I screech to a halt just outside the restaurant to leave skid marks by the entrance. I take a deep breath before meeting my pals for dinner. It’s a posh restaurant so I obey the dress code: ‘shoes and shirt required.’
“Hello! Long time no see!” is my original opening. My pals are well turned out, as casual Californian attire is an art form.
“Hey you look flustered?”
“Do I? I thought I remembered to breathe?”
“Sit down. Take the weight off.” I plop into the empty chair and beam. The bliss of grown up people. A server snaps a napkin onto my lap and commences his spiel about the specials on offer tonight. Jack. Jack is a snappy dresser himself and the hand gestures that accompany his short order description is lengthy and purple in style: enrobed, glazed with a tincture of lemon rind zest. No doubt it will arrive tied in a knot or something more exotic. “So can I start you ladies off with some beverages?” he grins. We send him away with an order full of fizz and ice and no alcohol for the drivers. It’s a pity we’re all drivers.
“So did you break the speed limit to get here?”
“Er no…..you know me, I always tow the line, too much of a scaredy cat to speed.”
“Just look at the menu Maddy. We want to order before we die of starvation.” I open the menu the size of a broadsheet, nip to the fish section and select, “done.”
“Already? What are you going to have?”
“Bouillabaisse followed by mussels in white wine.”
“Is anyone having dessert? Who else is having a starter?” They all vote for dessert and to skip the starter. We await the waiter.
“Did the baby sitter turn up on time?”
“Did you have trouble leaving the house?”
“Nope! Easy peasy. I skipped out during pizza.” The waiter waits on us as they all slowly plod through a minefield of indecision. My turn. “I’ll have the Mussels in White Wine and the Bouillabaisse for dessert please.” He looks up from his note pad, frowns ever so slightly and then returns to his scribbles.
“Did you have a tough day?”
“No, not really. Actually no, I had a great day. How about you?”
“Oh well……fine I guess.”
“So Jenny couldn’t make it afterall?” I ask them all collectively. Collectively they squirm, “no……she’s probably the only person who’s busier than you.”
“Too true, too true. Working mother’s deserve medals.”
“Are you sure you’re o.k.?”
“Who me? Yes. I’m fine.” They look from one to another, a conspiracy. “What is it? What’s up?”
“Nothing really…….we were just wondering how you are, how you really are?”
“I’m fine. I just said so.” I wonder whether the words that I think are managing to come out of my mouth successfully. “Didn’t I just say that I was fine?”
“O.k. that’s good.” The server plants a large basket of bread in the centre of the table, my exit cue, “I’ll just nip to the restroom….you know……retainer!” I explain waggling my pink retainer case to dispel confusion. I skate over to the bathroom where a woman titivates in front of the mirror. Her mascara clad eye lashes look me up and down with a hint of disapproval. I skulk into a stall rather than use the mirror next to her to unlock my teeth and expose them to the fresh California air. I pop it in the box and flush the loo. She’s still there when I come out. She snaps her make-up bag shut and drops it into her purse with a flourish. I step towards the sink to wash my hands, the third sink, the one furthest away from her. She sniffs and departs. I wish those retainer boxes didn’t resemble something else. I remember the dentist’s incredulity, “it looks like a what?”
“A what box?”
“The kind of box you put your diaphragmme in.”
“Er….cervical cap?” What is the right word in America?
“What sort of a cap?”
“Oh….does anybody use them anymore?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you use one?”
“Then you’ve got nothing to worry about, you’re not gonna get them muddled.” I leave the restroom in Ms. Beauty’s wake and return to my table with my retainer.
“What kept you?”
“There was a queue.”
“No not really I lied, anyway hasn’t Jack turned up with the feast yet?”
“No. It’s really busy tonight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so busy. Are you very busy these days?”
“You know…..busy……tired…..distracted perhaps?”
“No more than usual.” I look up at them with my mouth full of bread as I attempt mastication in public. They in turn are all looking at me. I look from one, to the other to the other until my mouth is empty, “what is wrong with you all?”
“Me? What about me?”
“Why are you wearing your slippers Maddy?”