In one month, we’ll meet their daughter. For now, we navigate runny duck yolks.
“It’s not worth it,” her partner says. “You’re in the final stretch.” Instead we order cheese that tastes like smoke and honeycomb that dresses our back molars in wax.
Our coats tie at the waist and everyone knows what to wear for the occasion. Wrapped in pale fabric that gathers and skims, my friend receives a swirl of raw cucumbers while the rest of us eat raw fish.
“It was just okay,” we all say. “Fishy” is a way of saying it tastes too much like itself. Its inherent flavor is the exact thing that makes me wonder if I will get food poisoning.
Earlier that day, there was curry chicken soup with too many noodles and my heat-stung mouth saying “I feel like a failure.” An assignment fell through, a contract was in limbo after 10 days pretending I didn’t have bronchitis.
I ordered the soup and drank all the broth, then I sat in front of Caitlin and a bowl of noodles and said “I thought…I would have a better sense…of what I was doing at this point?” while I stabbed the contents of my bowl.
The noodles knew exactly what they were doing. They were becoming one beautiful room-temperature volleyball of solid noodley matter. I envied the crispness of their vision, their swift action, the problem solving skills of a bowl of bits in the absence of broth. Later, I would spear this tremendous mass on the end of a fork and eat it like a savory lollipop.
After lunch, I met my mentor at a coffee shop and ordered a slice of lemon pound cake. The frosting came off in one strip like the most delicious hangnail. Dutiful, I broke it up and dispersed it amongst the broken cake meat.
“I feel really weird saying this” is something I’m constantly saying to her. Actual honesty, with no finery or punchlines or lyrical details, that’s a gift of adulthood and some days it’s practically a newborn. It’s wriggling in my arms saying “Am I floundering? I kind of think I’m floundering” or “Looking at my income for last year made me have to go lie on the floor.”
Fed and tender, I went home. I put on lipstick. I ate half a bag of cough drops. I imagined that none of these conversations happened. I would walk into the restaurant with the gloss and surety of my adult self, who I saw in the mirror blotting her lips on a square of toilet paper.
But at dinner with the good friends in the good clothes, everyone sounds like they are giving dispatches from a recognizable journey. They are moving into management, they are getting promotions, they are working on this one project that set their brain to a low thrum, and the Ibuprofens and late nights are worth it right now. And I’m eating a piece of salmon like it has wronged me, big quick bites full of teeth and gnash and cracking jaw. I’m smiling wanly and wishing I had something to contribute beyond “What did you think of that sauce?”
Soft cakes soaked in syrup come next, hoisted by a puff of cream and winter citrus, stripped and tinged with its own juices. We ask the right questions. What did you think of the first course? The light is generous. Everyone looks five years younger. Did you like the dried fennel on the cake? We shake on our coats. Did you catch the name of that winery? We walk outside, throwing purse straps and “Thank you!” over our shoulders. Should we have tried the coffee?
Do you ever feel so…behind?
Should I have dressed this up differently? Does vulnerability taste too much like itself, fishy? I feel really weird saying this— should I not say it at all? I never order this much honesty because I don’t want to see it on the table. But are you ever much more scared than you let on?
What did you think of that sauce?