As soon as Melany stepped into the restaurant, her heart pounded. She felt the burn of people’s hostile, disgusted stares. She didn’t belong there. It was a beautiful restaurant, with beautiful people, beautiful candlesticks, and beautiful tablecloths you shouldn’t drop wine on.
The hostess greeted them behind her desk. There was that glass candy bowl with fun little white mints with colored lines. Melany stopped herself from taking one. A green one and a red one. Maybe they had the ones with blue lines too. So rare. She definitely had to take one of those. But people were watching. She could anticipate the look the hostess would give her, the comments people would make from their table. She has to stuff her face, can’t even wait for the meal.
Melany followed her parents who followed the hostess. She looked down, the atom-shaped medal bouncing on her fat chest, careful not to knock over something with her fat thighs or her fat arms or her fat ass, carrying the large wooden fountain with uneven angles, unsmoothed curves, a dolphin that looked more like a kidney with eyes, and little panels posing as flower petals at the top. She had cut herself so much while making it that she had to add two layers of blue amd green paint to cover the bloodstains.
At the table, she set the fountain on the empty chair next to her, and sat facing her mother.
“Why did we have to bring it in?” she said. “People are looking at me weird.”
“Because I don’t want people to break the car window thinking it’s a nuclear missile they could sell to Russia,” her father said.
Melany glanced around. No one was looking. They were probably too busy thinking horrible things about her.
“Can you order for me?” Melany told her mom.
“No. You’ll have to do it by yourself at some point.”
The waiter arrived like a lightning bolt through Melany’s head. With his square goatee, his black and red suit, his tie, his tall, in shape frame. All of that at once.
He put the bread basket in the center of the table and filled their glasses with water. He talked to her parents, they talked to him, but Melany didn’t hear a thing. Then he turned to her, his kissable lips moved up and down, and she realized abruptly that she wasn’t invisible.
“Huh?” she said.
“What’s the story with that?” he said, pointing at the fountain.
Melany cleared her throat.
“It’s a fountain that runs on solar power.” She had to justify herself. “For a science fair. At school.”
That’s cool. He said it was cool. Was that a compliment?
“Thanks,” Melany mumbled.
He left the table, left her in shock. Next time, she’d look him in the eyes.
“A toast to our little genius,” her father said, raising his glass.
Melany glanced back—the waiter wasn’t looking—and went for the bread.
When she had won first place, she had forgotten to smile. When they gave her the medal, she was looking at a boy who wasn’t looking at her. When they took the picture, the boy was talking to some pretty girl who made a cheerleader skirt with napkins.
It wasn’t like it was all that mattered, but kinda. You could be broke, sick, have a job you hate, but if someone loves you, you’re fine. The Beatles said it.
There was a tradition in their family of women making the first move.
Her grandmother loved the man who lived across the street. At night, she’d sneak in his place to leave little paper doves by his window until his brother tackled her to the floor, and as he was about to punch the lights out of her, the lights turned on, and confused grandpa, in his pajamas, said “Abby?” They spent the rest of their lives together.
Her mother threw herself down the stairs so she could break her leg and spend time with a charming physiotherapist, Melany’s father.
Would she fail at being the successor in this chain of determined women? Would romance die with her, alone in a dark apartment, of a cholesterol-induced heart attack, surrounded by cats?
The waiter came back and Melany pulled her shirt down, tried to straighten up.
He took their orders.
“Blablaboo babadadou kranitchidu,” Melany babbled.
The waiter nodded and wrote it down elegantly, charmingly, sexily. He smiled at her. Her blood froze.
Was he flirting? Couldn’t be. She was fat. But maybe he liked that. Somehow. Why would he bring more bread? Why fatten his future wife if he wasn’t into thickness?
It wasn’t like looks were all that mattered, but kinda. You could have the personality of Mother Teresa dipped in honey, no one would know if they didn’t even look at you, let alone talk to you.
“Melany?” her mother said.
“I said what’s next for you? Did you decide what you wanted to do for college?”
Her gaze drifted to the waiter filling people’s glasses with his pitcher. Such a strong, helpful man. She downed her glass of water, and pushed it to the side of the table, in a very visible spot.
“Melany?” her mother said.
“College doesn’t matter mom,” Melany said. “The Beatles.”
Her parents looked at each other.
When the heavenly waiter came back with the plates, poured the wine, and filled the water glasses, Melany didn’t look up. She wanted to compliment him on his great job, but it would have sounded dumb.
She downed the water in one big gulp. Her mom and dad made small conversation, rambled about aunt Susan’s mischievous Labrador, talked about politics and renovations and whether they should have a pool or a garden.
The waiter appeared in the corner of Melany’s eye. She jumped, brought a hand to her mouth, threw the half bread back in the basket, and hid the pasta under the salad. Chew faster, chew faster.
“Everything alright here?” the waiter said. He said it to her. He looked straight at her.
She nodded, mouth full of bread. The temperature rose in her cheeks. He poured water with the grace of an angel. Before Melany’s mouth was free to say thank you, he was gone.
She downed the water. Her bladder was filling up. She watched him walk away, stop at tables with better-looking women, smiling women, confident women, on-top-of-the-world women.
“Are you dehydrated?” her mother asked.
Melany turned to her father.
“What do you find in her?” she said, pointing to her mother.
“That’s not… nice,” her mom said.
“It’s not insulting,” Melany said. “It’s investigating.”
“Well,” her father said, unsure how to go about it. “She’s beautiful. She’s fun. She’s nice.”
“Give me some substance, dad. You just described a cat.”
“She… She knows what she wants. She’s loving and smart. What exactly do you want me to say?”
“How did you know she was all that? Mom, how did you let him know you were all that?”
Her mother took a sip of wine.
“Huh… I was just… myself. And I guess we connected.”
“Careful, there’s modesty falling out your mouth.”
“Do you have someone in mind, Melany?”
“Sounds like you do.”
“You got something on you.”
Melany reached across the table to wipe sauce on her mother’s shirt and knocked over the glass of wine in the process.
“What’s going on with you?” her mom said.
And then came the waiter, like a fireman through fire, to clean up the mess. Melany’s red face reflected in the wine glass.
“Sorry,” she said.
“Hey, no problem,” the waiter said. “You just added some excitement in my day. I feel like in a Bruce Willis movie.”
Melany laughed, a weird and too loud laugh, the shriek of a fat pterodactyl. It squeezed her bladder. As time passed, as their plates emptied, as she looked at her empty glass of water wondering when he’d come back, the pressure was getting unbearable. But she couldn’t go to the restroom. What if she missed him? What if he wanted to talk to her again?
But at some point, she had to go.
She hurried to the bathroom, ignoring people’s stares, and relieved her bladder. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could flush away all the things that accumulated inside you over the years? The shame, the self-loathing, the regrets. There was no mechanism to evacuate the toxic waste produced in our brains.
If she didn’t ask him out, she’d regret it for the rest of her life. If there was even the shadow of a chance he liked her, she had to do something. Honor the succession of proactive women in the family. Make a move. He couldn’t do it, he was at work. But she could. She would.
She grimaced in the mirror. In what universe was it possible that a waiter would like something like this? Her hair was kinda nice. Kinda. That was something.
Back at the table, she realized, in horror, that she had missed him. Her mother was putting the credit card back in her wallet. The bill lay face down on the table. Her father was getting ready to put on his coat.
Melany looked at the tip they had left.
“Really mom? Fifteen dollars? What does a man have to do to be respected in this world?”
She dug in her pocket, pulled out her worn-out purple wallet, and took the five-dollar bill she was saving to buy batteries for the card-shuffling robot she was building. She placed it on the bill next to the little mint candies. The blue ones.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” she said.
“Again?” her mom said.
“Wait for me in the car.”
Melany looked back at her parents putting their coats on and heading for the door. Her dad had the fountain in his hands.
The waiter was leaning on the bar, chatting with the barmaid. The hot, thin barmaid.
Melany stopped, then pushed forward again. One step at a time. He would admire her courage, her knowing what she wanted, like her dad found in her mom. The pressure in her chest grew as she approached the bar. She passed a hand through her hair, straightened her back.
She put a hand on the bar. They didn’t notice her.
“What was that… thing about?” the barmaid said. “Who brings a machine to a restaurant?”
“Probably a butter fountain,” the waiter said.
They both laughed. Then turned toward her. Gave another suppressed little laugh.
Melany was frozen there, at the end of the bar.
“Did you enjoy your meal?” the waiter said.
Melany unstuck herself from the counter and dragged her feet away. Truth kills. It was just a façade, a routine trick to charm customers. For her, it was hope shattering. A slap back to reality. A memory that would burn her for years to come. Tears tried to slip out, but she held them back.
He was too good for her. Her fat self. He was good-looking, he was charming, he was… kind of shitty. Fake. Mean. What would she do with a guy like that?
Melany stood in the middle of the restaurant. People were turning their heads. The waiter and barmaid were probably looking too. Let them look.
Let them laugh. Let’s see if his cute barmaid could build a solar-powered fountain.
On her way out, Melany grabbed a handful of mints in the glass bowl, and shoved them in her mouth one after the other. She turned to the waiter, opened her mouth wide, revealing the chewing candies. Then walked out with a mouthful of love.