Judith and despair were becoming one. She felt that, as she entered the restaurant and friends stood to greet her. In their eyes she saw sorrow; in the warm grasp of their hands, two holding her one, she felt their desire to reassure her, their need to convey: “We are with you. We are here for you.”

Greg held out a chair for her and she sat, acutely aware that the neat, universally proscribed table for four had been gerrymandered to create a table for five, an anomaly, an odd mole on a face with otherwise perfect features.

Ed leaned over and pointed to the appetizers on the menu that had been thrust into her hands. “We’ve ordered shrimp cocktails, but feel free to get anything you like.”

“Feel free”
“Get anything you like”
Judith’s eyes misted over and instead of burgundy block letters on the menu, she saw the new vocabulary that would define her. She would never be “We” again. She would be expected to “feel free,” to “get anything” she liked, without consultation, negotiation, without concern for the other’s allergies, his likes and dislikes.

She would have to learn what she liked, what she alone could tolerate. She forced her eyes to focus on the menu. She couldn’t bring herself to order the shrimp cocktail. Lars had developed a nasty rash after they shared shrimp at the Washington marina. That was fifty years ago and she’d never had shrimp since. “Can you do a Caesar salad for one,” she asked the waiter.

“No problem, Madam,” he replied.

“We’ve ordered a couple of bottles of Medoc,” said Ed. “We know you favor red.”

No, she wanted to say. She’d been drinking red with fish for what seemed like a lifetime, but it was Lars, her meat eater, who always ordered red for both of them.

Judith smiled at her companions. So kind, solicitous. They meant well. “You belong with us,” they seemed to say. But she didn’t, she knew. She belonged only to herself now, with herself.

“If you don’t mind,” she said softly, not wanting to offend, “I’d like a glass of Chablis. I’m having the halibut.”


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