Grafton Street in Dublin

The Wilde Room: Chapter 2

Grafton Street in Dublin
Grafton Street in Dublin, Wiki Commons

Smells and Bells

It was Dante who’d found the Professor’s body. 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 that his father was gone? 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 a little, smudge and disperse. He felt less solidly himself, but without any corresponding reaction to the feeling. Was this a good or bad thing happening to him? It wasn’t that kind of a moment or happening, such that it might be identified as either good or bad. It belonged – only this much seemed clear – in another category.

They had service, of course. Coming down hard as it always did. So Jeremy prepared himself to prepare for service. He said to Martine: “My father died. He had a heart attack.”

“Jeremy, oh Jer. Jay jay.” 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.

But service meant putting the mind to its routines, and so that’s what he did. Foley’s Wilde Room. Named for the owners, who happened to be Martine’s father and uncle. But it was Jeremy who ran affairs here, and under whose guidance the room had really surged to join the big leagues. Alinea, El Bulli. Yes, he was mentioned in the same breath. Although always with the necessary caveat. “Innovative but earthy…” wrote Food and Wine. “Remains authentic, paradoxically…” said Saveur.

As for the Times, when they finally came through, they had the ethereal puff of lentil cloud and the laser-burnt-vanilla-infused rabbit saddle. The reviewer wrote: “I hated it but I loved it too.” And the reviewer knew Jeremy’s Vancouver background too. She knew about the long-ago Monkey’s Paw Bistro and its organic, seasonal, local ingredients. That idea. So long ago. She knew about Gerriamo’s, financed by Dante Beale’s billions, and about Jeremy’s fall from grace there. She knew even about the Food Caboose, the illegal restaurant that Jeremy had kept afloat for almost five years after Gerriamo’s, the most coveted reservation in the city if you knew how to navigate the secret phone numbers and necessary referrals, and if you were smart enough to get in before Jeremy was busted and left the city to travel. The reviewer knew these things because she knew Dante, very well. And so she ate the cube of chowder foam, solidified and tasting exquisitely of the mid-Atlantic. She registered that Jeremy had changed culinary camps, gone over from the Bloods to the Crips. And she hated it. But she also loved it. Her name was Kiwi Frederique. And of course Jeremy recognized her the moment she walked in the cut-glass doors at the front of the Wilde Room. But he did not change the tasting menu in any way. He gave her what he was giving everyone else. It was his room.

So, then, there was also nobody to cover for him. There was nobody above Jeremy who could step in and hold his place for any period of time longer than a bathroom break. And perhaps more importantly, there was nobody that the Foley brothers would trust to do so. Nobody they would trust with their money, scandal ridden as it may be. Nobody they would trust above this North American cook they’d brought in to run what appeared to be the only legitimate part of the business empire they controlled. Jeremy sensed these things about them, having been out to the family house on Shrewsbury Road in Dublin on two occasions now. The first on his hiring. The second with Martine. And on that second occasion there had been little doubt in which area the expectations and the questions were pooling. Martine’s father, Cillian Foley, sipped scotch and gazed at Jeremy with an amber flicker in his all-knowing, all-insinuating eyes, which were a lot like Martine’s eyes, in fact. Seamed with suspicion, interest, provocation.

Cillian Foley said to his then-new chef: “But it’s family that’s important now though, isn’t it? I mean, you would agree would you not?” Cillian Foley, who’d been senior under Bertie Ahern. Out of government now but still plugged in.

To which Jeremy nodded and made a noise of agreement. And to which memory, he made another noise of agreement now. A small grunt of carrying on as he smelled the smell of the house. As he heard Martine’s heels in the marble foyer. As he thought again of Dante finding his father, crumpledover his desk in his downstairs den, crumpled and dead, amid the mess. And here Jeremy surprised even himself by breaking down, weeping. Crumpling into a chair in the front window of the Wilde Room. And nobody came close. Everybody gave him space that he didn’t, really, particularly want just then. He wanted no space. He wanted proximity and warmth. He wanted his old best friend. The love who had never been a lover. He wanted Jules.

Love and grief. Different smells and bells. Different devotions. He caught himself in the split. And Jeremy allowed himself a few moments – holding his sides, rocking in place – to be nothing but miserable.