When the manager finally came to our table, he set his meaty fist on the starched white linen, knuckles down. He leaned toward my husband, Ron, who was seated across from me. “My mother made that quiche,” he said, “and she ain’t no liar.”
The manager had walked over to us at a leisurely pace, shaking hands with other diners. Regulars. They had nicknames. He’d paused at one of the tables and said something that made the customers laugh. Something naughty, I think. One woman had wagged her finger at him, but the manager was all serious now.
I caught Ron’s eye through the candlelight that separated us and bobbed my head to the right, Let’s go. Ron ignored me. He straightened his posture and cleared his throat. “There’s not one single mushroom in this quiche,” he said, repeating what he’d told the nervous waiter ten minutes before. “If you’re going to call something spinach mushroom quiche, then there’d better be mushrooms in it.” Ron searched the manager’s face, daring him to respond.
Ron hadn’t eaten a second bite of it, saving the egg-pie evidence for the manager. He’d eaten the wilted pile of greens it had come with, though, and two white rolls with butter. The nearly-complete slice of quiche sat alone on his plate and leaned a bit, like it had become bored with the wait.
“How do you know there aren’t mushrooms in there? You had one nibble,” the manager said.
“I can’t see any mushrooms from the sides,” Ron said, gesturing at the length of the slice. “Spinach and onion only.”
“They’re chopped up. You’ll see. Just eat it. You’ll see.”
“This quiche has no mushrooms.”
The manager moved in closer. “I’m telling you, there’s mushrooms in there. You just haven’t found them yet.”
My husband shook his head. What the manager didn’t know was that Ron craved the feeling of catching someone in a lie more than any other high in the world. More than the thrill of a roller coaster when it dropped three stories. More than a lottery win. More than hotel sex. Ron’s right eye twitched with excitement.
The manager pointed to the sad little slice, which now leaned even further. It hovered mid-drop like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. “How can you know what’s in there when you haven’t checked?”
After a moment, Ron said, “I know because I smelled it.”
The manager looked around, including other patrons in the conversation. He spoke loud, like a comedian, the whole restaurant his audience. “He smelled it,” he said. “This guy’s like a genius or something. He can tell me what’s inside by just his nose.”
There were a few titters, not any outright laughs, and right after, there was silence. It felt like people wanted to look over at us, but all eyes were on their food.
“Ron, please,” I said.
The manager smiled like an alligator.
“Ron,” I said.
Ron held a palm toward me, my cue to stay the hell out of it. I sat back in my chair and smoothed the napkin on my lap. It was our first night out since having the baby. I’d imagined us clinking glasses, his hand on my thigh. I was suddenly very thirsty.
The manager sized up my husband. I wondered if he could sense Ron salivating at the chance to be correct in front of all of these witnesses. Did he know Ron would retell this moment for the next 12 months at least? I felt a rush of pity for the man, but they were both ridiculous.
“I’d like an apology,” Ron said.
“You would? You’d have me call my mother and wake her up? Make her come down here and face you? Well, she ain’t going to apologize cause there’s mushrooms in this quiche, goddammit. It’s her special recipe. My grandmother’s recipe. I been eating this thing my whole life.”
“No,” Ron said. “I wouldn’t dare wake your mother. What a terrible suggestion. Mothers are sacred. I would never bring a man’s mother into this. You’re the one in charge of this restaurant. You’re the one who lied on the menu.”
The manager almost said something, but then didn’t.
“I’ll prove it,” Ron said. He lifted his fork and knife and carefully sliced down the center of the pie. I held my breath and waited, secretly hoping that just this one time Ron would look like a fool. He’d promised me romance and here he was causing a scene. Each half of the pie fainted, revealing the eggy center. I strained to see past the wine bottle and the bread bowl, but Ron’s face was enough information for me. He looked orgasmic. “You see? No mushrooms,” Ron said.
I should have congratulated Ron with a smile, but I was too busy absorbing what he’d said about mothers. Sacred? Since when? I glanced at the manager and realized that he was the one under Ron’s pompous stare for a change. Ron was picking on somebody else and I was the one watching. I had become a sacred motherly spectator.
My stomach fluttered. It felt like falling in love. Ron looked so handsome sitting there across the table. I took a bite of my lasagna and kept a proud smile waiting for when he looked my way. Ron glowed with joy. We’d have sex in the car, I decided. Maybe in our garage, but maybe in the driveway.
“That doesn’t prove anything,” the manager said.
Ron looked startled at having his victory questioned. His frustration radiated all the way to me as he pointed to his plate. “Surely you can see.” Yes, I thought. Surely.
This was the part where the manager was supposed to apologize to Ron and tell him that he’d been right from the very beginning. I knew this script so well that I nearly prompted the man. Offer us a free bottle of wine, I thought, or slices of tiramisu, but the manager wasn’t ready to retreat. “Let’s be sure,” he said.
The manager pushed our bread basket right next to my plate and then moved the salt and pepper mills to the table behind us. He’d created a open section of cloth which he whisked clean with the side of his hand. He centered the quiche in this space and rubbed his palms together.
Ron watched the manager and I watched Ron.
The manager used his thick hand to grab a pebble of quiche off the plate. He held it close to his eye, then set the bite on the table without comment. He smeared eggs and spinach into the white linen with his index finger. I leaned forward and bit my lip.
“Listen here,” said my husband. “This is getting out of hand.”
The manager plucked another chunk and did it again.
“I’ll not have my wife’s meal interrupted like this,” Ron said. I felt a rush of solidarity and waited for him to look over, but Ron was too busy championing for me to meet my eyes. He crossed both arms at his chest.
The manager ignored him and moved the plate a bit closer. He ran his fingers over the remaining slabs of quiche like he was giving it a message. He paused mid-rub. “Aha,” he said.
Ron’s face flushed. My breath caught.
My husband had finally agreed to let his mother babysit for us. I’d cooked dinner every night for the last three months. It was our first night out, dammit.
“I don’t feel well!” I shouted. “All this mashing has made my stomach turn.” I stood up and put my hands on my hips. Beside me, a spoon clattered to the floor.
The manager glanced up at me with confusion. He’d forgotten I was there. His hands hovered mid-air over Ron’s quiche. He studied his fingers then, like he’d just come out of a trance. Ron looked at me and finally smiled.
“This is a terrible restaurant,” I said loudly. “We won’t be back.” I stretched my arm to Ron, who took my offered hand. He stood up and came to my side.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” Ron told the manager. “She’s just had a baby. All she wanted was a nice dinner out.”
Ron kissed my cheek and led me out of the restaurant without waiting for the manger to speak. Later, in the car, Ron touched my knee. I helped his hand find its way up my thigh.