeply afraid of girls that the closest he could come to talking to them would be to deliberately kick soccer balls in their general direction. Jeremy was turning twelve. To my surprise and genuine horror, he invited me—I found out later that his mum had made him do it, because she knew I’d be able to see the festivities from my treehouse and didn’t want me to feel excluded. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to spend the weekend quietly doing extracurricular reading in my treehouse. When I said as much to Mother she stomped her foot twice, firmly, and said to me, ‘Theodore Milton Westlake Junior, that ghoulish, loud boy has invited you to celebrate his birthday, and you will attend.’ I found out later, once everyone had been discharged from the hospital, that Mother had only made me go because she knew that Jeremy’s mother had made him invite me, and she felt bound by some unspoken Mother Code to prioritise the wishes of an adult peer over that of her son under the guise of a moral lesson—which is, apparently, a thing.
Mothers, am I right, Liz? Fertile first date conversation topic. In fact, at the conclusion of my go, and subsequently your go, I will ask you, Do you get along well with your mother? What was your upbringing like? Good? Fulfilling? And how’s the wine, by the way? Lots of tannins? Fragrant notes? I’m finding it very much to be red.
At Jeremy Goff’s twelfth birthday party there was cake. Fanta. Soccer games, which I refereed. And there was a jumping castle, too.
It was not difficult for me to resist this last “temptation”, seeing as the sound of the pump alone was enough to give me sea legs. It was very colourful and smelled like popcorn—although there was not, to my knowledge, any popcorn being served at the party.
Birthday boys have a kind of dictatorish dynamism at their own parties. Jeremy demanded that every single kid in the whole place—Jeremy had of course invited exclusively boys—had to go into the jumping castle to engage in what he called a ‘Wrestle to the death.’ I tried to slink over the fence into my treehouse but I was caught and peer-pressured into the bounce house—peer-pressured for the first and only time in my entire life, Liz. And what a nightmarish scene it was inside the ‘thunder dome’, as Jeremy called it. A lot of the boys in there still had their shoes on! One of two of them had shamelessly brought in Fanta cups and slices of pizza—this in flagrant disregard of the fact that the Jumping Castle’s only three rules, written clearly on the outside of the entrance flap, were: No Shoes, No Fighting, and No Food Or Drink.
The wrestling began. I managed to keep myself largely on the fringes. Jeremy had specifically chosen this design of jumping castle because it was cage-like, and thus there would be no escape from the melee. There was only one way in or out—that being the big velcro entrance flaps, which had been securely shut for the brawl.
In what I believe was a well-intentioned but ultimately misguided attempt to try to get me involved, the birthday boy himself hunted me around the edges of the fighting, grabbed me round the waist, and performed a complex lift, twist, and reverse body slam on me. I must admit, it was extremely fun. There is something about tackling and being tackled that pre-adolescent boys find very thrilling. Plus it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would, probably because of the adrenaline. Well, I soon lost myself in the fray. I launched myself at the other party guests, my compatriots, my brothers, tackling and being tackled with the best of them. I was careful to target only the nerdier, scrawnier portion of fighters, but unfortunately my obvious zeal put something of a target on my back for the hoodlums that play soccer at lunch. Jeremy and his buddies conspired to hoist me up nice and high above their heads, and then slam me down into the jumping castle floor.
I must admit, until the actual moment of impact, this too was extremely fun. Have you ever been hoisted, Liz? There’s nothing quite like being hoisted. You’re high, you’re flying, and you feel quite genuinely giddy and weightless at the peak. I should have liked to stay up there forever. I was in fact going to request another massive hoisting when this one had concluded. But alas, in all the chaos, I had forgotten to remove the Swiss Army Knife from my pocket. I suppose that at some point in the argy-bargy the knife attachment must have wriggled itself free, and Lady Luck had happened to point the razor-sharp, never-once-used tip straight down on impact.
There was a pop quite unlike anything I have ever experienced. It was followed by a frightening hiss of air, and a good deal of unsportsmanlike scrambling to the velcro exit. I punched and was punched to try to get to freedom but, being so close to the epicentre of the catastrophe, only the slightly heavier Jeremy had sunk deeper than me into the deflating fighting cage. The supervising adults did their best to evacuate us, but I was in there for six interminable minutes.
And to this day I cannot even look at a balloon or the Swiss flag without vivid, visceral flashbacks to that almighty pop. It temporarily deafened Jeremy, who was only centimetres away from the concussion. The knife had also slipped out of my pocket and slashed up a number of other boys. I myself emerged injury-free, thanks no doubt to the preventative stretching routine I did before attending the party. I even possibly saved the life of a kid who, in the putrid, noxious combination of sweaty boys and escaping jumping castle air, was having an asthma attack. I don’t think I was ever given the recognition for this that I deserved.
So, those are my three. What do you think, Lizzy?—sorry, I can’t remember exactly where we landed on Lizzy. I notice, also, that you are yet to call me T-Bone. We can perhaps circle back around to the whole nickname thing after you guess, Lizzy, what you think is the truth and which of my three is the lie. Then you will have your turn. Then we will order. Then we will do the aforementioned exchange of information about our upbringings and mothers. Then we will eat. Then, if you’re interested, but of course there is absolutely no pressure, but just if you’re interested or curious or don’t have anything on after this, we can go back to my house for a quick round of quoits.
I should warn you, though I’m certainly no Shaheed, that I am really very good at quoits.