Lunchtime (or “to see ourselves as others see us”)

Carlos breathed out and started to put things away. The morning was over and the boats were pulled back up onto the shore ready for the afternoon trade.  Now it was too hot to be out on the lake.  Too hot to do anything.  He could hear his wife getting the table laid on the balcony above and smell lunch being prepared.  There would be salad and good bread, hearty wine, cheese and ham and she had gone down early and got prawns from the market, prawns fresh up from the coast – and she would be cooking them with garlic.

Carlos’s mouth watered.  He reached up to the sign, ready to flip from “Abierto” to “Cerrado” when he spotted them.

Oh no, talking of prawns.  Here they came – two families who looked like prawns – both types – the raw and the overcooked.  Why did they always choose to ignore the big notice which said 12:00-14:00 CERRADO?

The family who looked like raw prawns came inelegantly down the slope.  They were even paler than usual.  The parents wore matching polo shirts of some depressed greyish sky colour and droopy jersey shorts of a slightly darker bilberry hue.  They had flat sensible sandals which let plenty of air in and let feet spread out.  The parents had sad little beanie hats in washed out cotton; the type that are really useful because they fold up to be stashed in bags.  (And in Carlos’s view should stay there.)  The father had socks on.  The mother looked so slopey shouldered, so bosom-less and her hair was pulled back into some sort of stringy bun, that it was hard to imagine that she had ever been desirable enough to breed with.  On the other hand, she had married a man who wore socks with sandals. The teenage daughter looked as if she was in training to be her mother but was young enough for her to have made some sort of effort with clothes and hair and to look as if the baseball cap she wore was only on because her mother had nailed it on.  All of them were pasty white to the point of blueness – enough sun screen on to withstand the heat from the gates of hell no doubt.  They were lugging a huge bag of food.  It included a flask of (probably) tea.

The family who looked like over cooked prawns were bouncing down the slope. Bouncing in all senses.  Where the raw prawns were scrawny and/or saggy and devoid of sex appeal, the cooked prawns looked as if they had once had too much sex appeal and were now like overblown roses.  The father was bursting over his shorts and the mother was oozing out of her bikini top and despite the fact that her belly was now pillowy, a navel piercing sparkled from the cosy maternal flab.  Their son, still young enough to have a flat stomach and firm arms, was bouncing behind them in indignation, glaring at his phone/ipod/whoknowswhat.  The parents were both beyond bright pink.  Hatless, they looked as if they were frankfurters which had been boiled for slightly too long and with any more sun, they would burst.  The son was not quite as bad, presumably because he spent more time indoors on his electronic device.  They had a huge bag of food too.  It included a bottle of (probably) beer.

All of them arrived at the door at the same time.  They looked at each other out of the corner of their eyes.  Carlos had noticed similar exchanges before.   The pale family thought the others were crass and foolish; the sunburnt family thought the others were boring and didn’t know how to have a good time.  You’d never know they came from the same country.

“Cerrado,” said Carlos firmly.

“We just want to hire some boats, mate,” said Cooked Father, “then we’ll be out of your hair.”

“Cerrado,” repeated Carlos.  “Abierto TWO O’CLOCK.”

“Tell him we just want to hire some boats” whispered Pale Mother, “tell him it won’t take him long.  We just want to take the boats out and find somewhere to have lunch.”

“I can’t say all that in Spanish dear” Pale Father complained, “Er, quiero er, bateau, no that’s French… Emily, can you help?”

His daughter rolled her eyes, caught the smirking glance of the sunburnt boy and blushed.  “No Dad. I do German remember.”

“Cerrado,” Carlos stated.  He could speak perfectly good English and French and German, but not at lunchtime.  He turned the sign over, locked the door and went up to the balcony to join his family.

The two families stood there for a while.  On the other side of a thin bit of chain was the beach and the boats and the view.

“We could just climb over,” said Pale Father.

“We could pay when we get back,” agreed Burnt Mother.

Her son rolled his eyes. “There’s probably some boring safety talk he’s got to give us.  Anyway, looks as if they’re chained up.”

The girl chose the moment when everyone was looking at the boats to haul her cap off and puff up her hair.  She looked down at her feet and tried to will them to look smaller.  She pulled her iPod out so that she could check herself out in selfie mode.

Tomorrow she would buy some lower factor suntan stuff.  Surely she wouldn’t die of cancer if she was just a little bit brown.

The boy asked her: “have you got a signal?”

She jumped.  “No, have you?  I’ve just been listening to stuff and watching things I downloaded.”

The boy said, “me too.  What you got then?”

They wandered off under the trees where it was cooler and they could see their screens more easily.

The parents stood around in silence for a while.  After a bit, Burnt Mother said “we could sit under the trees and have our picnic.”

Pale Mother said “yes I suppose we could.”

There was a pause and both said “what have you got for your lunch then?”

Carlos on his balcony sipped his glass of tinto and looked down on them through the railings.  The two teenagers were sharing earphones and laughing at something on a tiny screen, their shoulders nearly touching.  The two sets of parents had settled down and were sharing things out between them, starting with two bottles of wine, one white brought in a flask to keep it cool, one red at slightly more than room temperature. They would all be firm friends by two p.m.

He dipped his bread in the garlicky oil in satisfaction and smirked.  Social Engineer. That’s what he was.  Social Engineer.

canoes on the lake

Copyright 2015 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

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