Off-Shore Promises

The waitress brought his salad. As soon as the waitress turned away Harold began picking at the spinach. Because of Edna's influence, he searched for the crab.

"Make sure you get what you ordered," Edna always told him.

He never called back a waitress because the steak was too rare or the whipped cream sour. He'd gulp it down quickly as though suffering his part in the error, as though he had caused the rareness or the sourness. He ate too much, Edna would say as he opened a menu. "Red meat and rich cakes aren't for you. When will you learn?" she'd scold, pushing her small nose towards him till her musky perfume hovered over his plate.

Today he was 'lunching' on his own. Edna was 'bridging' with the girls, but her harping, 'give your raging cholesterol a break, Harold!' was as commanding as if she were sitting beside him. So, he opted for spinach and crab salad. He hated spinach. It was too flat and green. The old Popeye stories he'd pushed on his eldest son hadn't fooled either of them. The left side of the menu with the Bacon and Tomato sandwiches, the Grilled Burgers or worse, Ribs for the Businessman, was stained by hungry diners before him.

Spinach and crab titled 'Off-Shore Promises' was third on the list after Mandarin Cabbage and Hawaiian Melody. He'd heard from Edna that the Oval Platter had gotten a new chef who'd come with a crisp recommendation from a fancy gourmet school in Europe. Why don't they list garlic toast or french fries?

"You may like the Oval," she'd say leaning into the mirror of her dressing table, "you may think it’s the best, but their prices..." smearing lipstick around her open mouth and staring down the lines of fifty-one years that ruffled the open form. "Umm...mmm." She'd pulled in air as she dedicated her upper lip to its partner, "you may think that of the Oval, but they charge the price of pheasant."

He didn't know if she'd ever eaten pheasant, or more important paid the price of it, but that's what she had against the Oval. She allowed herself to be taken to dinner there once a month to please him.

Harold liked the Oval. Liked the wide seats that wrapped around his thickening waist. Maybe Edna looked younger under the copper circles pocked with narrow lights and Mediterranean gems. Yes, she looked younger there.

He burrowed into the salad, going deeper into the greens that smelled like moss. He found crab, but they were slivers, not thick wedges that Edna would consider worthy of pheasant. He pushed aside the spinach to pierce cherry tomatoes. Popping one, two, three into his dry mouth he knew full well he could not return it claiming the crab was 'skimpy'. That's how Edna'd put her case to a waitress. 'Skimpy', to Edna, meant that she wasn't getting her money's worth. Here it really was skimpy but he was slipping toasted almonds in by the two's. He didn't stand a chance.

Sprouts sprang out at him. He'd never order sprouts - no taste, no color. Edna never bought them. Sprouts have a certain poison, like the green in potatoes, she explained. Unless they're cooked, they're deadly. Maybe she was exaggerating the matter. But he wouldn`t take a chance on sprouts.

In his search for truth, in his determination to prove the decency of the Oval, his fork worked deeper into the green pit, winding into asparagus. Each grooved tip jutted through pepper rings that were sliced so fine they were twisted into an 'eight' and ringed twice around each spearhead.

"Everything alright, Sir?" she asked causing him to look up into a white and black stripped bib. "Everything alright, Sir?" she repeated pulling his stare back into his plate. He looked down to see the baseball scores covered by a mat greener than any at the Golf Club. "What's wrong with it?" She persisted, "I mean, is anything wrong, Sir?" He tried to understand the mess his table was in: Spinach rimmed his plate. Here and there were cherry tomatoes that had rolled out of his reach, sprouts pushed into his untouched coffee, and crab bits were piled to the left of his place mat.

"Well, Sir," she added, breaking the silence.

"The crab is dry as match sticks," he poked his fork through it with authority, "look at it!"

"But, Sir," she interrupted, "You didn't have to.. you could have called me."

"I had to make sure," he bellowed into the black and white stripes running over her chest. Wiping her nose with the edge of her little finger, she continued. "Sir, you could have.."

"The Oval is losing it. Get me the manager! Spinach, okay. But I won't stand for skimpy crab. And the menu didn't say anything about asparagus circling around in some god-damn war dance. And at the price of pheasant! Get me the Chef!"

The waitress wiped her nose again, this time with an open hand. She pulled at the bib with the other.

"So, will there be...?" She hesitated, taking a last look at the mess he'd made of the 'Off-shore Promises'. "I'll get the manager, and.." He waved her off. "Looks like pictures of Thailand in the rainy season," she said rushing away. Back to the spears. Fork in one hand, knife in the other Harold pushed aside each spoke to reveal a bed of sesame. He brought the knife to his lips and licked seeds that had borrowed vinaigrette from the puddle in the hollow of the plate. The sharpness reminded him that he hadn't eaten, the same signal that pulled him to candy bars, milk shakes and MacDonalds when Edna was getting her hair done. Now he moved the knife back to the spears - five on one side and four on the other. The pepper rings caught the heads like a circumciser's knife. The spears were swollen and sullen, passive and indifferent. With the red of the rings and the tease of his knife - well he was sure they could be aroused.

Edna once saw a man standing between big rocks at the beach. He looked at her in a peculiar yet serene way. She looked down and saw that his shorts were open and his penis was erect.

"My god," Edna screamed when she told him about it, "I almost fainted."

What's the world coming to? Pushing the thickest spear of asparagus with his knife Harold wondered - circumcised or not?


Rochelle Mass is the author of three collections of poetry, Aftertaste (Ride the Wind Press), Where’s My Home? (Premier Poets Series), and The Startled Land (Wind River Press). Her poetry and prose have appeared in numerous publications, including London Magazine, Women’s Studies Quarterly, The Jerusalem Review, The Tel Aviv Review, ARC, Canadian Literature, Midstream, Taproot Literary Review, Kimera, Ariga, Gaspareau Review, Ygradsil, and others. In 2002, she was nominated by The Paumanok Review for the Pushcart Prize. She received a second pushcart nomination in 2005 from Branches Quarterly. In 1994, one of her radio plays was short-listed for production by the BBC. Rochelle's Website is