It was the first day of the first heat wave of the season. I’d been working all morning, bent over my computer in the relative cool of my study. I was stiff from sitting so concentrated that I had hardly moved, other than my fingers, in hours. I’d had enough. I needed a break. Glancing over at the phone, I hoped that my friend Diana would call to entice me to go with her on a spur-of-the-moment trek over to Santa Cruz. There on the coast, usually, even on the hottest days, you can find respite in the cool westerly wind off Monterey Bay. I could already feel the breeze.
But, it wasn’t to be, not today. She called, as I knew she would, a few minutes after I had gazed longingly at the phone. When I answered she blurted, “I’m starving. Did you eat yet? Let’s go to lunch and sit somewhere outside.”
“Yes, I am ready for some lunch. No Santa Cruz today?”
“No, not today,” she said, “I have been over at Redwood Circle all morning. It’s a good thing too.”
“Where are you now?” I asked.
“With the car?”
“Come by and pick me up,” I say.
“OK, we can go to the Empire Tap Room and sit in the garden.
So here we are sitting in the garden. It’s late for lunch, past 1:30; only a couple of tables are still occupied. Seeking shelter from the persistent afternoon sun that sneaks through the new leaves on the trees and the blooming wisteria overhead, we finally settle on a table protected by a sun umbrella. At the next table a young woman waits. Her cell phone in its pink plastic covers sits neatly on the table beside the knife. A bottle of sauvignon blanc basks in a bucket of ice at her side. She’s ready and waiting. But no, not all is right. The sun starts pestering her. She gets up, moves the table, the chairs and the ice bucket a foot to the right. She sits down again. Now it is perfect. She folds her hands; then unfolds them. She picks up the phone.
Finally another young woman strides up to the garden gate. “You’re here. Happy Birthday! It’s locked. You have to go around,” the pink-cell-phone woman calls to her friend.
The friend strides in. Her long thick chestnut hair bounces. Sitting down across the table, they compare notes. The pink-cell-phone woman proposes they invite themselves to a friend’s pool in the evening. She makes a phone call. Menus arrive, but the women already know what they want. “An artichoke and oysters, please,” they tell the waiter in unison. The waiter smiles and disappears.
Between snippets of conversation, mostly about the where this friend or that friend is today, they make more phone calls. “Where are you?” asks the birthday woman into her cell. “Bakersfield? Oh, we’re in Palo Alto.” They pour themselves more wine. I imagine that the women and their friends are traveling sales people canvassing the State from Silicon Valley to the Central Valley selling what I have no idea.
The oysters arrive. Shimmering on their bed of shaved ice, they are big, almost the size of a palm, and sit beautifully, their translucent bodies surrounded by their delicious liquour, on their half shells. Lemon wedges and a sprig of seaweed add color. The waiter sets the plate in the middle of the table. The women put down their phones, turning their attention to what’s between them. They look hard. This is not what they had expected. These are not the small and sweet Kumamoto oysters. These are not the expected one-bite delicacies. These are…
“They’re so big,” says the birthday woman.
“They’re too big,” says the pink-cell-phone woman. “Really, they are too big.”
The waiter fumbles with his hands and smiles awkwardly.
“They ARE too big. I’m sorry. Please take them back.” The pink-cell-phone woman says with authority.
They are quickly gone. But, the pink-cell-phone woman is undeterred. She’s on the phone again. I hear her asking, “Are you still serving lunch? Lighter fare only. Do you have oysters? You do? Thanks.” She puts down the phone and tears off a few leaves from the artichoke. Birthday woman does the same and pours more wine. When she puts the bottle back in its ice bucket she places it upside-down.
Diana and I are also eating an artichoke and spring salads. By this time, we’ve finished the artichoke. Only the choke and tougher outer leaves remain. Our salads are half finished.
We talk about her house project over at Redwood Circle; she’s getting it ready to rent: new roof, floors, windows, and paint. She asks me about the book I’m writing. I give her a flimsy sketch. I can tell she’s not happy with that. She wants more. But, I know, that I can’t give her more right now. I just know it. “When it is ready you’ll read it.” I tell her.
It’s only April, we’re unaccustomed to the heat; our conversation flags. The heat lulls us. We listen to the fountain and watch the wisteria drop its tiny purple flowers. Although we don’t say it, we know this would be the perfect spot to wait out the heat.
The pesky sun has chased the young women from their original table to the next one down that has a big sun umbrella over it. They aren’t in conversation either, at least not with one another. Sitting, looking away from each other; both are on their cell phones; both are deep in conversation. Thoughts of Kumamotos seem to have vanished. They look settled in for the hot afternoon. But, we have work to do and so pay our bill and leave.
All original content copyright 2009 Mary E. Slocum