Tuesday, February 28, 2006
When summer wind came to dinner
I am at Athena and Merlot again tonight. This time I’m by myself and inside.
I sit between tall, wooden shelves holding ceremonial bottles of wine. The French windows separate a cemented courtyard from an interior suffused with the educated intoxication of Viognier and Chardonnay. I can see palm leaves through dark, wooden slats. I’m sipping a garnet coloured drink from a flute glass. Wooden shelves criss-cross a mirror and light from red candles prick through the darkness in lacquered alcoves.
I just finish a cup of shrimp cocktail. The dish is a fine example of culinary restraint. The 1000 island dresses and not smothers the shrimp. It’s one of those dishes that one has in moments when you savor minutae – take tiny bites of succulent lime and wine flavored prawns, sometimes with a shred of lettuce or a sliver of olive. Food gives the notion that a little, sometimes, is all.
A group of beautiful people walk in – tall, feline, and glowing. Hair falls soft and straight on sculpted shoulders. Men proud, without being predatory. Woman delicate, without being dainty.
They look at me; look at the lights making patterns on the white, bond paper I write on. One of them smiles warmly as the group is seated at the best table in the house. A bearer gets them bowls of consommé. They approach their dish as if at a coronation. The candles seem to have tilted their flames to shine upon their handsome profiles. Their skin gleams with a luxurious artistry – moonlight on marble statues.
I trace the flickers of candles – see where they go. One of them is rather wild. It jostles about in the shadow and darts forth like a spit of gold on the bluish-green bottles of curacao. It misbehaves like a stray, unpinned strand of hair. It glides down one blade of a palm leaf and drips onto the smooth crest of a woman’s hair.
That little bit of candle shine reminds me of something. Something perhaps I had read earlier of enchantment or mystery. No. Not really. Something else – something candid and frivolous. The more I try to remember, the more it ebbs away. Unknowingly I squint, hard at thought. Unknowingly, I keep looking at the elegant group – poised, pretty, polished. They speak in muted coiffe over genteel clinks of cutlery.
I observe their cozy little nook of posh. Yet, that dot of candle shine willfully distracts me.
One of the women in the group turns to gaze at the red candles. After a while, I see her eyes trace the meandering path of a flame. She seems to be looking at a particularly impudent dab of light.
And suddenly, she hums, ‘And guess who sighs his lullabies, To all the nights that never end? My fickle friend, the summer wind.’
That’s what I was trying to remember – that soulful refrain to which the candle flame waltzed.
The lady who hummed was the one who had smiled at me when she’d walked in.
Later, dinner over, she dabs her lips politely and leaves the group.
As she walks away, I see a bit of candle shine woven through her hair that cascades like a satin sheet. I see her go – sweetly, gently, innocently, leaving behind just a little bit of ache – like our Frank Sinatra song.