A Story by Martin Tucker
She was waiting for Roger at a deck table at the Sunset Grille, which Newsday had called the most romantic restaurant on Long Island. When she heard his loud laughter coming from the entrance hall, she knew he was drunk again.
The maitre d' was announcing to her, "Here's your party."
"Hi, honey," Roger said in that careful tone that confirmed her suspicions.
"Thank you," she said.
"May I take your drink order?" the waiter, materializing before them, asked.
"Sure. Scotch on the rocks. Dewars," Roger answered as he slid into his seat.
"Are you sure you want another?" she asked.
"I haven't had my first yet. Here."
"Roger, please," she said.
"Please what?" he asked.
"White wine. Chardonnay," she told the waiter.
"It's great to see you, hon." Roger placed his hands on hers. "What a day. One round after another. I mean-"
"You mean another Scotch afternoon."
"No." He grimaced. "It was a Scottish meeting. My clients were from Glasgow. Peat and bog, couldn't get a laugh out of them."
"Why? According to your usual cracks, I'm high in the highlands most afternoons."
"I'm sorry, Roger." She could see Roger turning sullen, his hand had moved off from hers. Yet it was Roger who was spoiling the evening. That loud laughter. That exaggerated effort to please. She had been through it two years now.
"You're not sorry at all," her husband said.
"You've been drinking, haven't you?"
"My, oh my. How do you know?"
"Please, Roger." She looked down at the candle on their table, the pink wax melting. It was June, it was sunset time, there were tall ships before them. Everyone was in white or red or blue. The people round them were laughing. "I shouldn't have judged you. I have no right to judge you."
"That's right," Roger said.
"What did you say?"
"I said you had no right to judge."
"Really" she replied.
"Really," he affirmed.
"Please stop," she whispered.
The waiter was placing drinks before them. Roger lifted his glass brutally as if he were going to smash the glass. She winced.
"Would you like to guess the time of sunset?" the waiter asked.
"It's a new tradition on Long Island. We've adopted it from our sister restaurant in Sarasota." The waiter was waiting. "You guess before ordering. The one who gets closest to sunset time wins a bottle of champagne."
"My wife," Roger said, "doesn't like champagne. And she doesn't much like me to drink."
"Roger," she pleaded. "No," she looked up at the waiter. I would like to guess. I made a mistake."
"Mistake?" The waiter was confused.
Roger's face was flushed, but it was not the Scotch she thought. There was another coloring in his eyes. She looked at Roger as she made her wager. "How about seven-thirty?"
"A very good number." The waiter marked it on his pad.
They were alone now at the table in a crowded patio. Whatever she did, whether she spoke or remained silent, would matter. If she pouted or protested, he would react with a righteous blow to their ring commitment. If she surrendered to his behavior, she would be lost, or rather the rounds of their life would be diminished to turns they would be making again and again. It was a moment in which she knew a decision was inevitable, the only question was her participation in it. Yet she could not tell if he had been drinking. In the crowded room she could not smell his breath. In the convivial air she could not touch the particulars of his inebriation. In his touch on her hand-he was leaning forward in an intimate gesture-she could not be sure what he was covering up, or trying to recover. She simply could not see him for what he was.
"Roger, damn you, this isn't fair," she whispered.
"I love you," he replied sweetly.
The waiter was bringing over the prize bottle of champagne. They had won the sunset wager, but she was not sure what she had won, tonight.