—from The Seventeen Book of Etiquette and Entertaining (1963), Chapter 10: “When You Eat or Entertain in Restaurants.”
An evening with someone you like. A “very good” evening? You are gnawed by constant little worries: what should I? How can I? What should I do?
Let him open you. He will check—you’re soaking wet. You throw back your shoulders—you would—but fearful of what could happen, refuse. Feminine. Durable. You spare your date the tiny expense of having to redeem you. You check anything which might obstruct his manners.
If he leads, you follow. He pulls out your hand, a do-it-yourself sort. The point to remember is that a man should always precede; you cut a path, so to speak. Don’t be indecisive. Just go on ahead.
As a girl you hesitate long enough to give your date the opportunity to help you (you are usually on the floor—it has seen some wear). Boys call, you meet after-hours downtown, in vastly separated suburbs, a central location. After ten minutes, choice is more confusing than helpful—the easiest procedures may weaken your date; you’ll surely weaken his pride. Some men are especially complimented if you don’t wait. There is always an exception (you’ll find a few others later), though it’s part of the ritual to ask what you like, whether you wish these choices.
It often adds up to more.
You suggest this, blithely ask him for everything from soup to sundae; he gives you less, which you take. Or refuse. No reason, no reason you can offer (you bury your head and agonize, stare off in space). You change your mind, demur because you doubt he’d like to join you; you rewrite your entire order.
You appear forgotten. You tap your place with your forefinger, a marvelous Scandinavian mixture. You are bewildered, choose to implement an eyelash curler, a bit dubious. You silently drop, dive under the table, retrieve your date (he should rise for any girl, for a woman the age of your mother, even).
You move on, a lady about it, something taken back (you don’t ask, as you know by now). You never complain. This impresses no one. He is surly and generally impossible; you appear solicitous and attempt to right matters. You don’t leave, though.
Everything’s so strange—that’s part of the fun, experimenting, attempting to manipulate—it is new to you. In utter privacy, you give yourself a searching once-over: your major reconstruction is an excuse, insufficient, embarrassing. You fix your memory into a terminal where you’ve lingered too long, you finish with a what-do-we-do-now expression on your face; you are an unreliable mistake, uncorrected, sitting nervously.
You pull out your longing, a sort of velvet rope barring your redheaded heart, dividing a nightmare from your varying honor. You obstruct, direct—you leave instantaneously, stating your own wishes first, yet linger behind, dawdling—an inconvenience. You hover, waiting, the surest way to feel more at home.
Kristine Langley Mahler lives on the suburban prairie, where she is currently completing a graduate degree in creative nonfiction. Her work received the 2016 Rafael Torch Award from Crab Orchard Review and has recently appeared/is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Quarter After Eight, New Delta Review, Storm Cellar, Barrelhouse, Cheap POP and elsewhere. Visit her at kristinelangleymahler.com.