By Didi Wood (art by CB Auder)
Nothing’s burning, your husband insists, but you make him wait while you walk the house, sniffing at each appliance and cord. Then comes the compulsory round of Where should we/I don’t know/Where do you, and you’re just glad to be headed somewhere, anywhere.
Rattle & Rue, another of the adults-only, small-plates-and-craft-cocktails places that have mushroomed nearby in the years since your kids were small and you didn’t have a sitter and were stuck at home on Saturday nights. It sounds British, cozy, charming; you anticipate a crackling fire, a menu of happily-, historically-paired items: bubble and squeak, bangers and mash, fish and chips.
When you arrive, the hostess beams at you. “Welcome back!”
“It’s our first time,” you say.
Her eyes dart from your husband to you, smile faltering. “Oh,” she says, “okay. Well, great!”
There’s no fire but the place is warm and softly lit, full but not packed. It feels like a secret you’ve stumbled into, although it has been here for a few years. The hostess leads you to a high table along the bar rail. Unbalanced, it wobbles when you climb onto your stool.
“Whoa there, Grace,” your husband says, and he and the hostess share a laugh. Your name is Kate. You peer at the menu, but the light is so dim you can barely make out the offerings.
“We don’t get a candle,” you say.
“What?” Your husband is deep in the menu; he doesn’t look up.
“The other tables have candles.”
“Ask for a candle, if you want a candle.”
“I don’t want a candle, I’m just wondering – ”
“You seem like you want a candle.”
“That’s not what I’m saying,” you say.
What are you saying? He doesn’t ask. You want him to listen and hear what you’re saying and just understand, even if you don’t. The menu is all flesh: oysters, steak tartare, pork loin, beef cheeks.
“There are vegetables,” your husband says, without looking up.
It’s true, in a way. Dates wrapped in speck. Brussels sprouts with speck. Probably speck-speckled ice cream on the dessert menu, if you make it that far. You lean on the table, and it rocks.
Your husband sighs. “We can try somewhere else if you want.”
“No, it’s fine,” you say.
It’s fine. You start with drinks: a red blend for you, something called The Third Marriage for him. You squint at it on the cocktail menu: a variation on the Old Fashioned, with bourbon and bitters and maple syrup. A waiter passes with plates arrayed along his arms, everything smothered in sauce or suffocated in seasoning. Nothing is left unembellished; nothing is good enough as it is.
The hostess keeps glancing at you, then looking away when you catch her.
“This place is great,” you say. “Funny that we’ve never been here.”
Your husband shrugs. “Lots of places we’ll never go,” he says.
The air roils with cooking smells. They seep into the threads of your clothes, your pores, penetrate the shaft of each hair, steeping, marinating, macerating. You’ll smell this place on your pillow until you change the sheets next weekend, and maybe longer.
You reach for your wine, bump the table. The Third Marriage teeters. Your husband slams his palms flat on the surface.
“Stop shaking it,” he says.
Stop shaking the table.
Smile, gulp the dregs of your open-too-long red blend, keep saying yes, fine, great. Choke down the speck, slurp up the sauce, stop shaking the table.
Topple the table, smash the candles, burn it all to the fucking ground. Welcome back? No. They want grace? Here’s your grace: fire, ruin, obliteration. You whirling inside the inferno until nothing remains but smoke and silence.
You could do it. You could. The wine sloshes in your glass, settling, pendulous, pivotal, ticking down the moments.
Didi Wood's writing appears in Smokelong Quarterly, Vestal Review, Night Train, and elsewhere. Her story “Sunset in Santa Monica” was selected for Smokelong Quarterly: The Best of the First Ten Years. She's a fan of the serial comma, board games, and creepy dolls. Often she is festooned with cats.
(Artist) C.B. Auder's work has recently appeared in Unbroken, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Storm Cellar, *82 Review, Dying Dahlia, and Uppagus. Aud can be found struggling to communicate appropriately in grocery stores and pharmacies, or tweeting @cb_auder
Artist's Statement, "Bridle", magazine collage, 18 x 15 inches:
This collage was created by glue-sticking cuttings from a bridal magazine onto card stock. Although I have been writing for many years, assemblage art is a relatively new creative pursuit. In January I discovered that X-ACTO-knifing slick images of crass hyperbole could be a meditative and empowering activity--one that has, in fact, helped me cope with this particular era of political fuckage. I tend to find myself cutting and pasting while binge-watching campy police procedurals, and I suspect I do that because it's comforting to feel that somewhere in the world--even if only in my own small and odd-smelling home--both art and justice are being done.