Courtney Hutchison // New York, NY
Fleeing that odd combination of loneliness and freedom that comes when a long relationship ends, I drove north that spring into Quebec. I watched happily as the landscape regressed into ice and snow, putting mile after mile between me and the sodden thaw of New England. My friend Alex and I had chosen this unorthodox spring break because we spoke French, because it was drivable and off-season hotels are cheap, and because no one else we knew would be there.
The winter in Montreal had been hard and snow-ridden, so we mostly traipsed about in layers from cafe to eatery, indoor market to brasserie, perpetually sliding just-licked fingers into our down gloves. Always there was one place every local recommended: Au Pied du Cochon, or the house of the pig’s foot. I flashed a furrowed brow at Alex — I was vegetarian and the name sounded suspiciously meat-centric.
“It’ll be fine,” she said, “I’m sure they have vegetables.” Alex, if given a choice, would wrap every porterhouse steak in pancetta and fry it in duck fat. She got us the last reservation of the night.
It was everything a restaurant in winter should be: warm and fire-lit, the smell of unknown mingling foodstuffs soaking into the wood beams of the ceiling, the oak planks of the floor. The menu read like a shrine to all manner of beast and fowl — most revered, of course, was the pig. I staked out the vegetarian items and tried to ignore how the smell of roasting pork was making my mouth water.
Our waiter arrived to take our modest, student-budget order. He had dark, almost black, canine eyes, and he looked at me like a hungry wolf — a very friendly, rakish hungry wolf. When we declined to order wine, he said it was a travesty and that we would have wine pairings for each course. When we protested that we only ordered one course, he grinned conspiratorially. As he plucked our menus from our hands, I warned him that I was a vegetarian, but he only laughed and said, “I don’t believe in that.”
Slowly, with understated bravado, he brought us course after course, wine after wine. I picked around the meat, my resolve weakening after each dish elicited moans and contented sighs from Alex. I was struck by how much I wanted to please him, but I held out, nibbling on the scant meat-free garnishes.
The place had mostly emptied by the time he brought out the main course: a pork chop, smoked and drizzled with a tart marmalade reduction. He placed the dish and took the empty seat beside me, draping his arm over the back of my chair. His posture was languid but he watched me intently in a way that flushed my face with blood. I looked nervously at the little chops, balanced tenuously against each other. “I know these pigs,” he said into my ear. “I own this restaurant. They lived very happy lives on my friend’s farm, I assure you.” He dipped a pinky into the sauce at the edge of my plate and licked it off his finger.
Recounting now, I would like to say that it was mere politesse that made me give in, but, in truth, it was because of him. It had taken me three years with my ex to admit to myself that something essential and intangible was missing — there was no whirlwind of shed clothes, no nights spent impractically, ecstatically squeezed two to a narrow dorm bed. I had been too young to realize that dating your best friend was not enough. This waiter was something else altogether. I was no fool, I didn’t think anything would come of it, but the wanting of the waiter was intoxicating and significant, and I didn’t want it to stop.
And the pork was good — heinously good. I couldn’t help but make little noises of gratitude as I ate it. More wine was called for to celebrate my hedonism, and the three of us talked and ate until all the other tables were cleared and the kitchen closed. Sometime after one, Alex and I reluctantly made motions to leave. I didn’t want to, but I was drunk and his restaurant was closing and he had refused our offers to come out with us. “I’m too old,” he said. When he walked us to the door, I kissed him on each cheek slowly, lingering. I breathed in his ear. He was grinning, holding my gaze as I pulled away until a shout from the kitchen roused him.
“Don Juan, c’est ta femme. Le bébé est malade…” Hey loverboy, your wife is on the phone. The baby is sick…
And in a moment we were shuttled out the door to wait for our taxi in the March snow. Once outside, the enchanted purity of my attraction to this apparently married new father deflated rapidly. I thought of his wife at home with a colicky baby, and his piercing gaze suddenly struck me as a leer, his careful stalking of me a bit creepy. The pork churning in my poor stomach, so unaccustomed to digesting it, felt leaden.
By the morning I had a hangover and was nauseous with meat-guilt and what the French call a “crise de foie,” a crisis of the liver, stemming from too much rich food. I could only chuckle somewhat morosely at the fact that “crise de foie” sounds identical to the French “crise de foi,” a crisis of faith.
Courtney Hutchison is a writer and health journalist with ABC News in New York City.