The Unswung Bat

Tuesday, February 03, 2004
Paradise Restaurant, Part Two

For some reason I favor the notion that the girl is Doug’s sister, the man some boyfriend. The scene, gawkishly posed, is unplaceable. Under perfect lighting, soft and beaming, their clothes looking like they just happen to match, with hair meticulously combed into line with some apparently universal gender standard, they stand in front of a robin’s-egg sky of a backdrop. Clasping two stalky red flowers in her hands and showing an expression of dutiful joy, the girl looks like someone sending her brother news of a romantic addition to her life, who for his part doesn’t seem that interested in the photo.

I assume Doug was already living abroad when it was taken, and decide to ask him about it, but he doesn’t come. Instead, his wife, whose name I never knew, patrols up to the table and asks with the same unsmiling face as Doug if I’m ready to order. Realizing I’m holding the menu I put it down and order the same thing I always do. She takes the laminated menu card and walks away faster than she came.

The food comes quickly from the kitchen, a positive result of the belief that anything can be fried. In the meantime I’m thinking about my own sister, which I haven’t given myself much time for lately. I first heard about her engagement through Mom.

I remember: a special dinner I’d come home for, on Mom’s insistence. Just the three of us, because Janice couldn’t possibly travel back to break the news.

They made me sit through the whole dinner before revealing the occasion. First came the greasy smoked oyster spaghetti Dad loved to cook, then a salad of crisp tomato wedges and lettuce stung my mouth with sour vinaigrette. Rum-soaked pears on vanilla ice cream were dessert. When I realized we had eaten the same meal for Janice’s last birthday at home, they could barely keep their mouths shut.

When Dad brought out the champagne he finally made the announcement, and we drank a toast to Janice and Chris before calling them to send our congratulations. The wine teased my tongue where it had been stung by vinegar.

Now, Mrs. Doug Yee brings my food, a plate of glossy brown noodles with threads of egg and vegetables, a springroll on a separate plate. She sets a steel teapot in front of me that I let steep while I eat.

Later in the meal and with the tea poured, Doug appears by the table. “Your meal all right?” he verbally scribbles.

I nod, “It’s good,” and he takes the teapot to refill, even though it doesn’t need more.

When he comes back I point to the photo, leaning after my finger, into the question. His frown turns curious.

“Who’s that?” I ask, flicking my eyes between him and the photo. He traces my stare, searching the artificial jungle for the object of my questioning. He sees the hanging door bells and newspapers piled between the superfluous plastic pots. Then he points.

“That photo?” His eyebrows arch, the apogee of his expressiveness, and he shrugs. “Just a picture.”

Then he leaves me with tea and the tasteless noodles. I finish quickly, suddenly conscious of a bulbous goldfish watching from the cheap watercolor hung beside me. Strangely unwilling to talk to Doug at the counter, I leave money on the table and go, with the idea of not coming back.

The bells slap and tinkle as I leave, and a boy and a girl keep smiling into the restaurant, exactly as before.

original site + text contents ©2004 twenty oh four by me called it

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