In the hot anticipation of proposed domesticity, in the warm condescension of love, linen napkins are purchased with partner, unthinking, in the aisles of a Target superstore.

There are dreams of grand fetes, or intimate candlelight affairs, where bits of food, moisture, or spittle, are dabbed from the corners of the mouth with tiny, delicately folded corners of cloth. Very sophisticated.

And won’t the friends (both yours, and those your loving partner assures are destined to become close pals)… Won’t the friends be impressed as, together, you spread the soft taupe squares across your laps before bright watercress and spinach salads sprinkled with dill, dressed with tangy, delicious homemade vinaigrette? Won’t they be dazzled at the creative pluck you’ve shown in the myriad ways in which those crisp cotton harbingers of future happiness have been presented: folded into origami cranes, or pushed into long stemmed glass-ware, or squeezed into one of the many artful rings which you methodically mined from the thrift store for just this very purpose?

Oh! They will set off the plates, and the silverware. Oh! They will signify a sense of ease and accomplishment as they lie, used, on a table, abandoned for the burbling comfort of a peopled living room, where cocktails are held high in honor of your fine skills as  gourmands, excellent hosts, and perhaps the most handsome and winning couple of your particular social set.

Though, almost immediately these cuts of cloth will stain, present problems in storage, wrinkle from the dryer, and remain unpressed in the neglected den of the common limp dishtowel… And when pulled forth, comments like “Ohhhh we’re having a  fancy dinner with real napkins” will be meant to put a fine point on the fact: a styrofoam container of greasy chicken, a cardboard box of twelve low-rent beers, and a roll of paper towels are most often what passes for a dinner party in your slowly cluttering one bedroom apartment. An apartment where witty bon-mots are more often given to the cats than to the few inebriated friends (both yours and those you’ve become acquainted with and only pretend to like) who stumble in from a night spent in a smoky watering hole, spilling their drinks, vomiting, rushing to the dishtowel drawer,“Where the fuck do you keep your towels?” And the abused linen napkins, once a symbol of your bright and future happiness, are stabbed sloppily towards some horrific mess, adding its stains to your partner’s grandmother’s antique Persian rug.

But then, one evening, after the one skillet meal of faintly Indian persuasion has been prepared, and the thick, subtle sweetness of the no-worries sauce has wended its way gutward in an unseen bolus of long grain rice, carrots, water chestnuts, broccoli and chicken (only minutes before a foodcicle slowly warming atop the stove)… A meal, during which you’d been lost in worries of your life and your future, only to look up and catch your partner eating salad. As you watch, the liberal glaze of ranch dressing coating the lettuce, torn from a wilting head, sticks to the corners of the partner’s mouth. And the partner, without aid of cloth or paper, wipes the white mess away with fingers and licks them clean while you smile like a worthless fool…

Later, as you wash the dishes, you’ll find one of those linen napkins hanging around the neck of the faucet, limp and smelling no better than a common dishtowel, and thank God you will never live up to your own expectations of civility.