Order Something Else

Your dad took me out to dinner in Portland. He wanted to wine me and dine me, convince me you weren’t all bad, you just had things to do.

“What things?” I asked.

“You know, things. He’s going to be a great man.”

“When?” I inquired genuinely, but he took it as a snarky question.

“It’s not easy with a distraction like you around. He needs a clear head.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I’m his agent.”

At that moment, the waiter brought us a giant basket of stale bread and plunked it down like it was a bum blackjack hand. “Have you thought about what you want?” the waiter demanded with an overstated philosophical slant.

“I have,” said your father.

“Me too,” I chimed in, but I don’t think they heard me.

“She needs more time to fully grasp what’s on the menu,” your father insisted to the waiter.

With that, he turned back to me and showed me the menu as though he was reading me a fable. “Pasta with clams could be a good option for you. Or maybe you want something lighter, less intense. How about a simple spaghetti marinara?”

“No, I don’t want that. Why are you trying to persuade me into one thing or another?”

“I just don’t want you to be hungry.”

“Well, I am, so I might as well wait and actually get what I want instead of just shoving anything down my throat for the purposes of satiation.”

Your father seemed embarrassed now, like he knew he had overstepped his bounds. “How do you like Portland?”

“It’s exactly what I pictured.”

“Does that mean you like it?”

“We’re in an Italian restaurant in the middle of nowhere off the freeway. Do you think I couldn’t get that experience anywhere else in America?”

“But it’s the people. The people here in Portland. They’ve really got something figured out.”

“And that is?”

“How to live, little girl, how to live.”

It disturbed me that he felt compelled to address me as “little girl,” but then I figured he had spent so much time viewing you as a little boy that he couldn’t see anyone under thirty as fully grown.

“What are you referring to? A slower pace? Vintage shopping–what?”

“It’s just a method of being that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

“I’m not moving here.”

“No one wants you to. You’re not apart of this. I’m only here to make the transition more seamless for you. That’s why he sent me.”

“He sent you because he couldn’t do it himself.”

“What does it matter now? We’re here together, let’s enjoy it.”

The waiter returned, eyes glazed over as though he had been relishing one of the more well-known herbal benefits of living in Portland. “Do you know what you’ve decided now?”

Before I could speak for myself, your father asserted, “She’ll have the spaghetti marinara. Nice and simple. And why don’t you give her a house red wine to go with it? Such an infallible combination. No room for disappointment.”

I closed my mouth. Speaking for oneself was not something little girls did. As the waiter languidly took our menus, I noticed that your father hadn’t ordered anything.

“Aren’t you going to eat?”

“I ate already. I don’t need food. I only came here for you.”

“Where is he?”

“He’s doing important things. He’s going to be a great man.”

When the spaghetti came, it was covered in a congealed red sauce that almost looked like blood. I didn’t want to be rude, so I took the first bite with my eyes closed. Your father was paying, after all. That was the source of his power.

“Isn’t that much better than what you originally planned to order?”

I nodded reluctantly. He watched me intently, wanting to be certain I was truly delighting in what he had chosen for me. By the time I reached the bottom of the plate, I felt like I was going to be sick. But your father was beaming. He had gotten me to order something else.

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