I can’t believe I liked a guy who hates tomatoes and treats books badly. I can forgive the other stuff, the little things, the classics like leaving the toilet seat up and lying all the time, but this? Too far, man, too far.
I met Jake at a pub in St Ives. He asked for my number, boldly, as though rejection weren’t an option. Deciding to let him feel powerful, I said yes. Why not? There was a little sparkle there. I wouldn’t have called him handsome, or charming, or pleasant exactly; he was too individual for that, with a don’t-care look. It had a certain attraction.
He invited me to his flat for a meal the weekend after we met. As it turned out, we’d exhausted our conversation on the first date, between our first sip of beer and our last. Perhaps sitting out by the harbour while the sun set had helped things along. The second evening was trickier.
His flat was two storeys above a corner shop. It was a small open plan arrangement and looked as if he were always throwing stuff into it before immediately going back out. He’d had to sweep things to one end of the couch so I could sit down. Upturned crisp packets, with their salt scattered like dandruff on the navy material; empty Budweiser bottles; and a pizza box with grease seeping through the bottom. Some of it seemed to have been there for a while. I tried not to look too carefully. It reminded me of the rubbish that collects at the top of beaches, a tangle of dirty pollution – probably not dangerous to our existence but not beneficial to it either.
I sat up straight, partly because my belt was strangling my waist and partly so I would reduce the contact between myself and the couch. Before Jake started cooking, he busied himself with tidying the kitchen, pushing dirty dishes aside and stacking them until they were a Leaning Tower of Plates. It took forever. Hmm, if only there were something that could be done with dirty dishes…What a mess! He muttered an apology, the sort of half-hearted, dishonest excuse that has clearly lost its clout through overuse.
‘Are there any foods you won’t eat?’ he asked.
I forced a laugh. ‘Do I look like there are any foods I won’t eat?’
Jake might have been dull, but he wasn’t stupid; any response would have been dangerous.
There was a brief pause. If in doubt, ask the same question in return. ‘Are there any foods you won’t eat?’
‘Tomatoes,’ he said. ‘I hate tomatoes.’
‘Can’t do it.’
‘Not even vine-ripened? Not even home-grown tomatoes, all warm and fragrant from a greenhouse?’
‘Nope. They’re disgusting.’ He removed the lid of a jar with a pop. Steam rose from a pan of water on the hob.
‘Not even, like, ketchup, or a tomato sauce with pasta? Spaghetti Bolognese?’
Who is this psycho? ‘Then how do you eat pizza?’
‘I just have it with cheese or whatever.’
And the evening descended from there. I was treated to an anaemic pasta sauce, cheap white wine, and a stream of boring information about his life, most of which I’d heard before – variations of it, anyway. I couldn’t help but notice that on our first evening he ‘hadn’t been to university’, and on our second he had ‘graduated from Falmouth University with a First’. I detest a lazy liar. If you’re going to lie, do it properly.
My eyes began to wander around the room. That was when I saw it: an open paperback book on the arm of the chair opposite. It was splayed flat and the cover curled upwards, evidence of constant bending backwards. It was a horrific sight. What sort of sadist would do something like that?
He reads, I told myself. That counts for something. Anyone who reads can’t be all bad. Get a grip, woman. The tomato thing; not a deal-breaker; the book thing, not a deal-breaker.
I refocused on Jake. His gangly body slouched beside me; his jeaned legs were dangerously close to the greasy pizza box. I tried to listen to what he was saying. He twirled a lock of his overgrown dark fringe – it was a bit thin and greasy. He paused his dull flow of words to take a sip of beer before continuing, and he didn’t seem to notice or care that I was hardly responding. What was he even saying? No idea. I honestly didn’t care by that point.
‘Another drink?’ he asked.
Wow, so he did know I was there.
‘I’m tired,’ I said, forcing a little stretch and yawn, for the sake of authenticity. ‘I think I might head off if that’s okay.’
‘Oh, right. You’re welcome to crash with me.’
Seriously, man? Not only was he oblivious, dull, and a liar, he was also a tomato hater and a book abuser. Those things were more important to me than I thought. He was downright ugly. I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to realise.
‘No, thanks,’ I said, standing up. ‘I’m good.’
Hannah Retallick is a twenty-six-year-old from Anglesey, North Wales. She was home educated and then studied with the Open University, graduating with a First-class honours degree, BA in Humanities with Creative Writing and Music, before passing her Creative Writing MA with a Distinction. She was shortlisted in the Writing Awards at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2019, the Cambridge Short Story Prize, the Henshaw Short Story Competition June 2019, and the Bedford International Writing Competition 2019. https://ihaveanideablog.wordpress.com/