Hearts and flowers are all well and good, but we occasionally prefer our Valentine’s Day musings on the crisp side, with a touch of salt and vinegar. Fortunately, WVFC friend and contributor Dominique Browning obliged us with this delectably tart confection. Enjoy!  –Ed.

Anyone who has read my book Slow Love knows that I am an inveterate eavesdropper. I can’t help myself; restaurants are such fascinating places to learn about life—even if only about other people’s lives, at other people’s tables. Recently, I was treated to a fine lesson: There’s nothing worse than feeling alone during holidays, especially Valentine’s Day, especially if you are a married man. Something about holidays brings out the wobblies in a relationship. In that spirit, I offer some light reading.

Setting: A posh hotel restaurant in Manhattan. Discreet cheer and buzz. Elegant but sparkly decorations. A man, who could be a “Charlie,” arrives at the table, which happens to be uncomfortably close to mine, where I happen to be waiting for a chronically late date. A woman, who could be a “Polly,” has been waiting awhile too. Names changed, if only to protect the innocent along with the not-so-innocent.

Polly: How lovely to see you! What a surprise it was to get your message.

Charlie (edging into his seat, chuckling): Slide the table a bit, will you honey? I’ve gotten so fat I can hardly squeeze in.

Polly (generously, to my mind): You look great. What’s it been, eighteen? twenty years?

Charlie: Too long. I should have called sooner. I’ve been busy. Yesterday I was driving around your neighborhood, looking for your house, but I couldn’t remember the address. I have presents for you.

Polly: How nice! But I don’t live in that house any longer, Charlie. I sold it years ago.  How are you, anyway? How are the kids? How’s your wife? I heard you remarried . . .

Charlie: Everyone’s great. We bought a new house, actually. And we have dogs. And woods.

Polly: You always were good with real estate, as I recall. You have an eye for it.

My date shows up; lunch proceeds. I must field questions while distracted by the other couple’s drama. This takes intense concentration; I miss quite a bit, about where each person has been, what they’ve done. Things are sort of boring all around. But as the waiters clear the main course, Polly and Charlie pick up the original conversational thread. There’s no use pretending otherwise: My attention is riveted on the next table.

“I have a great life. I can’t complain.”

Charlie goes on to enumerate exactly what is great about his life: his several houses; his global travels; the pots of money he and his wife bring home; his wine cellar. This seems to be painful to hear, as Polly is wincing. No doubt she is thinking about what the last fifteen years of life might have been like, had she been able to stand Charlie. She is also scrutinizing Charlie; he appears youthful, in spite of gray hair, but after all, that’s what fat can do for you.

“My life is great. Not perfect. I haven’t been able to figure out why. The answer popped into my head last month. All of a sudden. Out of the blue. It took me a while to track you down, that’s all. I miss you. I never should have lost you. I had a bad case of you. I made a mistake.”

“What? Wait a minute. Are you dying or something? Do you have a terminal illness?”


“Are you having one of those end-of-life crises? A Jack Nicholson thing? Where you want to go and apologize to all the women you screwed over? I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Forget about it. Please. I have. After all these years . . .”

“No, no, I’m fine. I think. As far as I know.”

Charlie checks in the general direction of his lap. I am left to wonder what exactly he thinks “fine” means.

“Well, you don’t sound fine. Are you getting divorced? Is your marriage falling apart?”

“No, no. I do my thing, my wife does hers. She watches a lot of television.”

“So your thing is to have affairs? Did you just break up with someone? Are you rebounding?”

“No. I’ve been faithful for fifteen years. You just popped into my brain. It’s the holidays. People shouldn’t be alone on Valentine’s Day. Let’s get a room.”

“But you aren’t alone. Be with your wife. Anyway, what’s the point? We sleep together, and then what’ll happen tomorrow?

“Tomorrow?” Charlie appears dumbfounded by Polly’s foresight. “We’ll just have lunch again.”

“But I don’t want lunch. I mean, that’s not all I want. What will you do when I want the opera? Or the ballet?”

“No problem. I never go to the opera any more. I’d like to do that. My wife likes to watch TV.”

“But then what? What about dinner? And cuddling at two in the morning?”

“We’ll figure it out.”

Charlie picks up the dessert menu and stares at it.

“Like I said. I have everything. But something’s been missing.”

“Missing? What’s missing?”

Charlie frowns pensively into the middle distance, which happens to be somewhere in the vicinity of my table. Suddenly his face lights up.

“Cookies! That’s what’s missing! Cookies! Let’s wrap these cookies, and get a room. Do you think the restaurant will mind if we take their napkin?”

Charlie begins folding the heavy linen around the plate; Polly stops him, and reaches for a crumbling biscotti. I’m sitting here thinking his seduction techniques must be a bit rusty.

“Charlie, you’re on your own. Work it out.”

“I’m disappointed in you, Polly. Really. This isn’t how I imagined things going. I thought we’d be in bed by now. Won’t you just take off your shirt? I’ll just sit here. I promise.”

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • MamaKat February 13, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    Yes, Charlie, you deserve to be alone.

  • eleanore wells February 13, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    I would need to change a few things: (1) he shouldn’t be fat; (2) he shouldn’t be so obtuse. All the bragging about the money, houses, etc. that he’s sharing with the wife is not exactly the route to seduction. I do like the “just take off your shirt” line…although I have no idea why.

    A great V-day story!