You sashay into the Devil’s Lettuce, a supper club at 2352 North Clark Street. A maîtress d’hôtel is perched behind the check-in counter like a plump black bird. You say to her ruffled forehead:
—Table for one, please.
Like most restauratrices and maîtresses, she does not know what to do with a patron who requests a solitary table. Such a request can only be considered bad for business. And yet to decline such a request is unthinkable. Though the dining room is three-quarters full, an anchorite diner, such as yourself, makes the restaurant seem almost empty—empty, and therefore unappealing.
“What kind of a patron dines alone?” one might reasonably ask.
A beautiful woman never dines alone.
Only one who shuns the social order dines alone. Eating is a social practice, and eating-together is a ritual that has marinated in our minds for millennia. By admitting you to the dining room, the Maîtress is compromising the integrity of the entire restaurant. You are compromising the integrity of the entire restaurant, of course, but you are compelling the captain of the restaurant to undermine her own integrity, as well. She knows this, and she resents you for placing her in such a vulnerable position. You have subjected her to the worst insult—you have forced her to go against her own nature.
She is someone who ministers to the dining room, who arranges the schedules of the waiters and waitresses, who makes sure that the tables are properly set. She is not expected to attend to isolated patrons. You are marking the restaurant as an establishment that accommodates solitary diners—and any restaurant that accommodates solitary diners is merely a restaurant that accommodates solitary diners and nothing more. It is not even worthy of the sobriquet restaurant, a place of restoration.
You know very well how the other patrons will view you. As a rejectee. As a stood-up. As someone who couldn’t find a date.
As someone who is socially undesirable. Which means that the restaurant has now become a place that shelters those who are socially undesirable. A soup kitchen, essentially.
—Table for one, please.
—When are you expecting your guest or guests to join you?
—It’s just me.
—So when will they come by?
—When will who come by?
—The other members of your party.
—They’re not coming by.
—You’ll have to wait for the other members of your party. We’re not allowed to seat patrons until the entire party arrives, you understand.
—I’m just here by myself.
—I understand, but we can’t seat you until your friends join you. You’ll have to wait there—over there, in the lobby. Unaccompanied patrons are not seated at this establishment.
—No one is accompanying me. I am alone.
—That’s fine, but when will your friends arrive?
—I don’t have any friends. I have never had any friends. I will never have any friends.
Pause. Her mouth curls.
—Well, you’re just a fancy person, aren’t you? Right this way!
Sailing across the dining room, she docks you at your harbor: a table with neighbors and a vista that looks on to the bar.
From the central hall rises a broad staircase.
Across from you, a man in a black silk shirt sits slicing a melon. His eyes are a limpid blue.
The melon is moist and orange. He is sitting across another man who is wearing a wine-colored turtleneck sweater. To his right, a woman with blonde hair.
At the nearest table to your right: A young woman and her father are knifing their steaks. The young woman has a mole the color of a prune on her right cheek.
You listen to the sounds of the chicken-chewing and pasta-chomping women at a table behind you.
Swallowing their grilled micro-chickens, the diners look at their meals without boredom. Ravening like animals.
The man in the black silk shirt is speaking to the woman with blonde hair. His hand is dancing as he speaks.
They giggle, both of them. The confetti of giggles are falling over you.
As the man in the black silk shirt speaks, the woman melts into the jelly of his moist words.
It is then that you notice the serval sitting on the lap of the blonde woman.
The woman absently strokes the fur of the serval while forking her oven-roasted potatoes and knifing her filet mignon. Soon, you imagine, the serval will become the woman’s master, and the animal will be the one who strokes her mane.
You watch the blonde woman laugh. Her nostrils expand as she laughs.
She asks him a question. As if in response, he whispers into her broadening nostrils.
A man in a grey business suit greets a woman wearing a grey business suit and a skirt. Both are standing and lean into each other. The woman’s right hand folds over the man’s right hand. She folds her hand over his hand and squeezes his hand. As she squeezes his hand, he notices how moist his hand is.
Her coccyx bobs as she speaks. She touches his arm lightly.
As the woman lowers herself into her chair, she removes a pin from her hair and lets the flow of her black hair flow freely.
You look over at the entrance. Interlaced like serpents, the two humans are embracing each other. The lovers are in love, or at least, you pretend that they are.
You notice a black-haired woman in a white halter top titivating herself in the mirror by the entrance.
Twenty feet away, ninety degrees from where you are sitting: A woman is sitting in a white chair at a white table. She incurves her back while reaching over the table. She is slathering honey over a piece of bread. She resettles in her chair, convexing her back again.
Drinking your coffee, you observe her calmly.
The honey hangs stickily on the slice. A fly is circling above the bread. Now it is circling over her head.
She is shivering from the cold of the air conditioning.
The woman has peach-shaped cheeks. She is plump-faced, and her hair sheens blackly. She steeps a second slice of bread into a cup of tea.
She taps her red-lacquered nails on the table. Her husband is settling the bill, remonstrating with the manager.
The pig on his platter is drowning in a beach of salsa.
You look out the window, through which you can see the night cars streaming past.
The patrons behind you snuffle.
Nipple-shaped lights dangle from the ceiling. Above you, as well, dangle icy lights in the shape of icicles.
At the bar: The manager’s fat fingers clench the handle of a mug that reads Your Mom Pours My Coffee. Plumes of steam ascend from the liquid inside of the mug and dissipate into the atmosphere. Radiating from unseen speakers is a song called “My Love is Your Sausage” or “Your Love is My Sausage” or something along those lines.
He is drumming his phalliform fingers on the table.
Looking up, you see a hive of peroxided hair and a pair of asymmetrical, spangled ears. It is the head of a waitress, a waitress looking at you.
—Have you decided? the waitress’s face asks your nostrils.
Dressed in a blue robe, her face shaped like an apricot, she stands facing you. Her face is waiting for you to speak. You shoot back:
—A pizza, if you don’t mind.
—What’s the toppings?
—Do you want cheese?
—Just cheese. No toppings.
—But cheese is a topping.
As she hovers across the floor of the dining area, green leaves curl at her feet. The skin of the plants is a chlorotic yellow. The skin of the waitress is greenishly chlorotic.
(Chlorosis is an anemic condition that affects some young girls; also known as “greensickness.”)
The restaurant is now a garden, but a garden without a master gardener—a circus, but a circus without a human ringleader.
To your far right, the open-air kitchen. The pizza maker spreads out a farinaceous disc. On this basis tomato puree and gobs of mozzarella are laid. The pizzaiolo stands back and admires his handicraft.
At the neighboring table, to your left, there is a girl with rabbity fingers, clenching her iPhone. She is relaying a message to someone who she imagines might listen to her.
She is wearing grey-and-black striped socks, thigh-high black-leather boots, and a black skirt. She has a grey scarf wrapped around her neck. She is garbed in a grey sweater. Her hair is brown and shoulder-length. She is green-eyed and bright-eyed. Her blue purse is resting upon the table. Beside the purse is a white cup on a white saucer.
You listen to your neighbor speak to her iPhone:
—I am so anal. I stole it from my boyfriend’s work. I’m a big hippie.
Her friend smirks and scoops a spoonful of crème fraise.
Two tables to your right: A boy is checking his text-messages and gobbling down sunrays of scrambled eggs. Finishing his eggs, he looks at and over the patrons of the supper club with indifference. Now he is gulping down a vanilla-colored smoothie.
He is sitting with a female friend. The index finger on her left hand is pressed against her lower lip. Her upper lip impends over her lower lip. She says to her pink smartphone:
—I like obliques. A man’s got to have beefy obliques.
She is wearing a blue knit hat.
She is wearing an aquamarine coat. A black leather bag is slung over her right shoulder. Her skirt is a lacy, semitransparent red.
Her left hand crawls freely over her face. Her left hand fastens to her left cheek like a crab. Her right index finger scratches her right nose-flap.
She has a supple white neck and tender white arms.
She raises her eyes to the boy and looks at him with parted lips.
—Just a sec’, ’kay?
She puts down the smartphone. She smiles as if she were throwing a birthday party for herself in the deeps of her mind.
She slices for herself a glutinous slice of cheesecake.
She swallows the slice of cheesecake in the way that an anaconda swallows a mouse.
From sheer jubilation, a dog yelps and leaps up and lathers the woman’s cheek with its doggy saliva.
The dog is on the woman’s lap. No longer eating. She is stroking the dog, which is the size of a rat. The dog is covering her face with doggy goo.
Swiveling your head back and forth, you gaze at the bar and the patrons of the bar.
Before you, crystalline and lambent, dances a play of blues, greens, purples, oranges, and reds—the backlit bar, the multicolored lights refracting through three symmetrical rows of scotch and whiskey bottles. The countertop is a daze of flickering yellows. Uplights swathe red curtains, cut through synthetic blue ferns, and profile the heavy drapery of red tablecloths. Walls of black onyx are striped with bands of red, sliced by white neon tubes, and broken by mirrors snapped and buckled into pythons of steel. Above circle steel ceiling fans.
At the center of this great concavity, this scintillating vastness, this acre of black nothingness, drinkers are salaaming over their drinks. There are three upon whom you focus your vision. Only one of these drinkers is standing—an elderly man whose resemblance you equate to that of James Carville, Professor of Political Science.
The old man’s bald head is shaped like a reptilian egg. His spectacles catch the backlights. His talons grip a glass of vodka.
He is speaking to a pair of women. Both women are blonde and in their mid-thirties. The first is wearing a white blouse and a beige pants suit. Slung around her shoulder is an enormous brown leather bag. She has narrow birdlike attributes and is frowning at her iPhone. Around her neck dangles a mother-of-pearl medallion. The second has a face like a coyote’s.
The old man’s voice becomes coppery.
He is still a little dizzy from the Jaeger Bomb, but he manages to fondle the left shoulder of the coyote-faced woman.
—Sweet cream puff. He emphasizes the words cream puff and is amused at the shocked reaction on her face as he pats her shoulders. To pacify the woman, he playfully paws her left earlobe.
The women are sheering and veering away from him.
He grimaces. His mind is a diabolical pinball machine.
The old man is studying the women as if through a camera lucida.
(A camera lucida is an artist’s tool that reflects objects on to a writing surface.)
He was once a handsome man and is a handsome man still.
A handsome man ages in a seamlessly stylized manner. He eases into maturity and settles there, brooding eggs of handsomeness. He has been handsome since the day he was blastulated.
So used is he to the gazes of women, he absorbs them and keeps them there, in his silvering heart.
Handsome man, you eat your meatloaf with contentment. You smooth your skin with pumice and wear primrose cardigans and walk the beachscape, you silvery he-vixen. Old handsome man.
Fifty feet away, in the corner: You see an infant and its mother. The mother is sitting by the window, holding the baby in her arms. She is wearing a blue shirt, blue jeans, a gold headband, and an iPod. Her hair is blonde with blue streaks. The baby’s T-shirt reads My Mom is Way Hotter than Your Mom.
The baby looks like nothing more than a blob of pink skin, but it is full of life and wonderment, life in all of its bustling newness condensed in a single being, wonderment for everything and everyone, absolute openness, a ball of life in the mother’s arms, wiggling its fingers and its toes.
The mother is engrossed in the baby, imitating the baby’s sounds. When the baby chirps, the mother chirps; when the baby caws, the mother caws. She touches the baby’s nose lovingly.
Now the mother is talking babyishly. When the mother talks babyishly, chattering and babbling, the baby imitates the words of the mother by producing inarticulate sounds. The baby makes upslurring and downslurring noises, splutteringly cackling, barking, clicking, twittering, wheezing, warbling in disyllabic phrases—ahah, ahah, ahah, ahah—buzzing, squeaking, squealing, cooing, trilling in ascending and descending patterns, singing its ventriloquial song.
She lowers the baby into its carriage.
She looks at you through the slanted slats of her black eyelashes.
She looks at you as she forks a slimily succulent piece of meat into her mouth.
Resplendent with venom, she is a nightmare in a black business suit. She looks like a black bat hanging lightly in the air, floating in a white cave.
Her mobile telephone shrills and trills. She opens up the screen of her mobile telephone.
She says to her mobile telephone:
—I wish I, like, had some balls. That was, like, so chickeny of me.
You listen to the pollinated phrases, the phrases pollinating the atmosphere.
You process the phrases in your mind, as if these phrases were means of forging your being and identity.
The mother looks at the screen of her mobile telephone.
Now, for the first time, you become aware that nearly your entire life has been spent in front of screens. Computer screens. Television screens. Telephone screens. iPad screens. iPod screens. BlackBerry screens. Kindle screens. Screens of screens. An infinite deck of screens.
Screens are before you when you are at work. Screens are before you when you are at home. Screens hem you in. Screens partition you. Screens limit you, and yet screens allow you to see. Screens are your horizons. Screens fascinate you.
You cleave to screens and are cleaved by screens.
Screens hypnotize you. The screens screen out everything other than the screens. The screens screen you—purge you, purify you of all external reality. You stare at the screen every waking hour.
The screen is an eye that is seen but does not see. You see nothing but screens. You are not seen by the screening eyes of the screen. Sentience is your screen.
There are screens in your eyes. There are screens in your mind.
On the table, you notice, is a wriggly squiggle of black hair.
You listen to the rattle of ice cubes in your water glass.
Look out the window. The sky darkens midnightly.
The street is creamy with oranges and lavenders, rainbow sherbet melted over a blank canvas.
You look to your left and see a giraffe-necked woman standing beside your table with a martini in her hand.
The giraffe-necked woman has pale and slender arms.
The tip of the woman’s nose is freckled. There is a pink bow in the blonde hair that tongues her shoulders. You ask her:
—Would you like to sit down?
Her eyes are motionless like twin green olives stuffed with pimento and pickled in a jar. Her eyeballs exophthalmically protruding, she looks at you before she speaks.
—Sure, she says. Why not?
She is wearing globular blue earrings that dangle as she speaks. They dangle to the rhythms of her speech.
She consents to sit beside you, transforming your table for zero into a table for one.
Copyright 2014 by Joseph Suglia