Strangers At A Table

by Melissa Chan

We are always better than the last time we met. We are always doing well. Under a veil of ambivalence, we smile politely at one another, holding forks, folding napkins, strangers at a table. Conversations have become arenas for bragging rights. Every opportunity is taken to extol new jobs, renovated kitchens, the alignment of the stars in our swelling galaxies. We hurry to name that thing we read that day, an intrepid factoid in that esteemed newspaper. We boast: “Did you know…?” or perhaps, “Did you read about…?” Our friendships are cemented in perfectly round stones, shiny and hollow. Saliva coats our words. Napkins take our stains. My best friend, the one with whom I will grow old when our husbands are dead and gone, pours ketchup all over her salad, something I never understood. I rehash the same funny story, sliced in mutant angles, seasoned to taste—boiled, steamed, fried. At a French bistro years later, I’ll tell it again as if it had just happened on the street that morning. My friend will smile widely, legs loose and lips wet, her greasy fork spearing the grapes and, at the idea of whipped dessert, all teeth.