Bernard had asked me to dinner at P.F. Chang’s. He said that he was supposed to eat with his sister and her husband and couldn’t face it alone.
“This is supposed to be a nice restaurant,” Bernard’s sister Mattie scoffed, “but they don’t even give dinner rolls.”
Bernard rolled his eyes. “It’s Chinese food, Mattie. Chinese food. They …” his voice trailed off. After 73 years, he knew better than to try to explain things to her.
“Or, as the Chinese call it, ‘food,’” I volunteered. The confusion in Mattie’s eyes was matched only by the alarm in Bernard’s as he shook his head, indicating that I shouldn’t say such things.
“She has a memory like a bunny rabbit’s tail. It’s short and fuzzy,” Bernard had told me in route to the restaurant. “She has three stories you’ll hear – at least one of them twice.”
“What are they?” I asked.
“What?” he said. “You want to hear the stories three times tonight? It’s not enough that she repeats these stories – you want me to tell them to you first?”
“Good point,” I said.
And with that, Bernard proceeded to tell me the stories.
“I voted for Bush. I thought it was unfair that he lost to that boy from Arkansas.” Mattie rolled her eyes. “What a mistake that turned out to be.”
”That was his father,” Bernard said.
“The boy’s father beat Bush?” Mattie asked.
“No, he …” Bernard trailed off. “Never mind.”
“I am so glad that he’s going back into Vietnam,” she continued.
“He’s what?” asked Bernard.
“He said on the TV the other day. Bush thought it was wrong that we left Vietnam.”
“He didn’t say he was going back in.”
“I’m sure he did,” Mattie said, turning to her husband who was looking entirely baffled by the house chow mein. “Didn’t he honey?”
“Um, yes dear.”
“I think they call it a troop surge,” she leaned forward conspiratorially. “Once we go back in we can at least bring those poor Oriental people some decent food.”
On the way home from the PF Chang’s, I had to pull over so Bernard could step outside to hyperventilate. It seemed appropriate that my fortune cookie had read, “You will soon feel a sense of great relief.” As soon as we’d said good-bye to Mattie, I had.