The leftmost one wanted oyster but ordered mussels instead.
The one to the right was tall but not too tall, and therefore the natural leader. When he talked about cars, cars were the thing they talked about. His daughter would bite at her cuticles when she was nervous, which was one of the reasons why she would never be loved. The man in the tweed suit had done things like that as a child, but not once since he learned how to drink. He knew twenty-eight jokes with which to excuse himself when he opened a bottle. Now he used the one about genies.
The girl to his left was sober but feigned otherwise as not to make anyone nervous. The man in the white shirt rarely spoke unless spoken to, but in his mind he was a seductress. He ate soup now, as always, and none at the table noticed his double entendres.
The woman in blue had salmon. She would often have toast and give the mushrooms to her brother, but this time he wasn’t invited. He was recently seen crying in a parking lot, and since they all were such good people in other regards, none had felt obliged to bear the burden of maintaining an acquaintanceship.
His cousin asked the sister how he was, and all were very grateful when the woman who had salad changed the subject. The man in slate, especially, as jazz was one of four things he could talk about. Across from him sat the slender boy who had mackerel and potatoes. He had introduced himself as a novelist, which of course was a lie but one they all found it best to regard as the truth. The one to his right drank white wine, mostly to spite herself. She made a comment about Louis Armstrong, and spent the rest of the evening wondering whether it could have in any way been misconstrued.
Two seats away sat the woman in mauve and her husband. Thrice in her life had she chosen not to act prudently. The first time, she’d broken her jaw and her left index finger. She sat silent now as her man gave account of the second time, to the vest-wearer’s hearty amusement. The girl on their left, too, shared the laughter impeccably. She was the loveliest creature, everyone said so. She had beauty and charm and would never expect or demand to be treated as human.
As the night went on they all told one another how blessed and successful they were, and eventually all but one of them really believed it.