Glen Pourciau ~ Table

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We’d planned to have din­ner with the Hardaways at a restau­rant we’d nev­er been to, a pop­u­lar new fish place.  They had been there a num­ber of times already, enough to be con­sid­ered reg­u­lars and to know which table to ask for, so they made the reser­va­tion for four at 6:30.

We were look­ing for­ward to the evening, but Katherine, Mrs. Hardaway, sent us a mes­sage the day before say­ing they had to can­cel.  She sud­den­ly need­ed to have den­tal surgery and wouldn’t be in any shape to enjoy the din­ner.

Court and I decid­ed we’d still like to go, and he called the restau­rant to see if the Hardaways had can­celed their reser­va­tion.  They had not.  Court told the per­son the Hardaways wouldn’t be there and asked to change the reser­va­tion to our name and to move the time up to 6.  We felt lucky to keep the table.

We got there at 6 on the but­ton, a park­ing space near the door opened up, we pulled in, and Court joked that he’d phoned ahead to make sure a spot would be cleared for us.  The host found our name on her screen, poked the screen with her fin­ger and we were off.  The table was in a cor­ner toward the back, an aquar­i­um behind it, some­what pro­tect­ed from foot traf­fic, the restau­rant already fill­ing up.  Our wait­er stopped by, intro­duced him­self as Hugo, and took our drink orders, a mar­ti­ni for me and a beer for Court.  We began scan­ning the menu, shar­ing ideas for a side dish we could split.  The restau­rant smelled appe­tiz­ing, and Court com­ment­ed, as he some­times did when the sit­u­a­tion applied, that the cus­tomers looked clean.

Soon Hugo served our drinks and we told him we want­ed to enjoy them for a while before we ordered.  No rush at all, he assured us.  We took our time, and when we were ready we returned to the menu to make our selec­tions.

We’d just told Hugo our order when I saw the Hardaways all the way up the aisle, past the bar, speak­ing with the host who’d seat­ed us, anoth­er cou­ple stand­ing near them.

Is it 6:30?” I asked Court.

It is.  Why do you ask?”

Don’t turn around, but the Hardaways are here and they have our stand-ins with them.”

I gave Katherine and Jack a wave.  Katherine nod­ded and Jack lift­ed his index fin­ger an inch or so to acknowl­edge me.

They’re com­ing,” I said, “and they’re not bring­ing their friends with them.”

Holy crap.  I wish we had bread so I could stuff my mouth full and point at it.”

We shouldn’t be embar­rassed.   They’re the ones who should explain.”

Looks like you made it,” Jack said, forc­ing a sly grin and shak­ing Court’s hand.

I’m glad you’re feel­ing bet­ter, Katherine,” I said.  I couldn’t tell that she was in any pain.

My doc­tor had a more urgent case come up at the last minute.”

Looks like we got your table,” Court said, echo­ing Jack’s attempt at an ice­break­er.

The Hardaways didn’t answer, and the way they looked at us annoyed me, as if the table should have been theirs.  We didn’t offer to yield to them.

Sorry about the mis­un­der­stand­ing,” Jack said.  “We have friends wait­ing for us at the bar.  The restau­rant says they’ll work us in.”

They waved faint­ly and left, join­ing their friends, offer­ing them an expla­na­tion, the cou­ple quick­ly eye­ing us.  Court had his back to them but saw me watch­ing.

I sense we’re being spo­ken of.”

I think so.  By them and their friends who out­rank us.”

I won­der what sto­ry they could be telling them.  Did you think Jack’s jaw seemed a lit­tle tense?”

Yes, and Katherine had that agi­tat­ed under­cur­rent we’ve seen get into her before.  I imag­ined her pulse pound­ing in her head.”

I don’t feel like I belong at this table.”

That’s how they want you to feel.  I don’t see where they get the right to claim it.”

They didn’t can­cel their reser­va­tion.  I did.”

You think we should give it up?”

No way.  Though I do have mixed feel­ings.”

So we had a sub­ject that would stay with us as we drove home and brushed our teeth and tucked our­selves in bed.

Our food came prompt­ly.  We both loved our dish­es, and Court gave his hal­ibut a few defi­ant, cel­e­bra­to­ry smacks.  The noise in the restau­rant had steadi­ly grown to a roar, and we had to raise our voic­es to hear our­selves.  People were turn­ing side­ways in the aisle and the staff rushed around, alter­ing course to avoid col­li­sions.  As we ate, a woman wait­ing to be seat­ed trolled the tables to see if any­one was close to fin­ish­ing.

Are they still at the bar?” Court asked.

They are.  The host is speak­ing with Jack.  He’s nod­ding.  The aggres­sive cus­tomer who buzzed by sees them and is get­ting in the mid­dle of it.  The host is leav­ing them.”

The table troller start­ed our way, glanc­ing over her shoul­der at the Hardaways.

I’m not going any­where,” I heard her say loud­ly.

Court heard her too.  “If she asks if we’re get­ting dessert, I say we refuse to cough up an answer.”

The host approached the Hardaways again, menus in hand, and seat­ed them and their friends at a table across from the bar.  The troller noticed and rushed toward them, call­ing out that she was here first.  She stood at their table and protest­ed, the Hardaways ignor­ing her.

How is every­thing?” Hugo appeared and star­tled us by ask­ing.

Dramatic,” Court said.

Hugo nod­ded, unsure how to reply, and moved on.

We can’t avoid pass­ing them when we leave,” I said.

You could tell Katherine you’ll call her tomor­row to see how she’s doing.”

It’ll be inter­est­ing to see if their friends know what I’m talk­ing about.”

Or we could just act nice and smile.”

We’d regret it lat­er if we did.”

We’d stay awake think­ing of dif­fer­ent things we should have said,” Court agreed.

We’d have only our­selves to blame.  But if we’re rude we’ll look bad.”

You tell Katherine you’ll call her.  I could say we loved our table.”

Don’t lay it on heavy.  No sharp edges.”

What do you think they’ll say?”

Out loud, noth­ing.  They want us out of here.”

~

Glen Pourciau’s first col­lec­tion of sto­ries won the Iowa Short Fiction Award.  His sec­ond sto­ry col­lec­tion is forth­com­ing from Four Way Books in February 2017.  His sto­ries have been pub­lished by AGNI Online, Antioch Review, Epoch, Mississippi Review, New England Review, New Ohio Review, Paris Review, Third Coast, and oth­er mag­a­zines.