A single fat droplet hit the singed crown of Maximilian’s scallop, spread into a glassy oval, and dissolved. Maximilian swallowed the remnants of crostini he was languidly munching and glanced up at the ceiling. There were no signs of a leak — no tan splotches or dripping cracks or patches of bubbling plaster. Had he imagined the droplet? He speared the scallop with his fork, lifted it from its porcini risotto dais, and held it up to the pale glow of the table lamp. The scallop’s top glistened, but whether the sheen was from the droplet or the lemon garlic butter, he couldn’t say.
“Is everything all right, dear?” asked Martha, Maximilian’s wife, her face contorted into a jowly mask of concern. She leaned forward and the diamond pendant of her necklace clinked against the lip of her empty wine glass.
“I think something dripped on my food,” said Maximilian.
Martha tilted her head up just in time to catch the next droplet in her right eye. Then another drop and another pelted her forehead, rolled down her powdered cheek, navigated the fleshy pleats of her neck, and slipped into the deep cleft of her operatic bosom.
One table over, Constance Verlaine was draping her cloth napkin over a bowl of mussels Provençal to shield them from the sudden incursion of drops. Her husband, Peter, removed his eyeglasses and began wiping the lenses with the end of his silk necktie.
“I do believe it’s raining in here,” he said, his bushy gray mustache twitching like the tail of a threatened squirrel.
And it was raining. Not in torrents, but steadily. Some in the restaurant shimmied into their coats and pulled on their hats. A few patrons opened umbrellas. One man spread his menu over his head and held it there with his left hand while he continued spooning lobster bisque into his mouth with his right. Another huddled under the tent of his Brooks Brothers blazer as he sucked the meat out of a Manila clam. But nobody got up to leave. Nobody stopped eating or drinking.
Sterling Digby, the pianist, squinted through the slanting shower at his sodden sheet music and did his best to finish off the last few bars of Chopin’s fourteenth nocturne. The patter of the rain was growing louder by the second, and it was difficult for him to hear if he was playing the right notes. Then the music slid off the stand into a puddle at his feet, and he was forced to play from memory. He fumbled through the last series of notes and let the piano hum before lifting his foot off the damper pedal. His fingers hovered tentatively over the glittering keys. Should he play on? He recalled hearing that the musicians on the Titanic had played on the deck until they tumbled into the Atlantic — to keep up the morale of passengers and lessen the panic. But he was not on the deck of a ship, and no one in the restaurant seemed to be in need of a morale boost. No one appeared to be panicking.
Arianna Calabrese felt the water rising over her six hundred dollar Versace pumps and wondered briefly if she could just blow dry them when she got home. Buying new pumps would be no problem for her, but she adored this particular pair. They had a studded belt across the front and an extra wide heel. Arianna’s five clients noticed her sudden silence and peered up from their laminated stock portfolios. Laminating the portfolios had been a smart idea, thought Arianna. If she hadn’t done it, the documents would be mush by now. From now on, she’d laminate everything she distributed at meetings—in case of inclement interior weather. Their waiter, a jittery boy just out of high school, splashed by their table with an overflowing pitcher of water. He began to ask if anyone wanted a refill, realized the idiocy of his question, and splashed away, his pimply cheeks glowing.
When his pistachio cake arrived (it came under a clear plastic hood—the kitchen had adjusted), the water was up to Maximilian’s waist. But he wasn’t too uncomfortable, and he was determined to have his dessert. He was certain he could finish before the water rose up over his chest and arms and made eating more or less impossible. He’d have to get right down to business, though. No chit chat with the wife. Martha didn’t seem to be in the talking mood anyway. She frowned at her burgundy fingernails and blinked rain out of her eyes. She might have been crying. Maximilian couldn’t tell, and he really didn’t care.
By seven, they were all floating on their tables. Well, almost all. Sterling was perched on the lid of his grand piano. The pimply young waiter was astride a serving cart, clinging to the silver edge with both bony hands. The food was floating, too. A beautiful brown hunk of salmon bobbed past on its cedar plank lifeboat. A platter of calamari dipped around the restaurant’s perimeter. A jumbo lobster, spared execution by the deluge, surveyed the scene from the top of its overturned tank.
Everyone was calm. Everyone was quiet. Everyone was resigned to whatever the water had in store. In some vague way, they had all seen this coming. They had known they were due for this—for a storm that would wash everything away so that life could begin again, so that the world could be new. They hadn’t prepared. They hadn’t brought life jackets or built arks. They had no intention of surviving. They just wanted to finish their wine and cake—and they had done that. So when the front doors finally burst open, and the people were flushed out into the briny blue vortex, they were sated and serene and ready to go.