Chapter 3: Dolce Far Niente
Part 7: Tagliatelle con Fruitti di Mare
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do you do, Harold?” Belinda asks, still the good sport.
“Oh, nothing much,” Harold says.
Belinda smiles, but she’s thinking, “Nothing much?” Why do you say that? Why are you acting like this? Do you want me to think you do something you can’t talk about? Or are you just trying to make yourself “interesting”? You are, aren’t you? That’s the reason for the ridiculous clothes you’re wearing, isn’t it? You want to look like an eccentric. You’re probably fifty years old, but when you take your wife out to dinner—her birthday dinner, for God’s sake—you wear a tweed jacket and corduroy pants, the kind of outfit you wore in college when you had to throw on a jacket and tie to get fed in the dining hall. I get it. We’re supposed to say, “That Harold, what an individual!” And your wife. She looks as if she hasn’t bought any clothes in years. Something’s all wrong with her. Maybe she’s crazy. Haven’t you noticed, you asshole? Why else would she laugh so much at everything you say? And why can’t you stop trying to be funny? You’re trying so hard, and you’re really nothing but a bore, Harold, just a bore.
“Harold is an engineer,” Matthew says. “He does the engineering work on our toys.” Harold says nothing, but there’s such hunger in his eyes that Matthew, for the briefest instant, sees Harold as he must have been as a boy. He can see the face of the little Harold, fat, like the little Matthew, a boy without playmates, hungry for a friendly word, and he feels a sudden compassion for him. “Frankly,” Matthew says, “he’s a genius. He came up with a brilliant design for this brick maker I’m presenting in a couple of weeks—”
“Now really, it was your idea, Matthew.”
“Oh, but it was just an idea. You made it work. And with a design of—well—elegant simplicity.”
“I stole it.”
Matthew stops breathing. He has certain hopes pinned on the success of this toy. This is stunning news. “What?” he asks.
“It’s nothing we’re going to get into any trouble for. I took it from—the truth is, I took it from a comic book.”
“When I was in the Peace Corps—”
“You were in the Peace Corps?” asks Matthew.
“Yes indeed. I built housing; that is, I taught people how to build housing. Rammed-earth housing. We had wordless comic books that showed how to build a ram to make mud bricks and then build a house out of the bricks. Your sandcastle brick maker is the grandchild of that ram.”
“It makes bricks out of sand,” Matthew says to Gwen, who seems never to have heard anything about it before. “I thought I invented it. Or came up with the idea for it, anyway.”
“Oh, ours is much better than the Peace Corps version,” says Harold. “The bricks interlock, for one thing. And you can make six different shapes. Much better.”
Matthew’s enthusiasm for the brick maker has suffered a blow. So has his self-esteem. He turns to his menu. “The food is supposed to be extraordinary here,” he says.
“I can’t decide what to have,” says Gwen. “What are you leaning toward, Harold?”
Harold inclines a little toward his right. “I’m leaning a little toward the right,” he says.
Gwen laughs and says, “Oh, Harold.”
Matthew chuckles to be polite. The moment of compassion has passed; he hates Harold for having sabotaged his brick maker, for having diminished the value of his idea. Belinda smiles, but she too has come to despise these people; for a moment she considers simply getting up and asking Matthew to take her home, but their waiter returns.
“Shall I take your orders?” he asks.
“Let me ask you something first,” says Harold. He twitches on his seat with the pleasurable anticipation of being amusing. “Does the cuisine match the decor?”
The waiter smiles indulgently. “No, sir,” he says. “Our cooking is essentially Italian, but with the personal innovations of our chef.”
“Oh, good!” says Harold, and with an elaborate expression of relief he telegraphs the approach of the punch line. “I was afraid the special was going to be ‘crust of bread and day-old water.’”
The waiter smiles but shows no likelihood that he will laugh.
“Would you tell me about the pappardelle Toscana?” Belinda asks.
“Pappardelle alla Toscana,” he says with no hint of reproof, “is a traditional dish. Pappardelle is a wide egg noodle, very nice. Typically it’s made with ham and livers of chicken in a tomato sauce with mushrooms. Our chef uses a little pancetta in place of the ham, and porcini mushrooms. It’s very nice.” Since it is entirely proper to look at him while he is speaking, Belinda does look at him, closely. He speaks well, beautifully, in fact. Belinda listens to his recitation as to a poem. A student, she thinks, intelligent, dark, handsome, brooding mouth, but laughing eyes. Too young for me, alas.
“Would you like me to describe any other dishes?” the waiter asks.
Harold says, “I think Belinda would like you to go right through the menu.”
Gwen laughs. Belinda reddens. She smiles, but the smile doesn’t cover her embarrassment or annoyance. She gives Matthew a poke with the toe of her shoe, and he glances at her. He sees the most fleeting of sneers on her face, but she quickly turns toward the waiter, and her look turns seductive. In a throaty voice she says, “I certainly would.”
The waiter chuckles at this. “Perhaps you would like to know something about the tagliatelle con fruitti di mare, signora?” he says as if he were a Venetian gigolo inviting her to enjoy the moonlight with him from a gondola on the Grand Canal.
“Mmm,” says Belinda, “it sounds—very interesting.” She raises a shoulder coyly, and the strap of her dress slips beguilingly off it. She catches it, just in time, it seems to Matthew, bats her lashes, and says, correcting him, “But it’s signorina, not signora.”
He says, “Scusi, signorina,” and from the way he says it, it might be Italian for “Later, when you finally manage to get free of these tedious people, why don’t you drop by my palazzo?” He begins to describe the dish, but Belinda stops him. In fact, she reaches out as if to touch him by way of stopping him but reaches only partway and says, “That’s all right. I’m familiar with it.”
They order, and Gwen orders the tagliatelle con fruitti di mare, though she hasn’t the faintest idea what tagliatelle is.
“I don’t really know what I ordered,” she confesses when the waiter has gone. “What is tagliatelle, anyway?”
“I think that’s just the Italian word for linguine,” says Harold. Belinda hesitates for only a moment, to decide whether he’s making a joke, and when she concludes that he isn’t, she laughs heartily.
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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.
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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.