I picked up his cell phone, a brand-new black Samsung, and slid it open. I didn't know his pin code; if the phone was locked I wouldn't be able to do a thing, but the screen lit up almost right away with a fuzzy photo of the Nike swoosh, probably on one of his own clothes: his shoes, or the black knit cap he always wore, even at summertime temperatures and indoors, pulled down just above his eyes.
I scrolled down through the menu, which was roughly the same as the one on my own phone, a Samsung too, but six months old and therefore already hopelessly obsolete. I clicked on My Files and then on Videos. Sooner than expected, I found what I was looking for.
I looked and felt my head gradually grow cold. It was the sort of coldness you feel when you take too big a bite from an ice-cream cone or sip too greedily from an ice-cold drink.
The kind of coldness that hurtfrom the inside out. I looked again, and then I kept looking: there was more, I saw, but how much more was hard to say.
Michel's voice came from downstairs, but then I heard him coming up the stairs. I snapped shut the slide on the phone and put it back on his desk.
It was too late to hurry into our bedroom, to take a shirt or jacket out of the closet and pose with it in front of the mirror; my only option was to come out of Michel's own room as casually and believably as possibleas though I'd been looking for something.
As though I'd been looking for him.
"Dad." He had stopped at the top of the stairs and was looking past me, into his room. Then he looked at me. He was wearing his Nike cap; his black iPod nano dangled from a cord at his chest, and a set of headphones was slung around his neck. You had to give him creditfashion and status didn't interest him. After only a few weeks, he had replaced the white earbuds with a standard set of headphones, because the sound was better.
Happy families are all alike: that popped into my mind for the first time that evening.
"I was looking for . . ." I began. "I was wondering where you were."
Michel had almost died at birth. Even these days I often thought back on that blue, crumpled little body lying in the incubator just after the caesarean. That he was here was nothing less than a giftthat was happiness too.
"I was patching my tire," he said. "That's what I wanted to ask you. Do you know if we've got valves somewhere?"
"Valves," I repeated. I'm not the kind of person who ever fixes a flat tire, who would even consider it. But my sonin the face of all evidencestill believed in a different version of his father, a version who knew where the valves were.
"What were you doing up here?" he asked suddenly. "You said you were looking for me. Why were you looking for me?"
I looked at him; I looked into the clear eyes beneath the black cap, the honest eyes that, I'd always told myself, formed a not-insignificant part of our happiness.
"Oh, nothing," I said. "I was just looking for you."
Of course they weren't there yet.
Without revealing too much about the location, I can say that the restaurant was hidden from the street by a row of trees.
We were half an hour late already, and as we crossed the gravel path to the entrance, lit on both sides by electric torches, my wife and I discussed the possibility that for once, just this once, it might be we and not the Lohmans who arrived last.
"Want to bet?" I said.
"Why should I?" Claire said. "I'm telling you: they're not there."
A girl in a black T-shirt and a black floor-length pinafore took our coats. Another girl, in the same black outfit, was flipping through the reservations book lying open on a lectern.
Excerpted from The Dinner by Herman Koch. Copyright © 2013 by Herman Koch. Excerpted by permission of Hogarth Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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