It was a dark and stormy night. Not your average night of darkness, and not an average storm. Inside the restaurant, an elderly man pecked at a few keys of a baby grand, his dry fingers finalizing each note with a faint scratching sound.
"I've," the man sang, hitting a key. Scratch.
"Got." Key. Scratch.
"Under my skin," Anita said under her breath. She took a sip of water.
"Under." Key. Scratch.
"My!" The old man hit a key with such intensity the scratch of his dry finger was obscured. His voice boomed over the thunder of the storm. The candles of the dark night warbled and waved. Each table in the restaurant appeared to list to the left a bit as the candles shifted the darkness, then stabilized again.
"Cole Porter as interpreted by John Cage," a patron next to Anita said, much to the forced delight of his companion--a garish woman with a glass laugh. Anita took another sip of her water and stared deeply into the eyes of the person who was not sitting across from her. It had been two years since she had been compelled to sit across from a man--or several men--and to peer deeply into his eyes only to realize he wasn't actually present.
Her friend, a branding manager for a film studio, insisted on this blind date. "Anita. I know. I know. But he really just needs to get out a bit, you know? And you! You could use some excitement. Just meet him. He's a good guy. Going through a divorce or something. It'll be good for both of you."
So Anita sat. Alone at a table during a storm in a restaurant suddenly rendered powerless. "The gas is working," Anita had been told by her waiter. "We may not be able to see, but we can at least cook!" Anita sipped her water. Anita waited.
"Skin." Key. Scratch.
He's not coming, Anita thought to herself. Why would he? It's a terrible night. There is no electricity. Any minute she expected the waiter--a young man with more talent for Chekhov than for serving--to arrive with a phone and to hear, on the other line, a man apologize to her for not making it. "The storm," the man would say. "Some other time."
Then a bright smile sat down across from her, interrupting her idle gaze into the darkness. "Sorry I'm late," the smile said to her. "Not every day we get this sort of thing in L.A."
Anita considered her response. Decided to be polite. "It's okay. The piano player really makes one pass the time."
"I've." Key. Scratch.
"So you know Betsy."
"Betty. Yeah." The smile developed facial features that were still all smile. Candlelight filled in his face, melted the shadows, weaved in his structure. Anita squinted a bit to see more of him. "Betty and I go way back. She got me the Hertz commercials."
"Oh, those! Yes, I remember those."Anita smiled at the smile sitting across from her. "You really did convey how awful it is to run through an airport to get a shitty rental car."
"Got." Key. Scratch.
The smile faltered a bit, then returned. "True! True. So. How do you know Betsy?"
The waiter emerged from the darkness at that moment. "So, you should know," he said, raising his pen as if it were a conductor's baton, "the usual Wednesday specials are not tonight's specials. Honestly, the chef is having kittens right now because of the power outage."
"Perhaps you should give him more gas," Anita said.
The waiter stared at her for a moment. His eyes were steady and searching, leaning into her own eyes and flickering with the candle. She leaned her own eyes into his, she searched, she flickered back. Then the waiter rolled his eyes upward and said, "Oh, the gas is his to give to others."
The smile across from her chortled as if pretending to get a joke but unsure if one had been made. Self-defensive laughter.
Right on cue, the garish woman with the glass laugh snorted at a joke the John Cage aficionado had made, and "You." Key. Scratch.
"So to give you gas, guys, we have a nice ossobuco with broccolini and sauce--don't ask me the sauce--and we have bison burger seasoned with love and served with either fries or well intentions."
"I was given a menu at the door," the smile said. Anita noticed, indeed, that he was wielding a menu in one hand.
The waiter waved his pen baton again. "I'm afraid our hostess is much more enthusiastic on the limitations of the kitchen tonight than our chef is. You'll notice your lady did not" and the pen baton pointed at Anita "receive a menu."
Anita agreed. "I wasn't offered a menu. I was offered a seat at the table and a glass of water."
"And bread." The waiter leaned in with his eyes again. Anita gestured to the basket of untouched bread next to the candle.
"Bread. It's delicious. It's like manna with extra Na."
"You." Plink. Scratch.
"So I can't get anything off this menu?" The smile was no longer smiling.
"OJ." Anita reached across the table and put her hand on the menu, which was splayed across one side of the table like a law book. Anita chortled. "The waiter is trying to be diplomatic, now. Clearly they have two dishes going on back there. I am sure they're doing their best, but Betty picked a really bad night for us to try a blind date, and so here we are. Just... You look like a burger man. Let's get two burgers and a side of well-intentions."
"I want the buco." OJ slid the menu from beneath Anita's hand and snapped it shut. He presented it to the waiter, who took it from him with all the solemn dignity required of a folded menu.
"One oss... ah... buco and one bison burger."
The waiter disappeared into the darkness again.
The smile returned. The candlelight painting his teeth yellow, even though the teeth were clearly as white as Dixie. In fact the whites of his eyes looked jaundiced from the candlelight. "So. Anita."
"Yes. Sorry. I'm not used to these sorts of things. I thought getting the order out of the way would free us up to get acquainted." Anita lifted her water glass. "To new friends."
OJ did not have a water glass. Instead, he lifted a loose fist, miming a toast. "To new friends."
"To new somethings," Anita replied. She extended her glass across the table, and the glass caught the light of the candle. Things got brighter for a moment.
Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.
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