Chapter 4: Superior Indian Cookery
Part 2: Liz Makes an Announcement
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he’s on his way to the restaurant, walking, aware of a certain lightness
in his step, in his heart. He’s smiling. If he could carry
a tune, he would probably be whistling. He feels as close to attractive
as he ever manages to feel now, since he became convinced that he had passed
the best point in his appearance, peaked without ever having been aware
of it. Now in the morning, when he’s getting ready to leave the house,
he seems to see only bad news. Perhaps he looks too closely, but
he knows that if he doesn’t examine himself carefully before going out
into public, his body is sure to embarrass him: hideous hairs, to choose
the first example that presents itself, would sprout from the bridge of
his nose if he didn’t pluck them with the tiny tweezers Liz gave him as
a stocking stuffer one Christmas. Ah, but tonight he has no thought
of that—hardly any thought. All offensive hairs have been plucked
or clipped. He feels fine. Having Liz call and suggest that
they have dinner together has certainly made him feel better. He
put some mousse on his hair and combed it straight back, in a style he
picked up from advertisements for Italian suits.
The Black Hole has no liquor license. He and Liz always used to stop at the liquor store across the street and get some beer before they went in. Now Matthew stops there, intending to get some beer, just as he would have in the good old days, but when he steps across the threshold the rush of old familiar feelings is strong, and it makes him realize that by bringing beer he’s likely to seem to be trying to re-create an evening from the past, to recapture something. Even if that weren’t the case, and he admits to himself that it is the case, Liz might interpret his bringing beer that way, and if she has no interest in rekindling anything, then Matthew might look pathetic. He stands in front of a refrigerated case trying to decide what to bring instead of beer. There are some chilled wines. If he brought some cheap wine, it might evoke the spirit of former evenings at the Black Hole without seeming to be an attempt to duplicate them. It might be just the right lighthearted and subtle thing to do. However, he reasons, things have changed since the days when he and Liz drank either beer or cheap wine. He really should bring something better, something that speaks of his present situation, something that will divorce this night from the old nights and force Liz to see how different he is now from what he was. Champagne? No, that says other things, suggests hopes for the night that he doesn’t want to reveal, at least not at the start. Maybe he should bring beer; it’s the obvious thing. No, not beer. Something more interesting, something clever, amusing. Vodka? Red-pepper vodka? Ginger brandy? Tequila? Tequila. Tequila and Indian food. That seems amusing, almost clever, at least different.
He buys a bottle of tequila and two limes. Across the street, the line of people waiting for tables in the restaurant extends beyond the door and onto the sidewalk. The temperature is about twenty degrees. People are stamping their feet and passing bottles in brown bags. Everything is as it was. Liz isn’t in the line outside, so Matthew squeezes through the door.
“Excuse me. I’m meeting someone, excuse me. I think someone is waiting for me inside. ’Scuse me.”
He stands on the tiny landing at the top of the stairs. Liz is a few steps down, laughing, her head tossed back, her hair falling in waves over the collar of her coat. She has her hand on the shoulder of another woman, to whom she is apparently telling a hilarious story. The other woman is Belinda. Matthew turns to go. This is an involuntary reaction, as if he were still married to Liz, had been having an affair with Belinda, and feared that Liz had found him out. Then he realizes that there is no reason for him to go and no reason why Liz and Belinda shouldn’t be together. They’ve been friends for years, after all. He turns back. Belinda sees him and waves. Matthew wonders whether they have been discussing him all day, comparing notes, giggling girlishly as they are now. Liz turns toward him. Quite possibly she has never looked better. Matthew has the sinking feeling that she must have fallen in love with someone. Some other man must be making her glow like that. She smiles. His heart leaps and drops, leaps and drops. She really is everything he has ever wanted.
He squeezes down the stairs.
“Hi, Matthew,” says Liz. She kisses him.
“Hi, Liz.” He turns to Belinda. “Hi, Belinda,” he says. He kisses her.
“Have a drink,” says Liz. She hands him a bottle of champagne, Perrier-Jouët, without a brown bag. Matthew drinks from the bottle.
“Is this an occasion?” he asks.
“It sure is,” says Liz. “I didn’t quite tell you the truth on the phone. There’s another reason for my being in town. I have been promoted. And I mean spectacularly promoted.”
“Congratulations,” says Matthew.
He’s pleased for her, but he hopes the promotion hasn’t been all that spectacular. After she decided that she wasn’t going to be a mother, she decided she was going to be a success. She spent months looking for a business where, she said, “anybody with half a brain can shine.” She chose insurance. Matthew was grateful to her for not choosing toys. He still hopes that she’ll tire of business and drift back to him. God knows he gets tired enough of business himself. There are days when he sits at his desk and feels encased by work, as if it were a transparent wrapper, something too tough for him to break, like the stubborn vinyl packaging on the compact discs he buys. It isn’t only business that has him wrapped up, though, he realizes; it’s the whole set of his habits, his ways of thinking about himself and about what seems to him to be the narrowing cone of his future, fewer possibilities every day.
“I’ll be coming back to Boston,” she says. “As head of group sales and underwriting. An office in the tower. Windows. The whole thing.”
“No kidding,” says Matthew in as flat a voice as he can manage. He passes the bottle to her. If he raised it to drink from it, his hand would surely shake.
PADDED WITH WINTER COATS, most of the people lined up along the staircase
that twists down into the restaurant occupy about twice their summer volume,
but first in line is a lightly dressed couple of a type that Matthew and
Liz used to snicker at.
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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.