We were relaxing over martinis in the restaurant of the inn we’d researched and viewed pictures of on our computer, all set to relax after a day of listening to the rent car tell us where to go, when one of our dining neighbors across the way pulled out a device and pointed it at his plate of food and took a picture. Here’s to technology, I said to my wife and raised my glass. Here’s to martinis, she said, raising her glass. Not wanting my reputation as a smartass to slip a notch I suggested the idea of restaurant critics rating how photogenic food servings were. They could compare their photogenic level with how good the food tasted and develop a statistical profile on whether there was any objective correlation. Pictures of plates of food were everywhere and this statistical profile could establish whether all these pictures were worth looking at. At almost the same moment that I detected my wife’s familiar suppressed eye roll I saw the food photographer point his device at me and a second later its flash went off. Why’s he taking my picture? I asked. Maybe he wants a picture of the painting behind your head, my wife said. There was an abstract painting behind my head, but I asked why he’d want my head in the photo. Maybe, she said, he sees it as a vision exploding out of your imagination. Maybe I should find out what his purpose is, I said. She didn’t like that idea, didn’t like my appetite for confrontations. Careful, she warned, he could be as big a prick as you are. But that argument wasn’t slowing me down. I pulled my phone from my pocket and when he looked over at me I snapped a picture of him. Why’d you do that? my wife asked. I told her it was a revenge photo. He needed to understand what it felt like to have a stranger take his picture. How could I know what he planned to do with it or what obsessions might be raving inside him? Wasn’t I entitled to some privacy? My wife didn’t have time to answer because the photographer was on his feet coming toward us, as his female companion, too young and good looking to be his wife, began shaking her head. What was that about? he asked me. Is there a problem? I asked, noting his wedding ring. You know what I’m talking about, the picture you just took of me. I’d have thought that was normal behavior wherever you come from, I said, photo of a stranger at a table. Are you somewhere you shouldn’t be? I nodded toward the woman at the table. Your mistress? I asked. That’s none of your business. Jesus Christ, are you married to this guy? he asked my wife. She doesn’t like to be identified in public as Jesus Christ, I told him, because it detracts from our privacy. So what are you driving at, he asked, by taking my picture? I thought it would make a better story, I said, if our friends could see a picture of the man who took my picture. I’m an artist, he explained. I liked the image of your head in the middle of that painting. I don’t know why it interested me, but I thought it added a dimension and I might be able to use it. Nothing personal, I assure you. So you’re an artist, I said, a man aware of added spatial dimensions. Do you have a business card? I might want to look you up, come to your studio. You could give me tea or if I’m lucky a glass of wine and we could chat. I’m not giving you my business card, he said, you’ve interrupted my dinner. I didn’t interrupt anything, I just did what you did, took a stranger’s picture, and you got up to raise a stink about it. You think I’m the aggressor but all I’m doing is sitting in my chair. Meanwhile my wife and the guy’s mistress were exchanging looks. My wife wanted no part of the noise at our table so she went to his table and plopped in his seat. I hoped she’d get the whole story about what he was up to, though she was often reluctant to indulge my curiosity. The restaurant manager showed up then, high-altitude heels, eye-catching curvature of the hips. What’s going on? she asked, and I couldn’t help feeling excitement that we’d escalated to the management level. We’d never seen each other before, I said, thinking it to my advantage to take the floor, but he took a picture of me and now he’s offended that I’ve taken his picture. I think he’s having a liaison with that woman over there and doesn’t want his wife to know. He took my picture when he came in, the restaurant manager said, and I didn’t like it either. Nor did I like the way he looked at me, especially my hips. He’s already got one woman with him, I said. He may have come in here with more than one kind of hunger. Should you ask the police to mount an investigation? I’m going back to my table, he told the manager. I apologize for any disturbance. He’s running from something, I said, and by the way your seat is now occupied by my wife. I agree that you should go back to your table, the restaurant manager said, and you two wranglers should delete your photos. I got my phone out, ready to comply with her request, but he claimed the image he’d taken belonged to him and he could use it in his work. My image belongs to you? I asked. This one does, he said. I’m not deleting mine then, I said. Get back to your table, the restaurant manager told him, and don’t come over here again. He retreated. Keep that thing in your pocket, she said to me and left. My wife returned to our table, and a waitress walked up with menus but I waved her away. What did you find out? I asked. Is she his wife? I have no idea, we talked about sightseeing. But that’s so boring compared to this, I said. It’s none of our business, she said in my face. He took my picture, I answered, and he asked about our marital status. Don’t you think that blurs the boundary? Not that much, she said. Did she talk about his work? I asked. My wife just looked at me. I didn’t see it coming, but the guy’s flash went off again and he seemed to have the device pointed at both of us rather than directly at me. Why did he take my picture? my wife asked. Maybe he wants revenge for my revenge photo. Is he daring me to take their picture? Does he want me to worry what will happen if I do? Do you want to ask him? I’m not going to ask him, but I want to know, she admitted. I’m taking their picture, I said. Don’t do it, my wife said, you’ll get us thrown out of here. Let’s leave, I said, and take their picture on the way out. We’ll tell them at the front to charge the drinks to our room and then we’ll go somewhere else to eat. I’m sick of this place, bad spirits, some of which I created, and I’m distracted by the question of what my head looks like in front of this painting. As long as it’s on the way out I’m okay with it, my wife said. He could chase us down the street, I said. We can’t live in fear of being chased, she replied. We drained our martinis and got up, both of us approaching them, phone in hand. I stopped, slight squat, my wife smiling as if she were in the picture. I took the photo, capturing forever his look of annoyance. Have a great night, I said to them. They didn’t follow.
Glen Pourciau’s collection of stories Invite won the Iowa Short Fiction Award and was published by the University of Iowa Press. His stories have been published by AGNI Online, The Antioch Review, Epoch, The Literarian, New England Review, The Paris Review, TriQuarterly, and other magazines.