I Took Lars’ Advice

Crow

            When I walked into the dining room, Lars was already there. Polite as ever, he hadn’t touched his food while he waited for me to join him.

            I took the seat across from him and barely looked at him twice.

            Alejandro, the new butler, came into the room and removed the silver coverings from our plates then quietly exited the room.

            I grabbed my fork and started to eat.

            Lars eyed the arrangements on the table, the way the silverware was placed, the way wine opener had been left behind. The vase of flowers was too high, so he reached forward and slowly pushed it aside. To anyone else, it looked like a normal dinner, but to Lars it looked like a pig style. He released a quiet sigh before he took a bite. “How are things, sir?”

            “Stop calling me that,” I snapped.

            He visibly flinched across the table from me.

            “How many times do I have to say it? You’re family. No more sir or his grace bullshit.”

            “That’s how you talk to family?” He challenged me with his somber stare across the table.

            This old man could somehow shame me without even raising his voice.

            “I look forward to Mrs. Barsetti’s return…”

            “Yeah…that makes two of us.”

            We ate in silence, the tension like a wall between us.

            I wasn’t even hungry. Hadn’t had an appetite since Pearl left—which was going on five days. The mattress felt like a pile of rocks against my back, and the vanity in the bathroom no longer smelled like her perfume and hairspray.

            Lars continued to look at me across the table as he ate in silence.

            “What?” I asked with the most restraint I could muster.

            “She’s been gone a long time.”

            “Yes. I’m aware.”

            “Maybe it’s time you brought her home.”

            “She asked for space…and I’m giving it to her.” Even though it was hardest fucking thing I’d ever had to do. I busied myself at the winery, and when I was home I watched a lot of TV…even though I’d never watched much of it. I spent more time in the gym and in the short amount of time that passed, I could see the difference in my arms. But it felt like a weak achievement when I had no one to notice.

            “Five days is plenty of space, if you ask me.”

            “One hour is plenty—if you ask me.”

            “This house…just doesn’t feel right without her in it. These dinners feel wrong without her here. As much as I enjoy your company, I don’t enjoy it when you’re like this. You remind me of your father, and while I respected him, he was neither kind nor warm.”

            “Yes…I know that’s where I get it from.”

            “You’ve been nothing like him since Mrs. Barsetti walked in the door.”

            “Call her Pearl.”

            He ignored the command and looked down at his food. “There are other ingredients besides salt and butter…” There were always these quiet insults toward Alejandro. I knew Lars didn’t want the new butler to lose his job, he just needed to find something to critique to know this his life had meaning, that he was irreplicable.

            “Yes, his cooking tastes like shit compared to yours.”

            Lars kept his eyes on his food, but a small smile moved into his lips.

            My parents had been gone a long time, and the last conversation I had with my father had been unforgivable on both sides. It haunted me through the decades…and it would always haunt me. Ever since Lars took a step back from his duties around the house, our relationship had changed. The three of us had dinner together every night. We watched TV in the main room. He became a live-in parent that we both appreciated. Our conversations changed, becoming more vulnerable and truthful. He hadn’t mentioned his daughter in thirty years…but now he spoke of her often.

            He felt more like a father than my own ever did.

            “Sir?”

            My eyes flicked up to his.

            “Go get her. If she refuses, tell her I said your company has been absolutely unbearable…and I need her here to feel sane.”

            I’d barely touched my food, like usual, because I couldn’t have an appetite when my stomach was tight was despair and blood-curdling rage. The agony transported me back in time, to a period where I was angry every moment of every fucking day. “You’re right, Lars.” I got to my feet and dropped the linen on the table. “I’m dragging her ass back over here.”