Table for One by Christina Holbrook

You check into the hotel near Dupont Circle, in DC. Gathered around the fireplace in the parlor, cocktail drinkers trade political gossip, while a twisty staircase leads to your guest room on the second floor. On the ceiling, a mural displays the underside of a rowboat surrounded by ripples of blue water. As you stare up from the bed, a painted fishing line—an elongated question mark—appears to descend directly towards you. You could be under water, like a frog or fish or (you prefer to think) a mermaid.

When you go down for dinner, the hostess asks, “Table for one?” She scans the packed dining room. “Do you mind eating at the bar?” Not at all. You won’t have to wait as long for a drink. Seated, you look over the menu with no companion as a distraction. It’s November, oysters are in season. Why not indulge your own desires? You smile at the bartender and order a dozen—actually, make that two dozen—and a bottle of Sauvignon blanc. After all, your first appointment, at the National Gallery, is not until 11 a.m. the next morning.

Once, dining solo in Zürich, in a hotel restaurant which was well above your pay grade though not your employer’s expense account, you selected “Truite au bleu.” The preparation horrified—the trout is gutted while alive—but the dish is French which made up for a lot. A lone woman like yourself asked if she could join you. When it came your turn in conversation to describe your work—supervise the color accuracy and printing of art books—her face betrayed incredulity. “Museums send you around the world, just to add a little more blue or subtract a little yellow?” Stated in that way, the simple and admittedly preposterous truth made you both laugh.

Another time, while eating a forgettable meal at Heathrow and waiting for a connecting flight to the Frankfurt Book Fair, you were approached by an elderly gentleman. He inquired if he might read your palm. It happened to be an uncertain juncture in your romantic life, so the offer seemed like a good idea. What your palm revealed: “You adore music and could not live without it.” You had never considered this before. Also: “With high expectations in love, you will be continuously disappointed.” Shouldn’t fortune tellers offer more optimistic predictions? You determined the best course was to cultivate an appreciation for music.

As a result of frequent dinners alone in an Italian restaurant in your neighborhood in Manhattan, you were asked on several occasions by the chef to join him at the “family table.” Grazie! So thoughtful! Once, you shared his rabbit stew, scooped up with hunks of bread seasoned with rosemary sprigs and garlic slivers. Later, the chef was kind enough to offer a tour of the wine cellar—downstairs—a ruse in which you happily participated. A kissing session led inadvertently to becoming trapped in the freezer. Fortunately, the overwhelmed cooks upstairs noticed the chef’s absence and sent out a search party.

On a side trip to Chiang Mai during a printing assignment, you were eating outdoors—a cold, sweet soup with large mushrooms—and swatting mosquitoes. A girl pulled up to the restaurant on a motorbike, relieved, she said, to have found another American. Your expense account paid for your dinners. What a coincidence, when she bumped into you again on Ko Samui and drove you around the island on her bike. Six months later she showed up at your studio apartment, pregnant, and asked to move in. I’m sorry, but there’s hardly enough room for one. For a long time after you wondered how, from Thailand, she had located your apartment in New York.

The oysters are finished now, and so is the bottle of Sauvignon blanc. You request the charge be put on your bill, and the bartender asks for your room number. He slides the receipt across the bar, signed at the top with what is apparently his name: Doctor Love. And his cell phone number. I know that’s not really your name, you inform him. Maybe he thinks you are drunk. Back in your room, you lie in bed and stare up at that tantalizing fishing line, then decide to tap the numbers into your phone. You get it right on the third try. Do you make house calls, Doctor?

Christina Holbrook lives in Breckenridge, Colorado. Originally from New York, she has lived and worked in Italy, Hong Kong, and the Adirondacks. When not writing Christina is probably out hiking with her dog Luke and trying to avoid surprise moose encounters. Her work has appeared in Blue Lake Review (forthcoming), Bombfire, City.River.Tree, Potato Soup Journal and others. She has recently completed her debut novel.