Part Two: A married couple’s conversation overhead while dining at Bloomsbury Bistro
by Angela Perez
Bored of listening in on the youngish couple’s private and dreary dinner conversation, I leaned in to the tiny print of my New York Review of Books. It was an article about the soulless Putin and his damaging impact on the European economy. Dammit! The light in the restaurant was simply too dim to allow for reading. With nothing else to distract me, I was going to be forced to listen to these two knuckleheads for the rest of meal. I held up one of the tiny votive candles and moved it in close to the page. The yellow flickering gave me a headache but less of a headache than hearing a moderately attractive woman emasculate a rather handsome man by trying to force him into a meat choice.
“I am not going to listen in on other people’s private conversations,” I thought. “It’s just plain wrong. People should feel safe and secure in their stultifyingly boring tête-à-têtes. This is America! I am not Putin! I am not the KGB of bloggers!”
Alas, my dubious resolve to honor privacy in order to gather material for my blog was dissolved when right there next to me, almost on top of me, was seated an elderly couple, the two looked to be in their late 70s. The old man had on a cream sweater vest and brown corduroy suit jacket with blue suede elbow patches. He had been quite tall once, but was now slightly stooped over and wobbly on his feet. She had on her finest cashmere Christmas sweater, a baggy red number dotted with white wool snowflakes. The host had obviously met the pair many times. “So good to have you both back! Merry Christmas,” he said, clasping his well-manicured hands together. Though rather stiff and snooty in that fancy-restaurant host kind of way, he seemed genuinely pleased to see these adorable old folks. He scurried away to an anxious party of eight huddled in the foyer.
“Honey,” she said matter-of-factly, “you’d better go to the bathroom before we get started.”
“That’s true,” he said, “while I’m gone, you know what to do, my dear.”
“You could say that,” she said.
After a while, a waiter came over to take her drink order. “I’d like a Ballantine’s. 12. Neat. And, oh, any ole’ merlot will do.”
By the time her husband came back to the table, the drinks were in place. “Scotch, you shouldn’t have,” he said, taking forever to actually connect his rear end to the chair. “Well, Emily, let’s get started.”
“Well, John, that sounds nice,” she said.
From out of his blazer her produced a present, wrapped in red paper. No bow. “Here you are. To 47 incredible years. We probably won’t get 47 more but that’s how life is.”
She slowly unwrapped the present. Very slowly. It was driving me nuts. I wanted to know what he’d given her. I was eavesdropping harder than I ever had in my life. “Oh!” she exclaimed, “a book. A journal. You made this!”
“I did,” he said proudly, “I made the cover, the paper, and bound it myself. Now you can write every day about what a wonderful husband and lover I am.” He held up his Scotch and winked at her. I could see him because he was sitting diagonally from me. She was sitting next to me so I didn’t know what her facial expression was.
“Oh, John, don’t be foolish,” she said. “It’s lovely. Just lovely.”
“And one more thing,” he said. “For one full year, I will pay for any books you order from Amazon. No matter how many.”
“That will come out to be a princely sum. You sure about that?”
“As sure as I was the day I married you,” he said. They clinked glasses.
“How sure were you the day after you married me?” she asked.
By God, these two, rounding 80 years of age and flirting shamelessly. Wonderful.
She pulled his present from her purse. It was wrapped in the same red paper. Though he had a touch of the tremors in his arthritic hands, he ripped off the paper quickly. “Frank Sinatra CDs! You know what I like!”
“I ought to after all this time.” They clinked glasses again. “That’s all you get,” she said. “And you’re paying for dinner. I love you.”
“Sounds about right. Order my usual.” The waiter arrived as though on cue.
“He’ll have the steak. Rare. I’ll have the salmon. Thanks.”
I finished off my coffee. I’d finished my meal ages ago and had already paid the bill.
“Happy anniversary,” I said to the couple as I stood to go.
“Why thank you,” they both said at the same time.
“I have to ask,” I said, picking up my purse, “how many books a year do you order from Amazon?”
She beamed. “Two or three a week. I can’t live without books.”
“She’s an expensive broad to keep,” he chimed in.
As I walked to my car, I wondered how one could go about getting married, skip the first 20 or 30 yeas and just get to the good stuff there at the end. My marriage notions got a lot of clarification that night at Bloomsbury Bistro. And I figured maybe it ain’t all that bad all the time. Wait, what am I saying? Sure it is. Damn those charming old folks.