January 15 was the night Alexandra always set the table for five. It had started out to be just a table for two, on that particular anniversary, but then over the years more place settings had been added.
She set it for Neil, who was blonde and shy and called her peanut. He had skin as soft as a girl’s and a high laugh that made her think of wind chimes. But he also dreamed of drowning and cried in his sleep, holding onto her so tightly that she thought she might break.
She set it for Franklin, who on their second date had proclaimed his love for her and gave her a ring. It was a cheap ring, the kind you found at flea markets arrayed in velvet platters, ten dollars, two for fifteen. He had taken her to the Coast Inn for dinner and presented it to her out on the dock, with the wind blowing her hair into her eyes and the sea lions braying in the background. He told her she was beautiful and that they should get married and make babies and live happily ever after. She accepted his ring but told him he was crazy and that all she would commit to was dinner. He accepted her commitment. This time.
She set it for Charles, not Charlie or Chuck but Charles, who rode a Ducati motorcycle and spoke perfect italian. He grew his hair too long, smelled of horrible brown cigarettes and read her his poetry in bed. It was truly dreadful poetry but he was so sincere and so handsome, she couldn’t help but watch him read, watch as his lips formed the words and his dark eyes reflected the emotions of his work. She wanted to eat up every single tasty bit of his zabaglione.
She set it for her father, who always told her she was so pretty in those dresses but if she didn’t get her hair out of her face none of the boys would notice her. He told her she was an excellent cook and would make a terrific wife someday. And he always asked her what had happened to that boyfriend of hers, the blonde one, he was nice.
Finally she set the table for herself and sat down at the head of it, raising a glass to Neil, who had drowned in the bath on January 15 just before his 23rd birthday; to Franklin, who after four months of proclaiming his undying love had left her; for Charles, who after the motorcycle accident took up drinking and drove her away; and to her father, for whom she was always such a disappointment.