hey're in mid-sentence. They're both on good behavior, struggling
not to let another argument spoil the evening. And they're in public,
in a restaurant. It wouldn't be the place for another screaming
match. She's telling him about work. His eyes glaze over, refocus,
settle on something over her right shoulder. She turns to see what's
claimed his attention. She'd imagined that someone interesting-looking
had just walked into the restaurant. But no one has.
"What are you looking at?"
"You are," she says. It comes out like an accusation, though she
hadn't mean it that way. She just wanted to be included.
"Just the light. The way it's hitting the backs of the barstools," he
says. The stools are a rich red mahogany, or what she thinks of
as mahogany. Not a flamboyant grain like oak, or even pine, but
a tight grain you have to get close to see. They're lined up in
a perfect row. The stool backs consist of two simple slats.
She turns back to him.
"I like the pattern it's making."
She turns to look again, and thinks of all the photos he's taken
from her apartment first thing in the morning, when the light is
still new and glinty, through the dust-encrusted slats of her venetian
blinds. Almost all the photos are of patterns. Buildings shot on
an angle, from down below looking up so they tower over the viewer;
unmoored signs, cropped by the camera lens so the buildings they
hang on are erased; deserted streets; disembodied body parts-her
favorite a heap of mannequin hands.
The light on the barstools doesn't really interest her. She wishes
it did. She wishes she could see what Glen sees. Make out the pattern.
She wishes he could say more about it. But at the moment she's
relieved that the fight that began earlier hasn't escalated.
"You got a haircut," she'd said when he first walked in.
"Yeah, so. I needed one. I've got a job you know."
His head is indented oddly above his ears. Really like forceps
were squeezed too hard during the delivery. She knows it's ridiculous
to care, but she thinks the haircut looks terrible. Whenever the
hair grows in long enough for the forcep indentations to go away
he rushes to the barber. She feels something irrationally akin
to rage. She wants him to care about how she would like him to
wear his hair. But he doesn't. Mr. Tough Guy. He won't be pushed
around by anybody. She thinks of her friend Kath, bit by bit remaking
her boyfriend Roger. From the shoes up. She doesn't want to be
Kath, she just wants Glen to keep his hair a little longer.
"It's my hair. I needed a haircut," Glen had said.
Of course it's his hair. And of course he should be able to cut
it whenever he feels like it. That's precisely what's so infuriating.
That he trots out irrefutable statements that miss the point entirely.
Somehow, they luck out with the waiter. Somehow, with his broad,
but not too broad, smile, the waiter makes her feel that the evening
really is salvageable. Like maybe the fighting that's only gotten
worse over the last year could really end. They did make it to
the restaurant, and now they are acting like a couple. When the
salad comes, a work of art really, with pears and goat cheese and
yellow beets and a lettuce she can't even name, Glen sets to work
dividing it. He works quickly, meticulously. He divvies everything
up exactly in half. That annoys her. He's too careful, she thinks,
too worried that she might get more, or he might. It makes her
feel like she needs to keep score. But at the same time she admires
his proficiency. She's glad she doesn't have to divide it. She's
glad they each have their own plate (he eats so much more quickly).
She doesn't want to have to race. She wants to nibble slowly, sip
her drink, look at the people. She feels like she hasn't been out
in the world in ages.
The walls of the restaurant are salmon and turquoise. It's hard
not to think of the fish on the menu. Neither one of them orders
A woman comes in and seats herself on a barstool just across from
where they're sitting. There's something very strange about her
legs. It's a rainy night and she's got these long pasty-white legs
that seem almost to be melting into her seat. Legs that can't seem
to retain their definition. Glen looks too.
"What's wrong with her legs?" she asks him.
"Spindly," he says.
The word surprises her. She doesn't think of him as a word person.
But it's exactly right. He takes it almost as an affront that she
thinks of him as visual. "You're so visual," he's said in anger,
imitating something he thinks she once said.
The woman with the spindly legs rearranges herself on her seat.
It turns out she's wearing shorts.
The dinner comes and they continue to function just like a couple.
Glen talks about his job. She doesn't let her attention wander.
He gives her a little bite of his chicken. She gives him a piece
of her lamb. He dips with his own fork into her pumpkin purée.
The waiter inquires as to how everything is. Everyone smiles and
They haven't done anything this uncomplicated for months.
"It's really not a bad haircut," she says reaching for his hand.
"Thanks," he says.