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February 17, 2020 Fiction

The Button

Zoe Messinger

The Button photo

“That last bite is all you,” he said, letting air out like a balloon with a tiny piercing. We were both about to pop. The plate in front of us was a Van Gogh of burnt cream sauce and black peppercorn moons. “I can’t do it,” I said, looking at the last, perfect forkful of steak au poivre. I was disappointed in myself. I wanted to be “that girl,” but my new high-waisted pants were already unbuttoned once. I couldn’t bear to unbutton another. This was spring break in Paris. I wanted to be chic and hungry.

“I think I need a cigarette,” he gorged. His blue pinstripe shirt ruched at the buttons, his napkin tucked into his collar like an old-school lobster dinner. I missed his long, flowy hair, but this new cut suited him. He looked like a little French schoolboy, and I loved it.

“Smoking kills.” I smirked like a kid, out to get the world. It was pitch-black out, but Bistrot Paul Bert was bursting with life. Characters filled worn, red leather banquettes—artists, actors, chefs, connoisseurs, debauchees. We all appreciated a decadent meal. None of us knew how to stop. We were animals, taxidermized to the table. Stuffed so hard our eyes couldn’t shut.

“You Americans,” the waiter spat, “you come all the way to Paris to eat, and you can’t even finish!” as he arrived at our table with another carafe of wine. A serviette draped over his right forearm, resting on his crisp white shirt. He looked like a skunk in his black-vested uniform. All French are skunks. It’s part of their charm. I looked at M and mouthed, “SOS.” I thought I might vomit. We gagged and laughed. We were full, happy, in love.

A lone escargot sat crushed on the floor, next to my feet—a terrible fate for such a delicacy. Thank god I wasn’t like that little snail. Maybe I’d end up happy after all. Maybe I wouldn’t end up alone, on the floor, at the feet of others.

“The Grand Marnier soufflé is coming out any minute,” Pepé le Pew interrupted our moment. I forgot we ordered the soufflé. The waiter said it took thirty minutes to prepare, so we put in an order at the beginning of the meal. Now there was no hope for post-dinner sex. I couldn’t think about one more thing entering my body.

The candle burned out. The lights dimmed. I was falling into a mood, a coma. The soufflé jiggled to the table—gorgeous, perfect, puffed, and browned. I didn’t care how full I was. It was famous. I was in Paris. I wanted the soufflé. I unbuttoned one more button on my pants.


image: Zoe Messinger