Joe and I sat across from one another on a rare night out for supper. We travel a lot and most people assume we eat out a lot but we don't. We typically have a microwave in the room and make our meals en suite. This gives us just a little more control over our diet and, being vegetarian, allows us to escape the ever present and slightly malevolent pasta prima vera. Friday, though, was special. We were back on the road after my long illness and it felt good to feel strong after several days work. Dinner out was on order.
We were taken in and seated. As the restaurant filled, it filled with couples and with families and with the occasional lone diner. I saw a young couple, maybe in their very late teens, out having dinner. She said something, he laughed and then he leaned over a gave her a quick kiss on the lips. People who noticed, like me, smiled approvingly. They didn't and needn't have noticed. Beside them were a couple with three kids. Throughout much of the time waiting for the meal, mom and dad held hands, the kids seemed pleased that they had parents who were still in touch, in the exact sense of the word, with each other. Finally, at the furthest table sat an elderly couple. He had his arm around the back of her chair and she touched his face often, gently, as they spoke. It was a warm atmosphere.
Or so I thought.
No one had really noticed Joe and I except for when we were seated and an unnecessary fuss was made about chairs and pathways. Throughout the meal we chatted about all the things that married couples talk about. Again, no one noted two men chatting in a restaurant. We'd finished our meals and then decided that we'd split a strawberry shortcake. We ordered one dessert and two forks. The waitress paused for a second when we ordered, doubled checked by saying, "Two forks?" And we, not thinking about it at all, just said that she had heard us right.
The strawberry shortcake came, it looked like art, for about 15 seconds. Then we both attacked it. We continued to chat and eat and we were about half way in when we realized that we'd been seen. This is, we came to understand, not something that straight men do. The sight of us sharing the dessert, eating from the same plate, both leaned in towards each other as we shared, had thrown a spotlight on us, our table and our behaviour.
We we no longer completely safe. The young man who had kissed his girlfriend, glared over at us and I heard him use the word "fags" to describe us. Others too, were disapproving. We looked at each other in silent signal, and we continued to eat the cake until it was gone. The bill arrived before we asked for it and we took the hint.
We left the restaurant not knowing how the walk back to the hotel would be. Would it be safe? Would we be in danger? We moved quickly and quietly and took a breath when we got back to the lobby.
YEAH, NOW TELL ME ABOUT YOUR STRAIGHT PRIDE MARCH FUCKERS.