Bruce comes with me on these dates. He gets bored pretty quickly because he never gets any attention. To be fair, my dates don’t give me much attention either. It feels that way. I am the date, and nothing more. I say the right things, initiate the usual conversations about work, family, hobbies, etc., but never anything important. The other week, I met someone, Katie. We met at Costa, the one by the entrance to Hounds Hill. Bruce left our table to explore. I kept one eye on him. ‘I have two sisters,’ my date said. ‘I’m the youngest. They don’t let me forget it either.’ Bruce scrounged for food. No one gave him anything because no one saw him. Before long, I’d lost track of what she was saying. ‘You alright?’ I turned my attention back to the stranger, and nodded. I apologised. ‘Is everything OK?’ I nodded again. Bruce came back to our table eventually. Needless to say, we haven’t see Katie again.
I don’t speak to Bruce when we’re out and about. I don’t want to appear completely bonkers. But sometimes, I talk to him when we’re home. I’m asking him whether he’d like fish or a bit of chicken for tea, when my phone vibrates on the kitchen counter. Bruce eats his chicken. He digs his broken nose into the red bowl I bought from Pets At Home. He seems to like it. I check my phone. Two days after matching on Tinder, she’s replied to my ‘hey’. I look at my stupid Tinder profile. I stare at my profile pic. I don’t smile. I’m not a bad person. The last bad thing I did, the last nasty thing, I did when I was only ten. Bruce, daft dog, walks over my toes. He’s clumsy, thanks to his injuries. It would be an issue if he were real. He has a translucent quality. My phone buzzes again. ‘How about Notarianni’s?’ I wait a couple of minutes before replying to this message. Then again, you can’t leave a message too long. I look at her profile. I tend to swipe right on every profile, so this is the first time I’m seeing her properly. She shares a name with an erstwhile school bully. But she has a friendly face. I reply. We spend the rest of our evening on the iPad watching YouTube. Bruce nuzzles underneath my chin. He’s a malleable animal. He’s softened since we met nearly fifteen years ago.
Notarianni’s is closed. The sign tells us, there’s been a family emergency. She turns to me. ‘Shit. I was in the mood for ice cream.’ I nod in agreement, even though I’m not mad-keen on ice cream. ‘Where should we go?’ I tell her, I don’t mind, wherever you fancy. Again, I have one eye on Bruce. He’s walking slightly ahead of us. He lingers by McDonald’s. I leave him behind. He’ll catch up. We cross the road. It’s a sunny day. ‘Tide’s out,’ she says. I’m about to ask whether she knows Blackpool well, when she tells me about the time she swam in the sea, during a summer holiday, and almost drowned. ‘Mum never let me in the sea again,’ she says, smiling. She tells me about her family through a series of anecdotes. I feel blanketed by her stories. I like their endings. I learn more about her as we walk to Central Pier. When we reach Central, she points out the giant poster for ‘Kings and Queens of Rock, Pop and Roll’. We look at the tribute acts on the poster. ‘You’d make a good Elvis,’ she says. I laugh. ‘No, I’m being serious.’ She works her pelvis, and does her best imitation of the King. ‘I’ve always wanted to go to that, you know.’ I tell her, we can go one day. She smiles. ‘Let’s walk on the sand.’
We walk underneath the pier. We wander right onto the beach. I’d usually be terrified by the groups of teenagers wandering about the place, but I feel quite calm now. She seems to know where she’s going, even though we’re walking aimlessly. She sits on a mound of sand, the remnants of a grand, intricate castle. I look left to the pier. I wonder if it could fall now. Those people would be crushed. It will fall one day, that’s inevitable. She puts a hand on my knee. It’s perfectly innocent, almost expected. Now we’re holding hands, watching the world go by. ‘I like your dog, by the way.’ I wonder what she means. Bruce is just ahead, chasing something fluttering above his head. I ask what she means. ‘Is he a spaniel? Don’t know much about dogs. I like them, don’t get me wrong. He’s cute,’ she adds, after a pause. ‘What happened to his nose?’ I tell her, a kid, must have been only ten-year-old, kicked him, and he hasn’t been the same since. ‘Poor dog. Seems happy enough now. What’s his name?’