Every Friday night, for the past thirty-five years, Albert Rizzo and his wife Doreen go out on a date. Tonight was no different as Albert raced home from work to take off his shirt and tie so he could put on another combination. The idea of changing clothes just for dinner has always baffled him, but he likes that it makes him feel like the world is instantly a different place and it made Doreen happy when he didn’t smell like the office.
“I’ll be right down, honey,” Albert yelled. “Just finishing getting ready.”
There’s no answer, but he didn’t expect one. Like always, he thought Doreen was already in the car waiting for him. Albert turned back towards the standing mirror to finish tying the thick knot. His hands continued to fiddle at the front of his neck, trying to create the perfect double Windsor — something he only attempted on date night.
After a few more tugs and a couple slight readjustments, Albert took one last glance at himself. For a moment he thought about all the Friday night meals Doreen and he had shared over the years. He remembered their children running around the house while they got dressed and the endless fiascos of trying to find a reliable babysitter. Even knowing his life is vastly different now those memories only bring a smile to his face as he gave himself a nod of approval and headed downstairs to leave for the restaurant.
It wasn’t unusual that on the way over no words were exchanged. Doreen and Albert liked to save their conversations for dinner so they didn’t appear to be one of those couples who have nothing to say to each other. They both hated seeing that in public as it upset them that marriages could get to such a lonely place.
A few minutes later the car parked at a strip mall not too far from their house. At the end of the mall holds a pub that’s outlasted the other stores it shared a building with. Sure the restaurant had changed names and owners more times than Albert can remember, but the staff and menu almost remained the same, and Doreen enjoyed seeing the familiar faces at the bar and the unknown new families that were eating with their kids.
Before getting out of the car, Albert ran his fingers over his mustache and checked his hair in the rear view mirror. Why he suddenly cared about his appearance is a little odd since he’s not trying to impress anyone, yet the grey color mocked exactly how many years have passed.
In the parking lot Albert took a deep breath of the cold, crisp air. He enjoyed the sting in his lungs as it reminded him of every other date night. Receiving reassurance that things do remain the same brought joy to Albert, who otherwise hadn’t felt that emotion in quite some time.
Albert opened the heavy wood and metal door to the pub, but didn’t enter without first noticing that winter had already painted the sky black for the night. He then selected a single star and lent it a somber smile.
Once inside the sound of clanking glasses and laughter hit Albert like a familiar kiss. It made the place feel cozy and welcoming.
“Well, would you look who it is,” a woman’s voice shouted through the noise. “If I didn’t know better I’d say that’s Albert Rizzo.”
A slender, middle-aged lady swiftly stepped around the hostess stand to greet Albert who was still in the entrance. Like the cold weather, mostly everything about the pub was the same. Elizabeth was working the front door and Albert already recognized a few acquaintances standing near the bar, drinking the same beer, and watching the game. He truly wished that more things in his life hadn’t changed. Albert kept telling himself they hadn’t. He needed to believe that.
“It’s so great to see you,” Elizabeth said as she wrapped her arms around Albert’s full body. Her voice sounded excited, but held a touch of tenderness. Albert wasn’t sure why.
He hugged her back like he’s always done every Friday night, her curly, black hair getting tangled in his plump fingers. Another person afflicted by age’s cruel joke. Albert could remember a time when her hair was lush and tickled his fingers when they would embrace. Now each strand felt coarse and lifeless.
As she let go Elizabeth’s energy suddenly dropped. “How are you feeling, my friend?”
“Hungry,” Albert quickly responded. He tried to match her jovial tone from only moments before.
A smile formed on Elizabeth’s face as she chuckled. “Well, then you’ve come to the right place. I’m guessing you want your normal table?”
“Of course. It is Friday night after all.”
Elizabeth began walking towards a table for two near the center of the restaurant. Albert didn’t need to follow as he’d sat there more times than he can remember, but he let Elizabeth do her job. He then slowly lowered himself into the same wooden chair he’d sat in for the past thirty-five years.
“Will you need a menu?” Elizabeth asked, holding one out for Albert to take.
“No, unless the menu has changed, which I doubt.”
Elizabeth frowned. “Albert, I’ve known you for almost thirty years and every week you order the same thing. It might be good for you to try something new.”
“You’re probably right, but I don’t think tonight is the night.”
Elizabeth gave Albert a squeeze on his shoulder then walked back to her duties at the hostess stand. He thought nothing of the gentle touch and began to wonder how many other people had sat at his table during the week.
The table must see plenty of diners every day given its central location in the restaurant, especially couples out for dinner or coworkers sharing lunch. One side provided an optimal view of the bar and the many televisions showing the night’s biggest game while the other person had a view of the entire pub and could easily people watch. Doreen and Albert always sat in their self-assigned seats every week, making memories like the wine stain from their 20th wedding anniversary.
It was early fall and their youngest son had just left for college. Doreen and Albert were finally empty nesters, providing them with a long overdue opportunity to have some fun. After sharing one or three bottles of wine and hours of endless laughs, it was bound that one of their glasses would end up on the floor. The restaurant immediately fell silent to the sound of the shattering glass, but the happy parents continued their tear filled laughs until it almost put one of them on the ground as well.
To many the story might not seem like much and it’s hard to believe that after 15 years the red blob still covers a portion of the worn table. The presence of it provided Albert with a little comfort that he and Doreen would always be remembered. He hated to think that people came and went from this table without creating a memory of their own.
A young waiter suddenly appeared. “Can I get you something to drink?”
Albert thought about the question, looking over at Doreen’s seat for some kind of confirmation before he answered. “How about a bottle of merlot?” he said to the waiter.
The young man nodded then headed towards the bar to retrieve the requested bottle. Albert didn’t recognize him and chuckled, realizing the waiter would never know the story.
Moments later the bottle appeared and a little wine was poured into one of the glasses that was already on the table. The waiter set down the merlot then reached for a pad in his pocket so he could collect the rest of the order. Albert picked back up the bottle to pour some in the glass resting on Doreen’s side.
“And what would we like to eat tonight?” the young man asked.
“I’ll have the New York strip, medium-well, and my wife will have the salmon.”
The waiter began to write down the choices then abruptly stopped and stared at Albert. Maybe he had never seen a man order for a woman or thought chivalry was dead, but Albert always ordered for his wife. He was old fashioned that way.
Saying nothing, the waiter rushed off towards the kitchen. Albert slowly sipped from his wine, telling stories of his day at work. He laughed about something one of his coworkers did and others in the restaurant shot him strange glances, similar to the waiter. He thought maybe his hearty chuckle was too loud so he quieted himself.
After not too long of a wait the food arrived and an acceptable looking steak was placed in front of Albert while the salmon’s plate was situated directly across the table. For a few moments the young waiter remained next to the table, shifting his eyes between Albert, who already began cutting into his meat, and the grilled fish.
“Everything come out okay?” he asked.
“Yes,” Albert replied without looking up.
Finally the waiter left and Albert once again filled the air with their usual date night conversation. He informed Doreen on his weekend plans, which included doing some much needed work around the house and catch at least one college football game. Albert also spoke about the phone conversation he had earlier in the day with their oldest son who was thinking about proposing to his girlfriend of three years.
The warm sensation of peace gracefully washed over Albert with every word he shared. It could have been the wine or the fact that he started to come to some sort of realization.
An hour later the bottle of wine was empty and only a few drops puddled at the bottom of Albert’s glass. He had already paid the bill but hadn’t yet gained the courage to rise from the worn seat beneath him, not knowing if he’d ever feel its familiar support again. At last he sucked down the last sip of merlot, gently rested it on top of the stain, and stood up. He then gazed across to the empty chair and untouched glass of wine and mouthed the words, “I love you.”
On his way out of the sentimental pub, Elizabeth approached Albert and gave him another hug. There were tears in her eyes.
“It was nice to see you, Albert. Please come visit us more often.”
“Thanks, Elizabeth,” Albert said. His voice was sad but strong. “The food was great as always.”
Chaz Weiner describes himself as a “22-year-old aspiring author of young adult novels living in downtown Princeton. I have a physical disability and use an electric wheelchair to get around, but I don’t let that stop me from living my life to the fullest. I enjoy exploring Princeton and trying the infinite amount of delicious restaurants. When I’m not writing I work for Bloomberg in the Skillman office as a mutual fund and ETF analyst.”