At the restaurant where we did not eat, there is a table near the kitchen doors. It is not the best table in the house, nor is it the worst even though normally the table by the kitchen doors is one of those two things. On a scale of 1 to 23, 23 being the best and the total number of tables in the restaurant except during special occasions, banquets, or large parties where the smaller tables are pushed together, though not particularly well as all of the tables are of slightly ununiform height and width, the table by the kitchen doors ranks at an 11. It is always an 11, even when the total number of tables in the restaurant changes, as per the aforementioned events. Even when there are 2 tables in the restuarant, or 37, the table by the kitchen doors ranks, will rank, has always ranked an 11. It is just that kind of table.
The 11 table is not a favorite of regular patrons, nor of irregular patrons. It does, however, have a regular set of customers: two women and one man, who always begin their meal with the following conversation.
Woman 1: I think I heard this is the building where Voltaire died.
Woman 2: I think I heard the same.
Man: Lets not have the soup.
The second woman believes there used to be more to the Man’s comment. She believes when they first had this conversation they speculated on how Voltaire had died, what his last meal must have been, and the man came up with a less than amusing comment about not eating the same thing for fear of dying of the same affliction even though Voltaire had died in the late 18th century and so even if they could speculate that Voltaire had eaten in this restaurant, had contracted some terrible malady from the cuisine, and had in fact died from the same, the meal, the cooks, the ingredients, the farms from which those ingredients originated would not, could not, and could never be in any way related so has to reproduce the same sequence of events in them, three patrons at the eleventh ranked table by the kitchen doors.
The first woman believes that the Man’s comment is a confession. ‘Lets not have the soup’ is his way of telling the woman that he is thinking of going back to his wife and they should no longer continue their affair, though by dessert he will have changed his mind and order the sorbet, which he will allow to melt slowly while contemplating how he will most efficiently remove his trouser socks.
The first woman also wonders if the second woman is having the soup. If she is, the first woman will spit in it when she’s not looking.
The man is allergic to peas.
At some point in the evening, though they do not know when, one of the waiters will spill something into the first woman’s lap and their meal will be comp’d. This is the reason they always ask for the table. This is the only reason they ask for this table.
Often it is soup that the waiter spills into the first woman’s lap and the man will say “See, I told you we shouldn’t have the soup” but no one will be listening as the waiter tries to lift tomato stains from the woman’s blouse with a warm dishcloth, the manager mutters his apologies and insists that their meal will be free, and the second woman thinks about how much she would like to move to Tuscany.
The waiter, who is always fired after the incident, but rehired the next morning because he is the manager’s nephew, is in love with the first woman and always spills things into her lap on purpose. She reminds him of the way water sounds falling on tin: loud and plinking but somehow smooth. She reminds him of his high school history classes: Cannae and defenestration. She reminds him of the number 11.
If she sat somewhere else, his crush on her would surely vanish. She would go back to being an ordinary patron in an ordinary restaurant and so he must continuously spill things into her laps so she and her companions will be convinced to come back to this table again and again.
He does not have a plan to woo or win her, just like the man does not ever contemplate returning to his wife. So long as they are content in their roles they will play them, just like the second woman will laugh at what she thinks she remembers is the man’s echo of a bad joke, and the first woman will lean a little forward in her chair when she sees the waiter coming, and the manager will fire and rehire his nephew,
until the table by the kitchen doors decides it would rather be a 12 and moves itself three inches to the left. Sometimes, that is all it takes.