At Least We Can Agree It Tastes Like Grapes/a short story

Carried on the Wind
Trees softly whispered
Birds laughed and cackled loudly
Gossip travels fast

Mary Sue shifted her eyes away from the candy dish on the hostess stand and smiled indulgently at the girl as she followed her to the table in the back.  Mary Sue remembered what it was like to have those first job jitters, and put a very forgiving expression on her face, especially around the corners of her eyes.  They wound their way through the crowded restaurant to a booth next to the window.  It would have been faster to go up the south wall, circle around the four-tops, eliminating the need to squeeze through the center of the dining room.  Mary Sue was going to point this out in the nicest possible way when her cousin stood up to give her and hug, guiding her the rest of the way to her seat.

Laura said, “Thank you so much for driving here.  I’ve been wanting to try this place for ages.”

Mary Sue answered, “I don’t think I’ve ever been in this town before.  The main street is darling,” as she tried not to fuss with the cut flowers in the vase (the roses would be prettier with the daisies on each side) instead moving her fork one and three quarters inches to the left and straightening the knife square to the plate.

She picked up the menu and asked Laura, “What’s their specialty?”

“Remember when our moms took us into the city to that beautiful luncheon place with the red satin drapes and the waitresses all wore those lacy hats and we’d always order the Monte Cristo sandwiches? That’s why I wanted us to come here.  I read they use an old family recipe.”

Mary Sue was amused but kept her head down and her eyes on the menu.  Laura was confused—the drapes were lace and the caps were red.  Monte Cristo sandwiches did sound good.

The hostess stood by the table, pad and pencil in hand and asked if they were ready to order.  Poor dear, Mary Sue thought, so inexperienced and yet expected to do everything.

After they ordered, the cousins nestled into the soft leather and chatted in that comfortable way that family did.

Laura took off her sweater and Mary Sue was momentarily dizzied by the confusion of stripes and flowers and thick swatches of plaid that comprised the bodice of Laura’s dress.

“Well,” Mary Sue stammered.

Laura looked pleased, running her fingers over the jewel necked collar.

“I know.  It’s fabulous don’t you think?  I saw one just like it on the cover of Vogue.  I went to Goodwill, bought everything I needed for under ten dollars, and voila! Isn’t it something?”

“Yes,” Mary Sue heartily agreed, it really was something.

Fortunately, there was a little draft in the air and Laura put her sweater back on and Mary Sue’s vertigo passed.

The two women were not only related by blood, but they were genuinely fond of each other.  They caught up on the lives of aunts and uncles, mutual acquaintances from high school and were beginning to touch on neighbors from their grandparent’s farm when the food arrived.

They took a bite of the sandwiches, crunching through the still hot bread, the saltiness of the ham blending with the melting cheese.  They laughed as they wiped the drops of Swiss off their chins (just like when they were girls) and relished the food and memories in companionable silence.

Mary Sue listened to the musical notes of forks on china, and noticed that the slight breeze from the open windows mingled the scents from the flowers on the tables with the fragrant blossoms from the tress outside.  This was fun.

Laura sipped her iced tea and took and deep breath. 

“Oh my gosh.  You know how I was out of town last month, visiting my old college roommate?  I am only telling you this because you’ll never meet her.  And she is one of my oldest and dearest friends, but holy cow, I have never met someone with worse judgment in men.  She is on her third husband and I swear to God he flirted with me all through dinner.  I was so embarrassed for Lisa, but when she finally said something, it was to compliment that man on how welcoming and pleasant he was to her company.”

Mary Sue murmured comforting phrases of agreement and allowed that, yes, there was nothing to be gained by saying anything to Lisa, but it was good to get these things off one’s chest.

The bill came and they split the total in half, as they always did, but since Mary Sue only had water she reduced her total, and they each put three ones down for a tip, but after Laura left Mary Sue picked up one of the dollars because five was plenty. 

She waited in the lobby while Laura used the ladies’ room and noticed the candy dish she’d seen on the way in.

She loved candy.

Mary Sue’s hand hovered over one brightly wrapped morsel then over the other and finally she seized the red.  She popped it in her mouth and let it settle on her tongue.  Mmm.  Cherry.

She regarded the purple and wondered, “Does that one taste like grapes?” 

Careful that she was unobserved, she plucked it out of the dish and let it nestle in her other cheek.

Yes, it DID taste like grapes.  It felt like a fruit stand in her mouth.  She almost giggled, but she had to keep her lips tight over the too big sweets.   

She heard a vaguely familiar voice drift over from one of the charming alcoves off of the main dining area, hidden from view by a mass of hanging plants.

“I am only telling you this because you’ll never meet her.  But oh my gosh, my best friend is kind of embarrassing.  She’ll see some high fashion outfit in a magazine, then go to the local thrift store and sew this hodgepodge together and she looks ridiculous.  There is nothing to be gained by telling her, but I wish just once she’d go the mall like the rest of us and get something normal.”

The invisible woman was clearly warming up to her subject.

“You know what’s worse?  Her cousin.  You’ll never meet her because she hasn’t left her hometown in fifty years.  Well, she’s one of those people who can’t walk across the room without telling you how it could have been done better.  Or more efficiently.  And cheap? I’ve stopped going out with her because she always insists we leave the tip in cash, then she takes a couple bucks off the table and stuffs them in her pocket when she thinks no one is looking.”

Mary Sue begins to see a familiar face start to materialize in her mind’s eye.  No.  She must be mistaken.  She peeks around the corner, trying to locate what can’t possibly be true.

The disembodied voice gets louder.

“And she is too vain to wear glasses and I think she’s part-way blind.  She always calls me dearie as if I’m some young person and I’m the same age as her.  Lastly, because I don’t want you to think I’m petty, that woman can’t walk by a dish of candy without eating two pieces at once.”

Mary Sue chokes a bit and one of the candies dislodges from her cheek with the trajectory of a bullet and rolls, as if on a mission, towards the alcove. A seated woman hears a faint clacking and smells a whiff of grape as she feels something slightly sticky cling to the edge of her shoe.

Engrossed in the simple chore of straightening a stack of menus, the exhausted owner of the restaurant takes a break.  “I’m too old for this,” she thinks.  Both employees had called in sick and it was hard being the only person that could seat guests and take their orders.

She glanced at the candy dish and felt the warmth of satisfaction.  That salesman had been right.  The grape candy really did taste like grapes.

2 comments

  1. chrishudson83 · · Reply

    So good! I love the part about eating two candies at once!

  2. Jerry Antosh · · Reply

    Alice, you keep getting better!
    Loved it.

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