I frowned down at the menu. “Breaded toast?” I read aloud.
The waiter, a skinny, animated little fellow who bounced around like he physically couldn’t stand still, smiled at me. Or rather, he flashed his teeth at me. It seemed almost like a rictus instead of a true smile.
“Indeed, sir. It’s available as a side dish with any item, or included with many of our entrees.”
“Yes, but… what is it?” I asked. “I mean, you can toast bread, but what’s breaded toast?”
Across the little table from me, I saw Alsie sigh. Shit. She probably felt like I ought to not be questioning anything on the menu. At a fancy restaurant like this, with cloth napkins and multiple forks waiting for us on the table, wine glasses set out as if the staff were already certain that we’d be ordering a bottle, one simply didn’t dare to ask a question about the menu.
If she was sighing already, this early in the evening, it didn’t bode well for us. I knew that we’d both been walking on eggshells for the last week, sensing the change in the pressure of our marriage. I’d meant for this dinner to be a reconciliatory gesture, not a source of further aggravation.
The waiter gave me another one of his not-quite-a-smiles. “Our chef is quite creative, sir. He’s taken the noble peasant breakfast food of toast, coated it in a light egg and seltzer batter, and used soft crumb from a fresh-baked loaf to add a soft outer coat.”
“Ah. Right.” It sounded like the waiter was reading something out of a fancy cookbook; half the words didn’t seem to quite fit together into the same sentence. I wanted to ask more questions, but decided to hold my tongue.
“And are we ready to order?” the waiter asked, pivoting smoothly to flash his teeth now at Alsie.
“I think we need another minute,” she answered, her voice sounding a little strange. I looked up at her over the top of my leather-bound menu, frowning.
She flicked her eyes at the waiter. *Wait until he’s out of earshot.*
The waiter gave us both a frown, as if we were personally stealing money out of his pocket by not rushing to place our orders. He bobbed in acquiescence, however, and ducked off to go check on his other tables, tables that probably didn’t dare to question the side dishes on the menu.
Alsie watched the waiter retreat – and then, when he disappeared around the corner, let out a snort of a laugh that she couldn’t hold back any longer.
“Breaded toast!” she gasped out, shaking her head and reaching out with a shaky hand for her glass of water. “It’s ridiculous!”
I felt as if a little dam inside of me had burst, the pent-up water behind that blockage flowing out and down the stream. “Is it really just toast that’s coated in breading?” I asked.
She nodded, her shoulders still shaking with silent mirth. “He used fancy words, but that’s all it is!”
I glanced back down at the menu. “And he wants eight dollars for a side dish of it!”
Now, I couldn’t hold back my laughter either. Both of us sat there in this fancy, elegant restaurant, more expensive than we really could afford, tears streaming down our faces as we laughed. Despite trying to keep quiet, several other patrons frowned in our direction, annoyed that their high-class dinner was being disturbed.
After a minute, Alsie drew a deep, shuddering breath, reaching up to wipe her cheek with the cloth napkin. “Honestly, Dan, this is great – but I don’t really feel comfortable here,” she said. “I mean, the waiter referred to toast as ‘peasant breakfast food’! I eat that for breakfast! What’s that make me?”
Impulsively, I stood up, pushing back my chair. “It makes you my peasant wife,” I told her, holding out a hand to her, palm up and fingers out. “And I’m your peasant husband.”
She took my fingers, letting me lift her up to her feet. She might be a little rounder, a little plumper, than on our wedding day, I thought fondly to myself, but she was still undeniably Alsie – Alyssa to everyone else, but my Alsie, my wife.
“Let’s get out of here, babe,” I said. “There’s a great little pub and burger place that I saw just around the corner. Let’s hit that restaurant instead.”
Alsie nodded – but before stepping away from the table, she reached down and grabbed the slices of bread out of the little wooden bowl in the middle of our table.
“What are you doing?” I asked, as she nudged me away towards the exit.
“Stealing heat-free toast!” she answered, making me nearly choke on a snort of laughter. “Now let’s go!”
I saw our skinny little waiter glaring after us as we left, but the smile didn’t leave my face. I reached down and looped my hand through my wife’s arm, both of us laughing together as we ran out of the fancy restaurant and into the cool, refreshing night air.