Once, there was a waiter who sat down after work to eat a leftover chocolate eclair. But, when he bit, he found in his mouth a two-million-dollar engagement ring.
This story is true. The newspaper even said so.
But this story is not about a waiter. This story is not about a waiter at all.
This story is about a couple.
The couple consists of a girl and a boy. The girl is called Celia and the boy is called Eldrick. Celia and Eldrick are just sitting down to a meal at an establishment of fine repute, and they have reason to believe that they are in love (with each other, not the food, though it is good).
Eldrick believes that Celia loves him because: (1) Celia smiles a lot (even when Eldrick is around); (2) Celia says yes to doing things with Eldrick, such as going out for dinner in this instance; (3) whenever Eldrick and Celia go to the movies together, Eldrick swears that Celia holds his hand in just the same way that the girl in the Nu-Breeze™ shampoo commercial holds the hand of the boy whom she loves on TV.
Celia believes that Eldrick loves her because: (1) Eldrick asks her our a lot, just as he has done on this night; (2) Eldrick gave Celia a card on Valentine’s Day that was signed “To Celia, from Eldrick, with love”; (3) Eldrick is paying for the meal.
So Eldrick and Celia must be in love. They must be, thinks the waiter—yes, the very same waiter we left with a mouthful of diamond in the first paragraph—and he shows the loving couple to their table; Eldrick, a little rumpled from getting dressed too quickly, and Celia, a little too pink in that way that young women in love just are.
What the waiter does not know is that Eldrick is unusually ruffled on this particular occasion and, although Celia herself has attributed this uncharacteristic quality to the perils of the long bus ride to her house, Eldrick is, it must be admitted—and as I have said before—unusually ruffled on this particular day.
What the waiter does not know is that our Eldrick is usually impeccable. From the expertly styled threads of his well-conditioned hair, to the shiny tips of his shoes, which still smell of polish, Eldrick is, most certainly, impeccable.
The impeccability of Eldrick, muses Celia some days, seems to come from a sense of built-in standards he has; standards from which Eldrick never falters. It’s a habit he developed at quite an early age, when most of us are being slapped for dribbling on the carpet or clambering into mixing bowls to get a better lick. The last day, it can be noted, that Eldrick strayed from his self-imposed path of spotlessness was in the early autumn of 1983, when he wore one black sock and one grey one with flecks; the cat died, Eldrick failed math, the septic tank exploded, and his parents told Eldrick they were divorcing. Since then, Eldrick’s socks always match.
One matter of interest I’d like to bring up is the reaction of other people to our Eldrick. While Eldrick himself is much too genteel to impose any sense of his own flawless impeccability on anyone else or their manner, his presence alone can have this effect. For instance, if you were to hang around Eldrick for awhile, you would be hard pressed to stop washing your hands. Why, the very sight of him in line at the local café (which is really nothing to speak of, except we will, because Eldrick goes there) brings tears to the eyes of the waitresses there. “Eldrick brightens the very corner that he sits in!” And the waitresses don’t even have to mop.
“It seems,” Celia has thought, on many a day, “that Eldrick couldn’t look messy if he tried.” But this was, Celia knew, one of the things she really liked about Eldrick. And one of the things that Eldrick, of course, liked about himself.
But the waiter doesn’t know all of this. For if he had known, he most definitely would have wondered what in the world was wrong with Eldrick this night. Just as Celia was.
(What the waiter also doesn’t know is that Celia hadn’t sorted her darks from her lights in her most recent load of washing, and all she had going for her now was pink.)
Eldrick, on the other hand, isn’t wondering anything about anybody. Instead, Eldrick is debilitatingly, petrifyingly, alarmingly, and distressingly nervous. He is too nervous to notice that the top button of his shirt has popped open or that the cufflinks on his sleeves don’t match. He is too nervous, even, to straighten his tie without it tightening its grip around his neck. And he is ever too nervous to notice that each time he lifts his water glass to drink, his hand shakes so hard that he splashes his white shirt and by now he resembles, Celia thinks, some sort of cold, sick, wet mole. (Outside, it is a beautiful day.)
Only one thing could make Eldrick so nervous. Only one thing could reduce a man like Eldrick, who was usually so flawlessly arranged, to the point of near hysteria, on such a seemingly ordinary dinner date. Only one thing could account for the rumples in his suit, the poorly-knotted tie, and the abominable, newly-awoken hair. Eldrick was going to ask Celia to marry him. This scared him more than anything in the world.
Eldrick first had the idea of asking Celia to marry him when he and Celia had been dating for a year and two months and the Nu-Breeze™ shampoo commercial first aired. Eldrick loved the Nu-Breeze™ advertisement not only because he approved of thick shiny hair without the burden of harmful chemicals, but also because he loved the couple on TV. If Eldrick could be anyone in the world, he thought, he wanted to be one person in a couple like that. The kind of couple who, no matter what happens, can always go to movies together and hold each other’s hands and be in love with each other and with their hair. And due to the nature of television and the growing popularity of Nu-Breeze™ shampoo at that time, Eldrick found himself consistently bombarded with the dream that he wanted to become.
And then a funny thing happened. Eldrick realized that when he watched the Nu-Breeze™ commercial, he was no longer just watching the ad. When Eldrick watched the commercial, he was picturing himself as the vital Nu-Breeze™ boy and Celia was his nubile Nu-Breeze™ girl. Eldrick rose from the sofa like a man who’d just seen God before racing to the bathroom to wash his hair.
The next day, when Eldrick was out with Celia, Celia commented on his hair. “It’s just so fluffy,” she cried. In a moment of pure passion, Eldrick took Celia’s confession as a sign and he decided to ask Celia to marry him. With a grandiose gesture, he bent down on one knee in front of Celia. Celia asked him if his shoe was untied. Eldrick lost his balance and fell over. Celia asked Eldrick if he was feeling all right before picking him up and sending him home on the bus.
Since that first incident, Eldrick was having trouble getting up the nerve. It seemed that everything—with the exception of his hair—had conspired against him. No matter where he was, or what he and Celia were doing, Eldrick’s usually impeccable sense of timing was always off. And Celia was getting so sick of pulling Eldrick from the ground that she was beginning to think he was ill.
Which was strange, thought Celia, because Eldrick was so clean you would think he was untouchable by germs. In the past one year and three months during which they had been dating, Eldrick hadn’t caught so much as a cold. Why, when Eldrick first introduced himself to Celia that day, where she gave tours at the Tootsie Roll plant, she saw in him a picture of lifelong health. Especially that hair, thought Celia, with its fluffy waves and sturdy sheen. In fact, it had surprised her to see someone so seemingly healthy enjoying a tour at the Tootsie Roll plant. She had grown accustomed to leading groups of bland-faced sugar addicts, catching their limbs in tubs of browny goo at regular intervals. But someone like Eldrick? What was he doing there? The meeting was one of mutual attraction.
The next evening, Eldrick took Celia out for a drink. He picked her up at eight from her home, where she had spent the day doing laundry and washing her hair. He said she looked beautiful. She said he looked clean. They both felt it was the start of something grand.
And that was pretty much everything from the beginning to the end, to the life-altering events of this day. And this was the day, the day of Celia and of Eldrick, and the two of them out together for a bite. But it wasn’t.
“No, Eldrick had never been ill in the past,” thought Celia, “but perhaps he was dying of a disease.” Celia, who was a young woman who had been raised with little independence and an even smaller sense of self, wondered what she would do with a sick person on her hands, especially one who stuttered and fell over so much as Eldrick did. “Yes,” concluded Celia, “most likely he certainly is sick.” Celia, whose own record of ill health consisted of a few unsightly rashes and one sole case of dandruff in her teens, had heard about these “sick people” before. She didn’t want to know what that meant.
Celia’s resolution to avoid the sick Eldrick was harder to keep than she thought. You see, Celia had never really cared for anyone before, at least in the same way that she cared for Eldrick. No, Celia was a just a girl with a sturdy immune system and a pair of overprotective parents who gave tours at the Tootsie Roll plant. If anything, her life so far had been characterized by a lack of things of character. But, with Eldrick, she thought sometimes it might be love.
So when Eldrick—whom Celia hadn’t seen since she last left him fainting on a bus a day before—invited Celia to dinner at Chez Wiggie, a local dining establishment renowned for its service and quality fare (not too mention exorbitant dinner prices), Celia could not bring herself to say no. Standing in front of the full-length mirror in her bathroom, dressed entirely in pink, Celia decided to forgive Eldrick for his recent poor behaviour and concentrate on his head of healthy hair.
When Eldrick arrived at Celia’s door that night, he was shaking. It took him five tries to ring the doorbell because he kept losing his nerve and running around the side to smooth his hair. From the fence at the side of the house belonging to the parents of Celia, a marmalade cat rolled her big round eyes every time he came her way. Eldrick was not too dizzy-headed not to notice that, by the fifth time he came round, the cat was gone. It was then that Eldrick decided to get a grip. He must pull up his socks (in the literal sense) and march right up to the door for his Celia. He must take her away from all this, he thought (although, looking around him, he realized that “all this” was rather nice), and give her a ring and get married.
Imagine the dismay of our nerve-ridden Eldrick when he put his left hand inside the left pocket of his coat and produced nothing! Imagine the alarm of our sweaty-palmed friend when the very same thing happened on the right!
By the time Eldrick arrived on Celia’s doorstep for the second time that evening, he had no time to not ring the doorbell five times and run around the house in search of a cat. With his left hand securely wrapped around the small box in his left pocket, he punched at the doorbell with his right. Celia, her shoes lying empty on the bathroom floor beside her, registered the familiar sound of the doorbell as it rang through the house, slowly got up from where she was lying in her clothes in the empty bathtub, and shuffled down the stairs to the front door.
The first thing that Eldrick did when they got to the restaurant was leave Celia to go to the bathroom to wash his face. When Eldrick came back from the bathroom, he stopped at the top of the stairs. The restaurant was one of the fancy kind, with walls as white as teeth with nothing on them. Eldrick licked his lips and searched for Celia. She was tugging at the chain around her neck. Celia looked up and glanced around. Eldrick quickly ducked behind the coat rack. Celia pushed her face into the menu. Eldrick sidled deftly along the wall. Twenty small glass tables were neatly organized in a space as long and clear as a regular fish tank. Even the floors were sparkling clean. “The kind of floors a young gentleman could kneel on and ask a girl to marry him,” thought Eldrick, “without fearing in the least for his life.”
Eldrick caught the waiter by the tie as he was running from the kitchen with dessert. He pushed a small box into the waiter’s apron and gestured at a chocolate eclair. The waiter, who was a waiter who, it is sad to say, was accustomed to being grabbed by the clientele at Chez Wiggie, paused in his tracks to give Eldrick a knowing look, just long enough for the ice cream on his tray to start to melt.
Now, anyone in the world with half a brain in his head might have thought that Eldrick, having arranged the whole ordeal with the ring and the food, could calm down now. That the rest of the meal would be smooth. But although anyone might have thought this, Eldrick didn’t. Instead, Eldrick realizes, as he sinks in his seat, a sickening sensation spreading from the top of his head through every cell his body straight down to the soles of his shoes, he has whole hours to get through. They hadn’t even ordered yet and Eldrick has no idea how he will make it through the meal. Eldrick begins to hyperventilate. Celia does not appreciate this one bit.
Celia asks Eldrick what he is having. Eldrick falls sideways out of his chair. “Oh no, not again!” laments Celia, as she leans across the table and uses one pink-gloved hand to set him upright.
This goes on all through the dinner. Through the cocktails, the appetizers, and the water refills, through the taking of the dishes and replacing of them with more elaborate versions. By the time dessert is ready to be ordered, Eldrick is practically on the floor and Celia is doing her best to ignore him. When the waiter asks the couple if they would like to try something sweet, Celia reports squarely that she is full. Eldrick, whose eyeballs have leapt a good couple of inches out of their sockets upon hearing this response, turns to Celia to ask if she is certain. Celia assures Eldrick that she is. In one swift flush, all of the blood leaves Eldrick’s head until his face was no colour at all. Eldrick lifts his eyes to the waiter. Celia stares at Eldrick. She frowns. Surely, this was a very ill man.
By the time the waiter (who has not yet bitten into anything in this story—dessert, decoration, or otherwise—despite what you may have heard, and had been working quite comfortably all evening, in fact) makes it back to the table with the elaborate dessert designed for Celia, her seat is empty. He finds Eldrick face down in the sugar bowl. With the help of the maître d’, the waiter lifts Eldrick, who has fainted dead away, out of his seat and through the front doors of the restaurant in the most discreet and subtle way that a half-breathing man can be carried from his seat from a restaurant as stylish as Chez Wiggie.
In ten minutes, the ambulance is on its way to the hospital, lights flashing, with Eldrick strapped inside. On the sidewalk outside the restaurant, the waiter and maître d’ exchange a look that says they will never speak of this evening again. Together, they go inside to work.
It is not the last time an ambulance visits the restaurant that night.
When the last plate has been cleared for the evening, and the bright chatter of diners has been replaced by the low functional tones of people whose working shifts are about to end, the waiter feels his stomach make a growl. He opens up the door to the great refrigerator at the back of the kitchen. The first thing the waiter sees inside the fridge—centred on the middle shelf and wrapped in cellophane—is a freshly-powdered chocolate eclair. The waiter pulls the plate out and grabs a fork from the sink, before settling onto a stool to take a bite.
The next morning, Celia awakens with her face in a frown. She gets out of bed, pulls on her bathrobe, spreads the curtains, and scowls at the day. She marches downstairs to the kitchen, where her mother has left her some toast. As Celia sits down to chew on the toast, her eye floats lazily to the newspaper lying open on the table. One of the headlines catches her eye. “WIGGIE WAITER BITES INTO MILLIONS!” said the news.
According to the paper, there was a waiter (whose name was Bob Franklin) who sat down after work to eat a leftover chocolate eclair. But, when he bit, he found in his mouth a two-million-dollar engagement ring.