I held the restaurant door open for a young couple. “Thank you, sir,” the young man said. I followed, walking in late.
It was more than twenty minutes past noon. Twenty minutes past the time I was supposed to be there. At the service I’d lingered, said goodbye to a couple of pastors.
There were crowds of people in the restaurant. A bottleneck at the hostess station.
She already had a table so I slipped through. “Just walk straight in,” she’d texted.
I was looking down at a pair of shoes in front of me when I looked up and spotted her across the room. Dark hair. Skin like the half-hidden woman sitting among other women in Paul Gauguin’s painting, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
Her head was tilted too. Had she just stepped from the rolling edge of a paintbrush soaked in lovely brown tones? She leaned a little to the left. Not talking. Maybe she just did. Or was about to. Her hair was as black as island darkness. Her lips were a splash of red-brown even from so far away.
Making my way past booths and tables I sat down next to her daughter. The girl wore a fabric pink flower in her just braided brown hair. She hugged me, gave me a kiss. “It’s been a long time since you gave me one of those,” I smiled.
She gave me a drawing. On it there were squirrels, trees, a beaver, a river, beetles. She’d colored it. I pictured her imaginirium surrounded by crayons and stuffed animals.
Across the table her mother’s lips looked as soft as I remembered. I looked at them and thought of a drink from a fountain, grapes, the moment thirst is broken by wetness. Flashes of dew drop kisses. Sprinklers wetting summer grass. Lips warm and soft rubbing across dry fingertips.
The girl’s mother pushed a small white plate of fried zucchini toward me. “You need to eat your vegetables,” she said.
A few days ago she knew I went on a twenty-mile bike ride. “I hope you stayed hydrated,” she’d written.
I spoke to her daughter and ate the zucchini. The girl nuzzled. “Will you make me a picture of the ocean like you did of the desert?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, soon having a stare-off with her mother across the table.
“Where did you learn that?” her mother said, returning the glare and then smiling.
“From you,” the girl whispered.
“I’ll draw you pictures of ocean life,” I soon said to the girl. I imagined sitting on a beach with a pad of paper, holding a sand crab flipped onto its back. My pen strokes would capture every detail.
Later we left the restaurant. I glanced at her mother’s dark shoulder. A ridge of delight. Taut muscles. Sweet curves so soft you couldn’t find a cloud more heavenly. In the Gauguin painting the very same island woman shows just a hint of shoulder.
And there she was, head cocked to the side, thinking—just like in the painting.
Just like in the painting where there are plants and animals and a wash of exotic uncertainty.
Just like in the painting where a mysterious blue island statue casts an eerie glow opposite from the woman.
When I got dropped off I hugged the girl and tried not to cry like I did in church.
I always do that.
Cry in church.
I looked over at the girl’s mother, said goodbye, closed the car door and turned away.
The lawn was wet. There were drops everywhere. Just moments before there must have been rainbows. I imagined them in the clouds, floating above an island of uncertainty and beauty.
As I found my keys I caught a glimpse of their car driving away.