His name is Jerry and hers is Christine. Every Thursday they book a table although they never ask for a particular one; for the last few weeks I’ve made sure that Cassiel seats them on the balcony.
They arrive around 7pm and watch the sunset. But something is different tonight: Jerry is tense, from what I cannot tell. Christine seems her usual self and smiles at the waiter, asks for water and a glass of the house white. Jerry mumbles for the red; his fingers tap staccato on the table; he stares out across the town, across the city lights below us.
I send Cassiel over to deliver their drinks. Cassiel is amused at my interest — and then humours me. She brings two bottles of wine and uncorks it in front of them, pours each the drink of their choice. I understand that having the owner do this is a compliment, in this case more for me than for them.
But they don’t notice.
Jerry is imagining a man’s face, cleanly shaven, thin, with a well-defined jawline and high cheeks, full eyebrows, no lips. It’s a beautiful face, except for the lips.
Starters are deep-fried corn cakes with plum sauce. He orders more wine, a whole bottle. Next, a butternut soup with coconut milk instead of cream, garnished with cilantro; and then the orange-glazed duck and the roast rosemary potatoes. He chews the corn cakes, barely tasting them; the soup he almost drinks and he ignores the bread; he tears more than cuts, packs into his mouth more than eats. Christine has picked up on his tension; she no longer dips bread into her soup and spoons it up instead. She’s eager to finish, to leave. She stares at the table.
I nudge Fluffy — with some work I can make her understand that I want her to visit their table, but Jerry kicks at her while she twines between his chair legs. Her pain is small, but her anger and fear intense.
She hides herself in the rafters where I let her be. Her anger towards me will pass. When my attention returns to Jerry and Christine they have already left, leaving money scattered on the table.
I wonder if they will return. Cassiel shakes her head and tells me no.