LUNCH WITH FRANCIS

Mitchell Hagerstrom

It was a Chinese place, a hole in the wall on Kearney Street, and it was packed. You know who comes here, don’t you, the girl said.

I know who you mean, the woman answered. Aren’t we right near his offices?

Yeah, and they won’t let autograph seekers bother him.

I’m really hungry, the woman said.

The pair had walked from Market, up through Chinatown and into North Beach. Before that they had been window-shopping the streets and alleys east of Union Square when, in one of the small shops, something had caught the girl’s eye.

Look at that color, the girl said. I love that color!

The jacket could only be described as … Eggplant, with a capital E. Not purple, but a deep, luscious shade of … Eggplant. They went inside and the girl asked the salesperson to retrieve the item from the window.

You will never guess who was just here, the salesperson said. Sally Fields!

Was she nice? the woman asked.

Ohmygod, I’m still shaking all over, the salesperson said, and held up shaky hands to prove it.

The girl, wearing the beautiful jacket, was admiring herself in the large mirror. The woman reached over and flipped the dangling tag to read the price.

Beautiful, she said to the girl, but we need to keep moving.

Oh, mom, I love it, the girl exclaimed. But she eased it off her shoulders and handed it back to the salesperson. The pair then window-shopped all the way up Grant, through Chinatown.

At the Chinese hole in wall on Kearney they were taken to the very last table, next to the kitchen door. The girl squeezed between their table and the one beside it and seated herself on the banquette. The woman took the chair facing, but wondered how the large man sitting beside her daughter could ever have squeezed himself through that tiny gap. He was with three other people.

The girl ordered for them, and when the woman handed the menus back to the waitress she asked for a beer. With an extra glass, she added.

When the beer and glasses arrived, the woman poured. She clicked her glass to the girl’s. To …, she said, but shrugged and didn’t say to what as she had suddenly recognized the large man seated across. Anyone familiar with his films knew what he looked like. She felt her face warming and took a large swallow of beer, hoping it would bring the color down.

Their food arrived quickly and the girl divided it between their two plates. As she did so, the large man leaned over, sniffing with appreciation. Good choice, he said, and pointed out that the place was careful to slice the sweet potatoes thickly so they didn’t fall apart.

The girl glanced at the man seated beside her. Quickly, she turned back to face her mother, and opened her eyes as wide as they would go, mimicking total shock.

The woman managed to choke back her laughter. Such a beautiful color, she said to the man, although I am not usually fond of the color orange.

All colors need a compliment, the large man said. You will find that dish exquisite, for such an otherwise ordinary … here he paused and twirled his fork in the air, indicating where they were. Next time, he added, try it with the eggplant.

The woman smiled and wondered how she was supposed to eat and converse normally with her daughter when seated across from that particular person. He rarely spoke to the other three people at his table, but he continued to watch and comment on their progress through the dish. At one point he complimented their good appetites. When he and his party left, with tables shifted a bit to ease his exit, the woman signaled the waitress and ordered another beer.

He was flirting with you, the girl said.

He was not, the woman answered.

You look a bit like his wife, the girl said. I’ve seen photos from when she made the movie about the movie.

The woman shrugged.

Over their second, shared beer they discussed the few things they still needed to buy. They were leaving town, bugging out as her father would say. The woman was tired of the city and wanted to live again with the color green. Outside, she noted the stately building at the corner of Kearney and Columbus — tall, coppery-green, and in a style so old she wondered if it was a survivor of nineteen-oh-six. The woman tilted her chin toward the building.

Yeah, the girl said, he owns the whole thing.

Come, the woman said. Let’s go back and get that jacket.

December 9, 2016 10:28 pm

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