East Hampton, NY -- Today ... early in the week. Or it could have taken place 25 ... 50 years ago. Circumstances change, certain needs do not.
A refined, yet understated restaurant.
I had just ordered. I am the only person in this section of the room.
A middle-aged man enters with a young woman. They sit in the corner near a partition to the front hall, opposite each other. His energy absorbs the room like a vacuum -- he leaves no space for anyone else but this girl and himself. Her long brunette hair falls in untrained curls past her shoulders stealing down her back. Her skin is pale, untouched. Her face is barely visible, her profile hints at a natural prettiness. Her arms are bare.
His voice is brash, oblivious, with a sharpened tone. He makes no effort to speak discreetly. I am sitting two tables away. He wants to be noticed, he wants to be seen with her. His graying hair pokes awkwardly out of his closely shorn head in mismatched sections. His features are indistinguishable, no real character to his nose, his eyes are dull, his eyebrows hang suspended, his tanned cheeks oddly lifeless and unformed. The dark hair on his beefy lower arms telegraphs more about his character than any other physical aspect. His voice, hardened and thickened by years of meat eating and social drinking, consumes the room.
He fidgets insecurely. Their cautious, superficial banter reveals that intimacy has not yet been breached. They brush the surface of one another with furtive sentences back and forth.
Her voice, lead by a set Russian accent, lilts in melodic, practiced, buttery tones.
What she says is not important yet, but how she says it affirms everything. She carefully begins to wrap her voice around him in small, vibrational circles. I am quickly drawn into their conversation, an unwilling silent witness.
He talks rapidly and loudly to the waiter, "We usually eat in the dungeon below - I like it up here. But I like dungeons also -- don't you?" She acquiesces, "I like dungeons ..." with a soft, childlike laugh.
The waiter nervously laughs. The man looks at her, "You'll always know when I like something. I hold nothing back." Uncomfortable silence.
His compliments spill forth in layer after layer of clumsy sweetening. "You're so pretty ... Do you know that? You must know that ..."
She leads with conversation about her family. She mentions her mother whose husband is not working.
"Was he laid off?"
"I don't really know what is going on -" she vaguely replies. She shows him photographs of them on her phone.
"You look like your grandmother... What a handsome boy he is, I would take him out on my boat, if you'd like that."
"You like oysters?" he suggests.
"Oh, yes..." she quietly giggles.
"We'll have twelve oysters. Start with that."
I roll my eyes. 12 oysters, no less. I shake my head with a slight smile and shift uncomfortably in my chair. Oh, this is painful.
There is no ease, no breath. He keeps pushing through the air at her, testing her, prodding her, trying to court in agitated bursts of energy. She holds back, keeps him at arm's length, revealing small bits of herself, one peek at a time.
"I tried for three days to send you flowers. You know the flowers I sent you? At every turn there was a problem but I wasn't going to let anything stop me. I was going to get those flowers to you no matter what. That's who I am."
"God, you're so beautiful, you know that?" She doesn't thank him. She silently absorbs it.
The waiter returns.
"She'll have the haddock with no sauce, no dairy, no wheat berries -- do I have it right? I'm trained well, aren't I?" he boyishly prods.
"Yes ..." she playfully laughs, "And mushrooms on the side," she adds, "No dairy at all, nothing on the haddock, no butter? Just plain greens, yes?" prompting the waiter.
"Look at her. Then look at me. I eat steak everyday. I need to make a change. I mean, will you look at her? She is onto something looking like that. I'll have the haddock, sauce on the side. I'll try to be good..." he chuckles carelessly. She laughs, pleased.
She begins to open up to him. "... I want a career. I want to be successful," she stresses.
"You MUST pursue your career. You don't want to be 50 with two kids and nothing else to show for yourself ... You know I'd love to take you up into my arms and take care of you for the rest of your life, you wouldn't have to worry about anything, you know that ..." She sits silent. "Material stuff is easy. Nothing to it. Money is not a problem."
More people filter into the room. I try to escape, block his voice out, read text on my phone aloud to myself, mindlessly Google. Nothing works. I search for my IPod, it isn't in my bag. Good God, I'm a prisoner, a captive audience. I try to distract myself, lose myself in the food, the taste and texture of the meaty wheat berries kissed with butter ... The table between us remains empty.
"But we are just friends --" she demurs.
"Yes, of course, just friends. I don't want anything from you. I am here for you no matter what. I will never be angry with you, no matter what you say or whatever happens. I will never get angry with you."
"Yes, please, no anger ..." she gently purrs.
"Even if you said you were in love with Ian and decided to go off with him I would not be angry. Nothing you say could make me angry."
"Do you work all week? Is there any day you have free if I take the boat out? I've missed you these last three weeks ..."
"I really like you. I know I am 52, you are 25. I'm sure you've thought about that. When I am 72, you'll be 45 -- that's not too bad ... I am here for you, you know that?"
On and on. Their conversation has consumed me, the waiter, even the hostess on the other side of the partition, we have become mute participants in the escalating drama. Like a whirlpool, we are all caught up in it.
"God, you're so beautiful." She again remains silent.
"My skin was not so good, I had acne," she draws him to her.
"No, not that bad. But I had trouble with it."
"Well, now it is perfect, smooth as glass ..."
He continues to press. "You know, some people you have chemistry with in life are not good for you. And then there are some people you don't realize you have chemistry with --"
You've got to be kidding.
The desperation rises in his voice throughout dinner -- instead of becoming more relaxed, he grows more anxious, overreaching, direct.
"You need to take that call? Is that the woman with the apartment? Take the call, go ahead. I can help find you an apartment."
He turns his attention to the waiter, trying to talk him up, win him over as she speaks on her cell phone.
"What's your name? ... Oh, that's my son's name. Well, you'll be seeing a lot of us this summer. A lot."
The waiter leaves. Everyone has left the room except for the three of us. An unwitting ménage. Now he goes full throttle, he squarely faces her and starts telling her how he feels directly. She has rendered him powerless yet he still thinks he is in control, that he's the one who is driving the conversation and blossoming connection. I blank his words out, buck my head back on an unchecked impulse, cringing, have a quick fantasy about pulling him aside and telling him to STOP, just stop trying so damn hard. But he is already lost. I rush through my gelato.
"We're friends, yes?" she softly rebuffs him.
"Oh, yes, you know that. No matter what." The tension is palpable, the atmosphere tight and restricted. A painful silence follows. I am right over here, people!
I can viscerally sense his overwhelming need to penetrate into her, her nubile, supple body, into the mystery of her. He can't think about anything else.
Someone from the front hallway overhears him say, "I would divorce my wife for you -"
Then, "... Why would he leave you? Why would anyone be that crazy?"
"I don't know," she almost whispers.
Two nights later. Same restaurant. Much warmer night. Summer has arrived with a swift push. Its glow spills into the dining room. The side door is open this time. A fresh breeze.
I am at the same table. I'm almost through with my dinner when the same man with the same young woman enter. I look up in horror and disbelief with huge eyes at the waiter who recognizes the unbelievable coincidence and drops his mouth. They sit at their table in the corner. The energy between them has inexplicably changed. They sit next to each other this time, knees within touching distance. They are happy, conversing brightly and excitedly.
The room is noisier, filled with diners.
His voice still stands out.
"I have to warn you my "ex" wife is going around harassing people. She has heard I'm having an affair and she has been showing up at places around town. She might show up at the spa ..."
"Some people are so unhappy, why do they live that way? I could never live like that," she responds. No mention of being "just friends" tonight.
The noise in the room envelops them. He leans into her. They speak closely now. "I would never, never, NEVER let them send you back to Russia. Vladimir Putin would have to shoot me himself first."
The waiter goes to their table and lightly greets them.
"We'll have the same thing, I know what we want. She's trained me well! She'll have exactly what she had before -- the haddock with no dairy or wheat berries, no butter, no sauce, greens with nothing on them."
"And mushrooms on the side," she playfully consents.
"I'll have the haddock again as well. Just the way she's having it. It's the best way. Amazing." She talks rapidly now, taking hold of the conversation. He sits forward content, pleased to listen to her speak. She spins and spins the melody of her conversation around him. He smiles, blissful and unaware. And happy to stay exactly where he is, no matter what.
He is just about to blow his life up.
Summer in the Hamptons is in full swing. And it's not even the first of June yet.