Yesterday, I had a date with a ghost.
You see, November 11 was the anniversary of Trish and I as a couple. It was not our wedding anniversary; that was for the public. November 11 was the private one, the day we kept for ourselves. Whenever we could, we took the day off, and at the very least we tried to go out to dinner, although once or twice in the last few years, she hadn’t been well enough for us to celebrate on the exact date.
This being the first anniversary since her death, I debated with myself all day if I would keep the date. Perhaps it was too sentimental? Too much giving in to grief? But in the end I decided I was observing the day in my own mind anyway, so I might as well indulge myself. I dressed in my best – a black Dorothy Grant shirt, my gold ring, my copper bracelet, and the Lyle Wilson pendant that Trish had won at a raffle at the West Vancouver Museum – and wore all black, one of the colors that Trish had liked best on me, and solemnly descended on the restaurant.
I had chosen La Rustica, an Italian restaurant we had known at its height when we were living in New Westminster. We hadn’t been there for years, but we had talked about returning there to see what it was like. Now, I would have to see for myself.
The restaurant had been extensively renovated at least once since we used to frequent it, so I couldn’t sit at the table in the back where a photographer had taken a picture of us on our fourth anniversary years ago. Instead, I was shown to a table for two on the edge of the vacant dance floor. On nights when the band played, I imagine it would have been a bad seat, the sort that single diners usually get unless they complain. But that night, I didn’t care; it was well away from the large party from the assisted living home who were the only other diners in the restaurant, so they wouldn’t notice my odd behavior.
My date, I imagined, was in a green turquoise dress with flowing sleeves, one of the few that I kept when I gave her clothes away. Her hair was long, and dyed auburn.
I ordered two glasses of white wine, and at first the server got it wrong, giving me two glasses of wine in a carafe. “If it’s not too odd, could I have another glass?” I asked. The server looked askance, but she did as I requested, not quite daring to ask what I was doing.
I poured our wine, then clinked the glasses together. Not daring to speak out loud because I knew I would end up sobbing in that horrible breathless way I have had during my mourning, I delivered the ritual Scottish toast and response that Trish had always loved since she first read it in George Macdonald Fraser’s The General Danced at Dawn:
“Here’s to us.”
“Wha’s like us?”
“Damn few, and they’re all deid.”
I followed that with the question that one or the other of us had always asked, “Has it really been __ years?”
“It doesn’t seem possible,” I whispered to myself, finishing the ritual. By then I was daubing at my eyes with the linen napkin.
My tastes have changed tremendously since I had last eaten at La Rustica, but I chose what had been my favorite meal: onion soup, followed by veal in a capers and wine sauce, and an amaretto gelato. The restaurant was dimly lit, but I knew my date was eating the shrimp, something I never prepare at home because it might trigger an allergic reaction for me, but which she always enjoyed when we ate out.
At the end of the meal, I asked if I could go into the back. But the years and the renovations defeated me, and I could not decide where our favorite table had been.
Maybe that was just as well. Wherever the table was, it would have sat hundreds since we had been at it, and we could have left no impression that would have remained.
The server was looking at me strangely, so I explained the occasion, and left a large tip before I left.
Ordinarily, I would have hardly felt two glasses of wine, but that night I did. I decided that I couldn’t bear the bus, so I walked down the hill to the Skytrain to sober myself up. By the time I boarded, the cold had cleared my head. I didn’t say goodbye to the ghost, of course; she followed me home.
People talk of melancholy although it were a form of depression, and should be avoided. If you believe that, you will never understand, but I enjoyed my company that night, although the encounter left me feeling drained.
I don’t know if I will be returning to La Rustica, which proved only adequate (the sauce had too much lemon, and the restaurant was no longer growing its own herbs on the roof). But I already know that my companion and I will be going out again on our wedding anniversary, as well as next next November 11th.