“I told him it wasn’t on the menu but he said I should speak to you.”
“It’s fine, don’t worry. He’s been coming here for as long as I can remember.”
Harry Shaw didn’t hear the conversation from the kitchen but he was confident of the outcome. His starter portion of veal tonnato on a Thursday evening was the ballast that held the unravelling of his life firm and steady. He was as much a part of the A Tavola furniture as the black and white shots of spaghetti-eating celebrities that filled most of the walls. For Harry, Thursday nights offered up the perfect mix of ambience and peace. Enough noise for him to bask in the warm, familial murmur of a well run machine but not the overt harshness of a full house weekend.
Harry ordered a glass of chenin blanc from an estate he’d heard good things about. A glass of white to start and a glass of red, probably a pinot, with the main course. Just like the long departed Thursdays when Annie was pregnant with Grace and the restaurant became a midweek home from home. One of the few places you could, and still could, get decent wine by the glass.
Fragments of conversation were Harry’s guilty pleasure these days. His regular table was at the centre of the dining room from where he could tilt his head and tune in to the surrounding chatter like an ageing wireless in a digital era. A group of four close to the bar discussed everything from politics to the sudden demand for tree-houses with the vigour and promise of a life yet to be lived.
Gracie would have loved a tree house when she was little.
Even without looking Harry could feel the gesticulations and the passion behind the words. A stark contrast to the couple near to the south window who chewed through their meals with all the silent, cud-chewing enthusiasm of cows lined up for slaughter.
“Every week. I’ve stopped taking the booking. It’s Harry’s table.”
The warmth of half a glass of white wine settled into Harry’s bones. Snippets of conversations past intermingled with the news of the day from an effortlessly cool threesome sitting near the bar who veered randomly between topics. The use of insect protein as a sustainable option for restaurants segued voluptuously into the news reports of a one hundred and thirty tonne fatberg grinding its way glacially through a London sewer. Harry smiled to himself. Annie would have had plenty to say about the wisdom of the cool and bearded.
For a moment he wondered what Grace would have grown up to think but pushed it away when the familiar pain behind his eyes took hold. He drained his glass and clutched it like wood on the open ocean.
“Your veal Sir.”
Harry nodded and wiped his eyes.
“Can you bring me the wine list again please?”
Thought I’d try something different tonight. Thirty minutes on the clock and a 500 word story delivered warts and all. Thanks to my friend Rebecca Field for some diverse and interesting prompts that got my brain ticking over!