Chapter 2: Flynn’s Olde Boston Eating & Drinking Establishment
Part 7: A Sense of Personal Dignity
YOU CAN READ
goes on, getting worked up. She sounds just the way she used to sound
twenty years ago, when at some point in any discussion she was sure to
begin talking about injustice of whatever kind she currently found most
outrageous. Outrage was always there, the way a grudge is always
there for some people, an undercurrent to every other emotion, even happiness,
even lust. Matthew has missed part of what she said, but now he hears
her saying, “You know, don’t you, that any bread we leave in this basket
will go to the Pine Street Inn?”
“What’s that?” asks Jack.
“A shelter for homeless men.”
“Are those the guys my mother used to call bums?” asks Jack, wearing a look of mock naïveté. Matthew wonders whether he has any idea how dangerous is the ground he’s treading.
“Probably so, Jack,” says Effie. “Probably so.” There’s a bitter, stiff smile on her face.
“I’m sorry,” says Jack, and he means it. “Go on.”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” Effie says. “It’s just that it’s, well, it’s just so queer. I mean, the poor eat our leftovers. I mean it. Really. Not what’s actually left on our plates—though I did read a letter to Dear Abby from some old woman who said she and her husband could never finish the meals they got in restaurants and she wanted some group or other to send their leavings to the poor. God! Scrapings! But, you know, it’s not such a big step from what really happens. I represent this outfit called Boston Gleaners? They collect food—leftovers, literally—and distribute it to soup kitchens, rehab centers, shelters. You’d be amazed at what they get. Anything that isn’t actually put onto a plate, that kind of leftover. Fancy bakeries will not sell day-old goods, you know. Heaven forbid. At the end of the day they take away trash bags full of rolls, bread, croissants, for God’s sake. This is our social welfare system! The poor eat the crumbs from under our table. Hey, I’m part of it, you know? I’m helping to make this ass-backwards system work. I’m a fucking sucker. We all are. I have this fantasy—of a little cocktail-party conversation?” She juts her chin out, locks her jaw, and burlesques the voice of a moneyed matron. “‘You know, Bradley and I have found the most wonderful way to help feed these people one sees on the street.’”
Jack takes the cue at once; he responds as the matron’s moneyed friend. “‘Oh, really? What is that, dear?’”
“‘Well, Bradley found out that if one doesn’t eat all the rolls that are served to one, they go to the poor. So now, whenever we’re served a basket of rolls, we make a point of leaving one or two uneaten.’”
“‘Is that so?’”
“‘Oh, without fail. It seems such a small sacrifice. But that’s not all. You know Bradley is so clever. Once he caught the spirit, there was just no stopping him, and now he’s come up with something else. Every morning, on his way to the office, he drops our empty cans and bottles into the trash can on the corner so that these people can root them out and cash them in.’”
“‘What a clever idea!’”
“‘Isn’t it though? These people can gather up those cans and feel almost as if they were actually working for their money instead of just begging on the street. I’m sure it gives them a sense of personal dignity.’”
“‘Oh, so am I, dear. So am I.’”
They raise their glasses to Effie’s performance, and she allows herself to laugh.
MATTHEW’S ATTENTION is drawn again to Grandma and the group of ten. They’re getting a little rowdy. He wonders how long they spent in the lounge. Grandma’s clutching a drink of some kind, with a napkin wrapped around the bottom of the glass. The others seem to be urging her to order a lobster regardless of the expense. Five are facing Matthew: a man, Grandma’s son, wearing Grandma’s hair like a wreath around a bald spot on the very top of his head; a young man, certainly the first man’s son, sullen, interested in the food but not in the event; a boy, bright, showing off, talking a lot, always informing the others about something, often correcting what he takes to be their misimpressions about things; Grandma herself, wearing a corsage, slightly bewildered, pleased, but worried about the cost of all this; her daughter, a worrier, a manipulator, wearing an expression of aloofness, almost disdain, though she smiles continually, seated at an angle to the table, her chair out a bit from it, sitting straight up on the edge of her chair. Across from those five are, Matthew feels certain, though he can see only their backs, the in-laws, matched to their mates, the balding guy’s wife seated across from him, and so on. These five are a mixed bag. One of them glances around the room now and then, probably because she’s embarrassed by the others; she is clearly the daughter of the woman who wants to be in charge, a girl, or young woman, in her twenties, the best-looking person at the table. She has some of Grandma’s features, but on her they look good. She’s playing at being “different,” complaining that some rock club she went to with friends was too loud and crowded. When the waitress arrives at their table, everyone but Grandma orders right away—lobster. Grandma still fusses. “Bring her a goddamned lobster,” says the pretty girl.
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Reservations Recommended is published in paperback by Picador,
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Copyright © 1990 by Eric Kraft
Reservations Recommended is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
First published by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group.
Now available in paperback from Picador USA, a division of St. Martin’s Press.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail Alec “Nick” Rafter, the author’s earnest agent.
The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.