I went to a literary soiree a while back and a good and famous writing friend told me that this was one of her favorite stories of all time. Go figure. So all these other literary sorts were asking me where they could read it. (Like it had been in the New Yorker or something.) So, previously only available on my laptop, I give you:
“What doesn’t happen at the Olive Garden”
Nina had driven out from Stockton so her son, Jonathan, and his boyfriend, Tim, could bring her to this French restaurant for her birthday. She would have preferred the Olive Garden. She was afraid she’d order cow brains then eat them with the wrong fork. But Jonathan liked exotic, expensive things. It’s like he’d never been to Stockton.
Nina bought her outfit at Mervyn’s for the occasion–black because French people made her feel fat. Nina was a confused when their waiter asked what kind of water she wanted, but he spoke English so Nina relaxed a bit.
Jonathan ordered for her. Her first dish was a stack of Lincoln Logs made out of potatoes and a pile of shredded greens edged with dots of red syrup. Next came yellowish balls arranged in a pond of green.
“Frog legs!” Jonathan cheered.
This was followed by fish eggs, black circles of fungus from Oregon, a rainbow of sauces, and big glasses of purple wine–circus food. Nina ate dutifully.
“This burgundy is from the south of France. The grapes are grown at the top of the mountain where they suffer,” Tim went on.
“Poor things,” thought Nina, looking around. Sparkly chiffon on a bed of black lycra. Crisp wool with a red tie. A young Asian couple in the opposite corner was drinking champagne and kissing.
“Egg Variations!” The waiter set a plate in front of her with a soft-boiled egg in a cup, a sunny-side-up egg with a slice of bacon, and a dish of yellow soup with a white fluff floating in it. Written on the plate was “Congratulations!”
“Congrats on another year, mom.”
Nina stuck her fork in the fried egg and tasted it–coconut. The bacon was sugar and the soft-boiled egg was pudding. Dessert! The meal was almost over. Soon she’d be in her car with the radio on and her skirt unzipped. She picked up the white fluff and popped the whole thing into her mouth. There was something hard in it. Egg shell? She took a swig of water and swallowed it down.
“You O.K. mom?”
“Went down the wrong pipe.”
The Asian/champagne man looked distressed and called the waiter over. Another joined them, then the hostess and the chef. They all looked at Nina. One of the men came to her table.
“I’m sorry, madame, but there has been a mix up. You were given a dessert that was meant for another woman. Would you mind if I take your plate?”
“But I’ve finished it. Can’t you make her another?”
“The problem is there is a diamond engagement ring in the creme brulee and the gentleman would like it back.”
Nina took a gulp of wine and imagined her stomach on a platter, split open to reveal a psychedelic mash of French food topped by the sparkling gem and laughed so hard red wine shot out her nose.