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
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
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
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
"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?