Starched Linen #3 – London Restaurant

Another piece in an occasional series of little glimpses of writing

            The Italian restaurant on the strange triangular corner.  I’d passed it endless times on my way to the office.  I wanted to go there to eat sometime.  On the right day, with the right person, not in a sad, lacking way but something to look forward to.  When someone came to visit.  For now I was happy in my little puddle of solitude.  My work oddly challenging and satisfying, my evenings quick and quiet in the golden light of the white-paneled kitchen, which must be fully visible to the street but with a transparency that never bothered me.

My thirty minute walk each way the daily mental and physical stimulation I needed.  New ideas, new things to look at and plan for all the while with a growing flush in my face and a pleasant rhythm to my pace.

            And now.  Improbably sitting here with Michael.  Practically grabbed off the street.  His sneakers appearing out of a car, my taking in who it was, calling his name, twice, always twice to give him to chance to try to recognize the voice, not ignore it as part of the overall white noise of fandom.

            A tobacco brown coat reaching to his knees in the mist.  His incredulity.  Mine too.  What was I doing here?  Going to work.  The foundation was down the street.  He’d forgotten.  What was he doing here?  Meeting with his lawyer.  A nod up to the crisp white windows above us.

            Pause in the growing rain.  Spread across the sidewalk.  Exposed, even in this business district.  He looked left and right then grabbed my hand and ducked into the doorway of Il Cielo.  It was eleven in the morning.  Inside waiters were flicking and placing napkins, counting wine glasses.  He tapped.  The man inside nodded no, started to wag a finger, then realized who it was.  Sprang forward to pull the door inward, to herd us in.

            A minute later we were at a table in the back.  Screened from the rest of the restaurant but able to see the full scope of the restaurant.  Tucked right in that strange triangular street corner.

            His sweater was blue heather, a color I would expect to see in my grandfather’s closet.  But of course on him it was perfect.  Timeless and perfectly of this time.  I wanted to touch it.  I was afraid of that.  Still.  Too soon.  Not sure of the effect.  Quicksand, burning black hole of unfulfilled inappropriate expectations, feelings, assumptions.  Still needed more time in my own corner.

            But the sweater.  I could handle that.  A bit rough and scratchy.  Meant more to protect than to comfort.  Blending in with native colors that only make sense here with all the subtle greens and even greys.  It would fade away in California against all those greedy blooming sages and jacarandas. 

            I reach out and grasp his arm, between wrist and elbow, the pretext of interrupting as the waiter asks what we want.

            A bitter little cappuccino and a short glass of bubbly water.  Almost not sustenance.  An odd privileged penance.

            He turns to me.

            The waiter goes.

            The sweater is softer than I expected.  A disappointment.  This sweater has been washed and laid out to dry countless times, with lavender and chamomile, no detergent.  I remember there is a grandmother on an island somewhere, accessible only through a shuddering, capricious ferry that he still took to visit her, folding himself in a corner, with an anorak and backpack as props to a disguise.  This sweater from her hands, each inch of yarn pulled through her fingers for him.

            I look up to meet his gaze.  Another thing I’ve been afraid of.  But this surprises me.  Because it is he who looks apprehensive, unsure, unstable.  I take in his blue eyes, noticing again the slight difference between left and right, inexplicably corrected in countless released photos.

            He was not expecting me, not planning to deal with me.  Perhaps ever again. 

            What is he expecting my reaction to be?  I can’t even picture the palette of possible reactions at my disposal. 

            So, I start neutrally.  Modestly.

            “How have you been?”

            “Good.  You?”

            The waiter served the coffees.  Pure white cups and saucers.  The exact same shade as the linen tablecloth, which I found pleasing, satisfying.  It was the only thing that pleased me about this so far.

            I realized the tips of my toes were damp in my shoes, as were my pants just above my knee, where the rain had hit me.  I’d need to pay some attention to footwear and all kinds of ways to protect myself.  I kept my smile to myself at the fact that this was what I was thinking of in this moment, this moment that I’d imagined and dreaded for months now. 

            I stretched my hands flat on the table.  No rings, no polish, no adornment.  My fingers looked too flat and long.  I made a little triangle on the tablecloth, the tips of my index fingers touching, with each hand angling out a bit.  I didn’t remember doing this as a child, but it seemed like something I would have been taught to keep me from fidgeting.

            I looked up at him.  He pulled his coffee closer to him and tapped half a packet of sugar in.  So, some relaxation of food rules.  My mind started to spinoff to decide what greater conclusions I could draw from that.  Then I actively stopped myself.  Brakes on.

            I dismantled my hand triangle and made eye contact with the waiter who was attending us, with perhaps too much curiosity.

            “Can I have a regular cup of coffee?  And some milk?”

            He nodded and disappeared.

            “What are you working on?” I asked.  A neutral question and one I thought he would answer for me.  He obviously wasn’t going to start a conversation on his own.

            “Do you know the oud?”

            “The what?”

            “An oud.  It’s kind of like a lute.  From the middle east, Turkey.”  He traced a shape with one hand, a womanish curve out toward the rainy street.  His hand then lowered in defeat.

            “No, I don’t know it.  Isn’t there something Cuban like that?”  I thought back to a charming mustachioed but overly serious man I’d met in Santa Monica.

            “That’s a laud,” Michael said.  “I think it’s a similar shape.  They must have come from the same roots.  All those traders who got kicked out of Spain and ended up in the Caribbean.”

            He trailed off, not able to summon the energy to discuss even music.

            The waiter came back with my fresh coffee and a little jar of milk.  It was a cream-colored container that upset my satisfaction of whites on the table.  I poured a bit of mik and moved the container up against the awful yellow flowers at the edge of the table near the wall.  How quickly could I drink this coffee and leave?

            And you’re doing all right,” he finally asked.

            “Yes,” I said, pushing out the automatic expected response.  “I’m good.  I think I like it here.  The work is good, my flat is fine for me for now.”

            “But the rain?” he said, looking outside.

            “I like it,” I said.  And I did.  I always felt energetic when I woke up to a grey sky, ready to get on with what I had set out for the day and ready even for new things.  No distractions, no questions about what to do.

            “I think some part of me needs it, longs for it.  Maybe that’s what was missing for me in L.A.”  I surprise myself when I offer this.

            He looked surprised too.  A little flash of something in his eyes.  Curiosity and maybe a little fear.  What could I possibly mean? 

            I drain the rest of my cup. 

            “I need to go.”  I stand up.  “Good luck with your lawyer.”

2 thoughts on “Starched Linen #3 – London Restaurant

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