We are at the restaurant after the gala. It’s our restaurant. The lighting is low, except for the menu cards lit with lights almost neon, garish and hanging over the service station like the dashboard of the old car your mother used to drive. We speak in your voice; the way you speak; the way you talk to the one you love simply, the one with whom you share a table, a meal, a drink while casting sidelong glances at other tables to see what they’ve ordered, if they are enjoying it, are they enjoying themselves?
Where will they go tonight after the streets subside?
The server stands table side and is a short man with dark hair slicked back long behind his ears. He glistens in the changing light, a layer of sweat on his forehead. Candles on the tabletop, dripping wax. He pours wine with the nose of someone who doesn’t like to be wrong. Who would never be wrong, no, not in the presence of such treasured and esteemed patronage.
“The autumn composition, miss,” he says with a voice that recalls Rome and other empires long gone, “Beneath a magret de canard. The season is fantastic and it will be the chef’s pleasure to prepare it medium rare.”
“For you, sir,” he says, “the squab.”
But we smell the richness of the glace de viande and Soubise, roasted pear and blueberries, vinegar, wine the way kings and conquerors looked down on their meals of great conquest. Like the skin of pure and perfect women waiting in sheets and velvet, and the carved statues of great halls before acid rain and the constant click of cameras and cell phones, moved to museums, took their ever-cheapening toll.
What a waste that we can only be here now.
But what we taste reminds us that for a moment (and perhaps only a moment) that time is an arbitrary and erroneous judge of greatness, and that a moment can last forever. This moment is eternal. And the next one.
“There’s a ghost,” Gogo says, pointing to the chandelier.
“A ghost? Where?”
“There above your head.” She points with her finger and wipes her hands on the napkin laid only slightly to the side on her lap, crossing and uncrossing her long legs (that are so soft, softer than any statue, carving). She says, “The ghost of a servant girl. Servant to the man of the house, they had a dalliance, some might call it love, and she killed herself when his wife caught them together on the kitchen counter covered in cream.”
“But why would she?”
“He was sneaking her black truffles, sweet pickled beets and poussin late at night. He was pouring her wine from Leonardo’s age. He was dipping her fingers in chocolate from Central America, Stilton from London, foie gras from Paris.” Gogo’s eyes sparkling in the low light. “She knew she would never taste these treasures again.”
“What happened to him?”
“He killed himself as well, only a few months after her. He shot himself in the field across the street with a gun normally meant for pheasants, where the parking lot is now.” Gogo looks through the glass, through the reflection of people and places and candles dancing on tables. She shakes her head and tells me, “But his spirit didn’t stay here with hers. No. He doesn’t appreciate food the way that she does and never did. It was her…”
Gogo pauses to watch hands on thighs at the bar. Smoke eyes, red lips. Long fingers and skin. Cocktails forgotten on the bar top. Another moment, someone else’s, or everyone’s.
Gogo says, “It was her that he wanted to taste, you see. Though society would never have allowed it. And once she was gone he knew he would never taste such treasures again…”
A man’s hand caressing soft skin, deep purple in tights, a sheen that brings out her curves and beauty and nothing more.
“And you?” I ask.
Gogo, smiling with her eyes and running her tongue around her lips that I’m sure taste like strawberries though we haven’t made it to dessert or had even thought of it until now, says, “You’re the only one.”
“Both treasures we share together.”
Around us, the sound of forks and knifes on porcelain plates (is it a squeak? There is no word that can exactly desribe the sound) and spoons reaching/scraping toward the bottoms of bowls. Flashing lights outside from the bars and cars that move and shake while we stay still seated in high-backed chairs, our toes touching gently beneath the table, our plates waiting in front of us.
Our server, we know him now as Raul, or Ralf, or Rene, reappears with a cool and fresh air that certainly didn’t come from the kitchen, with his dark eyes turned to stone. “It is with great apology,” he says, faltering, and bowing his head. “The dessert you ordered…”
Gogo leans her cheek against her fist. “They’ve run out.”
The server turns a deeper shade of red. “Yes. There is non. There is nothing brings me greater pain than to tell you this, here, now.”
“Well. Is there something else you would recommend?”
Our server brightens. “Recommend?”
“But of course! Our pastry chef has made a cake. Something very special. This morning. A honey cake that couldn’t be more delicate, couldn’t be more sweet, and yet still so calm. It is, without a doubt, the finest slice of cake I have tasted.”
preheat oven to 350F
1. mix all-purpose and rye flour with baking soda & cardamom in a small bowl
2. in another mixing bowl of a stand mixer [or one suitable for a hand mixer] whisk together sugar, salt, eggs, honey, oil, coffee, and vanilla.
3. gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until thoroughly combined
4. divide evenly and pour into two prepared, buttered 9″ x 5″ loaf pans
5. bake for 50-60 minutes until the tops are golden and a toothpick poked into the center of the layer comes out clean
I ask, “Is it really so good?”
And he says, with a wink and a smile, “Mon ami. It would not be me who would tell you anything different.”
Our cake arrives with vanilla cream (“made in house, but of course” with a bow) melting on top, glowing on a plate rimmed in gold. Almost daring our forks, almost laughing at the idea of a bite after such a large meal and conversation. Begging for a digestif in a small glass. Calling for food-drunk eyes and those last bits (pieces) of wisdom that come from full and happy lips; the mad, brilliant things we say when we’re in the far depths of bliss.
We eat, sharing a fork and brandy, sipping, a burning sweetness in our chests and the world growing quiet around us.
The restaurant growing quiet. But comfortably so. We are the last ones here.
Because there is nothing else: It is we who are spectacular. It is this place that is our body, and we who are the soul. Mirrors sparkle in candlelight as the tastes and smells of food root deep in our memories. Into. Into the memories we’ll look back on someday with sadness and joy; when we’ve grown old, gray and imperfect and served only what we are able to stomach, to survive, and forget.
“Do you think we’ll still be together then?”
Gogo shrugs her thin shoulders as she puts on her coat. “We’re together today,” she says. “And isn’t that what is most important?”
The cake is gone. Our server disappears. We are alone together. We are here with the ghost.