Chapter 3: Dolce Far Niente
Part 4: Matthew’s Leisure Pursuits
YOU CAN READ
orders are placed, and Gwen makes a point of not ordering alcohol.
“Nothing with alcohol for me,” she says. “Bring me anything, as long
as it doesn’t have alcohol.”
“Perrier, Ramlösa, Evian, Pellegrino, Poland Spring, Saratoga, Lethe?” asks the waiter. Belinda catches it, and only Belinda. She looks at the waiter and shows a surprised smile. He grins.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter to me,” says Gwen. “Just as long as there’s no alcohol. Perrier, I guess.”
When the waiter has gone, Gwen says, in answer to a question no one has asked, “I haven’t had a drink for a month or more. I think I was becoming an alcoholic.”
“Oh,” says Matthew. Belinda looks at him; it’s a look that says, with no possibility for misinterpretation whatsoever, “Get me out of here.”
“She took a quiz in a magazine,” says Harold.
“I haven’t missed it, really,” says Gwen. “It’s been fine. Just fine. I don’t fall asleep so early, for one thing. I’m getting a lot more done.”
“Don’t you find that you’re awfully tempted to have a cocktail when you go out?” Belinda asks. She raises her drink, sips it, raises her eyebrows, gives Gwen a questioning look over the rim of her glass.
“Oh, she has that solved completely,” says Harold. “We don’t go out anymore. If it weren’t Gwen’s birthday, we wouldn’t be out now. We used to have friends, at least I seem to recall that we did, but they were all—drinkers. So of course we don’t want to know them. They kept falling down stairs, sticking lamp shades on their heads, laughing at jokes that weren’t half-funny, vomiting into their soup—disgusting, really. I don’t know how we ever put up with them.” This is delivered as a joke, of course, but Matthew and Belinda can tell that it’s not a joke at heart, that Harold has lost something, has given up much more than he got in exchange. This thought chills Belinda, and it reminds Matthew of his former neighbor, Vic. When Matthew and Liz lived in Lincoln, Vic would telephone now and then, when he wanted drinking companions. Vic was a prosperous building contractor who had moved his wife and family from Brockton to Lincoln, thinking to give them the gift of the executive idyll, two acres of lawn in the best of the emerald suburbs; but his wife had wanted more from the move, a complete break with their past, which meant, specifically, that she didn’t want any of his old cronies coming around, and she didn’t want him stopping at his former haunts after work to drink with them. He was an executive now, living among executives, and he should get to know his executive neighbors and do his drinking with them, at home. Because Vic had met Matthew the day they moved in, Matthew was the only neighbor Vic ever invited over. The invitations always began with the same preliminary; Vic would say, as soon as Matthew answered the phone, “Hi. It’s Vic. What’re you doing, nothing?” Even after Matthew came to understand that this was only a conversational tic, he was offended by Vic’s assumption that he wasn’t doing anything, especially bothered by the fact that Vic had an uncanny knack of calling when, in fact, Matthew was doing nothing, at least nothing important enough to make it easy for him to say no to the invitation to come over for a few drinks. Because Vic’s wife was a willowy blonde who thought the toy business “interesting” and Matthew clever, Matthew usually went. Sometimes Liz went along.
“So how are things with Mr. Matthew?” asks Harold. “I haven’t seen much of you for the last couple of weeks.” Matthew is almost certain that he had an interminable conversation with Harold only a couple of days ago, but perhaps it was in fact weeks ago. “Have you been up to anything interesting?” Matthew can hear in his tone the expectation that Matthew will say no, just as he used to hear it in Vic’s.
“No!” shouts the boy at the next table. Our quartet glances over there.
“Well, he’s right,” says Matthew. “No, nothing much.”
“No. No, not yet. I’ll go in February. We’ll go in February, I hope.” Matthew puts his hand on Belinda’s. “I always go skiing in February. It’s a tradition.”
Always is an exaggeration, but for six seasons he has been going skiing in February. For five of those, he went with Liz. The winter after she left, he went alone to the same town in New Hampshire, where he stayed at the same inn, skied the same trails. He felt brave and independent making the reservation, and he was exhilarated driving up. He entertained fantasies of romantic encounters on the slopes, flirtations around the fire, but he didn’t meet anyone. During the four days he spent there, before he gave up and left, he didn’t see even one woman who seemed to him definitely alone, unambiguously alone enough for him to offer her a drink or to try to strike up a conversation. In fact, there were many, but Matthew didn’t see them. The truth is that he was looking for Liz. For days before he had left for the inn, he had entertained the possibility that she might have had the same idea he had, and he had allowed himself to grow apprehensive that he might run into her on the slopes. It was she with whom he imagined a chance encounter, good-hearted teasing, a fireside flirtation, love under a comforter, but he never saw a sign of her. Recently he has been trying to get Belinda to go skiing with him, and he has found that the idea of their going to the same resort that he and Liz used to go to has great erotic potential. Belinda has been willing to go, as a favor to Matthew, because he seems to want it so much, even though she’s a much better skier and prefers more difficult slopes than the one near the inn Matthew has in mind, but she’s wary of leaving Leila at home alone. The thought has crossed Matthew’s mind that he might suggest that Leila come with them. They could rent one of the time-share condominiums next to the lodge. Now there’s an idea with erotic potential. What a cute little family they’d make!
“Seen any good movies?” asks Harold. This is almost a taunt.
“No,” confesses Matthew.
“Plays?” asks Harold.
“Not lately.” Matthew grins and shrugs.
Harold grips Matthew’s shoulder, as if he were comforting him. “Say, Matthew,” he says, “you don’t get out much, do you?”
“It seems that way,” Matthew says.
“Read any good books?”
“Magazines, cereal boxes?” This is approaching cruelty, and Matthew’s becoming annoyed.
What do I do with my time? he asks himself. Every month, when the cable television guide comes in, he reads through the descriptions of movies and makes a list of the ones he wants to tape, noting the channel, the dates, and the times when they will be shown. Most evenings he has his drinks, eats his dinner, watches one of the movies he has taped, programs the VCR to tape another, goes to bed, and falls asleep reading a magazine from the stack that accumulates on his bedside table. In the morning, while he’s drinking his coffee and listening to the news or that classical music program, he checks to see that the movie was recorded successfully and, if it was, labels a three-by-five card with the title. By writing the titles along the ends and sticking the card sideways into the videocassette case, so that the name of the film projects above the case, he can get the titles of four films on one card before he has to discard it and use a new one. This hardly seems the stuff of interesting conversation.
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Reservations Recommended is published in paperback by Picador, a division of St. Martin’s Press, at $12.00.
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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.