Chapter 4: Superior Indian Cookery
Part 4: A Singular Nut
YOU CAN READ
restaurant is tiny and entirely below ground level. At the foot of
the stairs is a cubicle for the cashier, a waist-high enclosure, and opposite
it is an opening through which a narrow snapshot of the kitchen is visible.
Matthew can’t help smiling when he passes this opening and hears the voices
coming from it, striking exactly the note of frantic urgency that he remembers,
a tone that used to make him wonder whether he and Liz visited only on
nights of crisis. To the right, after one has passed the register,
is a row of tables along the street side, under a row of small windows
through which one can see the legs of passers-by. A lightly padded
bench runs along this wall, and beneath the bench runs a pipe that is the
heating system. On the coldest nights, a seat along that bench is
worth waiting for, but Matthew’s favorite spot is one of the tables in
an el to the left, a little room of its own, apart from the larger room,
but with the rest of the diners visible, the perfect spot for eavesdropping,
always one of Matthew and Liz’s favorite occupations when dining out.
The grandfather leads them there.
“Our favorite spot,” says Liz.
They sit, and Matthew looks around. At one of the tables in the center of the room, four conventioneers are seated, wearing plastic convention badges that identify them as Specialized Librarians. Most of the tables under the windows have been pushed together, and a dozen large young men are sitting there. They have cases of beer on the floor at each end of the table. They’re boisterous, and likely to grow more so as they work their way through the beer, but there’s good humor in their voices, and good humor always softens Matthew, who otherwise finds loud young people disturbing, even threatening. The camaraderie among these loud young men is appealing, though. They’re members of a fraternity that Matthew was never invited to join, the fraternity of sport.
“What would you say?” he asks Belinda and Liz. “Hockey players? I’m willing to bet they’re hockey players.”
He’s right. They are members of the Boston University hockey team and a group of Russian hockey players on a goodwill tour.
“Are they ogling us?” asks Liz, making a point of not looking toward them. “Belinda and me, I mean. Are they ogling us?” She puts a hand behind her ear and pushes her hair up in the manner of a starlet posing for a cheesecake shot thirty years ago.
“Mm, no,” says Matthew. “They’re pretty completely occupied with beer drinking.”
“Well!” says Liz.
Matthew hears foreign accents, but he can’t tell what accents they are. He’s struck by the similarities among the hockey players. They all speak with the voice of the athlete: deep, self-possessed, hearty. Those athlete types, those coach types. They resound. They boom. Boom like hollow logs. It’s international, that booming. It knows no boundaries.
“They might be foreign hockey players,” says Matthew.
“They can’t be that foreign,” says Liz, tossing her hair.
“They might be blind hockey players,” says Belinda.
Liz raises the bottle of champagne as in a toast and tips it to drink from it, tips, and continues tipping. “Hey,” she says. “Gone.”
“Ah! I can fix that,” says Matthew.
Reaching for the bag with the tequila and limes, Matthew notices, sitting at a tiny table beside them, a gaunt man who is clipping something from a newspaper. A mirror fills the wall on the man’s left. He is duplicated there, and beyond the image of the man, Matthew sees himself observing the man, frozen for an instant with his bag of tequila and limes, staring. Opposite the man, on the table, where his companion’s food would be if he had a companion, is a stack of newspapers and magazines. The man has a stubble of beard, evenly dark. His hair is cut short. The temperature outside must be below twenty, but he’s wearing nylon jogging shorts, yellow, and a matching nylon jacket, zipped and snapped right up around his neck. He’s cutting one frame from a comic strip in the paper, muttering to himself while he works. Matthew can’t make out what he’s saying, but it’s clear that he disapproves of something. It might be a line in the comic strip, the whole comic strip, the concept of comic strips, anything. He puts the single frame onto a stack of clippings to his right and tosses the paper onto the opposite chair. Still muttering, he eats some curry, directly from the boat-shaped metal dish in which it is served. He mutters as he chews and swallows. He puts a couple of spoonfuls of basmati rice in his mouth and chews that while he chooses another section of newspaper from the pile. Instantly, outrage registers on his face, but he doesn’t mutter any louder for it. He picks up his scissors and begins clipping the headline from an article in the middle of the page.
Matthew has to force himself to stop looking at the man. He turns away, leans across the table, and says very softly, “Don’t be obvious about it, but take a look at the guy on your left, the one in the little yellow shorts.” Matthew pulls the tequila bottle out of the bag and pours some into the empty glasses that are brought to each table as a matter of course. He takes a lime from the bag and hacks it into wedges as well as he can with his table knife. He distributes the wedges. He removes the top from the salt shaker and pours a cone of salt onto the tablecloth in front of each of them. This business gives Liz and Belinda a chance to observe the paper clipper without being obvious about it.
Liz licks her index finger and dips it into the salt. She takes a sip of tequila and then licks her finger. “Is this right?” she asks. “Oh, the lime.” She nibbles a bit of the lime. “This is fun,” she says. “I’ve never done this before. It’s kind of—raw. You know what I mean? Crude. Like eating with your hands, gnawing on a hunk of raw meat. Anyway, the guy is clearly a nut.”
Matthew has a twinkle in his eye. He sips his tequila. “I think he’s not just a nut,” he says. “I think he is a very singular nut.” He pauses and turns the twinkle toward Belinda, enjoying the idea that he and Belinda know something that Liz doesn’t. As soon as he says what he’s about to say, Liz will understand that he has a life without her now, has had experiences that she hasn’t, knows things that he didn’t know when they were together. She will see that there are mysteries about him now, and there’s the possibility that she might want to probe them. That possibility thrills him. “I think he might be the Neat Graffitist,” Matthew whispers. “The guy who writes those odd messages we see all over the place.” Though he delivers this explanation in Belinda’s direction, it isn’t for her; she doesn’t need it. It’s for Liz.
“What messages?” asks Liz. “Ooh, tell me.” Matthew doesn’t hear the note of jealousy he’d hoped to hear, just curiosity. He’s disappointed.
“Well, first of all, I have to tell you he’s not the one,” says Belinda. “I saw him. I meant to call you, Matthew. I’m sorry. I can’t believe I forgot. I know what a fan of his you are.”
“That’s all right, but tell me about it,” says Matthew.
“And tell me about it,” says Liz.
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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.