Tark cast his eyes about the exclusively ruinous restaurant, searching for his wife. It was wedged: all three tables were full. It had an eighteen-month waiting list for reservations, unless of course you owned the maître d’, like Tark. But even he had to give an hour’s notice.
Mara sat in the booth by the window, the seats beside her piled high with shopping bags. Tark’s mental arithmetic was stupendous. Given the size, shape, and handle quality of the bags, he made it seven grand’s worth to her right, and five to her left. He added an extra €11,000 to what he couldn’t see under the table, and congratulated himself on his unrivalled understanding of retail therapy.
“Hello, darling.” Tark slid into the booth and passed his hand over his face. It was their secret signal for an air-kiss. Mara detested public displays of affectation. “Good day?”
“No.” Mara’s lower lip protruded, and Tark unconsciously stiffened against the backrest. A lower lip protrusion was to be treated with the same deference as the hooding of a cobra. Or the cocking of a gun.
“Why’s that, my venomous valentine?”
“It’s Easter, Tark.”
“I don’t deny it.”
“And you know I hate Easter. All that food. Sickly sweet ruination. The end of fasting. Children hunting for fun. Although hunting children for fun, now, that would be a sight to see.”
“It’s illegal, my bitter banshee.”
“Lambs. Springtime. Bloody daffodils.”
Tark sized up his wife. On the surface, she looked the same: undernourished, overdressed, and introspective. But there was something new underneath: a rage which was unusually energetic.
“What’s this really about?”
The waiter arrived, and Mara accepted a menu with bad grace. “The demise of society.” She ran a diamond fingernail down the salad selection before allowing it to come to a decisive rest. “I’ll have the 1997 Château Latour. And some black pepper, and a sheet of rice paper.” She dismissed the waiter and turned her attention back to Tark. “You know how much I adore Lent. All those miserable people, feeling guilty about failing to deny themselves the treats I abhor 52 weeks a year. And sales of my Lenten cookbook took a nosedive last week.”
Tark ordered the Kobe beef steak sandwich, and a bowl of jelly and ice cream. The dessert was one of the quirks which most endeared him to gossip columnists. One of the kitchen staff would phone it in later. “You’re forgetting how well it did. 53,000 sales in the second week of February alone. Not bad for a 40-page anthology of salt-and-pepper soups.”
“Exactly,” said Mara. “This is my time, Tark. And now it’s coming to an end, for another interminable year. Now it’s all chocolate and cutesy rabbits, and fatty meat and cream and – ugh!” Mara held her fist up to her mouth to stifle a little acid reflux. I can’t even bear to talk about it.”
“You know Valentina?” asked Tark. “Our brand manager, for the retro food line?”
“We have a retro food line?” said Mara. “When did we get that?”
Tark realigned his water glass, his butter knife and the salt cellar to resemble a percentage. He liked his table settings to be mathematically pleasing.
“2011. Remember, we used it to cash in on the recession. People were feeling nostalgic for the time when, you know, they had food and whatnot. Our savoury mince line made two million in the first quarter. But our toastable fish fingers broke records.”
“Ah, yes, I remember. And the rice pudding. That did well too.” Mara’s lunch came to the table, and the waiter artfully twisted freshly ground black pepper onto her rice paper. She looked at it with something akin to pleasure before sipping her wine. “So what about Valentina?”
Tark’s mouth watered at the smell wafting through the window from the chip shop next door, but he was content to wait. Nobody wanted a €400 steak to be delivered before at least twenty minutes had gone by. Ordinary restaurants observed the convention of delivering each diner’s food at the same time, but this establishment prided itself on its rudeness. It was worth the 330% premium.
“She’s good on selling fads, and you’re good at making them up. I’m just wondering if you two should get together after Easter and do some magic.”
Mara used the mezzaluna provided to cut a corner from her rectangle of rice paper, and popped it on her tongue. (The rice paper, not the mezzaluna.) As her melt-in-the-mouth meal began to melt away, Mara smiled.
“Bunnies,” she said.
“Interesting,” said Tark, both to his wife, and to the Kobe steak sandwich which had just arrived, delivered by a Samurai warrior, who proceeded to cut it in half with a sword and scream at Tark to enjoy his meal.
“It’s time people ate more rabbit,” said Mara. “It’s meat I can identify with. Tough, lean, stringy, and requires a lot of work to make it palatable. I think it’s time I invented the Bunny Diet.”
“With extra diet points for anyone who kills their own rabbits,” said Tark, through a €63 mouthful of beef.
“Exactly. We’ll see how cute they are then.”
“Might take a swipe at the chocolate rabbit market too,” said Tark.
Mara smiled, and cut herself an extra large sliver of rice paper, before holding her glass out to Tark in celebration.
“Let’s kill all the bunnies, darling.”