A short story about a man's dinner with an old friend.
Sebastian sat down at the table and immediately regretted it. The table was rickety and wobbled as soon as he rested his elbows on it, and when he took his elbows off again he discovered that it was still sticky with ketchup. The maitre'd breezed past, apparently incapable of seeing or hearing Sebastian now he'd been seated, and the waiters were circling like carrion-crows, never coming close enough to speak to.
"Basta!" He jumped when he heard that nickname, and twisted in his seat to see who was speaking. One of chair legs crunched and splintered, tipping the chair over and Sebastian onto the floor, where he stuck to the linoleum. "Basta, what is this place?"
He got back to his feet, hearing the fabric of his jacket rip, and patted himself down before offering her his hand. Ate looked at it as though it were day-old dog vomit and shook her head, though not unkindly.
"Basta, do you come here often? Do they do this especially for you?"
"It's the first time I've been here," he said. "I was walking past two days ago, and... well, it caught my eye. It looked like it might have been a good place to have dinner."
"Medea's Kitchen? Really, Basta?"
"I should know why that's wrong, shouldn't I?" Ate nodded, and a half-smile flickered over her face like a beam of sunlight breaking through grey clouds. She laid a hand the colour of alabaster on Sebastian's shoulder and drew it slowly away as she circled the table and sat on the other chair. Sebastian noticed, as she sat down, that in the same way that her feet never actually touched the ground so she now floated about an inch above the seat of the chair.
"Why are we here, Ate?" said Sebastian.
"You invited me, Basta. Shouldn't you be telling me that?"
"I don't know, Ate. I never know, do I? I just get a feeling that I should call you, and then we end up in some restaurant somewhere, with me asking questions and you acting all superior."
Ate smiled. "I just liked seeing you again, Basta. Dinner with an old friend, it's what people do isn't it? How's life? How's your wife?"
Sebastian dragged a chair across from another table, and pushed the broken one back into its place. He sat down, put his elbows back in the ketchup on the table, and sighed a little.
"Joanna's dead, Ate. She has been for twelve years now, ever since the first time we met. Can't you ever remember that? She decided that it would be fun to go ice-skating on Widman's Lake, and the ice broke beneath her. You ask me every time."
"And you, Basta, what are you doing with yourself now?"
Somewhere on the edge of hearing, Sebastian became aware of a soft, droning sound, like many voices chanting something quietly.
"I'm professing to teach," he said. "I've received tenure, and in five or so years I'll probably retire. I think I've got a good chance at being Professor Emeritus."
A waiter finally decided that Sebastian looked close enough to death that he'd land. He offered a leather-bound menu to Ate and then another to Sebastian with ill-grace. "If you'd like anything to drink," he said, "then we've run out of it."
"Such quaint places, you choose," said Ate sweetly, looking at the cover of the menu. Embossed in gold leaf was a picture of a demented-looking woman strangling two small children. "I wonder if it's safe to eat anything?"
"I wonder if they'll serve us," said Sebastian flipping through the pages. "They seem not to want us to drink."
"Yet there are carafes of wine on other tables," said Ate. "How very Tantalean."
"Did you know him?" There'd been a pause before he spoke, as Sebastian debated whether asking the question was a good idea. He lifted his eyes from the menu to look at Ate. She was staring back at him, her beautiful green eyes darkening and a frown starting to worry her face.
"What are you teaching now, Basta?"
"I think you can guess." The chanting was becoming louder and sounded reverent, perhaps prayerful. "Did you know him?"
"I still do, Basta. His punishment is eternal. From time to time I pay him a little visit, but I don't stay too long. Last time I did, he decided to try swimming. He nearly drowned, but of course, he cannot drink, so... well, I think you mortals call it waterboarding."
"You laughed, didn't you, Ate?"
Ate's eyes had faded from green now completely to black, and the chanting was now at the level of background music.
"You are mortal, Basta, mortal. Remember that!" There was a muffled thump as she sank down to sit on the chair properly, and immediately she stood up, pushing the chair back. "Another time, Basta. I'll see you anon."
As she rose above the floor, and carried on rising until she was walking on air at head height, she turned once and smiled her half-smile. "And I'll let you choose the restaurant still."
The waiter returned to the table, and picked up both menus. "We're out of food as well. The manager says that this is your fault, so he's billing you anyway." A slip of paper fluttered from the waiter's hand to the table, and Sebastian sighed. Why was dinner with an old friend always so expensive?