A Good Meal

by a contributor

Ravi Mangla

The hostess points to a table in the corner of the dining room, where a man is eating alone. “Is that your husband?” the hostess asks. “Yes,” the woman says, the answer that seems closest at hand, even though the man is not her husband. The hostess leads the woman to the table and seats her across from the man. His knife pauses in mid-incision and he looks at the woman. “I’m not paying for your meal, you know,” he says. He returns to sectioning his steak. The woman browses the wine list. Halfway through the reds she notices the hostess guiding her husband into the dining room, depositing him at a vacant table. She considers how rare it is to observe someone you know so intimately from a distance, in a public setting, for any extended period of time. For a moment she tries to pretend they are perfect strangers, no longer bound by their common history. She watches him fidget with his silverware. He tucks his napkin into his collar, changes his mind, and places it in his lap. Can she picture herself in this scene? The man across from her, suddenly aware of the opportunity that has been presented to him, attempts to reclaim her attention. “Would you like to see how many potatoes I can fit in my mouth,” he asks. Before she can answer he begins packing his mouth with potatoes, alternating with separate forks. His cheeks widen and his face turns red. He mumbles something to her, but she is unable to reconstruct the words. The forks drop from his fists and clatter against the plate. She realizes he is choking. He pounds on the table and she tries signaling a waiter with her napkin, and when that doesn’t work she stands on her chair and shouts for help. Her husband, recognizing the voice, hastens to the table. He belts his arms around the choking man’s stomach. After several pumping motions the potato is exorcised, landing in the empty bread basket. The waiting staff crowd around the man, dab his forehead with a napkin, offer to refill his water. Her husband approaches with a quizzical expression. “What were you doing here?” he asks. “What is anyone doing anywhere?” she says. He considers the response for a moment. The answer seems to satisfy him. “Can I buy you dinner?” he asks, an earnest appeal. The breaking of bread won’t mend whatever is broken between them, but she wants to be the woman who believes in second chances. She wants to believe that all of the problems in the world can be solved with a good meal. Her husband offers her a silk rose from the choking man’s table. She twirls the stem in her fingers, holds the scentless petals under her nose.

Ravi Mangla lives in Fairport, NY. His stories have appeared in Mid-American Review, American Short Fiction, Corium Magazine, matchbook, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. A collection of microfictions, Visiting Writers, was published as an ebook by Uncanny Valley Press. He keeps a blog at ravimangla.com.

See Ravi’s list of 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series.