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Because Valeria is always late, because I’d like to have dinner with her at seven, and because, if I ask her to meet me at the restaurant at seven, I might not have dinner until eight, I ask Valeria to meet me at the restaurant at six. This plan, I tell myself, is a bold and ingenious way of defeating lateness. Even if Valeria arrives forty-five minutes late for our six o’clock dinner, she will, without knowing it, be fifteen minutes early for our seven o’clock dinner. I’ll then feel grateful to her for being fifteen minutes early instead of impatient with her for being forty-five minutes late, and the evening, rather than beginning with unconvincing excuses on her part and suppressed irritation on mine, will be perfect from the start. I enter the restaurant at ten minutes to six. This is not because it’s important for me to be early, but because it’s important for me not to be late. I’m soon seated at a table for two, where I take sips from a glass of water brought to me by a friendly waiter, to whom I’ve explained that I am meeting someone at six. From my table I can see the glass entrance door, through which three customers are entering, and part of a second room, where the tables are full and where I can see, on the far wall, part of a big-screen TV, on which a blond anchorwoman is moving her mouth silently above a news crawl.

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Steven Millhauser's most recent collection of stories, Voices in the Night, was published in April by Knopf.

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