A table at the Bombay Blossom on a Friday required a reservation, so Mickey phoned early in the week. The woman who took his reservation was disappointed it was for one.
“So, you’d like a table for one on a Friday night at 8pm. Am I right?” Her tone was accusatory.
“Tough tits,” thought Mickey. He couldn’t afford to take himself let alone a date to such an upscale place. But it was the fifth anniversary of his da’s death, and he felt like being a bit wild; as his da would have appreciated, he was tired of being low class.
Friday afternoon Mickey knocked on Johnny’s door.
“What?” yelled Johnny.
“What?” yelled Johnny.
“You still got that black suit jacket you picked up a couple a weeks ago?”
“I wanna borrow it.”
“I don’t got five bucks.”
Johnny’s door opened a crack, and long blue fingers appeared and curled around the cigarettes. The door closed then opened again. Johnny’s hand slipped through with the black jacket.
“You gotta date or somethin?” Johnny asked from behind the door.
“No,” Mickey replied.
“Your mother die?”
“She’s been dead a long, long time.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that.” Johnny sounded truly saddened.
At 7:00 Mickey showered and shaved in the bathroom down the hall and whistled “Deep Elem Blues” on his way back to his room. He rolled some Right Guard on his armpits and splashed a little Aqua Velva on his face. He looked alright in his white button-up shirt, his shiny blue tie, grey trousers, black shoes new from the Sally Ann and Johnny’s black jacket.
He stepped onto West Bogart Street like a man newly saved, Satchmo blowing between his ears and that was fine. It suited the way a sun of a hot summer evening was too lazy to go down.
He reached the Bombay Blossom at five minutes to eight and waited till eight to enter. Inside the first door he could see through to the dining room. It was full. He checked his reflection in the glass, spit lightly in his hand and ran it through his hair. He took a breath and opened the second door.
Ten years before, Mickey had gone to England on a whim after his father died, leaving him $4,000. He took a woman with him to see Arsenal play Liverpool, where his old man was from, the city and team about which he never shut up. “What the fuck,” was Mickey’s reasoning. “Your old man only dies once.” Lots of fish-n-chips places, the food wrapped in newspaper, the whole business, but lots of curry take-aways too, and he got to really like the smell and taste of the stuff. The football match was great though Arsenal beat Liverpool two goals to one. The woman turned out to be a cunt.
But the Bombay Blossom was high class.
It smelled of sandalwood and cardamom and orange. The woman who approached wore a golden gown with specks of silver everywhere. The red dot on her high forehead matched the polish on her toes. Mickey stood erect, a newspaper he’d found outside folded importantly under his arm.
“Mr. Michael Flagon. Reservation for one,” he said.
She opened a black leather binder and scanned it with her dark eyes. She looked up and smiled. “Yes, Mr. Flagon. Please.”
He followed close behind her and he could smell her and she smelled like roses. They passed tables of four and six and eight and twelve a long way to the very back, to the corner of a wall that marked the passage to the kitchen and the washrooms. She motioned to a table with two chairs.
“I hope this will be alright, Mr. Flagon. We are extremely busy on Fridays.”
“I’m not one to complain,” he assured her.
“The waiter will be with you shortly with our specials and the menu. Would you like something to drink?”
“Yeah, I’ll have a very cold Indian beer. What have you got?”
“We have Kingfisher, Kalyani Black Label, and Hayward’s.”
“I’ll have the Kingfisher.” Mickey hoped it would taste OK.
She came back with the bottle and a tall chilled glass on a tray. She held the neck of the bottle with the fingertips of one hand and the bottom of the bottle in the palm of the other. She poured slowly, delicately.
“Lord God,” thought Mickey, “I’m gettin’ a boner.”
The beer tasted good.
Mickey didn’t know the food. He couldn’t make out the small print English explanations without his reading glasses and the photographs of each dish didn’t help much either. In Liverpool, it was stagger in, demand a medium curry to go, and stagger out. He didn’t want to embarrass himself. The grandfatherly waiter in dark loose-fitting clothes, hair white as a mountain summit, who brought the menu and placed a linen napkin on his lap, asked if he required assistance. He’d said no.
When the waiter returned, Mickey pointed with feigned authority to one appetizer, one dish of seafood, and one dish of lamb. He did not attempt pronunciation.
“And rice and papadam, sir?”
“You’d like rice and papadam, sir?”
“Of course,” said Mickey.
While he waited for his food, Mickey tried to look at ease alone reading his newspaper. He’d have preferred to be unnoticed, but that was impossible. A parade of waiters to and from the kitchen and patrons to and from the washrooms marched past him like a line of ants, looking at him. A party of twelve sat close by raising hell with its laughs and uproar. But he had chosen to be here on a Friday night, and the meal placed in front of him would compensate.
The food was not long coming and was presented in covered shining bowls. His waiter removed the covers with a certain solemnity and said what each dish was. Mickey relished the display with his eyes and with his nostrils.
“Oh my,” he said.
The old waiter looked pleased.
“Some soy sauce for my rice and that should do it,” said Mickey.
The waiter did not respond and he did not turn away. Mickey understood though he sort of did not. “That’s OK. Could you bring me another beer?”
He snapped off a piece of papadam, which he’d seen a man at the table of twelve do. A spicy potato chip; he liked it. He tried a forkful of rice and that was tasteless without soy sauce, so he put some rice on a piece of papadam and that was good. He decided to eat from the bowls one at a time to avoid mixing flavours, and put the dinner plate aside. He figured he’d like the lamb best and it was a meat he hadn’t had for a very long time so he’d save it for last.
The appetizer appeared to be chickpeas, perhaps roasted over open flame, bits of their skin were charcoal black and dark brown. Mickey could smell smoke on them. He tasted cinnamon, lemon, and brown sugar. He closed his eyes as he chewed and, so long he wanted the taste to last, he did not take a swallow of beer until he finished them all.
His seafood was a stew of pink and white flesh amidst thinly sliced radishes and broccoli florets in beautifully cream-coloured and peppery coconut milk. He mixed in some rice and savoured each mouthful as he would a long note from a saxophone in an empty room.
Mickey finished off another beer and called out for one more.
The lamb was cut in cubes and sat in a thick red sauce. He put his nose up close and felt his nose hairs quiver.
“Mmm,” he said.
He put the last of the rice into the sauce and stirred and stabbed two cubes of lamb with his fork and put them in his mouth. Mickey’s eyes then shot wider than Moses’ parting of the Red Sea. His tongue blistered like an eel on desert tarmac. His nose ran like water from a torpedoed dam. He couldn’t speak and he reached for his glass of beer like a man in an angry ocean reaching for a life raft.
“Jesus Christ,” he thought. “HowieMeekerHowardKosselMotherTheresaMargaret TrudeaumotherfuckerDaveyKeonholyshit, that’s hot!” He guzzled his beer and belched and looked about. The party of twelve chattered, eating desserts and drinking liqueurs. No one noticed his near implosion. He ordered two more beer and stared down his lamb and his rice. A bite. A gulp. A bite. A gulp. Tonight he wouldn’t be denied.
As the party of twelve prepared to leave, women checking purses, men mussing children’s hair in play, Mickey asked his waiter for the cheque. He looked at it and nodded and smiled at the old man and told him he was very fine at his job. He handed him a ten dollar bill. “Not the way things are done,” Mickey said, “but I wanted to be sure you get it.”
When the party of twelve stood, Mickey stood and fell in behind them. Halfway to the front of the Bombay Blossom he angled past four lagging children. Three quarters of the way he was smack in the middle of eight clucking adults, their breath high with the smell of liquor and curry. Three men stopped at the front to settle the group’s bill and the rest carried on out the doors, Mickey amongst them.
He crossed the street quickly to get into an alley and down along the river. He took the footpath to the bridge not caring if his shoes and trousers got a little muddy. He hummed “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” as he walked. Across the bridge was West Bogart Street and his rooming house and a dozen others like it.
He took the stairs in twos, the black suit jacket slung over his shoulder. He knocked on Johnny’s door.
“Johnny, I got your jacket.”
“It’s Mickey. I got your jacket.”
“Your jacket, ya stunned fucker.”
The knob turned. Johnny’s thin hand appeared and behind the hand was darkness.
“Where ya been to anyways?” Johnny asked. His voice was gruff with sleep.
“Ya know at the mission those red plastic trays and the paper napkin we carry up to get our food and carry back to scrape off when we’re done?”
“Tonight I got served, Johnny.”
“Well, that’s all right then, that’s all right,” said Johnny, pulling his hand and jacket back and into better dreams.