The wealthy like altitude. This Raymond decided when the concierge directed him to K1, the restaurant on the hotel's 35th floor, directed him with a-- No, no. Not though there. Not to Gabby's. That is the first floor restaurant. You have no table there. You don't have a reservation. The elevator is that way."-- and patted him twice on the back as he advanced. K1 was an intimate space, all Shoji screens in an open room with candles everywhere. They melted in little bowls on the tables, dangled from the ceiling in sticks bound with steel wire, flickered on branches jutting from the walls. Raymond's table was in a corner by the window. He was the last one to arrive.
"Jesus, look who finally decided to show up," the nearly hairless man in the burgundy suit said when he saw Raymond. No one else said anything. Of the five of them, only the young-ish fellow with the thick glasses and a beard-in-progress even looked up from the soup. Raymond took the last empty seat. It was between a young woman with short, black hair and a silvering matron who may have been her mother. Or between the young woman and the window, depending on how Raymond interpreted the rectangle of the table. There was no soup for him.
The waiter came around and the hairless man piped up again, "Ehm, he'll have the croquettes... eh, veal. And the lemon sauce," but the auburn lady with the tan pulled the waiter down to her side and insisted through a smile, "He'd rather the plum duck, or shrimp in peppers if it's fresh." And before Raymond could say a word he found himself forced into a toast to the elegance of the flower arrangements, a half-drained glass of White Zinfandel thrust into his hand. From the looks of the stains on the tablecloth, they had been toasting for quite a while.
Dinner came at sunset and all the while everyone at the table rambled through fragments of six different conversations, maybe more. All old references, inside jokes, personal shorthand and fill-in sentences-- "And then we went to... yeuu... yeah, and had some of those delicious cherry... things... oh! Do you recall when Madeline..."-- amid clinking silverware and ice crashing against the insides of glasses. Raymond had memories of a small, wooden raft beating against a ship hull. Out the window the ocean was fading into blue-black past dusk.
There was dessert, of course. Cinnamon-kissed coffee and little tiramisu carnations, shots of fernet, a little lamp burning orange-scented oil. Raymond hadn't said a word since his muttering for the toast but every now and then someone would point to him, lay a hand on his arm or lean against him when they laughed. The bill came and Raymond was embarrassed. What would his five dollars do, lay the foundation for the tip? When he put it down on the table the matron just pushed it back at him. Everyone else stacked their credit cards in the ledger with the rhythm of actuated machines. And Raymond, no more or less hungry than when he first sat down there, left the table escorted by the black-haired girl to the elevator. He had a harder time recognizing any of his patrons the farther away he got from them, strangers that they were.