Grant slowed the car to a crawl and they both gawked at what turned out to be a deflated beach ball on the gravel shoulder of the road.
They had been driving around for an hour, the GPS system all but useless as they looked for a turn-off marked by a balloon and a sign.
“Okay, let me check the invite again?” Katie said, pulling a card out of her brown leather shoulder bag. “Ten miles west of the wrecking yard on highway 31, look for the balloon and the sign, park in the clearing?”
Grant was sure they were on the correct road, but there had been no balloon anywhere. They were in the middle of nowhere, they hadn’t even seen another car in over half an hour.
The trees rose up green and lush on both sides of the highway, deep gutters were full of young bulrushes not yet at the fluffy catkin stage, and the sun beat down bright and hot on the black asphalt ribbon in front of them. They had passed road kill in various states of decay, a murder of crows prancing down the centre yellow lines, and a rusty, abandoned shopping cart, but there was absolutely no sign of the entrance to the restaurant where they had a coveted reservation for dinner.
“We’ve gone more than ten miles, maybe we should double back,” Grant said, squinting through the windshield, the waves of heat dancing up from the road distorting his vision and making him doubt his own mind.
Val glanced up at the clock above the bar as she finished filling carafes of water. Twenty five past nine. Through the large front windows she could already see a line forming; a grizzled older couple, Lonny and Margie, who had been regulars here since the days when it had been a dive bar; a group of four millennials and three, no, four sets of parents with strollers. Fuck Sunday brunch, she though to herself vehemently as one of the parents knocked loudly on the window and then gestured to his wrist.
“It’s freezing out there, you know,” he said with a snarky tone as Val unlocked the door and everyone filed in.
“We open at 9:30,” Val replied, making a note to herself to replace his coffee with decaf.
Alison gave the exclusive restaurant’s private dining room a final once over. Everything had to be perfect this evening. She adjusted the forks at two place settings on her family’s side of the table, stopping to refold a napkin at the spot where her father would be seated.
The room was as elegant as she could want. A long cherry-stained table with cream-coloured velvet seats filled the centre of the space. Three walls of the room were exposed brick, with the fourth being glass that allowed the diners to view the restaurant’s extensive wine cellar. The menu was mostly local ingredients prepared with classic French and Italian techniques, but without the piety of those nose-to-table places that told diners the name of the chicken they’d be eating. It had taken weeks to narrow down their choice to something that would suit everyone, and even now Alison feared that someone in her party this evening would have something to complain about.
She smoothed the skirt of her silk dress, admiring the sapphire colour, knowing that it made her eyes look even more blue. “I hope everyone can find the place,” she said, turning to Percy, her fiance, who was sorting the selection of wines arranged on a sideboard for their meal.
He sniffed as he replaced a bottle and turned to her. “It will be fine, Ali. Don’t get so stressed. There’s enough wine here to make your parents and my parents the best of friends.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” she replied, admiring his stoicism. “Or that there’s enough wine to make everyone come to blows.”
I’ve been writing (and hoarding) short fiction over the pandemic so I thought I’d actually let some of it see the light of day. This piece is based on an encounter I watched some years ago at a local restaurant.
The restaurant was not what she had expected. Described by her co-workers, and the online rating website, as one of the city’s best seafood dining experiences, Malia expected The Oyster House to be a white tablecloth affair. Instead, the long narrow room was decorated in something akin to “upscale sea shanty”. The walls were bead board on the lower half, the raw wood treated to look weathered from exposure to the elements. The upper walls were painted light blue and were adorned with old signs with corny jokes as well as advertisements for crab shacks and oyster po’boys. Shelves above each table included huge dried starfish, glass balls attached to bits of fish netting, and knickknacks made out of lobster shells which Malia found oddly disturbing.
She had tried to get out of coming, but her workmates had insisted. A month into this new job and she still felt out of her element, but Darlene, her deskmate, would not take no for an answer.
“The whole department all go out together for lunch on the last Friday of each month,” the older woman explained. “Since there’s so few of us, we treat it as a team-building exercise. And management pays for half of our food bill.”