It’s the penultimate day of word challenge week and today we are watching in on a dinner date.
Today’s words are: bones, fish, mountains, black, catnip.
The swift melody of a piano undulates through the dimly lit bistro. I consider, briefly, what life would be like for the man who sits behind that piano night after night as his living. Is it one of monotony and unfulfilled dreams, or is it full of joy—a stepping stone to greatness.
My gut flips like a pancake with the memory of why I am here, listening to the pianist’s rendition of Adele’s ‘Skyfall’. The waiters are marching about the room placing food in front of patrons with a smile and a flourish. Nothing seems to bother them, despite the fact that this place is nothing short of packed.
The maître d’ has placed me at a small square table right in the middle of the bistro. I feel like they had a spare table in the cupboard, and just sandwiched it in because all the other tables were taken. It seems booking months ago has not affected the decision to place me in the most cramped area of the dining room.
I would have gone to pick her up from her place, but she said she was probably going to be working a little later than usual. She said she would come here from work. I can’t believe that I let it pan out this way.
I look out the window, across the tabletops of the other couples around me. The sun is setting beautifully, forming an amber halo around the shadows of the mountains. If she’s not careful, she will miss the view.
After sitting on my hands for ten minutes, she trots into the room. Her hair bounces in waves around her face. She’s wearing a baby blue silk dress with a sweetheart neckline. My breath hitches, and I have to cough to exhale properly.
‘Hey!’ She says brightly as she plops into her seat, ‘Sorry, I’m late. Gavin just wouldn’t stop talking. I swear the meeting went for, like, three hours. Nice place! Fancy.’
She leans forward and kisses me quickly.
‘You look beautiful, as always.’
‘Thanks,’ she sighs, ‘getting ready for a date in a work bathroom is legitimately a nightmare. I think I was close to breaking my neck twice trying to manoeuvre into this dress whilst in the toilet cubicle.’
She picks up a leather-bound menu off the table as ‘Skyfall’ comes to an end. A couple of people near the window clap quietly. The pianist’s fingers quickly transition the melody into Ed Sheeran’s ‘I See Fire’. Obviously, it’s movie night.
She hums along with the lilting melody as she flicks through the plastic pocketed pages. I have always liked dark hair—I could swear it is shinier than any other colour of hair. Hers is the darkest I have ever seen. It looks like lightly curled silk, yet as bouncy as elastic.
‘So, babe, how was your day?’ She fixes her pea green eyes on me.
‘It was … busy. Carter is on my ass about the press conference about the opening of the new hospital on Thursday. He has this idea in his mind that things are going to go horribly wrong.’
‘But you are already putting all your effort into preparing for the conference. There’s no way that it can go wrong.’
I nod, ‘Unless they ask us about the endangered population of elephants in Africa, I think we’ll be ok. Carter is just breathing down my neck. It will all be over on Thursday, I suppose.’
A waiter in a blindingly white dress shirt approaches the table, a little touch-screen device in his hands, ‘Good evening, are you ready to place your orders, or do you need another few minutes?’
‘I think we’re ready,’ I smile.
‘Fabulous, what can I get for you, madam?’ he asks her.
‘I’ll have the citrus garlic infused grilled trout, please.’
‘Not a problem, Ma’am. And for you?’ he says, tapping the order into the device.
‘Um, I’ll have the brie and sundried tomato stuffed chicken breast, please.’
‘Wonderful choices. Can I get any drinks for you?’
‘A bottle of crisp chardonnay, thank you.’ she says hurriedly.
‘Of course, Madam.’ He smiles again, takes the menus from our hands and spins on his heel before heading to the bar to collect the bottle and glasses.
After about half an hour, the waiter sets two steaming plates of lavish looking food down in front of us. My mouth instantly starts watering and the pit of my stomach suddenly feels like Santa’s sack on Boxing Day.
I pull the starched napkin out from underneath my cutlery and gently lay it in my lap. She does the same and digs into her fish.
The instant her tongue touches the piece of trout is what I imagine seeing a neon sign in the seventeenth century would have been like. Her entire face relaxes and the smallest of smiles curls at the edges.
‘Holy hell.’ She says through the fish. ‘This. This is what the big man upstairs has for dinner on the regular.’
I scoff and take a bite of my own meal. To my surprise, she isn’t exaggerating. It is fabulous.
‘So why did you choose here to eat, babe? It’s a little bit more upmarket than our usual haunts.’
I’m under no illusions that she is genuinely clueless about why we are here. She’s like a cat circling catnip—she can smell it from a mile off, but has to survey it ten times from every angle before she can make a judgement.
I shrug, ‘I just wanted to be a little fancier tonight.’ The small velvet wrapped box in my pocket suddenly feels like it has caught fire.
Her sly smile on her face drops from her face and she starts coughing. Her cheeks redden and she reaches for her water.
‘Are you alright?’
She shakes her head, ‘Fish,’ she coughs again, ‘Bone.’
The waiter rushes over to our table before I can formulate any semblance of a thought progression. He reaches for the bread basket and proffers a piece to her. She frowns at him, her body still convulsing with coughs.
‘You need to chew it until it’s soft and moist, then swallow. It will dislodge it. Trust me,’ he insists.
My eyes widen. Wouldn’t that make it worse?
Before I can protest, she shoves the bread in her mouth and starts chewing with unbelievable determination. After a minute or so, she swallows, chasing the bread with a mouthful of water.
I am holding my breath, waiting for the coughing to continue. Instead, she looks up at the waiter and smiles.
‘Thank you! How did you know to do that?’
‘I’m a med student. Plus, it’s happened to me before. I’ll leave you to it. Keep an eye out for any other stray fish bones!’
‘That was amazing,’ she sighs as the waiter walks away. She takes another sip of water.
‘Are you sure you are ok?’
‘Yeah, it’s completely gone.’ She picks at her food with her fork, ‘I’m not sure I want to eat this now.’
‘We could swap?’
‘What if you get a bone stuck in your throat too?’
‘Then, we’ll have matching war wounds. Here,’ I give her my plate and take hers, ‘I promise I’ll look for bones.’
I don’t each much of the fish. Though it is delicious, I am too wary and way too nervous. She, on the other hand, finishes every skerrick of the chicken. I can’t help but smile at the resilience she has displayed.
After the waiter has whisked our plates away and asked us how the meal went—post choking hazard—I begin fumbling my way through the speech. It is one of those things that you can never word properly. It’s one of those things that is so sincere that all the words become warped and broken and instead of coming out like the speech that sweeps your loved one off their feet and into your arms, it comes out like a monolingual Englishman trying to read a Japanese instruction manual. The only thing that kept me going were her eyes, sparkling with impending tears.
When I was done and her face was shining with the salty waterfall seeping from her eyes, I produced the small velvet box and presented the black diamond ring that we had always mused would make the perfect engagement ring for us.
‘Would you make me the happiest woman alive by marrying me?’
If you missed the rest of the week’s five word challenge stories,
An Accidental Encounter