It was hot and busy and crowded and flushed. We were outside. It was a distillery, warm with weekend, choked with visitors, and looked like this:
Waiting staff were running, running, running. Weaving and carrying triple trays, balancing, enquiring, eyes flicking from table to table reading the needs.
Families. Trooping to their tables in lines. Senior members at the front, the young people trailing, checking the exits and their phones. The correct smiles. Parents, early meetings with a son’s new partner, tense. The young woman wanting to please but already brittle.
Us. Old friends, easy.
Next to us, one long long table of a thousand women, a hundred different ages swaying toward each other.
You can tell the family groups. They all use the hand sanitizer and order drinks early. So nice to be together.
A child bounces on a chair and drops a crayon. Everyone at that table looks fondly at the child. He turns his head from side to side to side, unaware, involved with crayons, rich colours, apple green and plum purple split.
The Covid Marshal swirls in the centre of the arena and checks and counts and rotates again. He is frowning. He frowns all afternoon. His shoes are worn out.
You can tell the friends groups. They enter in hilarious clots, it’s a great day. They have many jokes. They joke about the hand sanitizer.
The family groups, the young people, have silly faces. The cousins look at each other. Their parents are a little wooden, especially if their parents are there. The olds have faces of resignation…what the fuck does it all matter now. The young men wear pink shirts and socks and look desperately over their shoulders and then back at their phones. The girlfriends look at each other’s dresses. Then look away again.
The waiters are puffing. The sun shines down. A long plank of icy glasses passes us at head level, the beers glowing honey, oak, ruby, wheat, sand, cream, chilled…
The recipients (on a nearby table) for the plank of beers look up, their eyes softening, their voices lifting, friendly now and liking everyone on the table.
The child bounces on his chair, colouring in. The crayon on the ground is softening.
At the table of a thousand women is a thousand colours. There are impossible heels striking the beautiful ground, jewellery swinging, hair soft, fragrant and metres long. One young woman is late and she must walk in while everyone watches, their eyes flick up and down her form as she walks in on powerful hips and meaningful heels. She is greeted by an older woman with a light frown. All the younger women pause and watch the older woman’s face, they read that face, the old face, and take in the information. The old woman and the young woman hug, they exchange cheeked kisses, five times, six times, seven times. Then everyone relaxes. They sway in and out of magnificent colours, peacock blue, gold and ruby, emerald, blood, earth, invisible shocking pink, punched silver. The long, long fragrant hair, the hot sun, the cold cups, and the phones that need to be checked. Pictures are taken. The old woman is seated. She is still, glancing here, there, slowly, not needing to know anything. She already knows. The girls totter behind her, glancing carefully.
It is hot. Hotter. We eat fabulous things. We must move our table into the shade. The waitress is anxious, she glances across the day at the Covid Marshall and he bends over his list, frowning in his worn out shoes.
Everywhere, people in groups take photos, leaning in, drawing back, adjusting things, assessing things, frowning, showing rows of too enthusiastic teeth. Chilled white wine smiling and looking at red wine that swirls sulky and resentful in roundy glass chambers, amber ciders, gold bubbles, shouting at a table in the distance, cold water in forest brown glass jugs, a falling out on the next table, ‘Well go home then…’, and the staff sweeping bravely through the rows, the Covid Marshall frowning, and the child drawing and the blue crayon on the ground melting, a delicious soft and urgent message.
Painting by Milt Kobayashi