The Wilde Room: Chapter 1

The Wilde Room 
 
When the Professor died, it was Dante who called. Jeremy picked up, standing in the alcove next to the reservation desk at The Wilde Room. And there he heard the voice of his long-ago mentor, tormentor, once-friend. He stood, watching his house manager Martine through the front window of the restaurant. Beautiful Martine, clipping the fresh sheet into the menu display on the black railing on the street, the green wall of St. Stephens Green rising opposite. High and scattered cloud. A nice April day in Dublin and booked to the rafters. And here came the long ago. The dreaded. The not-quite put behind.
Dante said: “You remember this voice?”
And with barely half a beat, Jeremy came right back. He said: “Tell me one thing. Tell me I don’t somehow still owe you money.”
Dante said: “If you still owed me money, it'd be my lawyer calling.” But then his voice moderated, or the pressure systems of the phone line shifted in response to his shallow breath. And somewhere in here, Jeremy felt it. Something beneath the surface of things. Beneath his feet. Something hidden in a cavern that had suddenly yawned up under the floorboards of the restaurant in the venerable old hotel.
Jeremy smelled lamb shanks in the afternoon air. Sometime that afternoon the shanks would be shredded into filments, suspended in tomato/red wine foam and chilled. He smelled sage heading into the lyophilizer for crisping and vanilla being burned. He saw a glimmer in the corner of his eye as Martine pushed back in through the front door, light splintering in the cut glass Wilde Room logo. He thought: I’m going to remember this next thing Dante tells me against this backdrop always. Martine, long simmered lamb shanks sixteen steps before completion. Somewhere, a brown butter.
Jeremy said: “What’s happened?”
 
***


It was Dante who’d found the Professor. Jeremy thought: of course. That strange friendship between his former boss and his father having forged hard after Jeremy fled his hometown. His two great would-be teachers seemed to have watched his flight leave together. Jeremy imagined them sitting in that little park at the end of the runway where the airplane nerds hung out. And after the howl of the engines had passed overhead, well, there seemed to be nothing left between them. They started playing chess weekly, as if the young man (young then) had been the very board they’d previously contested. He was gone. They needed a different board.
What was the feeling after learning? Jeremy gasped. He sagged. Martine rushed over, but he didn’t feel her hand on her arm or hear her questions. He felt what he would later describe as an envelopment. Something came over and around him, vaporous and entire. His atmosphere changed. He felt himself blur, smudge, disperse. He felt less solidly himself, but without any corresponding reaction to the feeling. Was this a bad thing happening to him? It wasn’t that kind of a moment or happening, such that it might either be identified as good or bad. It belonged – only this much seemed clear – in another category.
They had service, of course. Coming down hard as it always was. So Jeremy prepared himself to prepare for service. He said to Martine: “My father died. He had a heart attack.”
“Oh Jer, Oh JerJer, Oh J, J, Jaycee.” She held him, tight. Strong girl, Martine, whose interest in Jeremy burned with an odd brightness. He thought this often. How equal was her intensity in passion and temper. A walking, breathing, red haired, thin ankled Irish cliché. Jeremy didn’t love her. He was enslaved to her. Quite different, and he knew it too. But service was as service always would be. So he thought of his father in a way made numb by routines, pots, knives, a scraped knuckle, a blast of steam, the fragrance of herbs and searing meat. He scorched his hand, badly. Thumb to the flame, nerve endings announcing rather calming: your sleeve is on fire. Your flesh is blistering.
“Chef, chef.”
“I see it,” he said, and turned to douse the flames under cold water. His father had left a mess, a den full of papers, a mystery. No will. Jeremy saw it all in advance, the on-rush of personal chaos, grief. He was going to have to go home now. All the way back to the green west coast of North America, where he did not want to return. He was going to have to go, have to figure things out.
“Chef, chef.”
“Got it.”
Crash. Pots. Glances.
"Sorry. Got it."
Dante, Dante, Jeremy thought. Tell me what really killed my father.
Posted: Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009 1:49pm