I am meeting him for lunch again today. This time I chose an upscale
seafood restaurant with a good view of the harbor. Last time we ate at an expensive French bistro
across from the park. Although he never eats, presentation and color in food are of great importance to him. As always, I am early and manage to snag a window table with a panoramic
view of the ocean. I always try to keep in mind his sense of aesthetic -- ugliness deeply offends him, a seeming irony
considering his permanent address.
I never know what he is going to look like, so I wait patiently for the loveliest person in the establishment to approach me. He takes great care in selecting his forms, and I can usually count on him to be a stunning young man with flawless features, however on occasion he likes to surprise me, once he took the form of a ten-year-old peruvian girl with glossy black hair that fell past her waist and eyes the color of rainclouds.
Today I see a tall latino with curly black hair and hazel eyes scan across the room. Our eyes meet and his lips quirk into an all-too-familiar half-smile. So this is who he is today; I am impressed by his choice, as usual. His stride is measured and confident as he walks over to my table and takes the seat opposite from me. He takes one long-fingered hand and places it on top of mine, "Charles," he says, "you are looking well," this time his voice is a warm baritone with a slight island lilt.
We make small talk as he orders for us, grilled sea bass and some sort of pricey wine I'd never heard of. He carelessly tosses back his hair and flashes me a toothsome grin, the dimples are a nice touch, I think. He asks detailed questions about the minutiae of my days, but never once seems interested in giving the secrets of his; although I imagine that they must be less filled with routine than mine. Sometimes, I think he arranges for us to have these luncheons because he's lonely.
The food arrives and it is exquisite. The sea bass is moist and flaky and the unusual combinations in its fruit marinade make every bite a pleasant surprise. He seems very pleased with the presentation and spends a moment staring at the colors and textures that interplay on the plate (the china, I notice, is also well-chosen, its bold colors compliment the entree). Despite the fact that he never eats or drinks anything, his choice of wine is impeccable; it is full-bodied and slightly dusky without being overpowering. It is mildly oaky vintage that does not overshadow the sea bass. He asks me to describe the last movie I saw as he turns his head towards the window to watch the tall-masted sailing ships glide out to sea.
I've never asked him about the revolt, I've been curious, but he seems so reticent to discuss anything at all about his life that I fear touching on such a delicate subject. Sometimes he seems so sad that I wonder if he regrets his decision, but I do not ask. In those moments, I merely hold his hand and gaze out on whatever lovely scene is before us.
Once we were at a Japanese restaurant when the cherry blossoms were in season, and I had a few too many cups of sake and asked him what the quarrel was really about. He raised his eyebrows and stared off into space for a while before answering, "He always was equally fascinated by the grotesque and the sublime. How could I work with someone who finds absolutely nothing repugnant?"
Today he seems to wax philosophical while I tell him about the Gustave Caillebotte exhibit at the art museum. He does not, as a rule, enjoy impressionism, but he always likes to hear about art museums. Once I had asked why he never visits museums and he replied offhandedly that seeing the most glorious moments of former friends fade and decay depressed him, I never asked again.
He closes his eyes as he hears soft strains of Baroque music being played over the restaurant's sound system. I am constantly surprised at how sensitive he is, even after ten years of lunch meetings, I suppose old prejudices die slowly. I want to ask him if he knew Bach, but I notice a dampness around his eyes and take a bite of asparagus instead.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to kiss him, a thought that faintly repulses me when I remember what he really is. He chooses his forms well, and I am fascinated by the faint shading of stubble along his jawline. His eyelashes are very long and fall against his cheek. I supress the urge to lavish kisses along the lines above his cheekbones.
At that moment, dessert comes, it's Bananas Foster and we both admire the glow of the flames (I only wish that they dessert was served at dusk instead of in the afternoon). He folds his hands neatly in his lap as I try not to slurp and wonder where the coffee is.
He shifts the conversation to architecture, he is a great admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright and I.M. Pei and begins to discuss their influence on some of the newer building downtown. It's a discussion that is frankly over my head, so it is my turn to to watch the ships in the harbor, occasionally making sounds to show that I am listening.
Coffee comes, and for the first time during the lunch I am disappointed. The coffee is too bitter and was roasted for far too long. I take a few halting sips before abandoning it for a lost cause. He looks over at me and smiles wistfully, "The ocean is very calming, I had forgotten how blue it can be."
I think that next time I will arrange for lunch on a boat, perhaps one of those mini-cruises that sail you out to sea, serve lobster then deposit you on the shore again. He pays the bill, as usual, leaving a generous tip for our inobtrusive but efficient waitress.
He stands to leave, then impulsively bends down to kiss me on the cheek, a gesture of intimacy that takes me be surprise, and whispers in my ear, "I never told you how much I look forward to these lunches. Sometimes they're all that I have left of goodness. Thank you."
As he turns to leave, I can't help noticing how sad his eyes are and how sad they always have been, no matter what form he takes. Then again, if I had a thousand names that were all hateful to me, perhaps I would be sad too.