Idly, I wonder if Evelyn would sleep with another woman if I brought one over to her brownstone and, if I insisted, whether they'd let me watch the two of them get it on. If they'd let me direct, tell them what to do, position them under hot halogen lamps. Probably not; the odds don't look good. But what if I forced her at gunpoint? Threatened to cut them both up, maybe, if they didn't comply? The thought doesn't seem unappealing and I can imagine the whole scenario quite clearly. I start counting the banquettes that encircle the room, then I start counting the people sitting in the banquettes.
She's asking me about Tim. "Where do you think that rascal has been? Rumor is he's at Sachs," she says ominously.
"Rumor is," I say, "he's in rehab. This champagne isn't cold enough." I'm distracted. "Doesn't he send you postcards?"
"Has he been sick?" she asks, with the slightest trepidation.
"Yes, I think so," I say. "I think that's what it is. You know, if you order a bottle of Cristal it should at least be, you know, cold."
"Oh my god," Evelyn says. "You think he might be sick?"
"Yes. He's in a hospital. In Arizona," I add. The word Arizona has a mysterious tinge to it and I say it again. "Arizona. I think."
"Oh my god," Evelyn exclaims, now truly alarmed, and she gulps down what little Cristal is left in her glass.
"Who knows?" I manage the slightest of shrugs.
"You don't think..." She breathes in and puts her glass down. "You don't think it's" - and now she looks around the restaurant before leaning in, whispering - "AIDS?"
"Oh no, nothing like that," I say, though immediately I wish I had paused long enough before answering to scare her. "Just... general... brain" - I bite the tip off an herbed breadstick and shrug - "injuries."
Evelyn sighs, relieved, and then says, "Is it warm in here?"
"All I can think about is this poster I saw in the subway station the other night before I killed those two black kids - a photo of a baby calf, its head turned toward the camera, its eyes caught wide and staring by the flash, and its body seemed like it was boxed into some kind of crate, and in big, black letters below the photo it read, 'Question: Why Can't This Veal Calf Walk?' Then, 'Answer: Because It Only Has Two Legs.' But then I saw another one, the same exact photo, the same exact calf, yet beneath it, this one read, 'Stay Out of Publishing.'" I pause, still fingering the breadstick, then ask, "Is any of this registering with you or would I get more of a response from, oh, an ice bucket?" I say all of this staring straight at Evelyn, enunciating precisely, trying to explain myself, and she opens her mouth and I finally expect her to acknowledge my character. And for the first time since I've known her she is straining to say something interesting and I pay very close attention and she asks, "Is that..."
"Yes?" This is the only moment of the evening where I feel any genuine interest toward what she has to say, and I urge her to go on. "Yes? Is that...?"
"Is that... Ivana Trump?" she asks, peering over my shoulder.
I whirl around. "Where? Where's Ivana?"
"In the booth near the front, second in from" - Evelyn pauses - "Brooke Astor. See?"
I squint, put on my Oliver Peoples nonprescription glasses and realize that Evelyn, her vision clouded by the cassis-riddled Cristal, not only has mistaken Norris Powell for Ivana Trump but has mistaken Steve Rubell for Brooke Astor, and I can't help it, I almost explode.
"No, oh my god, oh my god, Evelyn," I moan, crushed, disappointed, my adrenaline rush turning sour, my head in my hands. "How could you mistake that wench for Ivana?"
"Sorry," I hear her chirp. "Girlish mistake?"
"That is infuriat ing," I hiss, both eyes clenched tight.
Our hardbody waitress, who has on satin high-backed pumps, sets down two new champagne flutes for the second bottle of Cristal Evelyn orders. The waitress pouts her lips at me when I reach for another breadstick and I lift my head toward her and pout mine back, then press my head again into the palms of my hands, and this happens again when she brings our appetizers. Dried peppers in a spicy pumpkin soup for me; dried corn and jalapeno pudding for Evelyn. I've kept my hands over both ears trying to block out Evelyn's voice during this whole interim between her mistaking Norris Powell for Ivana Trump and the arrival of our appetizers but now I'm hungry so I tentatively remove my right hand from my ear. Immediately the whine seems deafening.