y first date with Vanessa was on one of those damp, wind-whipped autumn days that make you yearn for flannel blankets, long naps, and large dogs that have no respect for your personal boundaries.
The date started out badly. When I collected Vanessa at her apartment, she made me wait outside in the rain while she finished a phone call with her brother. When she appeared, she was wearing a headscarf, which gave her a vague resemblance to Edie Beale, the wacky cousin of Jacqueline Onassis. If you're not familiar with the Beales, all you need to know is that they were an aristocratic mother-daughter team who lived in a condemned house with lots of cats and raccoons.
Vanessa also came from a very wealthy family, but they weren't the type to ever let a live raccoon into their home. They were the type to keep every living thing that was not a direct relation locked out of their house. Her enforced friendless childhood might explain Vanessa's social awkwardness and inability to make small talk. The date creaked on fueled only by my manic attempts to keep the conversation alive. Finally, I gave up and we sat in uncomfortable silence while we waited for our food to arrive. I wondered whether it would be rude to ask the waiter for the bill before he served our entrees.
Then, to fill the gawking silence I suppose, she announced that she had a brain tumor. 'That explains the scarf!' I thought with relief. After I registered appropriate surprise and compassion, she explained that it was a benign growth. 'Really, it's more of a cyst than a tumor,' she said. 'And it's on my forehead, not in my brain.' Still it would require the services of a brain surgeon, which impressed me greatly. This aroused my long-dormant Florence Nightingale fantasies and I immediately fell in love and vowed to nurse her through her brain crisis.
The next evening I met my friend Robert at the revival of the Orson Wells masterpiece A Touch of Evil. Even thought it was a cold, dank night, he insisted we meet under the marquee. He explained that it would only intensify the film noir experience if I watched him emerge from the miserable shadows in his elegant trench coat, which flapped menacingly at his ankles as he emerged from the fog.
Once we were settled in the theater, I told him about my infatuation with Vanessa.
'Oh, for God's sake!' he exclaimed. 'Haven't you already put us through enough when you dated that vegetarian? And now a girl with a tumor!'
'It's not a tumor,' I said. 'It's a cyst.'
'Well, that's even worse,' he said. 'There's at least some romance associated with tumors. Think of Bette Davis in Dark Victory. Get out of this now! You are infatuated with the illness, not the woman. Mark my words, your feelings will change once she recovers. '
As one of my chief romantic advisors, I usually took Robert's advice. But the heroic fantasy of nursing someone through a scary illness trumped his voice of reason. Still, to hedge my bets, I decided to go out on a date with Lucy, an aggressive attorney, before Vanessa went under the knife.
This mystery series follows my dating adventures over the course of six months. If you can guess which woman I end up, I'll send you a fabulous prize. Register your guess-and find new clues-at www.jenniferparello.com
For the first installment of this Dateland Mystery, go to www.jenniferparello.com