Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Noreen's Birthday Lunch

Glamour is in short supply in Noreen’s life. Her son had briefly been engaged to a French girl but after being brought up on Velveeta cheese he could already foresee problems in the marriage and called it off. Noreen and her husband took a Caribbean cruise when he retired, but he contracted food poisoning on the second day and had to be flown back home. She had kept the brochure and stuffed it guilty behind the sofa cushions if he ever came in while she was gazing at all the destinations and tours they had missed. It wasn’t his fault he was allergic to foreign food and the upsetting of routines. That was Howard, a man of routines.

But today is Noreen’s birthday. She did her research at the local AAA branch in Anaheim and came away with a purse stuffed with ideas that finally solidified around a restaurant in the upscale suburb of San Marino. It was an hour’s drive, but Howard had promised to take her anywhere she liked for lunch, except the Queen Mary because he still had bad associations with ships.

Following the hostess outside to the terrace, Noreen beamed with pleasure. It was just as she had imagined it – white tablecloths, elegant women, and wasn’t that the actress? The one in the commercial for… “Give me a minute and I’ll think of it,” she whispered conspiratorially over the table to Howard. “But she’s big. Chewing gum, I think.”

Howard feigned interest. He was hot and his polo shirt stuck to his back. He had been hoping Noreen would chose lunch at the beach when he’d offered – somewhere casual where he wouldn’t have to tuck in his shirt or wear polished shoes. However, he was a good husband and Noreen’s awed happiness couldn’t fail to affect him. Perhaps he would suggest a chocolaty dessert after lunch, knowing that she’d never order one if he didn’t pretend he was going to share it. Not that her weight watching was doing much good: The whole outing was nearly aborted when she discovered she couldn’t do up the waistband of her skirt. They were only saved because she found a black and pink two-piece she’d bought for the cruise. The large tropical print seemed a little over the top among the sedate diners, but Noreen always did have flair, he’d give her that.

At exactly the same moment, Noreen was also thinking about the tropical flowers, wondering if the famous actress had noticed her matching pink toenails. What a relief she hadn’t let the girl in the salon go for the orange. Famous actresses would probably pick up on details like clashing toenails – after all, it’s part of their job to look glamorous.

Noreen clasped her napkin more tightly in her lap. Isn’t this exactly what she’d dreamed of? Lunching with the jet set of San Marino? She was so happy that everything seemed to hum with her delight. The sprig of fresh mint in her ice tea, the crisp uniforms of the waiters, even her husband’s freshly shaven chin seemed to be reverberating with song. If I could only hold on to this moment, thought Noreen, stuff it in a glass jar and screw the lid on tight, then I would have somewhere to visit when the FedEx man passes my house and the neighbors pile suitcases into a taxi, something to inhale on days when the air conditioning whirrs and I feel like I’m in a terrapinium. But Noreen, despite her frequent flights of fantasy, is at heart a practical woman. She decided to steal a menu and frame it when she got back home. She couldn’t risk the famous actress seeing her steal one of the teaspoons.