An Evening At The Italian Ristorante

A short story by Haruki Murakami, from the book Murakami Radio.

I shared a special evening with a special woman at a top rated Italian restaurant in Aoyama… would be a fancy way to say that my wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. That sounds so boring. Does it? I guess it’s fine.

The restaurant is quiet. There’s a good amount of space between the tables. They have these thick wine menus and an honest to goodness sommelier. The tablecloths are perfectly white and the place is basked in candlelight. There’s no music. Instead there’s the sound of gentle conversation. They specialize in Northern Italian fare. A veal cutlet, prepared the labor-intensive traditional way, arrives at the table. Can you picture it? It’s a little pretentious. And it isn’t cheap; it’s not the sort of place you’d go to regularly.

There was a young couple seated at the next table over. It was still early in the evening and we were the only two parties in the restaurant. I’d say he was in his late twenties and she was in her mid twenties. They were both good looking and dressed smartly.

We had selected our wine and placed our order, and while we waited for our food I just so happened to overhear their conversation (okay, I was eavesdropping). I gathered that they were on the cusp of starting a serious relationship. They were talking about ordinary things but I could tell by their tone of voice. I am, for better or worse, a novelist, and that gives me the ability to read people’s emotions from the small subtleties of their conversation. He was thinking, “It’s time I invite her back to my place,” and she was wondering, “Should I say yes?”. They’d probably end up in bed together tonight if this dinner went well. I could see the pheromones floating over the table like a mist . Back at my table there weren’t many pheromones at all, but we’ve been married for 30 years. And there’s nothing wrong with checking out a happy young couple.

But that special atmosphere vanished like mist when their first course arrived. The guy started slurping down his noodles with absurd intensity, suck them down loudly to the back of his throat. The noise was truly overwhelming. It was the sound of the gates of hell being opened and slammed shut at the changing of the seasons. I sat there frozen, unable to move. So did my wife, and the waiter, and the sommelier. His date froze in place. No one spoke or took a breath. Except for the guy, who kept slurping down his pasta, blissfully ignorant to the situation.

I wonder what happened to their relationship after that. I still think about it every once in a while.