The three make their way down the short, wide corridor toward the cafeteria or as per the facility’s informational guidelines, la salle à manger. Being built in a time before anyone currently alive inside the facility, no one knows for sure why the dining room is the only room/area named in an Old-Earth language. Upon entering la salle à manger, one quickly notices that the layout feels simple and clean. To the right stretches the same large, floor-to-ceiling windows of the common area, but in la salle à manger, the windows continue around the far corner and stretch down the far wall until the windows meet another entrance/exit door to the outdoor activities courtyard.
The far left wall then houses a full-functioning, restaurant-style kitchen with a countertop and service window that opens out into la salle à manger. No one, since the inception of this current chef has ever entered the kitchen except the chef, of course, his two assistants and the three approved food suppliers. La salle à manger consists of buffet-style food service in the form of one long hot-food-holding apparatus and one long cold-food-holding apparatus. The food-holding apparati are covered at about the waist height of an averaged-sized human of the era, with glass so that one may see the contents of the buffet while reaching beneath the glass to grab the desired food with each food’s prescribed tongs.
Organized carefully within and throughout the middle of the space, not excluding the windowed walls, square four-top and rectangular two-top tables are meticulously arranged in a concise yet spacious order. Upon her arrival as the new facility’s manager or as her name plate states, “In-Line Management Head of Operations,” the analyst quickly sought to change out every wobbly table in the facility. This task seemed simple enough at first, but the analyst soon realized that tables are quite expensive. Despite the expense, the analyst opted for a table design that would prohibit even the future possibility of wobbliness. Thus, the reason why every table so meticulously sits in such meticulous order is because they are bolted into the floors, meaning the tables can never be moved from their designated locations, well, not never, obviously, but the task would prove to be difficult. The tops of the tables are of some heavy, equally expensive stone, but for the analyst this was all in a day’s work.
As for the chairs, the analyst held no unreasonable or specific compulsions as to what makes a great chair. So, the chairs are of some prefab, cushion-less, curve-backed, wooden assortment, which by the way, neither match the tables nor any other chairs, but they move about freely. The oddity of the chairs, as explained by the analyst helps to make la salle à manger feel more like a typical home, since the tables are so strictly positioned. The overall effect is somewhat pleasant in the general lack of rigidity often times found in other facilities for the similarly suffering.
Last thing, the curtains were not originally decided upon by the analyst, however, after the first time they [the curtains] were ordered to be taken down and cleaned, nearly all of the sufferers within the facility had their various, specific forms of a breakdown. Within the hour, the analyst ordered another set of matching curtains. Thus, there are two full sets of curtains for the vast expanse of floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the facility, including the windows of the common area, and when the curtains need to be washed, the employees responsible for such a task replace the dirty curtains with the other set while the dirty set are washed, stored and brought out when the hanging curtains are in need of a washing. As for the look of the curtains, they are of a plain, thick, dark, heavy plum-red velvet.
And so, it is within la salle à manger that the three sit at the four-top table at the far end of the room where the windows turn the corner. The chef, apparently familiar with what he likes to eat, set aside a plate of all the fixings with none of the main dishes. There is also a plate of various breads and butters and a plate of various fruits and vegetables. Taking in the compartmentalized nature of the food upon the table, the old man chuckles a bit with a comment, Interesting, into the mind of his host. Yet another thing about which you will never know anything, he responds back to the old man. The old man nods in agreement. The analyst attempts to mediate what she intuits as a tense situation, “Are you hungry, sir? I’m sorry I failed to get your name earlier.” “Yes, I could eat a little something, and don’t worry about it; it doesn’t matter,” the old man responds while simultaneously inserting, You still prefer the build-your-own method, into the mind of him he visits. He sits silent and still in the desperately futile attempt to not allow the old man to know anything he doesn’t want the old man to know. To him now, the analyst suggests that, “The chef must like you. He never saves food for anyone else, and generally, his policy is: If a meal is missed, the meal is missed.” You were wrong, she is a fool, he comments back to the old man while simultaneously responding to the analyst, “Yes, I am aware of the chef’s policy. I made a deal with him a while back, however.” “Ah,” the analyst goes on, “How fortuitous.”
The three sit in silence as he picks at some bread with his fingers, while the old man pokes at a cherry tomato with a fork. For what seems like an eternity, they sit, fairly motionless for a minute. Finally, the analyst decides that perhaps they need their privacy, “I will leave you two to it, then,” she states as she excuses herself from the table. “It was nice to meet you …” she stops to allow the old man to interject his name. “It doesn’t matter,” the old man responds with a gentle, kind smile. “Well, then. Come find me after your visitor leaves,” the analyst directs, “There is still the issue of yesterday’s incident we need to discuss.” He nods, and with a handful of bread, waves goodbye.
Breaking their silence with a full inhale as he stretches back in his chair, arms overhead, letting out a sigh of relief, the old man leans forward onto his elbows and looks at the young man across from him. “You’re being idiotic,” the old man begins. “You’re being deceptive,” the young man continues. “Very well,” the old man tries again as he pops the tomato into his mouth. “What do you need to know before I tell you what you need to know?” “How did you find me?” the young man asks. A gasp of frustration, “The idiocy,” the old man responds. “Why do you fucking care so much?” the young man reasserts. The old man cannot decide if he wants to tell this kid the truth. “I assume everything you say is a lie, so don’t worry about that,” the young man interjects. Ah, very good, the old man almost laughs out loud. Tell me what you want, the young man demands. I want to give you a message, the old man answers. Why? What do you get out of it? the young man inquires. I cannot tell you without also then revealing the message, the old man explains.
They sit in silence for another while. The young man decides that he will try to guess what the old man might want to divulge. Before the young man, however, can even get the beginnings of a first round of thoughts to condense, the old man laughs quietly, I will tell you what I wish you to know, and then you will know what I know. But first, may I ask you a question? The young man looks hard into the old man’s face, Do I have a choice? Patient and never looking brash, the old man responds, Unfortunately, the probability stands that you will, eventually, undoubtedly hear what I have to say before I leave.
“Go on with it then,” the young man states aloud. “Ah, okay, I see,” the old man quips as he can feel the young man’s discomfort, and then the old man asks, “Have you seen her?” The young man doesn’t even think he simply responds, a lie, “Yes, of course.” Knowing the lie, the old man wonders to himself so that the young man may hear, It is possible. The young man looks out the window; he feels vulnerable. “And your message?” the young man states flatly while still gazing out into the courtyard. “I cannot help you if you’re going to lie to me,” the old man demands. “Okay then. Thank you for coming all this way to tell me something I already know,” the young man tests. “Fine. If this is how you want it to be, then I cannot force any knowledge upon you,” the old man concedes. “Know this,” the old man seemingly concludes, “by the time you realize you should have heard my message, I will be unable to cooperate, for the answers to the questions will have been discovered.” The old man stands to excuse himself from the young man’s presence.
An ear burns.
The young man mulls a very small inkling of a thought he hopes will be undetected by the old man, She is hidden. Yes, the old man confirms. Shit, the young man curses. That’s right, the old man reinforces. The young man knew of this already and begins to wonder how this knowing did not occur to him sooner, anger, confusion, the only question, You know why. Of course, that is why I am here, you idiot, the old man explains. How … the young man begins. I saw her. She just showed up at my house, the old man interrupts. The young man stands so abruptly that his chair gets knocked off its feet and tumbles about behind him. La salle à manger sits empty; no one looks in his direction.