Prix Fixe

by Alyson Mosquera Dutemple

It was May, but the trees outside the restaurant didn’t seem to know it.  Their blighted leaves shuddered and fell, lending an autumnal feel to the air even before Mary took me out to dinner and announced that she wanted to leave me.

“Stephen, I’ve thought long and hard about this, and… Stephen?  I need you to listen,” she said.

A waiter had walked by. “I’m worried about you, Stephen,” Mary began, and though I tried to focus, there was something about this waiter, this kid, that caught my eye.  The way he bounced up a little on his toes as he walked.  That nervous jump at the end of each step.   The same skipping motion, the same funny little stride.  It reminded me of our boy, Everett.

“Stephen? Are you listening to me?” Mary’s voice rose.  “Now see?  This. This is exactly what I’m talking about.”  She rattled the ice in her glass.  “I can’t stand it.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the waiter, the one with Everett’s walk, standing just a little way off from our table, patting down his pockets.  “You tune me out,” Mary continued. “Whenever I bring up—” Her words rumbled indistinctly around me, a storm on the horizon, the wing-beat hum of locusts.  “It’s like you’re trying to be distracted all the time.”  I watched as the waiter brought a tiny notebook from his pocket, the kind used to write down orders in a restaurant.  I wondered if there was a name for such a book.  I wondered why I hadn’t asked Everett if there was a name for such a book the summer he worked on the pier washing dishes. Back when he was saving up for college or for whatever else he thought, we all thought, might have come next.

Mary grabbed my hand and squeezed.  “I know this hurts.  It hurts me, too.” Her eyes were buggy, shining as if she were slicing an onion. “But it’s unhealthy what you’re doing. You have to acknowledge… What I mean to say is, you have to let yourself think about him sometimes.”

“Excuse me,” a voice cut in.  We both looked up to see the young waiter standing before us with that little pad of his in hand.  “Hi, folks,” he said.  “There’s a few additional menu items I’d like to tell you about tonight.”

His voice, too, was so like Everett’s.  I almost turned to Mary to say, “Isn’t his voice so like our Everett’s?”  But Mary had stopped facing me.  She stared at the boy, and I thought to myself, she sees.  She knows it, too.

But I was wrong.  Instead of smiling up at the boy, Mary just said, rather rudely, “Could you give us a minute?  We’re sort of in the middle of something.”

I watched blood rush to the boy’s cheeks.  There was so much of it!  He tried to be gracious about interrupting.  “I’m sorry,” he said, turning to go, and I thought, no, no, I cannot bear it.

“Wait,” I called out, reaching toward him, my fingers inadvertently grazing his sleeve.  The heat of skin palpable even through the fabric of his shirt. “I’d like to hear those specials,” I said.

Mary snorted. “Oh, that’s rich. We’re in the middle of something important, and you want to hear the specials.  Well, have at it.  I’m done, Stephen.”  She pushed out her chair, dropped her napkin on the table, and stomped off through the restaurant.  When the door slammed behind her, when the storm of her had passed, I turned back to the waiter and said earnestly, “Go on, please.”

“L…lamb,” he began, tentative.

“Yes, yes,” I said.  “Go on.”

“With asparagus…and… and ramps…”

I nodded to encourage him along, and when he was done reciting the whole list, I asked him to do so again.  Long after Mary walked back under the cluster of blighted limbs, long after she got into the car and drove back to our house, empty as a tomb, the boy in the restaurant continued reciting the night’s limited time offerings, each featuring some spring thing, some young thing.

Alyson Mosquera Dutemple’s “Prix Fixe” appears in Flock 23: Kith & Kin.

Alyson Mosquera Dutemple is a writer from New Jersey with an MFA from Warren Wilson College. She is a fiction reader for CRAFT Literary and has been longlisted for Prism International’s Grouse Grind Prize for Very Short Forms. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Little Patuxent Review, Construction, Pigeon Pages, Fiction Writers Review, Unbroken, CRAFT, Emrys Journal Online, and elsewhere.