The Wilde Room: Chapter 5

Cillian Foley greeting Jeremy at the door to his den, after Jeremy had been shown down a labyrinth of halls by the Foley house manager. Martine’s father, it was clear even before Jeremy arrived, had serious matters in mind. That much Jeremy gleaned from Martine’s manner in setting up the meeting up in the first place. A seemingly spontaneous idea, although Jeremy realized it had been much more deeply considered. In this case, she’d woken up that morning after the news of Jeremy’s father’s death, and the idea of a summit meeting between the chef and his lords was fully planned in her mind, something necessary before he left and dealt with things back in Canada. But as soon as she said it, her head leaned in close to him, her morning smell reaching him – fabric softener, peppermint, organic fair trade medium roasted Columbian beans – Jeremy knew the idea had gone to sleep with her and taken shape, her mind gently at work as her slender hands lay weightless on the light blue sheets.
She wasn’t the first woman of this kind to enter Jeremy’s life. That is, women with plans for him, or at least energy and vision more forceful than Jeremy himself typically revealed. He wasn’t blind to his tendency although, in any objective survey of the past, he had to allow that things hadn’t gone badly for him. He had money in the bank. He’d been on television. He had a decent enough name in the foodie world that someone at Food and Wine had written him up and described his undertaking – that is, the sum of his professional life to that point – as a “surprising, looping, evolving brand development strategy, delicious at every stage”. The brand descriptors, the writer said, were: “canny, artful, innovative and always tasty.”
The article didn’t mention the women, although with a bit more research maybe they would have seen through to this one. Jeremy went with the strongest women around. That was his gravitational pull. Only even knowing – the way, for example, that Martine aligned herself with his last girlfriend in Vancouver, Benny, and with Jules too, with whom things had never been official, always potential, and even Margaret whom he had loved so openly so long ago – even seeing that didn’t change Jeremy’s sense that Martine was different than all of these other women too. Because they were always different. They were always, specifically, in his mind, epically more sensible and grounded then himself. Even if they weren’t.
So, Martine. She was gentler. She was less planned. Less calculated. She carried herself with a natural ease that could have been the product of having so much money, certainly. Jeremy had known a lot of rich people over the years with this quality. This was one of the cursed blessings of early 21st century food entertainment: you were invariably stretching yourself to keep up with the people who admired you most, trying to look as naturally at ease as the people around you always seemed to look.
Jeremy had handled it without going bankrupt, which was something given he’d been bankrupt twice before. But he only wised up after leasing one of the new hybrid-fuel Range Rovers a few months after settling in at the Wilde Room. At that point, even Jeremy could see that some madness had infected him. Cillian Foley had a Range Rover, the conventional gas-chewing kind. Jeremy’s new vehicle fit well into Foley country. Yet it appealed very much to Martine as well. So that’s what he’d been doing, and stretching himself to the dangerous limit in the meantime.
Then, as it played out, Martine was herself what saved him from the situation. At first she scolded him, saying it was much too expensive, but also that he looked good in it. Later then, between courses at dinner at one of their favorite places to eat together – Peploe’s which was a different type of restaurants than the Wilde Room, more comfortably old fashioned, more prone to chatty waiters who knew Martine – she then quietly convinced Jeremy to let her treat the new leased vehicle as her own since she had a car allowance that she wasn’t using anyway. So Jeremy was saved. Martine saved him. A caring person did that, phrasing it in the delicate way she had, Jeremy thought.
That morning then, she held him in bed and whispered comfort to him, asked him gently how he felt, but did not press. And while she made coffee he told her a story about his father that he’d dreamed in a confused way: a dinner they’d had once, deep in a city park where the Professor had been doing research. The flavors of that meal had been coming back to Jeremy since the news. And here he sat on the side of Martine’s bed and thought of it while she poured coffee and carried it over. He didn’t want to be anywhere else, he realized. He didn’t want to go home at all. Martine’s Labrador retriever, who was the deep brown chocolate kind and endlessly loving himself, was ecstatic in the morning, every morning, to see Jeremy. So while Martine rested her cheek on his shoulder, the dog wriggled and writhed at his feet, rubbing his snout against the side of the bed and licking Jeremy’s toes.
He should meet with her father before he left, she said. It was the right thing to do. You had big meetings in the face of big changes. And Jeremy could feel that much in the air, the swirl of the new, the tragic, the maybe.
Cillian met him at the door of the den. The house smelled of oak and floor wax, heavy fabric, canvas, rich oils, more dog smells, towels and rubber boots. Cillian Foley met his chef and took his right hand in his, a firm slow handshake, his left hand forward to hold Jeremy’s elbow. To hold them together. Eamon wasn’t here it seemed, meaning this was going to be more personal.
Cillian said: “Come in lad. Come in. Sad news. Now it’s time we talk. Because after the sad news comes the new idea. It’s always that way. Coffee? Tea? Brandy? I have something to ask you.”
And Jeremy wondered immediately how he felt about this development, since Cillian appeared to be holding a bulky envelope in one hand.
 
 ***
 
“So what’d he want?” asked Ollie, his mouth full of bread.
They had hugged. Which was rare. They had found a corner alcove at the back of Peploe’s, just down the street from the Wilde Room. When Jeremy had come in earlier, the maitre d’ had gone eyes wide and clasped his hands in front of his chest in pleasure. Then, since Jeremy had made no reservation, the man made a few scribbles in the book and bumped whoever was in the alcove out into the main dining room. Jeremy tried to object but it was out of their hands by then. The maitre d’ wouldn’t hear of it.
“He had a message for someone,” Jeremy said to Ollie. “Or package. Message package.”
“A message package. What the fuck is a message package.”
“Truth?”
“Go,” Ollie said.
“I can’t tell you.”
“That’s your truth," Ollie said. "Your truth is you have to conceal the truth. Fucking your buddy, nice.”
“I am not fucking my buddy. I’m protecting a confidence.”
Ollie said: “Answer me this Jay Jay.”
Jeremy ate bread and indicated with a muffled sound and a motion of the shoulders that he would answer Ollie whatever it was, if he could.
Olli's eyes were still off in the dining room somewhere. He said: “Do you not seriously think she’s hot?”
Then she arrived and of course Jeremy’s answer was not something he felt comfortable giving.
Dani was her name. She was narrow shouldered, with dark hair tied back in a black band. Small nose, amused eyes. Dani and Ollie were flirting, although she addressed Jeremy in all the official transactions. More water? Something else? She was Lithuanian, and when Ollie spoke to her the smile never left his lips. They bantered back and forth. The after dinner drinks they didn’t need arrived (Jamesons for Jeremy, Rowan’s Creek for Ollie). Dani talked to Jeremy, the chef friend of the chef who ran this place. But she smiled at Ollie. Which was different. And Jeremy was forced to ask himself again the question he had asked himself many times over the many years before, as far back as their time in university together. Why was Jeremy always in some tortured relationship or another, while Ollie was the one that women seemed to fundamentally like better? It wasn’t looks, he was fairly certain about that.
“How was everything, chef?” Dani asked Jeremy.
Jeremy loved Peploe’s. Rabbit osso bucco, lamb kidneys in grainy mustard sauce, asparagus with a soft boiled duck egg and (undeniably) a better gratin Dauphinouse than Ethan ever made.
“Spectacular,” he said. But Dani was listening already to something Ollie was saying. And when she left, with her stacks of plate up each arm, Ollie’s eyes followed her, resting in the concavity of her lower back, just above her butt, snagged in the wool pleat of her slate grey cardigan.
“Boyfriend,” Jeremy said. “Just saying.”
Ollie turned back to look at his friend. He blew his breath out to shoot stray sandy bits of hair out of his eyes. He said: “What’s a boyfriend?”
Jeremy sipped his scotch.
“Like forever? Like till next week? Till tomorrow? You see what I’m saying. It’s all provisional, contingent. Living between knowing and guessing, being and appearing.”
Jeremy raised his eyebrows. Ollie had philosophy. When they were in university together, he’d been able to express himself only in terms of music. Later, he could speak philosophically only when discussing the principles of business. Having sold his company and left his family and embarked on this spotless future of his, this confounding mixture of self-abuse and success, while Jeremy had enjoyed his own measure of renown, he did not exactly thrive philosophically. Jeremy did not find himself in possession of a new world view, even if the cooking had changed. But for Ollie, something had flourished, a weed growing in the gap between Ollie and every woman alive in the world.
Now Jeremy’s friend said, on this exact note: “Margaret took Trout away from me, that’s the truth.”
Jeremy kept his gaze steady. Whatever fuck-you-anyway impulse fluxed through him just then, he didn’t want Ollie to know about it. Anger. And sure, a measure of jealousy.
Ollie said: “I’m not saying I wasn’t responsible for what happened. I’m just saying this is the net effect of all that happened. Things are stripped away from you. So you arrive at a more fundamental world view. This.
Jeremy said. “Peploe’s. Dani. Coming to visit me out of the blue.”
Olli said: “A new resolve.”
“Resolve,” Jeremy said, sipping again. “You have a new resolve.”
“You find that remarkable, because resolve in your own life has slipped ,” Ollie said. “Which is something I’ve been meaning to speak with you about. Your life was once greatly resolved. Now you are mixed up in this Martine and Cillian business. And you’ve lost your taste for booze. What’s up with that?”
“I haven’t lost my taste. You get older,” Jeremy said.
You get older.”
“You don’t get older?” Jeremy asked him.
And now Ollie squared himself in what Jeremy found to be a vaguely familiar way. Who did that? Who settled into the chair a fraction, as if to be more immovable than they were a second before? In their smooth-sheened suit of very high grade, with sharp corners and clean lines. Bespoke, Jeremy guessed. He might not have had the eye to pick out the surgeon’s cuff with the last of the button left tellingly open, or the watch pocket canted just so above the waist, but he did have the eye to pick the movement of a man in a suit in which he stood for many cumulative hours while it was assembled. People who had their suits made this way didn’t wear them, they lived in them. Which Jeremy didn’t, still, in the jeans and t-shirts and cowboy boots he continued to wear after all these years.
Now Ollie was speaking to him on the topic of resolve, and Jeremy had to marvel at the sudden realization. Ollie reminded him a bit of Dante, all of a sudden. A self-indulgent, self-abusive variety of his long ago partner.
Jeremy said: “Stop though. This Martine and Cillian business. What’s that supposed to mean?”
Ollie gestured around himself. He waved his arms in an encompassing motion. At the ends of his smoothly tailored pant legs, Jeremy noticed, their emerged leather shoes the color of a light-toasted hazelnut which brought to mind a nut flavored sauce Jeremy favored with certain small game tenderloins.
“Ollie is indicating the room around him,” Jeremy said. “The rest of us are waiting to know what this means. The Martine and Cillian business specifically. Like Ollie knows something. Although I doubt he does.”
“Yes well,” Ollie said, “My point here being less a point, per se, than a kind of suggestion. A friendly suggestion. Based not solely on my situation vis-à-vis my family and Trout in particular, and women in general. Or Margaret, who is a bitch but who I still love, for that matter. This suggestion is based instead on my assessment of your situation, on the other side of the table, in Dublin, with Martine and her family who are known to be a little… you know. Everyone knows. If you don’t know, I’m very worried about you.”
Jeremy said: “Ol, another second of prologue and I’m fucking out of here.”
Ollie said: “Going home. Bringing it all back home.”
“I’m going to a funeral.
“Yes, well that’s my point. And I’m going with you.”
And then they both just breathed for awhile and considered how that sounded.
Ollie was smiling evenly. Pleased at the surprise punchline he had provided.
Jeremy was thinking: fucking hell. Not that.
Posted: Thursday, Mar. 25, 2010 9:46am