Dinner at La Grenouille

It was a late Thursday afternoon in early fall.
I was unemployed and had just walked out of a job interview that
I knew I wouldn't get. That was the course of my life lately, and
I had a bad feeling coming on, a sinking apathy that was up to no
good, and it had both hands around my neck.

I dodged pedestrians as I walked up Park Avenue. The seamless flow
of the city shifted around me like quicksand, leaving me to stumble
and find my own way. I crossed the street, misjudged oncoming traffic
and stared face to face with the charging grill of a limousine.
I froze. The car hit the brakes, slid and stopped inches from my
knee.

The wretched details of my life flashed before my eyes. I scrambled
for the curb and sat down. The limousine turned the corner, eased
up to the curb and parked. I thought: Fuck. I must still owe one
hellacious gambling debt.

Bronwyn Whitmore's perfectly manicured fingers signaled me to the
window.

"If I'd known that was you, I would have told the driver to
speed up."

"Nice to see you, too," I said.

Her mother Renee and Renee's date, were also in the car. They were
all headed to La Grenouille for dinner.

I knew Bronwyn growing up in the city. We were groomed for the
same circles. But after college I let my hair grow, strapped on
a backpack and walked a couple of distant continents for fun while
Bronwyn strapped on a crocodile Hermes handbag, applied stylish
mascara and walked three blocks to LeCirque for 9:00 p.m. dinner
reservations.

The world according to Bronwyn was strictly material, and she made
no bones about it. You had things or you didn't. Possessions ruled.

Renee, on the other hand, had grown past all that. Beside, pettiness
was time consuming, and who had time? Sure, Renee had the cash flow,
probably something close to the GNP of a small European nation,
but that idea seemed to bore her. Renee Whitmore had a light heart.
It was delicate but carefree and could possibly be lifted off to
anywhere in a small breeze. And women with light hearts made me
warm inside. With her slight figure and timeless features, Renee
had a presence that drew people in. She was a tight little package
with a few frayed ribbons on top. There's something good to be said
for wear and tear, and I could only imagine a beautiful gift underneath.

In our corner booth, Renee fingered an elegant scarf draped around
her neck. It was a gift from an Ivy League roommate, she told us.
The roommate gave it to her on the first night Renee tasted Tequila,
and Renee thought, for a few fleeting moments after she and the
friend locked lips, that she might by gay. The fun of that moment
in her life, she said, was that none of it really seemed to matter.
The scarf, the Tequila or the kiss. While everyone at the table
laughed, I couldn't take my eyes off the smooth skin of her arms
and neck. I knew if I ever got my act together, I could write poetry
about Renee. I knew I could feel the heightened energy and will
of that skin and put it all into words. She made me think of Byron's
Don Juan and Henry Miller at his raunchiest. Who couldn't live with
a healthy combination of both? She laughed again, and my mind was
instantly made up.

Renee would be my Helen of Troy, complete with pouty lip, knowing
eyes and polished marble. I wanted to burn a hole inside her, like
a vision from the Second Coming, and lick her clean. I wanted to
attach her to my soul, wrap her flesh around my fingers.

I ordered dinner but couldn't remember looking at the menu. I didn't
remember the taste of my Scotch. A palm closed around my hand and
Bronwyn leaned over to me and whispered: "I want you to stay
over tonight."

I nodded Yes, and thought to myself: If only you could catch me.
I'm already outside.

Without thinking, I am nothing. I am dead, a scatter of wind, a
pelt of rain, a fallen oak, the rings of my age eaten away by termites.
With Renee, my life would have meaning--something to strive for,
something to lose, something to die for. It would be rich with possibilities.

I signaled for another drink, and Renee saw me. Her eyebrows went
up. In my mind all hell broke loose. Blood and guts, spark and gamble,
the depth of knowledge and the fall of mankind. And beneath the
table, on her own erotic mission, Bronwyn placed her hand on my
crotch and squeezed.

"What do you think of my mom's date?" She asked.

I caught the date staring across the restaurant, looking for someone
to see him sitting next to Renee. He could've been standing in an
open field, deciphering constellations. I didn't care.

"He seems nice," I said. "What's his name?"

"Ivan."

Renee would be my living canvas, evenly stretched and tenderly
smoothed over with a mix of oil and tongue. Magically balanced like
Magritte, stripped like Klimt, colored like Matisse, detailed like
Canaletto. I'd place those goddammed Monet waterlillies around her
like a Venus, and I'd have a masterpiece. I'd be a man driven insane
by his own capabilities in a matter of seconds. Suicide wouldn't
be a thought. It would be a necessity.

"What are you thinking about?" Bronwyn asked.

"Nothing," I lied. "Let's hurry up with dessert
and espresso." I grinned and Bronwyn squeezed my crotch again.

I excused myself and made it to the restroom hallway, where I waited.
In no time I looked up, and there she was, standing in front of
me. She took my hand and opened the door to the women's restroom.

Clean tile walls closed in on my pathetically sad soul. Oblivious
to Renee's noise, I disappeared into the moment. Someone knocked
on the locked door. I labored hard and we had to put that scarf
in her mouth to keep things quiet.

Within the hour I am twelve floors above the city with Bronwyn
beneath me and I can still feel the pavement below. Cabs move in
timely unison. The speed of light ricochets off sleeping skyscrapers
and baffles my brain to extinction. I think of your skin, Renee,
as I screw your daughter by rote. And when I come, all feeling escapes
me and freezes my insides to ice.

The next morning as I quietly walked out of the lobby of Bronwyn
and Renee's Fifth Avenue apartment, Renee walked in. She could have
had that fatigued, hungover look about her, but she didn't. Renee
was composure and chaos, insanity and genius, but you'd never know
the difference. She was stronger than the pull of the tide, the
glow of the moon, the shuffle of the continents. And I let her go.
I watched her go. Like me, she was soft in the middle and a rock
on the outside. Go ahead and hit me. I'm hard as granite, but pliable
as clay.

I stumbled to kiss her and she embraced me like an old friend.
Public dictates proper etiquette. She pushed the elevator button
and vanished, the doors closing behind her.

But they popped back open and she stepped out.

"Forgot my scarf," she said. In a rush, she flew by me.

Renee darted between two parked Towne Cars, waving at Ivan to stop,
never looking behind. The brakes of Ivan's Mercedes lit her eyes
and all that was left was the sound of screeching New York City
cab tires. Her body was thrown against another car. I turned away.
No way to comprehend the pain.

Ivan jumped out of his car and ran to her, holding that goddamned
scarf.

I stood under the awning, leaned against the brick wall. One doorman
dashed by me while another picked up the phone. Labor unions and
uniforms. There's an interesting life for you.

A crowd gathered and an ambulance soon came. Ivan in his turtleneck
and stoic face held Renee's head, as if that would bring her back.
Bronwyn ran by me in her robe and dropped in front of it all, a
dramatic display of worship and whorish appeal that struck me as
sacrilegious. I can't explain why. Medics maneuvered around them.
And finally, they were both pulled away.

That night had value and merit and a scathing epilogue. There will
always be pockets of emptiness in civilization that will lead to
decay, self doubt, and decline. Seize the day. Seize the damned
day. Many have died and come up short, never realizing the honesty
of courage or the sexiness of being bold.

I disappeared around the corner, my fingers trailed along the stone
block of the building, the hard creation of a beginning and an end.
Fuck it all, I said. I'll wander the earth alone.

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