When I Go On Dates, I Eat Men

There’s a dock that stretches out over the reservoir, a straight path that doesn’t quite touch the low-hanging crater moon. It’s beautiful and eerie. I could crane up my neck and let out a lonely howl. That would freak Daniel out, I think, although I’m not the oddest one on this date.

I met Daniel earlier that week. He called himself “Daniel Tha Libra” on his Tinder profile. We matched, and he asked if I wanted him to pick me up. We could go out for drinks, he said, a local bar he really likes. I’m freshly twenty-one and not too familiar with my college town’s night life. The Beechwood Lounge is a place for red-faced sixty-year old men in checkered shirts, but I sit my little tank topped and thrifted denimed body down on one of the bar stools. On Thursdays, the Beechwood Lounge has two-for-ones on domestic beers, so Daniel orders two Bud Lights without asking me what I want. He wraps his lips around the bottle, a halo of overgrown stubble.

We mumble our way through a conversation where he talks about his passions, which are so scattered it’s obvious he doesn’t have the time to perfect any one of them. He takes photography, loves fashion, is into art galleries, and also co-hosts a podcast on which he and his friends share their bro opinions on every topic imaginable. The tagline for the show is, It’s truly a show about nothing! He doesn’t ask to find out a single thing about me. When it’s time to pay, Daniel tells me he forgot his wallet. We’ve both had two beers, so I fork over ten dollars after the tip. It’s not the most romantic date I’ve been on, but neither Daniel nor I seem to really be looking for anything serious. What I want is for any man to touch my body and make me feel seen; I’m not sure what he wants, because it’s clearly not me.

We walk back to his car in the dusky ten o’clock blue without holding hands. He tells me he can take me to his favorite spot to close out the night. I ask what it is in an effort to run a quick background check, but he says he doesn’t want to ruin the surprise. I believe I’m invincible so I get into the car. He halts it in front of a tan suburban rambler, says he has to run inside the house quickly. He doesn’t invite me in, because he says his dad’s probably inside on a recliner with his fifth tumbler of whiskey. He re-emerges with his wallet, and he gives me a damp ten-dollar bill.

We start driving towards his favorite place in the dark, the headlights barely stretching more than a few feet in front of us. I catch the road signs at last minute, each one an afterthought indication of where we might be going. Eventually I catch one that says Saylorville Dam. This is where I go to quiet my thoughts, Daniel says.

The sound of the water through the dam is so loud that no one would hear even a human scream. Daniel and I can hardly hear our own voices and we’re standing right next to each other. What I do hear are vague musings about the beautiful star-speckled sky above us. It seems that Daniel and I do have something in common: we are romantic and hopeless. When I lean over the edge of the gate, I feel pinpricks of river hitting my bare arms. The water has to be fifty degrees, even in the height of summer. There can’t possibly be anything alive down there – or up here, for that matter.

After admiring the moonlit dam, we drive down to its base where the water is still and walk to the end of the dock that leads to nowhere. I think about ghost stories my cousins used to tell, about drowned hands that wait beneath the lake surface, ready for a dipped limb to grab and pull under. This is why I don’t sit down and put my feet in. Daniel is mysteriously shy and I know he won’t be the one to make the first move. I press my chest against him and kiss his prickly mouth, waiting for his slow reaction. There, in the glow of the moon and the reflective dock, we move to the backseat of his car. I sense the beginning of our transaction. His palm cups the back of my head and pushes it down, finally inviting me to speak.


About the Author

Hallie O’Neill graduated from Drake University in 2019 where she studied English and social sciences. After spending time in the Czech Republic on a Fulbright scholarship, she moved back home to Minnesota to work in nonprofit development. She earned her MA in nonfiction from Wilkes University in summer 2022 and is currently working towards her MFA in creative writing. Her work has been previously published in the Peauxdunque Review and Kitchen Table Quarterly.