Behind the Curtain

by gillis

The parking was competitive outside of the farmhouse restaurant last night, and we were late for our reservation. Cars were sticking out at odd angles to accommodate the shifting snowbanks and mud puddles of March. I stepped gingerly out of our car, trying not to get my suede boots too muddy as we crossed the parking lot. We climbed the steps and opened the front door to walk into the warm foyer. While we waited for the hostess to check us in, we watched a group of diners emerge from behind an elegant curtain separating the back room from the front room of the restaurant, carrying their menus and drinks in their hands. We overheard a beautifully dressed woman thank the hostess profusely adding, “Until about five minutes ago, I was a first grade teacher. And I want to celebrate my retirement tonight,” which elicited laughter from the rest of her party as they sat down.

The hostess greeted us, found our reservation in her book, and walked us past the stately curtain into the back room of the restaurant to a table in the center of the room. As I sat down, I heard a piercing, high-pitched wail to my right followed by flurry of shushes. This was followed by repeated, rhythmic clanking sounds just behind where my husband sat across from me. I looked up from rummaging in my purse for my glasses to notice our dining neighbors. There were two tables where the number of children equalled or outnumbered the adults in the party. And the oldest child in the room appeared to be about seven years old. A preschool-aged girl with round, brown eyes charged over to me and said, “Hi,” loudly before snatching my spoon and returning to her table. Her parents noticed neither her exit nor her return as they chatted across their glasses of wine. The table to my right was sharing their appetizer reviews, “This is SPICY.” “Yuck, these are gross.”

My husband and I exchanged worried glances. We had planned and carefully budgeted for this evening out to celebrate our anniversary. We booked a sitter weeks in advance. I had used three shades of brown eyeshadow to contour my lids. And an eyelash curler. Now we were being subjected to the same kind of stress usually reserved for birthday parties and playgrounds when select parents take a break from their children, in the presence of their children, and expect others to work around their preciousness. Ugh.

My husband asked if I wanted to request a new table. I shook my head, not wanting to make a scene. I imagined myself in the shoes of these parents. Perhaps their sitter cancelled. Those tables could be us. Right? Water was poured and I began looking at the wine list and menu. Continuing to ignore the movement and sound, I reached for my husband’s hand and gave him a quiet smile. Several chair bumps, a water spill, and a loud, “Hey!” later, my husband excused himself from our table and walked through the shimmering curtain and into the front room. He returned with the hostess who led us back through the golden curtain and sat us at a table in a room filled with adults of all shapes, sizes, and ages. We sat down, sighed, and ordered a bottle of malbec. We listened to logs popping in the fireplace and watched little feet tapping and twirling beneath the magical curtain across the room as we toasted our good fortune.