Our knives and forks clatter against the simple white plates. Over my grandfather’s shoulder, a leopard is frozen in mid-leap, his chipped claws sinking into a gazelle. The gazelle has been painted with red stripes to heighten the illusion of split-second predation.
I always ask to walk the perimeter of the restaurant. My grandmother takes my hand and we head first through the Arctic, where ermines, captured behind glass, are stuck forever half white. The walrus head seems impossibly large. She hoists me up so I can rub my fingers across his hard muzzle, play the whiskers like strings on a ukulele. Then under the jaguars leaping above the dance floor. The killing isn’t worrisome to me—the blood is paint, the postures of fear and survival, all posed. The hunter is long dead, too.
Back in the Serengeti, a lion carries an antelope in his mouth while a hyena menaces from across the glass case behind my chair. Dik-diks and warthogs edge the display, watching the drama unfold, presumably. The lion is dusty, and there is a cobweb between the “limp” antelope legs.
My grandfather saws through his Swiss steak while my grandmother navigates her Monte Cristo into and out of her raspberry jam. She dabs a red spot on her blouse with the corner of her napkin that’s been dipped in her ice water. I get the fisherman’s platter and devour everything but the oysters. We eat languidly, while hundreds of dull eyes look on.