She had a sense of how it would be, how the waiter would have the most beautiful face, soft but still angular and his good nature would spill out over their corner table by the fire, by the old horse brass. And the fire would be warm but not crackling and when the food came it would steam hot, just enough. The beer batter would be popping from the fish, its crumbling whiteness flaking off her fork and they would laugh. The wine would bite the back of her throat leaving plum notes and swirls of dark chocolate in her mouth. She would notice the grain of the table, how the knots in the wood looked like stains of old food and she would scrub at them with her napkin.
But the stains were permanent, the shapes and patterns of age, formed into the its weft and she would look up. The waiter’s face, stubbled and young, said enough but was unable to smile and she tried and she joked but she couldn’t get through and then the food arrived.
Plates that weren’t piping placed down without care, as though they were the final two dishes to leave kitchen, the last two olden fish before the mop down and wash up and she held the cutlery like a man at the gallows and she scooped and she hacked and she fed. The batter fell in flour thick gloops back onto itself, opening up the greyed out carcass of baked flesh. The vegetables, bright colours offering up a promise that they couldn’t keep, burst to nothing in her mouth and she tried to swallow the resitance of undercooked chips, the fattened fingers of someone else’s failure hung around the sides of her teeth like a creature in the dark, hiding behind dustbins, dislodging food that had gone before and she sat. The wine swirled around the glass, clipping the muck of neglect, leaving its residue on the unclean streaks of a hurried kitchen and she drank.
The smoothness bit the sides, coated her throat in acid and as the heartburn to come rose up from her gut, the potential for pain never far, she looked towards the fireplace, to the embers. A photographic miss match, flicking up, the replica of flames approaching dance, swirling round like she used to, when her skirts were long and thin, her hair thicker against the storms and she would spin and twirl as though she wore no manacles. On sawdust floors under olden lights, cars flashing by in the dark, familiar streets that didn’t scare her and smiling faces. In the days when she could move, when she was lifted in the presence of strangers and the beer batter was golden crisp and melted in her small red mouth.