"Yes sir." The maitre d', younger than myself, faggy, innocent, an actor no doubt, adds, "I'm sorry."
"Well, this is... very interesting. I can accept this." I reach into my back pocket for my gazelleskin wallet and press a twenty into the maitre d's uncertain fist. He looks at the bill, confused, then murmurs "Thank you" and walks away as if in a daze.
"No. Thank you," I call out and take my seat across from Bethany, nodding courteously to the couple next to us, and though I try to ignore her for as long as etiquette allows, I can't. Bethany looks absolutely stunning, just like a model. Everything's murky. I'm on edge. Feverish, romantic notions -
"Didn't you smoke at Harvard?" is the first thing she says.
"Cigars," I say. "Only cigars."
"Oh," she says.
"But I quit that," I lie, breathing in hard, squeezing my hands together.
"That's good." She nods.
"Listen, did you have any trouble getting reservations?" I ask, and I am f**king shaking. I put my hands on the table like a fool, hoping that under her watchful gaze they will stop trembling.
"You don't need reservations here, Patrick," she says soothingly, reaching out a hand, covering one of mine with hers. "Calm down. You look like a wild man."
"I'm clam, I mean calm," I say, breathing in hard, trying to smile, and then, involuntarily, unable to stop myself, ask, "How's my hair?"
"Your hair is fine," she says. "Shhh. It's okay."
"All right. I am all right." I try to smile again but I'm sure it looks just like a grimace.
After a short pause she comments, "That's a nice suit. Henry Stuart?"
"No," I say, insulted, touching its lapel. "Garrick Anderson."
.'It's very nice," she says and then, genuinely concerned, "Are you okay, Patrick? You just... twitched."
"Listen. I'm frazzled. I just got back from Washington. I took the Trump shuttle this morning," I tell her, unable to make eye contact, all in a rush. "It was delightful. The service - really fabulous. I need a drink."
She smiles, amused, studying me in a shrewd way. "Was it?" she asks, not totally, I sense, without smugness.
"Yes." I can't really look at her and it takes immense effort to unfold the napkin, lay it across my lap, reposition it correctly, busy myself with the wineglass, praying for a waiter, the ensuing silence causing the loudest possible sound. "So did you watch The Patty Winters Show this morning?"
"No, I was out jogging," she says, leaning in. "It was about Michael J. Fox, right?"
"No," I correct her. "It was about Patrick Swayze."
"Oh really?" she asks, then, "It's hard to keep.track. You're sure?"
"Yes. Patrick Swayze. I'm positive."
"How was it?"
"Well, it was very interesting," I tell her, breathing in air. "It was almost like a debate, about whether he's gotten cynical or not."
"Do you think he has?" she asks, still smiling.
"Well, no, I'm not sure," I start nervously. "It"s an interesting question. It wasn't explored fully enough. I mean after Dirty Dancing I wouldn't think so, but withTiger Warsaw I don't know. I might be crazy, but I thought I detected some bitterness. I'm not sure."
She stares at me, her expression unchanged.
"Oh, I almost forgot," I say, reaching into my pocket. "I wrote you a poem." I hand her the slip of paper. "Here." I feel sick and broken, tortured, really on the brink.
"Oh Patrick." She smiles. "How sweet."
"Well, you know," I say, looking down shyly.
Bethany takes the slip of paper and unfolds it.
"Read it," I urge enthusiastically.
She looks it over quizzically, puzzled, squinting, then she turns the page over to see if there's anything on the back. Something in her understands it's short and she looks back at the words written, scrawled in red, on the front of the page.
"It's like haiku, you know?" I say. "Read it. Go on."
She clears her throat and hesitantly begins reading, slowly, stopping often. " 'The poor nigger on the wall. Look at him.'" She pauses and squints again at the paper, then hesitantly resumes. " 'Look at the poor nigger. Look at the poor nigger... on... the... wall.'" She stops again, faltering, looks at me, confused, then back at the paper.