Welcome to The Echo’s annual feature — Summer Soap. Now in its fifth year, Summer Soap is a daily fictional serial run over 12 parts, which began on Monday and runs for a fortnight. Called Cork’s Quick Coupler, this story, set in the world of speed dating, was written by Jessica Militante, from the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC. You can catch up with previous epsiodes at echolive.ie.
Episode 4: Tom’s Mom
I immediately downed the rest of my wine, my earlier rationing forgotten. Colin had bolted as soon as our time was up, and I wished that I was leaving with him. Well, not with him. But just, y’know, also leaving.
Ciara was giving me a thumbs up from across the room, though, her expression so encouraging it almost hurt to look at. I knew that I couldn’t leave now.
A bell rang for my next three-minute date to start. I don’t remember that happening for the first round, but I must’ve just been too caught up in my nerves and missed it.
A woman who looked to be about my mom’s age seated herself in Colin’s empty chair. She looked kind, with dark red hair and laugh-lines creasing the corners of her blue eyes. But wasn’t this for people in their twenties?
“Uh hi, I’m Julia,” I said.
“Hello Julia, I’m Mary.”
A hunched-over figure dragged another chair to the table and plopped down into it. He looked uncomfortable in his grey V-neck and tight jeans, with hair the same shade as Mary’s. He did that weird, boy head-nod-greeting thing to me and I awkwardly waved back.
“And this is my son, Tom. He is such a sweet boy, but you would not believe the sort of girls he brings home! Horrid things, truly.”
Mary made a disgusted face then shook her head.
“I saw this event and knew that I had to sign him up, but I couldn’t trust him to pick someone out for himself so I’m just here looking out for him. But don’t mind me, it’ll be like I’m not even here!”
She was sweet but, dear Lord, was this what real-life dating was like? Suddenly Tinder wasn’t looking so terrible. Tom looked like he wanted to sink into the sticky floor of the pub. His cheeks were as red as the paper hearts hanging above us and I felt bad for him. Not to mention I was feeling a little guilty about how it went with Colin.
“That’s alright,” I said, good-naturedly.
“Oh, you are so good,” Mary said, reaching out to pat my hand. She gave me a bright smile, which I quickly returned, feeling strangely validated. Now I kinda wanted to impress her.
I turned to her son.
“Are you a UCC student, Tom?”
He stopped glaring at his mother to look at his phone. “No, I work on the farm.”
“How nice,” I said. “That must be tough work.”
His phone dinged like he got a message and he continued staring at it.
“Oh, that’s good, I guess. Do you like animals then?”
“They’re grand,” he said, without looking up.
Mary leaned back in her seat, her face set in a tense smile. She looked back and forth at me and Tom and nodded encouragingly. I couldn’t tell who the encouragement was for — me or her taciturn son — but it kept me going.
“What else do you enjoy doing, Tom?”
“Working out. Lifting, like.”
I’ve had more productive conversations over FaceTime with my dog.
“That’s cool. Do you have any siblings?’
“Well, what’s something that interests you?”
“I don’t know.”
I couldn’t tell if he was really that uninterested in making conversation or if he was just trying to punish his mother for making him come here. By now, though, Mary was physically restraining herself from joining the conversation by taking repeated sips from her wine glass and I was running out of questions.
“Uh, do you have a favourite food?”
Tom looked up at me for the first time. He took a minute to answer this hard-hitting question, scratching underneath his chin as he thought.
Mary had obviously had enough and pretended that her arm slipped off the table, elbowing him in the side.
I wanted her to adopt me.
“I guess my mam’s brown bread,” he said finally.
I watched Mary blush and send her son a pleased smile.
“I love brown bread!” I said, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.
“I’m sure Mam would share the recipe, wouldn’t ya, Mam?” Tom glanced over at his mom, eager to pass the conversation back over to her, like that was what he’d been waiting to do the whole time.
Mary nodded and sat up straighter, like that was what she’d been waiting to do the whole time. “Yes, of course!”
Without missing a beat, she took out a small notepad and pen from her purse and pushed them towards me.
“If you write down your email address, I’ll send it your way! I also have a wonderful scone recipe, if you’d like. I’m sure you wouldn’t have tried anything like it in the States. That’s where you’re from, right?”
I wrote down my email and slid it back to her.
“That sounds incredible, thank you!” I was always down for scones. “Yes, I’m from Illinois. Near Chicago.”
“Chicago! I’ve been there! Your pizza is fabulous!”
“Oh yes, that’s definitely something I miss,” I laughed.
“Tom’s never had that deep of a crust before, have you, Tom?”
“No,” Tom said, scrolling on his phone.
“Switch!” yelled Aphrodite.
Tom got up with a silent wave while Mary clasped both of her hands around one of mine.
“It was so nice to meet you, Julia. Sorry about my Tom but please don’t be a stranger!”
Well, at least I’ve made one match.