Front of the House

Gary Hawkins

In the years of their courtship he was a front waiter at the best restaurant in town. Though she could hardly afford to dine there, some nights he’d come to her window late, after he’d closed down the dining room and recite long, fluent descriptions of the evening’s courses, whispered to her so as not to wake up the man from whom she rented her room. She liked most how he spoke of the cheeses and all the ways he sought not to say “stinky” — though they both loved the stinkiest bleus, which some nights he would palm from the kitchen, along with an unfinished bottle of Dom left by one of his regulars, and he would pull taut the linen of her sheets and carefully lay out a cheese course, which their lovemaking would inevitably dismantle. She knew that she should not fall for this, that a waiter’s work is performance and part of an economy of crude gratitude that should not be confused with the tender economies of love. Still, even after years of marriage she swoons when he stops to ask the cheesemonger for an eighth kilo of Humboldt Fog and when he pauses to accept the wax package as if sharing wafers with a congregant, though she can see his lips tighten when another clerk makes a scripted wine recommendation and then they join the parallel lines of couples funneling through the express lanes toward the parking lot. So when she asks “What are you making tonight?” and he grumbles “Dinner,” she whispers her own lush illustration of what may come from the ingredients in their shopping bag, which he’ll assemble silently and present with barely a smile, as if he no longer wants anything from her.

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