Donald Freed
International Playwright
and Master Teacher

Excerpt from "So This is the World"

by Shirley Ross Loeb

A NOVEL IN PROCESS

THE DINNER
    Tomorrow night is the dinner with Noah’s parents. I’m not that nervous. Parents of my friends have always liked me.  I’m polite, smart and not so pretty that I’ll take the attention of boys away from their daughters.

    Noah has told me we are going to a fancy joint called Perino’s.  I have only one thing to wear that could be called fancy. That’s my serious dress.  Mom sewed it from a picture in a magazine. When you want to make an impression, she said, wear the serious dress. It is navy blue, with full sleeves, a Peter Pan collar, and pleats in the skirt. It is a “nice” dress, not fun or fashionable, or God forbid sexy – a nice dress.

    I try it on for Karen. “Oh, I didn’t know you were going to a funeral.”

    It’s navy blue, Karen, not black. Black is what you wear to a funeral.

    Clothes send a message, Sylvie. What is your message?

    It’s my serious dress. I’m serious.

    It’s also a virgin’s dress. The nuns would love you in that. They’d take you in in a minute.

    She’s hurt my feelings but maybe she’s right. Do I ever fit in anywhere?

    She brings out what I call a flower child dress. It’s very colorful, floor length with a flounce around the neck.  You want to sing “Are you going to Scarborough Fair” when wearing it.

    Try it on.

    It actually looks ok – like I’m someone in this century not an old lady in mourning somewhere in Europe.

    You look good, Sylvie. It gives you some color.

   Noah comes to pick me up. He is very stiffly dressed in a suit and tie.

    “You look very nice, Sylvie.  I can’t thank you…

    I wave him off. Enough of that, Noah. You’re my boyfriend. I take his hand.

    He almost skips off the driveway.

    Perino’s is so fancy, I gulp. The maître d’ who lisps in French takes us to our table. The parents are already there. The waiter pulls away my chair.

    Noah’s father gestures to the drinks they have finished. “Refresh these.”

    The waiter picks up the glasses and asks what we would like to drink.

    “Ginger ale, please.

    Noah says me too.

    Noah introduces us. I look at his mother, Mrs. Hunter, and realize that the serious dress would have been better. She is wearing what is called in the fashion magazines a “designer suit” with silk blouse, a string of pearls and pearl earrings. It smells of money. The father wears a navy blue blazer and grey slacks and a red tie. I’ve heard of these types but have never met them before.

    I call them Mr. and Mrs. Hunter. He says call me Patrick, little lady.  My wife is Meredith.

    I nod but I’m not going to.

    Noah kisses his Mom on the cheek and shakes his Dad’s hand. The waiter comes back with the drinks and then it’s quiet.

    The meal is over. The parents lean back and light cigarettes and the questioning begins.  

    So you’re from a foreign country? from Meredith.

    “Canada is not that foreign. We like to think of ourselves as the younger sister of the United States.  We’re very admiring of the U.S. “

    Patrick says, through his cigarette and drink, one in each hand, “Yah, we call Canada Uppa U.S.” He breaks into laughter.

    Meredith pokes him, “He’s always been a joker. Don’t take him seriously.”

    “So you and my darling Noah have been going together for a while?” Meredith again.

    I look to Noah but he can’t even speak. His own parents terrify him. I would scream at mine sometimes. I might be embarrassed by them but I’m not afraid of them

    “We’re getting to know each other.” I know I have to keep talking to slow down the questions. “We’re both in the Conrad seminar. The teacher asked us what we want for a final project. I made a suggestion and Noah thought…I’ve lost them. They’re in their drinks and smoke rings and not paying attention.”

    The Dad says, “Conrad and five cents will get you a cup of coffee. I wanted him to study finance.”

    The dinner is a big production. The kitchen brings a courtesy something that looks like a shrunken egg. It’s actually a quail’s egg  - it makes me want to barf. I move it around with the teeny spoon they have given us but I don’t eat it.

    The steak is really good.  I eat every bite, plus the baked potato with all the trimmings, they call it. Nobody talks while eating.  I see Noah forcing himself to eat but his stomach is so shrunken from the eggs only diet that he makes an excuse and goes to the bathroom.

    “That was a waste of good money,” from Patrick eyeing the steak that Noah barely touched. “

    “He hasn’t been feeling well,” I jump in trying to rescue him.

    Patrick eyes me. “I know the whole story – the starvation diet so he won’t have to go into the army. Hell, no one wants to get killed but when your country needs you…”

    “Please Patrick,” Meredith begs.

    I want to get away from them.

    “Excuse me” and I get up to go to the restroom.

    Meredith is in the bathroom when I get out of the stall. We are the only two in there.

    “I’m worried about Noah too but I understand his problem – and agree with him – but not in front of Patrick. Father and son have never seen things the same way.”

    “It’s ok,” I say trying to escape her now.  I walk around her to the basin to wash my hands.

    She reaches  her left hand around my upper arm.  All I can see is her big diamond wedding ring, and a diamond band and a diamond bracelet. They are reflecting off the lights in the bathroom and sparkling. She squeezes my arm, “Sylvie, I love my son and – I worry about him – for a whole bunch of reasons.”

    I look at her fingers clutching at me and she pulls it away.

    “Please be his friend and  -  she writes a number on a paper towel – call me if he ever seems to be in trouble.  Between us girls, ok?”

    This pulled together woman  shrinks, everything about her sags.  Her eyes are filling with tears.

    The water is still running. I wash my hands. She dabs her eyes and corrects her powder.

    “Noah is a very fine person,” I say.

    She nods. I open the door and she motions me out, “I’ll be there in a minute.”

    Now it’s just me and Patrick. He’s had his drink refreshed again.

    “So, Sylvie, I’ve built a business, a damn good one, and have no one to leave it too. Noah doesn’t have a head for it and the rest are girls.”

    The waiter comes by. I hold up my glass,

    “Refresh this please.”  

    Patrick laughs, “You catch on quick. I’ve sold to a lot of your people. They bargain you down to nothing  but – they pay their bills.” He winks at me like he knows what’s up.

    I feel a slap but nothing happened or did it.  

    Noah comes back. I take his hand in mine and smile at him like a real girlfriend.

    The waiter comes by with a tray of pastries – tells us about each one like they’re precious children – and ends with of course, there’s our baked Alaska.
   
    “That’s for me,” I say.
 
   The baked Alaska is a big production with lighting it at the table which is a great relief because nobody is talking again.

    I wolf it down.

    “We better go,” says Noah, “early class tomorrow.”

    I hook my arm in his and lean against his shoulder, really playing up the girlfriend.

    Everybody stands. Meredith squeezes my hand and meets my eye. Patrick leans over to kiss my cheek.

    “Thank you for a lovely evening.”

    “Take care of my son, flower girl.”

    We get out. The valet gets our car.

    ‘Drive fast,’ I order Noah.

    When he gets around the corner, I yell, “Stop.’

    We look at each other and start to laugh. We can’t stop.