Dietrich knew as soon as he agreed to do it, that serving the salmon mousse early would be a mistake. By some fluke, his son’s wedding had run ahead of schedule, and he and Judith stood in Ménage’s anteroom as wedding guests surrendered keys to valets and stepped under the awning expecting a banquet that was not ready for them.
“It’s your restaurant,” Judith said. “I don’t see what the big deal is.” After thirty years of marriage, she never troubled to understand the Dietrich’s business, that veal picata had an existence prior to being served by a waiter whom she’d later take pride in under-tipping.
“It’s a matter of cook time,” Dietrich said, but she didn’t hear him because just then Susan’s parents came in, a gratifying flush of surprise on their faces as they took in the vaulted ceiling and tall windows. A review in The Daily Herald had said that unlike other restaurants, which feel like you’re stepping into a cave, Ménage was like feasting atop
Olympus. They embraced all around and said how happy
they were, and Dietrich said it was wonderful having such a beautiful and
charming girl as Sarah in the family.
Judith told them about the food dilemma, adding that Dietrich he could do what he wanted. Her unspoken threats of sexual embargo had been significantly more effective two decades ago, before her tummy had begun to wrinkle like cellophane laid over a pan of tapioca. Dietrich’s jaw set. He would not be pushed around this time, not for being generous. It was the way things always worked out: be the nice guy, do the thoughtful thing, and at first everyone’s all “you’re so good” and “how sweet,” and then they just get right back to being their ordinary shit selves. Dietrich’s brother Tim hadn’t landed in the restaurant two seconds before rushing to the bar to get his double Makers Mark, free of charge, his eyes meanwhile undoing the barista’s blouse buttons. For once, Dietrich would have told Judith it was too bad but she couldn’t have every little thing just her way, but then Sarah and Chuck came in. Dietrich shook his son’s hand, and hugged Sarah, touching his lips to her ear, and saying he loved her and how happy he was.
Sarah pulled back to look at him, arm’s length, happily not breaking the embrace, calling him the pet name she’d given him, “Deech, this is fabulous, oh my gosh, you are the best.” Dietrich’s heart rose like a balloon, a mood Judith lost no time in puncturing by pointing out no one would get to eat for another half-hour. Sarah’s pretty face fell, and she said Dietrich’s pet name, trailing off into an ellipsis of disappointment.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he promised.
So dinner was served thirty minutes before it should have been, and if the salmon mousse was underdone, no one seemed to mind, sitting at long tables covered by snow-white linen, amid the subdued chatter of happy people, the clink of crystal and cutlery, the soft, intriguing bangings of wood and brass and tentative curlicues of music as the band set up on stage. Everyone there remembered to tell Dietrich how good the food was, how beautiful his restaurant, and how splendid the wines that he had chosen. Sarah sat beside him, large-eyed and admiring to hear such effusive, well-deserved and graciously accepted praise. Then there were champagne toasts, and Sarah made a special toast to Dietrich and everyone clapped, and when the lights lowered as the wedding cake wheeled in, and the band played a little “ta-dah!” a positive oooh of delight went up like a benediction, and shortly after that the band began to play and there was dancing.
Dietrich switched from pinot to champagne, and the tall windows, winking now with sparkles in the darkness, and then linen tablecloths, and the happy people seemed to swim around him. He managed a dance with Judith, and got to dance with Sarah in her low-cut dress, his fingertips tingling against the skin of her bare back. The band picked up another tune, and Tim put down the Makers Mark he’d been guzzling to take a turn with Sarah himself. He’d left his coat on the chair, and his bowtie hung from his unbuttoned collar like two outstretched butterflies. Dietrich laughed and talked too loudly to Aunt
trying to keep from looking at Tim’s greedy fingers clutching at Sarah’s waist,
but then, to Dietrich’s infinite relief, Tim let her go and called out to Judith,
“Let’s show them what we can do.” Sarah
stood beside Dietrich as Tim and Judith took the floor. Sarasota
“They were dance partners in college,” Dietrich explained, grateful for the music and applause because they gave him reason to put his lips to her ear to say this. “They’re really quite good.”
Dietrich watched his smiling wife and brother on the shimmering parquet, exulting, clasping Sarah’s small cool hand in his. Tim and Judith did a dance move where they turned side to side, facing the crowd. Sarah began to say how wonderful the wedding had been, how wonderful Menage was, and how wonderful Deech was.
This is when the vomiting started.
No amount of social restraint or good breeding prepares you to cope with being spewed on during a wedding reception at a four-star restaurant, and screams of horror went up, and people jumped from their seats as if at a fire alarm. Only the people right next to the dance floor actually got spattered, which unfortunately included Dietrich and Sarah, but Aunt Virginia in her wheelchair got a good lapful, and at once the salmon-colored geyser was followed by the smell of hot vomit, a smell that as anyone can tell you is as capable of inducing more vomit as a bellyful of undercooked fish.
A chain-reaction orgy of vomiting ensued, communicating from one table to the next like an orange wave. Dietrich turned to Sarah, a plea for forgiveness burning on his lips.
Dietrich was a restaurant owner of thirty years experience. His restaurant was Zagat-rated and Boston Magazine regularly chose it for its “Best Of” issue. It had received raves from pop stars and movie stars. If anyone should have known the mousse was unfit to eat, it was Dietrich. Why then, he would have had not one helping, but two, is a mystery we can only put down to the giddiness of the evening.
Orange slightly chunky liquid seemed to appear of its own according dripping from Sarah’s chin and forming a half-starburst on her clavicle before Dietrich was even aware of the heat in his mouth, aware of the flavor of rich cream and gastric juice, aware that it had come from him. We’ll look back later and laugh is what people sometimes say. And though Dietrich was to look back on this evening many times over his remaining years, he never laughed once. One scream and she turned and fled toward the bathrooms, slipped in puddle and fell on the marble floor, got up again, and in Dietrich’s blurring sight ran away.