Thursday, 13 October 2011

The taste of summer

The Blonde had been adamant that I take her to this restaurant.  She'd slapped the newspaper down on the breakfast table, upsetting the toast rack and scattering buttered toast over both her cat and the floor.  The butter side landed down on both cat and floor, rendering both pieces of toast immediately inedible in my opinion.
"Why haven't we been here yet?" she'd said, bending down and peeling toast from the cat while I peered at completely the wrong part of the page.
"The National Tyre Centre?" I said.  "Possibly because neither of us own any kind of wheeled transport?"
"No," she said heavily, implying that I was being deliberately stupid, "the other article."  She deposited toast a la cat hair in the toast rack while I read a two paragraph review of a restaurant due to open that evening called La Fenec.
"Because it's not open yet," I said after checking my watch.  No restaurant would be open at 11:30, they'd only just be getting the staff in to prep for service.  "And because I'd not heard of it until now.  I still haven't heard of the chef."
"What do you mean?  And when are we going, since we've not already been?"
"I mean that this article, if two paragraphs can really be called such, doesn't name the chef.  And if I can get reservations then yes, I suppose we can go.  Why–y–y–y...?"  I trailed off into startled silence as the Blonde produced a mobile phone that appeared to still be in working order and started dialling a number into it.  A few minutes later she was shouting at somebody apparently working for La Fenec who was shouting enthusiastically back.  I laid the sports section over the toast rack to conceal the uneaten, inedible toast, and waited for the noise to die down.
"Reservations at nine," said the Blonde, hanging up on what sounded like sobbing.  "In your name of course.  Bring your notebook."
"It's a work thing?"
"Unless you want to pay for it yourself."
I shrugged, a gesture I'd learned during three years studying in France and one of the very few things I'd succeeded in bringing back with me.  The customs officials had been extremely thorough and officious on my return.


La Fenec, whoever the chef was, was busy when we arrived, though our table was already cleaned and waiting us. Across the way, at a table for four, another newspaper restaurant critic was happily drunk and eating the flower arrangement on his table. Beyond him I could hear the braying laugh of a currently popular singer who was rumoured to be getting set to abandon singing in favour of acting serious drama; I already had a bet on with the bookies that they'd be back to singing before the end of the year, and a second bet that their second album would either not be released or be released and plummet out of sight in the first week. I was pretty sure I was on to a winner.
We were seated, and menus presented to us; they were large, each page A2 size and the print big enough for the partially sighted to manage even in the fashionable gloom.  There were three mundane starters, two pedestrian main courses and a short dessert list that made me wish I'd eaten before we came out.  The Blonde stared at the menu eagerly, and then desperately, her eyes racing across the page as though expecting it to propose to her.  Then she grabbed the waiter, who was trying to leave us to decide how to bore ourselves with dinner.
"Is there a special today?" she demanded, and a look crossed the waiter's face.  He was clearly about to say no, and then he saw that I'd seen his reaction.  He leaned in.
"Please keep it very quiet," he said, "but there is a special.  It is rather limited however, so there may not be much left...."
"We'll take two," said the Blonde without even consulting me.  The waiter nodded and disappeared, leaving the menus behind.
"What do we do with these?" said the Blonde, waving hers vigorously and knocking her bread plate to the floor, where it broke in half with a sad little tinkle.
"Read through them," I said, "in case the special is off."
As it happened, the special was on, and fifteen minutes (and two further butter plates) later we were presented with our start: the taste of summer.  The plate appeared to be covered in newly-mown grass, whose scent was wonderful but whose taste was far from delicious.  There was a hint of soft red fruit in the smell, and a small log-cabin had been cleverly constructed from fingerling potatoes, spun sugar and horseradish; when I removed the roof I found food furniture inside as well.  The Blonde breathed in deeply over the plate, and closed her eyes.
"It brings back memories of summer," she said.  I tried it too, leaning in and inhaling, and suddenly, almost as if there were such a thing as magic, I found myself immersed in my strongest memory of summer.
I was on the porch, trying to climb up into the rocking chair only I wasn't quite big enough.  There were patches of blue in the sky, but the clouds had been building all morning and were quite grey in places.  I could hear the wind rustling the branches of the trees, and the crows were flapping around like aerial tramps and cawing mournfully when the wind dropped a little.  I made another attempt to scramble up into the chair, and then I heard shouting from inside the house.  Then my father came running out of the door, pursued by Granny, his mother-in-law.  He threw his arms up – I remember he was covered in flour from the chest to the knees – and shouted something about making pies.  Granny shouted something back, and then there was a loud bang and all the crows were in the air, cawing loudly.  When I looked again, my father was on the floor, blood spreading over the flour on his chest and hiding it.
My screams emptied the restaurant, helped by my nose-bleed all over my plate of grass.  The Blonde looked at me aghast.
"Tasted just like summer," I said quietly.  "We're not coming here again."

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