Our Table by Harry McEwan

Marion had made all the arrangements herself. It was no great feat, though. For almost three decades of marriage, she had always managed things perfectly. Exotic travel, hotel rooms, philharmonic tickets, private museum tours, five-star restaurant reservations. Her husband and children and friends never ceased to marvel how seamlessly her plans unfurled, how gracious she was at every step of their unfurling. Today was no different.

That afternoon she’d arrived early at Union Square Café. At 4:45, to see to last-minute details, selecting the flowers for their table, preordering dessert. She contained her surprise when Bitsy arrived a few minutes after her. Marion was already seated at the bar by then, a martini, an espresso and a mineral water with lemon at her elbow. The maître’d took Bitsy’s umbrella and rain jacket. This was a crack in Marion’s plan. A minor one, though.

“Our table’s not quite ready,” Marion said, patting the seat next to her own.

The staff were scurrying about, laying place settings, stocking up their stations. The barman dumped fresh ice into his bin, then took Bitsy’s order, a light Grey Goose and tonic. He served her, performed a quick count of his wines and champagnes, then disappeared again.

“Whatever might you be doing here, Bitsy?”

“I’ve been thinking about it,” she said to Marion once they were reasonably alone. “You can’t go through with it. Not the way you plan to.”

A second crack, and it threw Marion. An hour ago, Bitsy had been more than supportive on the phone, more than outraged at Giancarlo. Now, this treachery.

Still, Marion never let her cracks show. Even when she felt most alone. She took a sip of her martini, a sip of her espresso, and a long swig of her mineral water, pausing to squeeze the lemon wedge, wipe her fingers on her napkin, and futz with her Mulberry silk décolletage, all before meeting Bitsy’s steady gaze.

“Look at them,” Marion said, gesturing to the front window. A quartet of forty-ish men had assembled under the awning, out of April’s fickle weather. Sipping beer from pilsners, smoking cigars, alternating between cell phone mischief and bawdy stories. Voices booming. Bankers, lawyers. Necks impossibly tanned next to white collars, as were manicured hands next to white cuffs and wedding bands. “The princes of New York.”

“Marion, you don’t know all the facts.”

“I know more than enough, Bitsy.” Marion’s tone was flat enough, but it couldn’t belie the challenge to her old Mount Holyoke dormmate’s insistence.

“Well, you don’t know his side of things,” Bitsy said, not backing down.

“Such a shame you gave up your law practice all those years ago. You’d cut a striking figure in a courtroom, Bitz. But I’m sure my detectives are very thorough.”

Marion pulled an oversized red greeting card envelope out of her handbag. It was unusually thick, its contents closed inside by a red wax seal, its face scrawled with “Happy Anniversary” in silver Sharpie. She flagged down the maître’d. “Oh, I almost forgot. Have our server deliver this to my husband during the dessert course, please.” The maître d’ accepted the envelope, bowed perfunctorily and scurried off towards the kitchen. “The proof’s in the pudding, Bitsy. So is my divorce petition.”

“Marion, pictures can tell a million different stories—”

“Only one stands out, Bitsy.”

“—taken out of context—”

“Oh, please,” Marion scoffed, dangerously close to showing her cracks. She quickly laughed to dispel her annoyance. “Bitsy, the boy looks just like him. Giancarlo’s got a picture of himself at that age that’s a dead ringer.”

“Still—”

“His financials tell the story plainly enough, Bitsy. I told you. Ten thousand a month for the little bastard and his wench of a mother. Every business trip to London, he takes a flight to Dublin, stays the weekend with them. The documentation’s irrefutable. Our girls will stand by me. So will their husbands and children.”

“What about that Facebook stunt of yours?” Bitsy countered, exposing another potential crack. “That’s what really brought me. Marion, I know how you must feel, but your betrayal isn’t the sort anyone’s likely to recover from, you least of all.”

Marion resisted the urge to raise an eyebrow askance.

“Even if you reconcile, he’d never trust you again.”

“That’s the plan, Bitz.”

Late last year, when she’d suspected Giancarlo of straying again, Marion had set up a phony Facebook account: Dr. David Greene from Denver, who’d friended her unwitting husband by saying they’d met at a drunken London convention of cardiologists. This fictitious, equally depraved Dr. Dave got Giancarlo to confide through the mysteries of male camaraderie, to confess every sordid detail of his double life with easy candor. It had taken her less than a month to break him. After that, Marion could have done her detective’s legwork herself. Had it been respectable.

“Marion, I don’t mean to stick my nose in,” said Bitsy, pushing away her highball and standing to leave. “But since you volunteered this information, I must say I don’t know of any of these situations that hasn’t backfired. At the risk of being crass, there’s no way to contain this social media shit once it’s hit the fan. Your girls will be just as shocked by your own deceit as by his.”“Portia and Rosalie will think me clever.”

“They may not trust you anymore either,” Bitsy said, eyes downcast.

“My deceit hardly compares to Giancarlo’s, Bitsy.”

The maître d’ stood a deferred pace away with two menus, waiting to escort Marion to her table. She had trumped Bitsy, which had been precisely her plan the moment she saw her former classmate storm the restaurant like she’d had a complaint to report to the dean. “Your cocktail’s on my tab, Bitsy. Now be a dear and fuck off.”

That was definitely showing a crack. No denying it. Oh, well. One less Christmas card. One less guest on her guest lists. One less contact in her phone. She watched Bitsy swim through the Wall Street quartet coming back inside in a boisterous mass, reeking of expensive colognes and cigar smoke.

Marion was seated. A server who introduced himself as Ian delivered the dregs of her martini on a silver tray. Smiling, she waved it away and ordered a fresh one. Please and thank you so much.

She had the whole room to herself. She was the only one seated at this early hour, at the table she always requested when it was just her and Giancarlo dining. The room was set to perfection. Candlelit. Soft music. The smell of freshly-baked breads and other savory aromas. The controlled chaos of a Zagat-rated, stranger-filled dinner party just waiting for her to happen to it.She checked her phone. Three texts from Giancarlo: “I may be late;” then, “Def going to be late, sorry.” And finally, “On my way, ask if they have a Montepulciano” next to his smiling thumbnail pic. Italian reds were never her taste, but tonight she’d give in. All the better to lull him. She summoned Ian and ordered a bottle.

Then she noticed the man.

He was standing outside the dining room window under the dripping awning, looking inside, staring at Marion. He was fortyish, too, like the Wall Street types, except with graying scruff and a hoodie under a faded windbreaker. She couldn’t see his shoes but didn’t need to. He didn’t belong.

Marion occupied herself for a few moments, folding and refolding the napkin in her lap. When she looked up, the man was still standing there, still staring at her. She turned away, opened her menu and perused the day’s specials. When she looked up again a few moments later, the man was still staring. Her paranoia spiked. Who was he? What could he possibly want? Was he mistaking her for someone else? Was he drunk? A pervert? Or worse, a delivery man, waiting for Giancarlo to arrive before coming in with afterthought flowers or, God forbid, party balloons. Giancarlo’s taste often ran towards the commonplace rather than the elegant on such occasions. All Marion knew was that this man was not a part of her plan and had to be contended with at once.

It took her all of thirty seconds to make it outside. The man was still standing there, staring inside at her empty table, not noticing Marion’s arrival. She was about to lay into him. After all, what did she care if some sneaker-wearer saw her cracks? But there was something in the man’s demeanor which gave her pause.“Hello, there,” she said. The man looked up. His eyes were red and glassy. Either he was high on drugs or about to weep.

“Hey,” he said with a wan smile, recognizing her from the table. “Sorry. I wasn’t staring at you, I promise.” He started off, opening a cheap umbrella.

“No, wait. You certainly were staring. Why? Who sent you?”

The man hesitated, searched Marion’s face for sympathy, found none.

“It used to be our table,” he said anyway, shrugging.

“You and your wife?”

“Husband, actually.”

“I wouldn’t know, I’m sure. What I do know is that I can’t have you staring at me all
through dinner. It’s intolerable.”

“Then change tables,” the man said, suddenly on his guard, folding up his umbrella and planting his sneakers squarely apart on the pavement. “I’m not going anywhere and you can’t make me.”

“Perhaps not. That’s what our police are for.” She drew her phone like it was a gun.

“If that’s how you want to start your evening, then go for it, lady. I’ll be right here.” The man’s voice cracked. Was that a tear under his eye or a raindrop? “I’m not interested in you, lady, I promise. Just our table.”

“It’s my table, sir.”

Even without his looking at her, Marion saw herself in this man’s eyes. Upswept blond hair, French-tipped nails, diamond rings, imperiousness. The man only stared ahead, though. Her words had no more effect on him than they would have had on the rain, were she to ask it to stop. No, he simply looked through the window at the empty table, not uttering a further sound.

“Did you hear me?”

Rainfall. Nothing else.

“Well, I won’t call the police,” Marion said at last. “But the maître d’ will.” She turned on her heel.

“It would have been his birthday.”

The man would not let his eyes leave their table. His comment was transparently a desperate one, but an inkling of truth in it made Marion stop nonetheless. “We came here every year to celebrate it. Sat right at that table. Our table.”

“It’s his birthday?” Marion asked, feeling strangely in the wrong.

“Would have been.”

Suddenly Marion thought not of the years she’d invested in her husband, nor even of the good times they’d shared, nor of hardships they’d weathered, but of mundane things which, privately, she’d loved doing. How she’d lay out his wool socks herself on winter mornings, and help him off with his wet shoes when he came home. How she’d wait up when he was called out for emergency surgeries, and how she’d concoct midnight meals so they could have time alone when he came back, without the domestics hovering. How she’d worry whenever he’d flown post 9/11, and how she’d sweetly cry only after she’d hang up from his call letting her know he’d arrived safely.

Then she thought of his other family, of these months secretly, vehemently wishing him dead, then of the suite she’d told him she’d reserved at the Waldorf for their anniversary this very evening, presumably for the two of them, but really only for him. She’d had one of their maids pack a suitcase for him. It was waiting there, at the Waldorf, crammed full of her neatly-folded hatred. The hotel key was in the red envelope. Once Giancarlo had opened it, Marion’s plan was to excuse herself from their table and do her best never to lay eyes on him again. She’d even had the locks to their apartment changed. If she were to drop her plans now and let Giancarlo come home tonight, he’d ask where his bathrobe and toothbrush and contacts case and razor and—Christ!—his prescriptions had all gotten to, not to mention why his keys didn’t work in their door anymore. Had Bitsy been right? Did Giancarlo deserve a chance to explain himself?

A black town car splashed up to the curb next to her. Giancarlo got out, cradling a dozen long-stem red roses. His wide smile flashed the moment he laid eyes on Marion.

She turned away. She couldn’t face him. She would cry. Instead, like the strange man next to her, she focused her glance inside, at their table—everyone’s table—just in time to see her waiter Ian leaving the red envelope on Giancarlo’s chair.

Things were not going as Marion planned.

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