It’s my first ever online date. Michael suggests an All Bar One in Covent Garden, near the Actor’s Church. He’s an actor, you see. I think this was what first attracted me to his online dating resume, along with his numerical maturity (thirty-one) and a hope that he knows his Beckett from his Bennett.
He greets me outside the tube station at the junction where too many people loiter, causing a bottleneck and untold misery for all. I have never had a grown man interested in me before, and it’s a little overwhelming. He could maybe pass for twenty-seven, which is still an advance on my twenty years on the planet, nineteen of which have been spent on a tiny island.
I don’t really listen to what he’s talking about as we walk down the street; something about drama lessons. The London Actor’s Centre Is Better Than Pineapple For Movement Classes, he is saying. I run over the line in my head, banking the information for later in case he asks for my opinion.
We cross the road and enter the chain bar, sitting down at a table suitable for at least another four people. He asks if I’d like a drink, and I order a gin and tonic, which I’d only recently started getting the hang of.
“Hendricks, please, if they have it, with a slice of cucumber.”
He comes back with a Gordons, the plasticky botanicals are jarring. It’s alright that he went for house gin, I think. He’s not earning much, being an actor.
Michael asks what I study at university and I begin to tell him some things about my degree course. His eyes dart around a lot as I speak, so I focus on his beard. A tiny cluster of black fibres is caught in the bottom of his blond beard hair, and I look at it for a while. I wonder if I should make a joke of it, point it out to break the ice.
You’ve got some of your scarf on your face.
Your beard is a little overdressed, perhaps it’d like to take off its coat.
You’ve got fluff in your chin crack.
I decide not to mention it. I ask him who his favourite actor is instead.
“Oh, well,” he says. That’d have to be Al Pacino. What a talent.”
“Do you like Benedict Cumberbatch?” I ask.
“He’s a good actor, no? In Sherlock. Do you watch it?”
“I’ve seen an episode or two. Taxi Driver, though, what a great film. Great film.” He shakes his head.
“I haven’t seen it,” I say.
“You haven’t seen it? I thought you were a film student?”
The fluff in his beard has migrated to the other side of his chin.
“No, I read music. Bach and Mozart and stuff like that. I take a class on synchronising sound to film, though.”
“Hey! I’m walking here! Ha ha ha. I can’t believe a film student hasn’t seen Taxi Driver, Jesus.”
“Isn’t that a quote from Midnight Cowboy?”
“What? No, it’s definitely Taxi Driver,” Michael says, looking past me at a slim blonde woman leaning against the bar. I realise that my G&T is almost finished. We have only been here forty-two minutes, and Cosmopolitan.com said if a date lasts less than an hour, it’s a ‘grade A disaster’.
“Can I get us another round?” I ask, standing up. I’m not sure if “round” is the right word, since it’s just the two of us, and I feel my cheeks burning.
“Sure.” He glances at the clock on the wall, shifting his eyes away from the blonde woman’s cleavage long enough to conceptualise time. “I can probably fit another one in.”
I return with two pints of cloudy-looking ale, which are tepid and smell like soggy haystacks. He says “thanks” while staring at his phone. I imagine he’s telling his mate about the attractive woman at the bar he isn’t currently on an internet date with, but dearly wishes he was.
“Hey, so my mate is on Southbank so I’ll finish up here and head over, if that’s cool?”
“Oh, sure, don’t let me keep you,” I sip my expensive pint, trying not to breathe through my nose. “Cheers.”
The black fluff has headed north to his left cheek. I can’t take my eyes off it. Michael continues looking at his phone, ignoring me. I venture some further conversation to break the silence.
“Did you always want to be an actor?”
“Nah, I just wasn’t very academic so it seemed like a good idea after I left school.”
“I thought I might go into acting, maybe musical theatre–”
He made a snorting sound, his head snapping up, eyes lingering on my torso.
“I mean, you have to look a certain way to do that.”
“How’s that?” I feel my eyebrows shoot into my hairline, hidden by my massive fringe.
“You know… have the right type of body.”
I inhale slowly, tracing my fingers up the damp pint glass.
“I see. Well, thanks for the advice, you saved me the bother of many rejected castings.”
I pull a face, again mostly concealed by my hair. Did he think I was being genuine, when he’d just…
“Listen, my mate is actually keen for me to go and meet him now, do you mind?” Michael looks earnest, glancing at the door.
“No, go ahead.”
I’m desperate for him to leave. Michael stands up, six quid-worth of disgusting pint untouched.
“Nice one, my dude.” He fist-bumps me, and leaves.
I sit back in the chair, feeling my whole body relax, and catch the eye of the blonde woman by the bar.
“Bit old for you, isn’t he?” She smiles, and I extend the corners of my mouth sideways in response. “Wonder why he can’t find someone his own age. You probably had a lucky escape, there.”