It was another dinner out, the third of the week. Brenda had told him, after thinking it all these years, it’s not a fair tradition, this idea that the woman has to always cook, so you better pull your weight. Her adamant withholding mixed with his assumed ineptitude, so they went to restaurants almost all the time.

“How’s the salmon here?” Max had to speak up over the rolling din of the crowded hall. He never remembered if he liked what he had gotten before. Once they figured it out, there wasn’t much for them to say.

Even with the noise, she heard the couple at the next table (how could she not, the place was mobbed). The man kept raising his voice, while the woman shot out short bursts of syllables. In her peripheral vision, Brenda saw the late twentysomethings were leaned in to each other, hands on the table, tense. She put the earpiece of her glasses in her mouth and repositioned herself to listen in. Max wouldn’t care; what did they have to talk about, anyway?

‘she isn’t even….barely ever see….only a….’
‘it’s the way it looks’
‘shouldn’t care about….why would I ever any…’

This was like catching a favorite concerto on the car radio, and then losing the station signal when the best movement starts. Wiping the side of her mouth with the napkin, she used the motion to scooch her chair a little closer.

‘it’s not like that.’
‘it seems it.’
‘we aren’t your parents…end that way…’

“Did we order the Chardonnay?” Max bellowed. He had grown annoyed at how forgetful he had become.

Brenda nodded quickly and shot him a look that she hoped said, “Now hush.” She let her eyes wander the bare white walls of the large restaurant, planning to glide them over the table to her right. They were halted, however, by the return stare of the terse woman. In the exchange of looks, this woman made it clear that Brenda’s intrusive eavesdropping had been noted.

Trying a polite smile, Brenda turned away first, back to the empty small plate in front of her. White that somehow didn’t match the white tablecloth. Putting her glasses back on and took a sip of water. The couple had stopped their discussion, and Max had nothing new to say. She strained, but she could only her the circling clatter of anonymous patrons talking and eating in other parts of the restaurant, somehow sounding very far away.

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