<For the first three installments of this Dateland Mystery, go to www.jenniferparello.com>.
I first met Ellen at a charity event. It was a typical lesbian affair. The price of admission entitled you to cheap beer, plus several awkward encounters with women you’ve been trying to avoid for years.
As soon as I paid the cover charge and entered the lot, I ran into Lucy, a somber tax attorney whose mouth perpetually was turned down in a frown. We had been on the verge of falling into an ill-fated affair for almost a decade. We never had gotten around to it, which was just as well, really.
Our relationship was built on a shaky foundation of ambiguously worded e-mails, smoldering looks, and mutual mistrust. The result was a dangerous buildup of sexual tension that always left me feeling insulted, vaguely aroused, and rather peckish.
After a brief encounter that night, when we did little more than stare at each other with hostile desire, I made my way to the snack table where I encountered Ellen, who was slumped against a wall, stabbing a carrot into a bowl of hummus, and grumbling to herself. She had retreated there after a run-in with an ex-lover, who still hadn’t forgiven Ellen for breaking up with her via e-mail.
A few months after that first meeting, Ellen called to invite me to an art gallery opening. She was one of the featured artists, specializing in funky cityscapes painted in primary colors. Unfortunately, the sunny color scheme did not reflect her mental state.
After the gallery opening, I went back with her to her apartment. She made a point of taking me into her kitchen, and gesturing to a counter crowded with prescription bottles.
“Are you sure a senior citizen doesn’t live here?” I asked, running my finger along the line of bottles.
“Nope, they’re all mine, baby,” she said with a sad chuckle.
Most were antidepressants, but some were bottles of jelly-like vitamins that Ellen had to take in complex combinations several times a day. Because she often forgot to eat when she was overcome with artistic fever, her body had been racked with malnutrition so often that it no longer had the ability to absorb nutrients from most foods. She was so small and coiled into herself that she looked more like a smudge mark than a girl. Despite all that, I thought she was adorable.
Over the next few weeks, I realized how supremely ill-suited we were for each other. I am an early riser who rarely sleeps past dawn, and she never wakes up until after Noon.
She likes to spend her evenings in punk bars listening to her musician friends scream out songs. I went with her once to a cavern-like bar that smelled of urine, and left after a half-hour, because I honestly thought my ears were bleeding, and feared I might pick up a case of hepatitis from the filthy cocktail glasses.
Then, one night, I opened what I thought was a coat closet in her apartment, and found oddly shaped implements that strongly hinted at a taste for rough sex. I stifled a yelp of surprise and fear. These tools suggested that she was not all that interested in cuddling, my preferred sexual activity.
Suddenly, she appeared behind me.
This mystery series follows my dating adventures over one damp autumn. 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>.