The Brothers & Sisters Series: Dinner at the Green River

Words by Jack Vening

Published on February 20, 2012

I recently unearthed this restaurant review that I wrote a few years ago, back when I was intent on becoming a food critic. Though I never got it published in any weekend lift-outs, I feel that it sums up pretty nicely my relationship with my brother at the time.
– Jack

Note: Sections were later published as part of a supplement for a 2009 court inquiry on how the restaurant in question burned down. I encourage you to search it out.


Saturday last I had dinner in the city for my younger brother’s birthday. It’d been some time, both since I’d seen my brother and since I’d gotten a chance to eat out, so I relished the opportunity. He was turning twelve. The Green River, which I chose for him personally, is a smart, smug little restaurant cut into the side of an office block halfway into the heart of the city, the kind of place the poor dream about but wake up unsure if it truly exists. I’d heard good things.

It’s not, I found out, a restaurant for the hungry. Prices seem directly proportional to the amount of bare plate served. Within at least a foot of porcelain you should expect to find your tartar of kobe beef roughly the size of a dove’s eyeball, your Saddle of lamb léonel stacked just high enough for a busy vole to rest his boot upon for a shining. I wasn’t surprised to find the wine list tattooed onto the back of a Belgian silk merchant. There’s definitely gold in these hills.

Incidentally, it was the first time my immediate family had ever been in the same room together outside of a judicial hearing or sentencing. My father was out on day release; less, I realised later, for the experience of dinner with his family than for the increased chance of escape.

My mother, to her credit, had somehow found the will to leave the gigantic saucepan of mulled wine I assume she’s been simmering in for the past eleven years, to meet our arrangements. My younger brother was reluctant to attend.

He had only met our parents each a handful of times in his short years, and never both at the same time. Neither were present at the birth.

He was nervous on the ride over. He said, “What if they don’t like me?”

I told him that the damned don’t interest Satan, but I’m not really sure what that means. He shrugged and went back to the finger puppets I had bought for him on the assumption that children have cold fingers and appreciate quick solutions.

For the most part dinner was uneventful. My mother ignored the waiter when he assured her that she wasn’t meant to enjoy the wine so much as stare into it and appreciate all the great dead people who have stared into it before her, with gazes we will never understand and mouths that don’t even have tongues to taste with anymore.

She has no time for superstition. Over the years, my mother has become less an abuser of substances and more a host for the grand ghost of substance abuse to take when it travels to our plane of reality. It’s done nothing for her maternal instincts. Several times in the evening she asked if I would lightly kiss her neck, in an attempt to incite jealousy in a Kenny Rogers type who she thought was intentionally angling his cod piece at her from where he lounged near the door to the toilets. When I refused she looked briefly to my brother and my father before giving up on the idea.

My father, for his part, contributed what he could. During our first course he asked my brother what he wanted to become, and told him that whether a farmer or a politician, they’d find a way to fuck him in the end.

I think he was trying to be affectionate. He’s never been sure how to truly bridge the gap between them. There seems be a guilt there, due perhaps to his failing to provide for my brother what he himself would have liked as a child, namely a father not incarcerated for trying to kidnap an arch bishop. With me he has no such regrets. He believes it was an adventure every time he took me while I slept to the seaside and buried me upside down in a coffin and left me to escape. He says he wishes his own father had done him that favour, instead of letting him stagnate without ever knowing what it is to wake up clawing and screaming in the cool, indifferent earth, where all the dead people are, and before the dead people the dinosaurs, and before the dinosaurs the angels. Clawing and screaming but alive.

The only time we spoke during the night, I asked him how his book was coming along, as I’m writing a book myself and am interested in how books come along generally. I think this threatened him, because he told me I don’t even know how the world works enough to write about it.

“Ever thought why pilots aren’t allowed beards?” he said, “What if there’s lightning, idiot? Plane gets struck by lightning, everyone’s hair burns 600 degrees before you even hear the thunder. Could you  fly a plane with your lips burnt off your face? Could you decide when to turn on the seat belt sign, or land on in one-hundred-twenty-thousand kilometre winds? You’d probably let the bottom drop off, and people keep their fucking animals  in there.”

My father eventually provided for us most exciting moment at The Green River, after he finally noticed the Kenny Rogers type making bedroom eyebrows at my mother while slowly stuffing foie gras into his shirt. My father, though shackled, still somehow found a way to leap the full nine metres across the room to land upon him.

There was panic. The wait staff was unsure of who to restrain and ended up fighting amongst themselves before being joined by the cooks and eventually several patrons, drunk on rhubarb brandy sorbet (which I highly recommend, by the way). Meanwhile, my father was slowly driving the Kenny Rogers type into the carpet by standing on his chest and increasing his own mass through willpower alone, while my mother kissed his back and shoulders and screamed that she still belongs to him. I paid the bill as the prison guard who accompanied my father returned from the toilet and started firing wildly into the melee and we managed to make it to a taxi and leave before things turned ugly.

To be honest, I’d expected this to happen. Maybe something in me missed the subtle theatre of family. Maybe twelve wasn’t the best year to introduce my brother to it, though. He was still innocent: the devil hadn’t reached him yet. As we passed a firetruck travelling in the direction we came, I turned to my brother to apologise, but he was curled up on the seat next to me. The excitement had been too much for him, the poor dear, and he’d be asleep until morning.

A satisfying night. Four stars.