That Day on the Terrace

© Accenti Photo Archive

The commuter train was running a few minutes late. I texted Claudia to let her know. I was excited to see her.

The train pulled into the station, creaking, and groaning to a stop. Hurriedly, I walked through the station and down several crowded side streets. Montreal in the summertime is always abuzz with festivals, tourists and office workers enjoying the vibrant city. The Italian restaurant where we had agreed to meet was located on a busy intersection. I spotted Claudia from a distance. She was standing under the green awning in front of the restaurant. Claudia was always on time. She looked my way and gave me a big wave. We both smiled as I approached her.

“How are you?” asked Claudia.

We hugged and two-cheek kissed à l’italienne.

“I’m good. Sorry for being late.”

“No, problem,” smiled Claudia. “These things happen.”

We stepped inside the restaurant and stood beside the reception station. A young woman in a black dress and tight bun strode over to greet us.

Bonjour, hi,” she said smiling. “How many?”

“Two,” we replied in unison.

“Inside or on the terrace?” she asked.

Claudia and I looked at each other pensively. I was enjoying the air conditioning after my trek to the restaurant in the blistering heat.

“It’s such a beautiful day,” Claudia grinned. “Let’s eat outside.”

Beads of sweat were trickling down the side of my face. Summers are so short in Montreal, so I wanted to take advantage of the beautiful day. I was happy to sit outside.

“Sounds good,” I agreed, “as long as we can sit in the shade.”

The hostess led us to a table under the large canopy. She put the menus at each place setting. Claudia and I sat down and opened our menus.


I met Claudia ten years ago at work. I was the executive director for a non-profit organization, and she was one of the board members. Claudia was only the second woman on the board, and I was the first woman employee. We saw each other a few times a year at board meetings. I really got to know her once she became president of the board. We were in contact frequently as we prepared for club events. Claudia was one of the most organized and insightful presidents with whom I had ever worked. Her main priority was to make improvements to ensure the success of the long-standing club. One of her recommendations was to update the room layout and the entertainment for the club’s biggest event, the annual gala. Well over 1,000 guests from all over North America would attend. We worked together to modernize the event. For the first time ever, two women were in charge, and we were both apprehensive about how the substantial changes would be received. The night before the gala, we joked that this might be the end of us both.

The event was a huge success. We took a chance, went against tradition, and had so much fun in the process.

“Would you ladies like something to drink?” inquired the waiter.

“Oh, yes,” I exclaimed. “Do you have any Pinot Grigio?”

“Here are our wines by the glass,” said the waiter, pointing to the back of the menu.

I scanned the list and found a wine I liked.

“I would like a glass of Folonari, please.”

“Make that two,” said Claudia.

“I’ll bring those out for you right away,” he smiled. “Today’s specials are on the first page of the menu,” he said, as he walked away.

“What are you going to have?” I asked Claudia.

“I’m not sure, I’m debating between a salad and the lasagna,” she said, studying the menu.

“What looks good to you?” Claudia asked, looking up.

“I’m going to have the chop salad,” I replied.

“Hmm, that looks good.”


The year after the gala, Claudia left the board, but we still saw each other at club events. As past president, Claudia was invited to the yearly December luncheon where she was recognized for her service. Following the luncheon, I had gone with Claudia for a drink at a nearby restaurant. We chatted easily about a multitude of topics and didn’t notice the four hours that went by. It had been many years since I made such a strong connection as I had with Claudia. After that, we met for lunch a few times a year.


The waiter brought our drinks. Condensation appeared on the glasses right away.

“What can I get you?” the waiter asked, clasping his hands.

“I’ll have the chop salad,” declared Claudia.

“Make that two,” I smiled.

“I’ll put the order in right away, ladies,” the waiter said as he turned to go inside the restaurant.

“What a beautiful day.” I admired the colourful floral arrangement on the side of the terrace. “I’m glad you suggested eating outside.”

“It is a beautiful day,” replied Claudia. “We lucked out on the weather.”


We had planned to go for lunch in April of 2020, several weeks after the beginning of the pandemic. We had a FaceTime instead. In fact, we had weekly FaceTime chats during the pandemic. We discussed current events, our families, and adapting to living in a pandemic. We talked about activities we’d do once the pandemic was over.

“We could travel to Europe,” Claudia suggested with a smile.

“That would be amazing,” I said excitedly. “I’ve never been there.”

“We could go to Greece and, then, I could show you around Italy.”

“I can’t wait to start planning,” I said, enthusiastically. “I’m already excited.”

Claudia was insightful and knowledgeable. After several months of conversations, I shared my feelings with her.

“You know, a silver lining of this pandemic is our weekly chats,” I smiled.

“I totally agree, I love our chats and look forward to them each week.”

“We’ll have to think of something that we can look forward to, once we can get together in person,” I suggested.

“What a great idea,” exclaimed Claudia.

“Have you ever heard of Bar George?” I inquired.

“Oh, yes, I love that place. I’ve been there many times for work events,” beamed Claudia.

“I was there for my niece’s wedding, a few months before the pandemic,” I explained. “I would love to go back to have a better look at the beautiful architecture.”

“That should be the first place we go,” Claudia said with a smile.

“Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long,” I worried.


In January of 2021, Claudia mentioned that her hip was sore. She had experienced a similar pain in the past, so she wasn’t worried. In the weeks that followed, increasingly she had trouble doing simple household tasks. Her doctor ordered tests. In early June, Claudia was diagnosed with ALS. When she told me this devastating news, we both cried. It was a shock. We discussed her diagnosis briefly and, then, Claudia said she wanted to put her medical issues aside during our FaceTime calls.

“Here we go, ladies,” the waiter said, as he placed our plates on the table in front of us.

“Bon appétit,” he said. “Can I get you anything else?”

Claudia and I looked at each other and smiled.

“More wine,” we chimed. We laughed wholeheartedly.

“Of course, I’ll bring those out right away.” The waiter turned and walked away.

We savoured each bite and enjoyed the atmosphere on the terrace.


With the lifting of the pandemic restrictions, we made plans to go out for lunch at the end of July. We wanted to sit outside on a terrace and enjoy the warm summer weather. I drove to Claudia’s home near Little Italy. Tony, Claudia’s husband, greeted me at the front door of their duplex. They gave me a tour of their home. By then, Claudia was using a walker. She moved around slowly.

“Tony and I have been discussing where we should go for lunch,” Claudia announced excitedly. “We recommend a nice little Italian café. What do you think?”

“Sounds great,” I exclaimed.

The three of us descended the stairs and walked down the short driveway. Tony helped Claudia navigate the stairs and lifted her into his car. We drove the short distance to the restaurant. Tony helped Claudia get out of the car. We all walked slowly towards the reception stand on the sidewalk. The terrace was covered by a large red canopy.

“We made a reservation for two,” Tony said to the waiter.

“You can sit wherever you like,” advised the waiter, waving his hand in the direction of the terrace. We chose a table close to the exit. Tony helped Claudia get settled.

“Enjoy your lunch,” Tony said with a smile, as he walked away.

“Thank you,” Claudia and I said, laughing. “We will.”

The waiter approached our table. He placed the menus in front of us and filled the water glasses.

“I’ll give you a minute to look over the menu,” he said as he moved towards the next table.

“I recommend the arancini,” advised Claudia..

“What’s that?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.

“They’re small, fried, rice balls filled with mozzarella. They come covered with tomato sauce. They’re really good here.”

“They sound delicious,” I said grinning. “I would love to try them.”

We ordered the arancini, pasta and, of course, a glass of white wine. We chatted, laughed, and enjoyed being together for the first time in close to two years. The time passed quickly.

“Do you have time for a tour of Little Italy?” asked Tony, walking towards our table.

“Yes, of course, that would be amazing. I’ve never been to this area before,” I exclaimed.

Tony gave us a tour of the area. We drove to the church where they had been married, to the Jean Talon Market, and several other landmarks. I enjoyed the tour immensely. It was a wonderful afternoon.


“Two glasses of Folonari,” the waiter smiled.

“Thank you,” we said in unison.

The waiter removed our empty glasses. By now, the lunch crowd had dissipated and there were only a few customers on the terrace.

From August to January, we continued our weekly FaceTime chats. Claudia had regular doctor appointments and was participating in a medical trial, which involved weekly injections. She never complained about her pain or her treatments. Her medical appointments increased so from time to time we missed our call.

In February 2022, Claudia texted me to say she had a dream where we were shopping for evening dresses, and Lady Gaga was showing us outrageous gowns. I replied that I was sure we were having a fantastic time and had picked out amazing dresses. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was the last text I would receive from Claudia.

Then, in March of 2022, Claudia was hospitalized for several weeks. Once out of the hospital, I kept in touch weekly with Tony, by text, just as Claudia and I had done with our FaceTime calls. By this time, Claudia was not able to use her phone. I let Tony and Claudia know about some my activities and, in turn, Tony kept me up to date with Claudia and how she was coping. I really missed our calls because we had so much fun together. Claudia was intelligent, and easy to talk to. I felt bad for missing her because I knew she was going through much worse. I thought about her every day and wondered how she was doing.

“How are we doing here ladies?” the waiter asked, looking at our empty plates.

“I really enjoyed my lunch,” said Claudia, looking at the waiter.

“I did, too,” I said.

“Shall I bring the bills?”

“Yes, please,” Claudia answered.


In early July, I sent my weekly text to Tony, and he suggested I give him a call. Over the phone, he explained that Claudia was taking several medications for pain and anxiety. Claudia was sitting right beside him.

“Tell Claudia I love her,” I said.

“She loves you too,” Tony whispered.

I hung up the phone and wondered again how Claudia was managing. The sadness of her situation hit me. Tears tumbled down my cheeks.

Two weeks later, on July 18, Tony texted and asked me to call him. He had never initiated a text to me. I knew what he would say.

“Hi Hailey,” he said, his voice wavering.

“Hi Tony,” I whispered, trying not to cry.

“She’s gone,” he said, through sobs.

“I’m so sorry,” I weeped. We cried together for a while.

“Once I know about funeral arrangements, I’ll let you know,” Tony managed to say, his voice raw.

“Thank you,” I sniffled. “She was a really good friend. I’ll miss her.”

“Thank you for your friendship with Claudia.”

“If I can be of any help, please let me know.”

“Thank you,” said Tony.

We hung up and I just sat there sobbing.


We paid our bill and exited the terrace.

“We’ll have to get together soon,” I said. “Maybe another lunch before the end of summer?”

“That would be fantastic,” replied Claudia.

We hugged.

I watched Claudia walk towards the Metro.

Oh, what a day we’d had. I was already looking forward to our next lunch.

I walked slowly towards the train station. I checked my watch and realized I had better hurry if I wanted to catch the next train home.


Heather McGuire earned a Master of Arts degree at Concordia University. Her short story “Wine with Dinner” will appear in Canadian Stories about Wine and Other Brews (2023). She is the author of the forthcoming memoir Living as a Ghost in My Marriage (2024).

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