That evening Bianca arrived at Jake and Annie’s shortly after ten. The restaurant was full as usual. She went right to the counter, ignoring the waitress who was nodding in her direction. Settling onto the stool she noticed that the brass hand rail had just been polished. It shone with a dense, reddish glow.
Surrounded by this bloody garland, the counter looked like one of those boats that venture out into the open sea on summer nights fishing for tuna. Its oval shape reminded her of the rounded hulk of an ancient vessel, the two pillars that rose from it toward the ceiling forming the main masts. A rarefied light shone on the surface of these columns, creating an impression of imperceptible movement. Leaning over to pick up her purse Bianca lost her balance and instinctively grasped the rail.
Her favorite option was to sit at the counter. The tables set for two, four or six in geometrical progression based on the spatial possibilities of the restaurant seemed, when not crowded, islands lost in the middle of the ocean.
Seeing all available places at a table occupied by diners, unfolding their napkins as a sign of cheerful conviviality, gave her a sense of serene fulfillment, of something fully realized. The sight of isolated individuals sitting at a table where all the settings except their own had been removed always reminded her of those illustrations where a man shipwrecked on a small island is scanning the horizon in the hope that a ship will sail into view. Still lost in thought, she did not see the waiter approach until she realized he was staring at her, a smile on his face. “Hi. How are you doing? I haven’t seen you in ages.” Bianca gazed at him guiltily, as she used to do at school when faced with an unexpected question from the teacher. “I’ve been really busy, and time passes so….” Her sentence remained unfinished, not for lack of imagination, since Bianca had all too much of that, but because she was interrupted by the waiter. “Quickly, you’re right. But what can you do? That’s how life goes. What’ll you have?” “A decaf, please. And bread pudding.” These words flew out of her mouth like a line of poetry she had learned by heart long before. Relieved, she added a timid smile as a grace note to her order, surprised at the sweeping decisiveness of her reply. “Great. How’s your friend doing? I haven’t seen him for a while either.” A peremptory call from the kitchen saved her from the embarrassment of having to answer this second question. With the grace of a dancer, the waiter walked off past rows of sparkling glasses, promising he’d be right back.
Bianca looked around her. The crowd in the restaurant was beginning to thin out. She became conscious of a couple at one of the tables on the far side of the counter. Seated across from each other, the two of them were watching the front door and the entrance to the kitchen, respectively, with a level of intensity worthy of a scientist at a microscope, as if they needed to catch sight of every person passing through. At some point, following a prearranged script, they switched the focus of their attention, one turning toward the kitchen and the other toward the main door, without ever looking at each other eye to eye. After a few minutes, they switched again.
Bianca looked at them with curiosity, finding in their behavior proof of a personal theory she had recently developed. It went like this: geometric concepts, such as the point and the straight line, could, according to an interdisciplinary system, be used to investigate the mysteries of romantic love. The concept of the point and the concept of the two parallel lines that never meet could define the romantic lives of so many couples, young or old, married or dating, that Bianca had seen over the course of her young life, with the various nuances of chance.
The beginning of love could thus be defined as all straight lines converging at a single point, with two people gazing into each other’s eyes, a concept already proposed by poets during the middle ages. One could immediately become aware the end of love, by contrast, by noting the direction of those blessed straight lines. Once they had taken up a parallel position nothing further could be done. The pair could always stay together if they accepted this geometrical principle, they could call a lawyer if they were bound by ties of an official sort, or simply change company, moving on toward another point which in time would perhaps become another straight line.
“Would you like cream for your coffee?” This time it was easy to answer the question. Bianca did not care for her coffee black.