We'd ordered our drinks, a vodka and tonic for him, a white wine for me.
"Now, I'll let you draw my picture," he said, leaning back in the booth with a playful smile.
This is the reason we came to the Macaroni Grill. For the fresh bread, coated in rosemary and oil, and because he loved their mushroom ravioli. And because they encourage you to draw on the butcher paper tablecloths. I always drew him. It was part of the ritual.
"I never get your nose right," I said.
"You always make it too big," he said, eyes twinkling, as I hacked away with red and green crayons, the only two colors I ever seem to get. "Why is it always too big?"
I think I held up my wine and took a deep drink. "This could have something to do with it!" We both smiled. The drinks made me a better a artist and he a more entertaining subject, we always thought, or at least until the light of day.
I can still him sitting across from me, fed, relaxed and happy, basking in the glow of his wife's undivided attention. Did it happen often enough, I wonder, that I so flattered him? When I go back in my mind, I try to make it so. In my mind's eye, I am always telling him how much I love him.
Rising from the table, he asks the waiter, as he always did, "Well, does it look like me?"
I know he asks this for my benefit, not his. He wants to hear me complimented. The waiter obliges, as always, indicating that it is indeed a very handsome likeness of a very handsome man, or words to that effect. We tip well.
It is not, in fact, a particularly good likeness - I did not get his nose right, yet again, and he looks much older than he ever did - but I tore the picture from the table and took it home anyway, thinking I might be able to work it up to something better. A week later to the day he was gone.
I've been using the picture as a totem ever since. I displayed it at the memorial service, explaining to all who inquired; We were going there that night! I was going to draw him again...only better this time.
It has become the talisman with which I try to make time stand still. I mess with it and play with it and torture it beyond recognition. I stop today only because the paper can take no more, and is puckering and tearing in protest. How I've managed to age him! His eyes have gone funny and his mouth is all wrong. I'm sorry, honey.
So I will put it under glass, because that is what the widow does with the myriad minuscule moments in time, moments tiny and tender that will be no more. That we can't stop yearning for or let go of, no matter how tortured they become.