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Jubilee Park

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Blind Date | As the elevator platform descends into the mine shaft, spinning on a single suspending cable, I watch the sky shrink.

A movie poster.

A postcard.

A postage stamp.

By the time the platform settles on the mine floor and the brass-buttoned operator lifts the safety railing, only a tiny blue rectangle remains.

“Straight ahead,” she says. “Your waiter will meet you.”

I thank her and start down the tunnel as the winch whirs to life and lifts the platform back up into the sun. I expected old rails and a rock-strewn floor, but the restaurant has rolled out a plush carpet (probably red, but it’s already too dark to distinguish colour). After a few minutes of increasingly cautious steps, a voice rings out in the darkness.

“Take my arm. I’ll lead you to your table.”

I jump at the suddenness of the voice, so loud and intrusive in the utter blackness. But after a moment I reach out and wrap my hands around a muscular bicep. The waiter leads me down the tunnel a few more paces, then turns left. We walk for a few minutes, then turn again. I lose track of the turns quite quickly as we continue through the labyrinth.

“How far is it? It feels like we’ve been walking forever.”

“Not far,” says the waiter.

“How many miles of tunnel are there?”

“It’s never been fully mapped. But don’t worry. I know the way.”  

We carry on for an indeterminate amount of time—it might be one minute, it might be ten—until finally the waiter steers me out of the tunnel and into a large echoey chamber where I can hear cutlery clinking against plates and the low hum of a few dozen conversations.

“Your chair is just here. I’m placing your hand on it now.”

The waiter’s large, warm hand leads mine to the cold wooden chair back. He promises to return with water and wine, and then I am alone in the dark.

I sit. I find myself opening my eyes as wide as I can, but not a mote of light falls into my hungry pupils. I reach out and feel around the table, grasping my cutlery and napkin and empty water goblet. It all feels very far away even though I know it’s right in front of me.

The ridiculousness of the situation hits me fast and hard. What am I doing here? I should go. This was a terrible idea.

“No. Come on. You’re fine. You’ve got this,” I mumble to myself. “This is an experience. It’s not even the weirdest first date you’ve been on. Remember that girl who took you to her grandmother’s funeral and introduced you as her fiancé? Or that guy who showed up in a panda costume and refused to explain? This is nothing. I’m sure he’ll be normal. Well, nice. He was very nice when you chatted. So calm down.”

I met my online date on the day I swore off online dating. I’d deleted everything off my profile and I was just going to shut the whole thing down when I got a message. Against my better judgement, I opened it. I found myself grudgingly drawn into a very entertaining conversation with a total charmer. His profile was faceless.

“Yeah, a faceless profile,” I mutter to myself. “I bet he has a terrible facial deformity. Or maybe he’s the most beautiful man in the world, and he’s sick of being treated like a god. Or maybe he’s some sort of fetishist who never turns the lights on. Or maybe he’s allergic to the sun. Or maybe—”

“Or maybe he just wants to hear your voice before he sees your face.”

The voice across the table sounds like a smirk.

“How long have you been there!? Why didn’t you say anything? I’m early!”

“I’m always early,” he says. “But I wanted to give you some time to experience solitude in the darkness. It’s quite an unique feeling, isn’t it?”

I nod, then say “yes.”

“They connected a bunch of different mines to build the restaurant,” he goes on. “That’s why it takes so long to get to the dining room. They wanted it to be as far from the light as possible.”  

“Well, they succeeded.”

“Humberstone’s is my favourite place in Edmonton,” he says. “The food is alright, but you can’t beat the view.”

I look around the room and imagine couples seated at tables just like ours. It’s hard to really believe they exist, even though I can hear them dining and talking.

“It would be nice if every table had a candle,” I say. “Even a small flicker of light would create an interesting ambiance. It would still be very dramatic, dining down here in an abandoned mine.”

“More dramatic than you’d like,” he says. “The air is still full of old coal dust. If we lit a match, this whole place would explode.”

The waiter is suddenly here again, pouring water and uncorking a bottle of wine for my date to approve. I hear him sigh contentedly and the waiter fills both our glasses. My date announces that we will both have the mystery menu, then tells me to try the wine.

“Do you smell the cherries and plums and cinnamon?” he asks. “Doesn’t it just come alive on your tongue?”

“I don’t know very much about wine. It’s good though! I like it. Yum.”

“I spent a year in Italy and France recently,” he says, “but I’ve never had better wine than down here.”

His voice is pure silk, a smooth chocolate river with a dozen sweet currents and countercurrents. As he speaks, it’s as if each letter is being lovingly caressed by his tongue and lifted up to its apotheosis. His mouth glorifies the language that flows out of it, gold and thick as honey. At times it seems like he even speaks in poetry:

the air is full of coal dust
candles are romantic
but
if we lit a match,
the whole place would explode

I find myself building a mental image of him, wrapping a body around his voice. He’s impossibly beautiful in my mind’s eye, with breath-stealing features and golden-brown eyes that gleam like shallow muddy puddles in the sun.

Our appetizer arrives and my date wishes me bon appétit. I quickly realize how I normally eat strategically, picking at various pieces on my plate and pacing my meal. Now I barely even know where my plate is, let alone how much of everything I have left.

“Do you notice anything different about the flavours?” he asks.

By this point I’m eating with my hands, feeling octopus and broccoli to figure out what they are.

“No. Not really.”

“It’s always popular to say that your other senses are heightened when you close your eyes. One of those things you always hear.”

“My eyes are open though.”

He laughs.

“I suppose that’s true.”

I go on eating my octopus with my hands like an animal. I’m sure he’s taking perfectly apportioned bites across the table.

“So you must be wondering why I insisted upon meeting you here, of all places,” he says when our first course is cleared away.  

“It is a little unusual.”

“Yes,” he says. “That’s why. I’m disappointed with my usual way of doing things.”

“What way is that?”

He takes a sip of wine.

“I’m a very shallow person. I don’t want to be. But I am. I want to blame Society and Television and Instagram. I want to complain about all the beautiful people I constantly see everywhere, who make me expect that I deserve a beautiful partner. But maybe it’s just my fault. Anyway, I only message faceless profiles now. I spend time getting to know real people, not the images they use to promote themselves.”

“Aren’t you afraid that I’m hideous though?”

“I am,” he says. “But that’s part of the problem. I don’t want it to matter to me if you’re hideous. I want to know you, and learn to know you through your voice and by your words.”

“Do you really though? Everyone says that and then when they have the chance they just date terrible people who are hotter than them.”

“Well,” he says, “I at least want to give it a try. I’m tired of treating people like Christmas presents, where the whole joy is unwrapping them and seeing what’s under the coverings, not actually playing with the toy. I want to get beneath the surface.”

And so we talk about our lives—his travels and my plans, his dreams and my achievements. He is skilled at asking questions that drive my stories forward, flesh them out with details that bring them to life. He makes my memories more exciting. By the time the waiter has cleared the table, I feel as if I’ve known him for a thousand years. Down here, it’s as if time is standing still, apart from all that goes on up in the world of the living. Eventually he pays and I hear the legs of his chair scrape against the floor.

“Will you lead me back out?” I ask him as I stand.

“Not today,” he says. “But soon. Reach out your hand.”

I do as he asks. I feel the tip of his finger brush against mine. A spark of static electricity, brighter than the sun.

“We’ll speak soon,” he says.

“FaceTime?”

I can practically hear his grin.  

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” he says.

The waiter arrives and leads me back out through the labyrinth. I ride the swaying elevator platform, expecting to rise back into the light of day. But when we reach the surface, the world is dark.

“What time is it?” I ask as the elevator operator gives me back the cellphone she had to confiscate before I was allowed into the mine.

“Just past midnight. We’re closing soon.”

I could wait around for the next hour—sit in my car and try to spot my blind date as everyone leaves the mine. But no. Not tonight. I’ll be satisfied with having heard his voice, for now.  

I walk back to my car, trying to compose a clever text for him to read when he rises out of the mine and gets his phone back. I hesitate a moment, then I know exactly what to write. Smiling, I look back at the wrought-iron trellis above the mine shaft, the looping cursive blaring out in red neon light: Humberstone’s.

Contributor: Bruce Cinnamon

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