Tool Box for Table
John Van Kirk
Context is everything, but time has eroded all but the event itself from memory. Chilled lobsters in Jacksonville, in a rented room, with toolbox for table, a couple of cans of beer to wash it down. And tarragon mayonnaise. Bowman tried to squeeze the memory for more data. The lobsters had come from Maine in a Styrofoam box full of ice and seaweed. He had ordered them on the last day of a week of training there. When he got home, he boiled them and then put them in the refrigerator, because he must have known she would be coming down in a couple of days. They wouldn’t keep alive that long, but they wouldn’t have to be frozen either. Was there an occasion other than her visit from up north? It hardly seems likely, or he would have made better plans. Canned beer? Borrowed plates and silver? The toolbox—later stolen from the trunk of his car while he was at sea—a poor substitute for a table. And the girl—memory said it was Julia, but if that was so, something else didn’t add up, because he didn’t start seeing her until after his first cruise, and the training in Maine was six months before that. So was it another girl? Or had another young flyer just come back from Maine with lobsters? And in any case, why hadn’t he had the foresight to get a decent bottle of wine? Did he think so little of Julia that he didn’t bother? Or was it at the marvelous beginning, when they didn’t want to go out, were happy to stay in the room together, tumbling in and out of bed, venturing out only long enough to get the lobsters out of the communal refrigerator, too eager to be naked and touching even to go out for better beer or a bottle of Chablis. And yet, there is the gourmet touch, the lingering memory that won’t be unseated, of the tarragon mayonnaise, the detail that turned the thrown together cold supper into something elegant. They sat there, half-dressed at the foot of the bed, cracking open the claws with a pair of pliers, cutting the tail down the middle with his survival knife, and feeding one another delicate morsels of the pink lobster meat dipped in the perfect tangy sauce. Drinking the beer before it got warm. Sucking the mayonnaise off of one another’s fingers. The breeze from the St John’s River lifting the curtains, the light slanting in, the long evening spread out ahead of them like the wide bed. No reason to go out. A perfect moment. A dinner more intimate than any candlelit feast in a four-star restaurant. A night the likes of which they would never know again.