Room for Dessert
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Dessert"
Originally featured on 01-19-2007
As part of our series "Phases of a Holiday Meal"

Silently cutting into a juicy New York Strip steak, I listen to the sounds of the almost empty restaurant. Clinking Glasses, Whining Hinges and Water-pouring Busboys intermittently break into the vacuous calm. I accidentally push too hard and my knife scrapes against the plate. We both look up at once, suddenly engaged in each others eyes. After a moment, I press my lips together into a close-mouthed smile. She smiles back and we return to eating.

Often, I like to let my thoughts drift while I eat. After looking at steak, the gray grain of the flesh surrounding the pink center, I feel desperation run up from my chest into my throat and then sear the backs of my eyes. I could cry right now. But I don’t.

I reach for my glass of Zinfandel. On a wine-tasting trip, we had learned that Zinfandel has the strength to counter — compliment is the word—a steak.

I have to look up as I reach for it and our eyes meet again. She’s chewing. I maintain eye contact as the warm mouthful reaches my throat. Desperation recedes back down into my stomach with the wine. I feel my eyes blink fast as my face smiles once again — a Zinfandel smile.

Next to my steak is a half-eaten pile of garlic mashed potatoes. It is my favorite side and has been since I ate it for lunch everyday in high school. Back then, my longest relationship could’ve been measured in weeks. The gravy back then was made from powder. It tasted so good, but I could never eat it today.

I look up quickly. How long had I played with my mashed potatoes? These potatoes didn’t come with gravy. Instead, I use the juice of the steak to add moisture. I lift the fork into my mouth. The potatoes stick to roof of mouth and it takes more effort to chew it and move it to back of my throat. But it’s still my favorite. I’m not ready to let it go. As I chew, I look at her.

Movement over her shoulder—I see the waiter approaching.

“How is everything?” I nod and force a smile and he’s satisfied. I wonder if deep down, she is.

I reach again for my glass as look over the two healthy slices of meat left. Three or four mouthfuls each, and they’ll be finished. I take a generous sip of my wine.

I watch as she eats in small bites. As she chews, I feel warmth. She notices me looking and reaches for her glass. We lock eyes again. And I wonder if she’s figuring me out — if she can feel it. At the bottom of my esophagus, I feel a tug and I speak. I say something nice.

She pushes her plate away slightly. She’ll have it for lunch tomorrow. I might do the same. I desperately hope that she has left room. I need to taste something sweet on my tongue—something besides these tannins. I push my plate and watch her face grin.

I make a joke about how the two strips of meat are like two new friends I’m not ready to part with. I’m not ready to part with anything. I move my eyes slowly from her thin lips up her cheek to her blue eyes. I stay there and take a deep long breath — feeling my spine relax and stretch as I lean back. I could almost moan. I begin to laugh. I might be okay. I think I might be okay. I can.

Movement over her shoulder and my eyes shift.

“Should I bring out dessert menus?” We both smile heartily. And in an instant we’re holding hands across the table. I feel a cool rush in my chest. My cheeks begin to hurt at the edges.

Moments later, our hands let go and grab menus. I ask, “Why don’t we share something.”

Read More By Doug Dean

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Portland Fiction Project

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