When I told the women at work that Hank and I were coming to Victor’s Trattoria, they were dumb-founded. “That foo-foo place on the corner of Grand and Hudson?” they asked, their voices rising with disbelief. And, of course, I could have predicted the follow-up question, “What are you going to wear?”

To be sure, I didn’t buy a new outfit to come to Victor’s. I’m not here by choice, you see. I’d much rather be at Olive Garden having their Three Cheese Lasagna and a glass of the house red. But, ever since my younger sister married money, when the occasion calls for a present (like my birthday or Christmas), she gives me gift certificates to restaurants like this. She mistakenly believes I want to come to these sorts of places but can’t afford it. While the unaffordability part is certainly true, it’s only one of several reasons.

Another is that the waiters always make such a fuss, you can’t relax. They call everyone madam and sir. They won’t let you put your napkin on your lap by yourself and, should you drop bread crumbs on their snowy tablecloth or – Heaven forbid! – dribble wine, they immediately come to clean up after you. It’s embarrassing.

And then there are the fancy menus. So many different courses. Here at Victor’s, everything’s written in Italian, so I don’t know what anything is. I can’t tell if the entrées come with soup or salad, or if you have to order that separately. I’m not even sure which list is the entrees.

Of course, no prices are shown, because it would be vulgar. But then, I don’t have to worry about that. My gift card is for more than I spend on a month’s worth of groceries.

Looking around, I see that most of the men are wearing suits and ties and starched shirts. They probably came straight from the boardroom, and their wives all look like they’ve spent the day at a spa getting facials and manicures. I suspect Hank and I have been seated at this cramped little table hugging the wall, so as not to blemish this bubble of perfection.

Hank doesn’t care that we’re hopelessly out of place. He has his head buried in the menu, even though he can’t understand it any better than I can. When the waiter comes, I’m just going to close my eyes and point.

In the meantime, I reach for the wine list. It’s pages and pages long, but surprisingly most of the descriptions are written in English. After each listing, there are two or three or four tiny numbers followed by a decimal point. I guess it’s not considered gauche to reveal how much you’ll be paying for your alcohol. The Chardonnays seem to be somewhat less expensive than the reds and I look for one that’s followed by no more than two digits. Not many fit into that category, but one description catches my eye: Citrus overtones balanced on an underpinning of oak. I don’t know about overtones and underpinnings, but the price is relatively un-outrageous and it sounds tasty. I look for a waiter.

The only one I see is busy fussing over an especially perfect-looking couple nearby. He calls them by name – Mr. and Mrs. Peterman. Apparently, they’re regulars. After taking their complicated drink orders, he practically genuflects as he backs away before scurrying off. Certainly, no time to stop by our table.

Hank points to one of the menu offerings and asks if I think it’s prime rib. I shrug and tell him I have no idea, even though I want to shout, “Hank, we’re in an Italian restaurant!”

I let my gaze linger on the Petermans.

Truthfully, I can hardly take my eyes off them, especially Mrs. Peterman. Her ash-blond hair is chin length and somehow looks simple and elegant at the same time. Her dress is a shade darker than her hair, and it clings tastefully to her perfectly-proportioned figure. Even though I’ve never owned an article of cashmere in my life, I can still recognize it.

I brush my bangs out of my eyes and tug at my waistband, painfully aware I haven’t had a salon-cut in six-months, and my affordably-priced pants-suit was bought four years and eight pounds ago.

Still, it’s more than just Mrs. Peterman’s perfect appearance that fascinates me. It’s also her demeanor. When she and her husband were being seated, a few minutes ago, and the maître de floated a napkin onto her lap, she smiled up at him with just the right combination of warmth and aloofness.
When he did the same for me, I giggled like a school girl and snatched it out of his hands.

I have to admit, sometimes, when I see someone like Mrs. P, I wonder what life would have been like if I’d finished college and joined a health club.

Good Lord! The waiter’s already back with their beverages. Maybe now, he’ll check in with us. But, alas. He turns and sails right by. Perhaps, we’re not a blemish on all this perfection because we are invisible.

The Petermans pause their conversation long enough to sip their drinks. They’ve been quite engrossed in each other. Probably discussing a play they saw last night or what exotic locale they want to visit on their next vacation.

Full disclosure: I am jealous of that. Not the play or the vacation, but the fact that they are so tuned-in to each other. Now that our kids are out of the house, I worry that Hank and I have nothing left in common. Whenever we talk anymore, we argue. Hank’s keeping his head in the menu right now because he’s miffed that I made an appointment for us to look into long-term health care insurance. He says I dwell on getting old. I say I like to plan ahead.

It’s hard to picture the Petermans arguing about anything, let alone insurance. I’m sure their golden years are nicely taken care of.

Hank’s phone buzzes. He digs it out of his pocket and answers quietly, then says to hold on. It’s his foreman calling about tomorrow’s job site, he tells me, and slips away from the table to find a place to talk.

There’s no wine coming anytime soon, and all this blinding perfection is giving me a headache, so I look to see where the restrooms are located. A discreet sign indicates they are through a doorway in the back. Skirting around the Petermans’ table, I see that Mrs. Peterman’s skin is as flawless as it looked from a distance, her nails are impeccably manicured and the diamond on her left hand is the size of a walnut.

The hallway, leading to the bathrooms at the far end, is lit by small, individual lamps over paintings on either side. To kill some time, I peruse the art. It’s all abstract. Not my style at all, but the colors are pretty and I enjoy looking at them. Dinner and an art gallery – my sister outdid herself.

As I open the door to the Ladies, I think for a second, I’m in the wrong place. The space in no way resembles most restaurant bathrooms. Soft light from ornate sconces, which flank the mirrors above the basins, bathe the room in a golden glow. A vaguely familiar melody wafts softly from hidden speakers. After a few bars, I realize it’s a song Hank and I were crazy about the fall before we got married. Try as I might, though, I’m unable to recall the title or the group who played it. Somebody’s Trio, I think. I bet Hank would know.

Since there doesn’t seem to be anyone else in the bathroom, I sit down on a small, velvet-covered bench and soak in the serenity. I close my eyes and the wail of the sax begins to paint the picture of a scene I haven’t thought of in years. Hank’s college (read: ratty) apartment; a flickering candle jammed in the top of a Chianti bottle we’d just emptied (even though I was barely twenty); and me, wrapped in Hank’s arms swaying to this song. We were drunk on love as much as the wine.

Later, when we found out we’d made a baby that night, we forged ahead with all the naïve confidence and optimism of those who are young and in love. College went by the wayside. We both got jobs. Our parents predicted doom, but all in all, things have turned out pretty good – not perfect – but pretty good.

Just as the song ends, the door opens and one of Victor’s Perfect Patrons enters. She throws me a glance on her way to one of the private potty-rooms with the full-length wooden doors, but she doesn’t acknowledge me. She probably thinks I’m the attendant and for some reason this makes me giggle – even though I haven’t had even one sip of wine yet.

Heading back to the dining room, still smiling and that wonderful music still in my head, I’m stopped short by a resounding crash. It takes a second for me to collect myself, and then to realize I’m enveloped in an eerie silence. No more clink of cutlery, no more buzz of conversation. Just silence. As I round the corner, I see why.

The Petermans’ table has been upended. At first, I think a leg must have broken – a manufacturing flaw, perhaps. Then I see the martini glass dangling from Mrs. Peterman’s pampered fingers and the remains of her martini running down Mr. Peterman’s handsome face. Her perfect features contort as she screeches names at him I’ve only heard said aloud in R-rated movies. Now she’s shouting that she’s known for years he was cheating, and if he thought he could tell her he’s divorcing her here at Victor’s, so she wouldn’t make a scene, he’s got another think coming. And just to be sure he’s gotten the point, she hurls her glass with all the power of a Cy Young Award winner. It narrowly misses Mr. Peterman’s head and shatters against the wall.

A half-dozen waiters descend on the pair while the rest of us watch in disbelief. We’re incapable of looking away, and no wonder. Who can resist watching a bubble of perfection burst?

Suddenly, guilty glee overtakes me and I stride toward the door in search of Hank. I’m dying to tell him what he’s missed…and about the woman thinking I was a maid…and to ask him about the song. And then, I want to tell him how I remembered his first apartment and dancing that night in the glow of the Chianti candle.

Maybe we’ll hash it out over at Olive Garden – with Three Cheese Lasagna and a couple glasses of the house red.

Or, perhaps…we’ll order a bottle of Chianti.

Sandra Clough fell into creative writing unexpectedly. After 25 years in the corporate world, she started journaling and recording family memories. Eventually, she became bored with her own life and started writing fiction. Sandra lives in Minnesota. Her work has appeared in several literary journals, as well as, Cricket Magazine.