The restaurant still sold wine from when the meteor struck. The very year. Abigail said she could taste ash in every sip, though that didn’t stop her from drinking. I swirled my glass, looking for bits that might be floating about in the cold liquid, fragments of catastrophe sealed by glass and cork.
Abigail had ordered some human cheese for the both of us, to snack on while we decided on our orders. The waiter swore that the milk was all given voluntarily, but even his definitive nature couldn’t dispel images of captive women chained in the back. His assertion that the cheese was made on the premises didn’t help much.
“You’re so morbid,” Abigail said when I told her about the captives in my head. She dipped her slender fingers in her wine and flicked droplets at my face.
“You’re the one who chose this place.”
Abigail pouted. “I took you out to cheer you up.”
Fine place for it, I thought. I didn’t say it, though. Instead, I mentioned Oshiwara Gainsberg’s new film, Big Black Mariah, an animated fable about the legendary boarding-house owner here in Boston. Abigail turned up her lip in a sneer.
“God,” she said. “It’s about the meteor, isn’t it?”
“I don’t see how.”
“Wake up! Everything is about the meteor these days. This woman, she’s a force of nature, right? Nothing, no one, can stand against her? But she only harms the guilty? Propaganda!” Abigail threw her arms wide on that last word, flashing jazz-hands.
I thought of the still-frame I had seen on the feed, Mariah towering over the innocent and guilty alike, her ink-black dress the only thing separating the two. I remembered the sun was behind her, forced the ne’er-do-wells to shiver in her shadow. I shrugged. “It’s just the way things are now. It’s part of the human condition.”
Abigail grumbled and blew bubbles into her wine. “Whatever. People need to get over it.” Abigail wrapped her sweater tighter around her shoulders, as if she was cold. As the restaurant grew darker in the fading evening, Abigail took a big swig of her wine, and said again that she could taste ash in it.
It was only then that it hit me. Abigail had a girlfriend named Ashe, who was among those the meteor claimed.
I would have said something, if the waiter hadn’t returned with our cheese.
“Pure Mother’s cheese,” the waiter said. “A hundred years ago, such a thing would have been looked upon as immoral, or even illegal. Times have sure changed, eh?” He waited anxiously for us to try a piece.
The cheese was surprisingly sweet, a good compliment to the smoky wine. It felt very warm in my mouth, and I noticed it caused a faint smile on Abigail’s lips. I imagine a similar expression was on my own face.
“Thank you,” I said. “This is just what we needed.”