THE RESTAURANT HAD ONCE BEEN extremely elegant. If you squinted a little you could almost believe it still was.
Sid wasn't squinting. He turned his water glass in his hand, examining the smudges. There was something sticky on the handle of his fork.
At first he was firmly in the here and now, in his distaste over the sticky fork, the stained tablecloth, the faint odor of insect spray.
But then he noticed the angel.
The memories flooded back, and he was left puzzled and vaguely alarmed.
He had been standing near the camera.
The scene was going very well, and he had been waiting anxiously for the final line—thinking to himself that if the actors could perform this well for a few more seconds he wouldn't need a retake.
He could call it quits for the day and still make the game.
Then the structure had collapsed. His feet had jerked out from under him, and an enormous weight had come crushing down.
A worry shot through his brain about Jessica, about the kids and the grandkids, then he sat here, critiquing the silverware.
The angel was as tacky as the venue. Her satin robe was stained—with slightly different colors than the tablecloth, but to the same effect. Her hair, and the feathers in her wings, were a bit oily.
She wore too much makeup.
"Ready to talk?"
He put the water glass down.
"Talk. Sure. I guess—is this... Am I...?"
She frowned thoughtfully.
"I don't think so. That is, if you're asking about an afterlife. I'm just a figment of your imagination, of course, like this whole place."
She glanced around. "You could have done a lot better, by the way."
"Then I don't... A dream?"
"I suppose. Something like that anyway. Seems like you need to talk things over, so you're compressing the final tenths of a second—stretching time out—to come to some conclusions."
"Don't ask me."
"But I settled all that long ago."
She fiddled with a lipstick.
"I mean, I did. I really did. I don't expect anything."
"Fine. You don't have forever, you know."
"It's quite simple, really. Life is meaningless. My life is meaningless. It's short, and full of suffering, and then it ends. There's no afterlife, no divine plan, no meaning. So there's nothing to do—there was nothing to do—but to just get through it, with as little suffering as possible."
"Prepositions." She flipped a compact open and stared at her reflection.