“Did you read the book I lent you?” she asked.
He looked up from the menu, smiling. “I’m about half-way through,” he answered.
“Do you like it so far?”
“It’s very interesting.”
“What do you think of his arguments?”
“Well, to be honest, they’re a little bit hard to grasp, but they’re very interesting.” He smiled again. “What do you want to eat?”
The waiter looked at her in anticipation.
“I’m not familiar with German food. Do you think Aquinas’ arguments are sound?”
“It’s hard to say. Like I said, his arguments are a little bit difficult to wrap your head around. I guess I’m just not familiar with Scholasticism. You might want to try their schnitzels. They’re basically pork cutlets with sauces on top,” he said.
“Alright. I’ll have the Bolognese schnitzel, please,” she said to the waiter. The waiter nodded.
“I’ll have the Jäger schnitzel,” he said. The waiter nodded again, repeated their orders, and left their table.
“You haven’t finished the book yet. Perhaps by the time you’re done with it, you’ll be able to make a better assessment,” she said.
“Maybe.” He moved his hand a few inches closer to her hand, but she moved hers away.
“The arguments for an Unmoved Mover and a First Cause are at least very plausible, don’t you think? I mean, there must be an “entity” that does not itself undergo any sort of change, otherwise, there wouldn’t be an explanation for why we observe change everywhere around us, in the first place. And there must be an “entity” that is not itself composed of essence and existence — unlike human beings, animals, tables, cars, mountains, planets, and whatever — but is rather existence itself: A being whose essence is existence. Being itself.” Her eyes glowed as she said this.
“You’re even more beautiful when you talk like that,” he said.
She blushed and turned away.
“You’re not trying to convert me, are you?” he said.
“Why do you say that?” she responded.
“Well, you know that I’m an atheist.”
“I’m not necessarily trying to change your view. I was just interested about your thoughts on Aquinas.” She adjusted her glasses and looked away. Outside, it was raining gently. There was hardly anyone in the restaurant.
“Did you like the book I gave you?” he asked.
“I’m not sure I like Hemingway,” she replied.
“Well, for one thing, he — or rather his characters — swear or cuss a lot. And I have no interest whatsoever in bull-fighting, big game hunting, and fishing. His stories seem to be filled with those things. I particularly have an aversion to bull-fighting. I mean, it’s such a barbaric and inhumane sport, don’t you think?”
“You’re a woman. Most women don’t like bull-fighting. There’s adventure, heroism, and even romance in the act of luring and fighting bulls. It’s such an exciting sport. It’s a man’s sport. If you were a man, you’d understand.” He smiled.
“I think it’s a very infantile and uncivilized type of amusement. It shouldn’t exist in this day and age. I don’t understand why anyone would want to look at a poor, innocent animal being tortured and put to death in the most heartless manner.”
He could see that she was upset, so he changed the subject.
“There must be at least one story in the collection that you liked. Surely, you can’t hate them all,” he said.
“Oh, but I do. In Hills Like White Elephants, for example, the girl and the guy were talking about abortion, right? I mean, they didn’t mention it explicitly, but they were going to a place where they could get the baby aborted. We all know that abortion is a serious moral wrong, but let’s leave that aside for the moment — I hated the guy for being so selfish and immature. He was only thinking of his own comfort and convenience. He didn’t like the baby. He didn’t want to be committed to the girl and the baby meant commitment and responsibility. He didn’t want anything to do with those things. He only wanted to use the girl for selfish reasons. He wanted to make her think that what they were doing was the right thing, and that it was a decision that both of them agreed upon,” she said. Her cheeks were now flushed.
“It’s good to see that you are very passionate about that story. That’s a good thing. You are passionate about a work of fiction. Most people don’t give a damn about literature.” You’re becoming more and more beautiful by the minute, he thought.
“I’d appreciate it if you will refrain from using strong language.”
“Don’t get me started with his other stories,” she continued. “In A Clean Well-Lighted Place, for instance, the travelers were such perverts. But that’s not really a surprise, is it? Men are such beasts. Oh, I don’t mean you, of course. You probably are a decent guy. But most men are ungentlemanly. Excuse me for saying so, but it’s true. They’re like those bulls in Hemingway’s stories. They are often unthinking, self-centered, immature, and full of themselves.”
He chuckled nervously. “I think what Hemingway is doing there is contrasting the Americans and the Swiss, with regard to how they behaved. The Swiss were very respectful and decent, while the Americans in the story were rather rude and vulgar. I think he was simply writing a homage to Switzerland. He lived there for a time, and he loved the place and its people. I don’t think he was criticizing the male specie in general.”
The waiter returned with their dishes.
“Bolognese schnitzel?” asked the waiter.
She raised her hand slightly. The waiter set it carefully on her side of the table, then he laid the other dish on the opposite side of the table.
She took the table napkin and spread it carefully on her lap.
“What wine can you recommend?” he asked the waiter. “Give me your priciest bottle. And do you happen to have a candle?”
“I suggest you try our Spätburgunder, sir,” the waiter replied. “It’s our most expensive. And about the candle, yes of course, we do have candles for special occasions like these. How many do you want?” He grinned and gave him a very knowing look.
“Oh, three would be nice. Three’s my lucky number,” he said. The waiter nodded and returned to the kitchen.
He turned to look at her but was surprised to see the change in her expression.
“What’s with the wine and candles?” she asked.
“Oh, just something for this special night,” he answered.
“What do you mean ‘special’?”
“Oh, you know, it’s just a lovely evening, with the rain and all, and I’m just so happy — so overwhelmed with joy — that you are here with me enjoying this beautiful night and this lovely, albeit simple, dinner. How do you like the schnitzel?”
“I haven’t touched it.” Her tone was a bit sharp.
“Oh, okay. It will go well with the red wine.”
“Just so we’re clear,” she began. “I hope you’re not thinking that this is a date. For that would be a serious mistake, and is really quite a shocking idea. I thought I have made it clear from the beginning that I’m not ready to go into any kind of serious relationship? Didn’t I tell you when we first met at the book fair that it would be nice if we could meet to discuss the possibility of organizing a book club?”
“You did?” he said, swallowing hard.
“Of course, I did. Weren’t you listening?”
“I was. I was listening.”
“Then you couldn’t have misunderstood me, for I was very explicit about not having boyfriends.”
“Of course, of course. I understood you perfectly well.”
The waiter came promptly with the candles. He placed them at the center of the table with the candle holders and lit each one with a lighter. Then he went back to the kitchen and brought the bottle of wine and two glasses. He uncorked the bottle and poured moderate amounts into the glasses. He gestured at the girl in the counter and in a moment soft music began to play in the background.
“I hope the violin sonata is suitable, sir. Enjoy your dinner!”