The Missing Ingredient

Paula Cairney // London, UK

As first dates go, things were going pretty well. Stephen was someone I’d met a few times at work and he always made me laugh, so when he invited me out for dinner, I was happy to go. I’d noticed that, like me, he didn’t eat the limp sandwiches produced at meetings, so I hoped that I’d found a fellow foodie.

At the restaurant, Stephen quizzed the server about the fish options. I was slightly puzzled by his keen interest in which fish had scales, but I figured it was something personal to him so I didn’t ask, although I did wonder why he didn’t just order something else.

The dinner was promising, so I thought it was time to move things to the next level and I invited him to my apartment for dinner. He showed a keen interest in the menu, which I took as a good sign, so I decided to make pasta with Italian meatballs. By the time he arrived, the red wine and rosemary sauce was bubbling and the meatballs were all ready to add at the last minute.

Stephen arrived a bit late and had clearly already had a drink, but that was okay. I opened the bottle of Italian red that I had bought to go with the meal and poured us both a glass. He was in a reflective mood, bordering on maudlin as he talked about his family’s expectations that he would marry a girl from a family that his family had known forever. I gradually realized that this was not a specific girl, just someone who had shared the same religious education at the local synagogue. Coming from a long line of heretics, as I do, I would never be that girl, but that was no reason not to enjoy the evening and the dinner, right?

I added the meatballs to the sauce, boiled the pasta and Stephen ducked to breathe in the heady aroma, then asked about what was in the meatballs. “Veal,” I said, “and herbed breadcrumbs.” The dinner was good, but somehow the spark had gone, so we enjoyed the food but parted as friends. I looked forward to bumping into him at future meetings and mentally scanned my girlfriends for someone who might better suit him.

Was I wrong not to mention the pork fat that made those meatballs so juicy? Was my sin of commission more serious than his of omission?

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