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Friday, March 6, 2020

Shadowed Dining - an Unlikely Love Story By Dawn M. Nevills

…..There she was, standing in the halflight of the grey afternoon. He stood in the protective shadow of the building's portico, watching her silently.

     He remembered when they were young and silly, striding through the street, arguing with each other about everything: they rarely agreed on anything. She had driven him crazy; so crazy he could rarely have her out of his sight. At some point, they might stop arguing, and then life would suddenly become less vital; less alive - less filled with opposite viewpoints. He knew that she mostly disagreed with him on purpose, just to get a rise out of him. It was never really aggravating, for some reason; just something he expected...something that kept him in a perpetual state of boxer mode. He was, she realized, a hopeless instigator of hopefulness.

     He had not realized it had been so long since they had seen each other.

     He drew back into the building's shadows, watching her discreetly, scanning the streets for him. He laughed quietly to himself. She looked totally aggravated. He found that fact, alone, hilarious enough to continue doing it, and he stood rooted to the spot, in spite of himself.

     "Damn it", she said, aloud. "I will look a total mess, you damned man," she said softly. She sighed. "Just once I would like NOT to look like I have been through a small hurricane, or mistaken for a cactus, or called a "crazy wetback", before I see you."

     She bit her bottom lip, chewing on it absentmindedly. He was rarely, late, usually, which drove her crazy. She could carefully plan for 45 minutes before actually leaving to arrive somewhere...and alas; every known transportation vessel in the western hemisphere mysteriously found its way into her path - at least enough so as to make her at least five minutes late. She could leave a full day early, and - God help her - a damned plane would land in the freeway in front of the car, in an emergency weather manoever.

She had become somewhat resigned to when she was a little girl, and had had to wear a dress on a Sunday, and a bow scotchtaped to her head, like a unicorn, so she could selfidentify as a girl, until finally, nearing 4, she had grown some hair.

"I a girl!", she had blurted out, indignantly, to her tortured mother of the bow, wondering, yet again, why it wasn't glaringly obvious.

"Well then!", said her father, clearing his throat.

Time had changed little, matter and atmosphere-wise. The second she stepped out the door, all manner of dirt suddenly flew, en masse, like invading locusts, or a congregated group of minute space aliens moving towards a strange, strutting magnet, and affixed themselves to her, leech-like. Three minutes later, she would turn, walk back through the door, and be accused of "rolling in the gloaming", with all of the other kids on the street - all of whom were boys, of course, who managed to stay clean. They LOVED Sundays; they could stand there, wait for her to step out of the door, and point at her strange, momentary clean glow, before the dirt cloud settled in upon her, like Schleprock. Then, much like Joan of Arc, bravely she would raise her hands in front of no avail. Hanging her head in martyred service to fashion, she would return again, inside....defeated. Adulthood had changed nothing.

He looked to see if she had a smudge on her nose, from pressing it up against the window. On a murky day, this was sometimes the only sure point of real recognition.

A predictably smudge-nosed woman had been one of the sustaining presences in his life, he had realized several years back, oddly.

Often it took Herculean self-control from to control his mirth at the sight - which sometimes even he could not muster - especially when she became enraged, after he suddenly burst out laughing uncontrollably, in the middle of an argument, for no apparent reason, just as she was waxing full tilt in a moment of studied and stentorian, fullthroated, literary rhapsody. Then her eyes would narrow, as he gently leaned forward, licked his index finger.....and rubbed the end of her nose with it.

She had shouted at him the first time had had done it.

"What do I look like? A push button, dammit? You are making FUN of me! Stop that, this instant!"

It was his own fault, though, for always meeting her where they never cleaned the windows. It never failed; she would lean up against one, looking for him, and take away a good print, every single time.

Once he had become so amused by it, he had simply stopped arguing with her, and rubbed his nose against hers, until it rubbed off the offending reminder that she was late again, and that she had been looking for him in the wrong direction.

     He had been sitting at a table, three seats over, for twenty minutes before she arrived, this time, and he watched her stride in, his hand over his mouth, admiring her breathless collision with both the door, AND the edge of the table, with barely disguised mirth. Tucking her purse strap into her pocket, she had then gently included the edge of the tablecloth, and, turning suddenly, had taken half of the table settings with her, in a kind of graceful - if somewhat abrupt - twirl, just at their gazes had locked, to the sound of falling silverware......

She had made a strange, low, growling noise in the base of her throat, as the tinkling subsided, narrowing her eyes, and delicately pulling the edge of the cloth from her pocket, as every face in the place gazed at her feet in total silence, rooted as they were, like cement, to the floor. Her face - suddenly visible and tingling in the afternoon sunlight - had deepened to a deep rose, high upon her cheeks, suffusing her head with a surge of heat, and light, and hue. She closed her eyes, imagining herself a stoplight, with great success. The grunt metamorphosized into a kind of almost gargle, pleasantly higher, like rushing water escaping a sink drain.

"…..youaaaaa…..ump." The faces looked at her, in strange awe.

"Mu....yee-ow....hooo….hmmmmmm…..", she continued, decidedly. She suddenly shut her lips tightly, making the gargling noise again. He coughed quietly to himself, restrainedly, resigned to it.

She bent to retrieve the cutlery, and a waiter bolted into action.

"Madame", he said, bending down at the precise moment that she was beginning to rise from the floor where she had been stooping. Their heads collided magnificently, knocking him to the floor, backwards, in a move that could NEVER, he realized, EVER be choreographed with quite such perfection, even if he HAD tried to do it. The waiter's head then connected beautifully with the lap of a large woman who had just pushed her chair back from the table, where she had been sitting amiably chatting with her lunch companion. With a suddenness too practiced to feign, she calmly stroked his forehead, like a cat.

"Hello", she said pleasantly. "Would you mind bringing us some more tea, do you think?'

The waiter gazed up at her, upside down. Feeling part of a larger moment of uncomplaining ambience with the world, she kissed his nose, imprisoned as he was, in her very ample lap, with gentle encouragement.

She smiled at him. "Thank you so much!", she said, anticipating the tea, as she hooked her hands behind his shoulders, and gave him a mighty shove upright, as if this sort of thing happened every day. The waiter sprang back up like a blow-up clown on its way back up from a punching bout, nonplussed. He stared at her, moving away from the generously proportioned woman, from his now stalwart and standing position, righted, and extended a hand gallantly towards her, like a Spanish ballroom dancer.

From her position on the floor, where she leaned back on both elbows, gazing up at him with genuine admiration, she admired the adroit coup-d'état of extrication which had taken place before her, between he and his Rubinesque rescuer. From between the ample thighs of compassion, a real miracle of movement had occurred.

"Arrrrrr…...ya......ah....there you go....."

He sounded strangely like a pirate, staring at the smudge on her nose with a small frown. She brushed back the crumbs from her shoulders, in as dignified a manner as she could muster, as his eyes never left her face, and she lookd down, crossing her eyes towards her nose, understanding what was there, at once. She scrubbed at her nose with the edge of the tablecloth still clutched tightly in her hand, as the rest of the dishes followed the cutlery in a perfect, final, crescendo of fine dining demise.

He couldn't help it: he laughed out loud, then, as she very gently and unhurriedly ignored the dishes all around her, examined the edge of the tablecloth for nose dirt, dropped it again beneath the glower of the dancing waiter, and patted the material absently, with a kind of oddly reassuring awkwardness as it softly drifted down, and back over the edge of the table - patting at more air, really, than cloth...….the waiter, silenced by the crescendo, could find no actual words befitting the shard carnage. She stopped patting, staring back at him, and jammed her hands into her pockets, in case she disrupted anything else. She looked back at him.

"I'm here", she said, unnecessarily.

She sighed, rolling her eyes towards the ceiling. She was late, sadly. And she had really, really tried.

The waiter, relenting, sashayed gently towards her, crunching through the dishes, which suddenly sounded very LOUD. Lifting her foot, haltingly, she tried to step around the combination of remaining cutlery, and the large shards around it, unsuccessfully. Loud crackles sounded from beneath her feet.

One elderly lady, sitting nearby, and watching pleasantly, could not stop herself. Impressed, she rose, clapping, in an inexplicable Ionesco-like movement, and then sat back down, again, abruptly, in a gentle moment of forgetfulness in which she had forgotten where she was, but suddenly didn't care. With a smile on her face, her daughter patted her clapping hands gently, lifted a soup spoon towards her mouth with love, and made a clucking noise of coaching towards good manners and recovered dishes, somewhat hopelessly. The elderly woman leaned forward, dutifully eating the soup from the spoon like a small, happy child, sighing.

Staring at the elderly woman sunnily eating her soup, she unjammed her hands from her pockets, turned her face slightly to the side...and smiled at him through the restaurant, scrambling up and proceeding towards him in the same halting, sideways step that the waiter had used, with intent.

The closest table of silent diners suddenly clutched the edge of the tablecloth, protectively, imagining their lunches flying through the air, with earnest concern. One of the women seated there stared up at her, wonderingly, as she passed, holding her free hand over her uneaten soup, like a shield. All three heads turned, as if on a swivel, as she passed them.

She crunched through the remaining dishes, making a slightly pained, tool-time noise, and scrunched her face into an origami cartography pie chart, as one of the shards pierced the bottom of her shoe.

She hobbled up to his table, hopping on one foot, doing a goose step with the other, offendingly pierced, shoe. He leaned forward, suddenly, as she reached the table's edge, finally, and picked up her foot, pulled out the plate shard, held it up like a thorn, handed it to her, and she raised it up, distractedly, like a communion wafer, before depositing it into her pocket.

"Um....thanks," she said, moving her nose into a crinkle, and sniffing slightly. She blew back a piece of napkin out of her face, in what felt like overkill. ""

A whoosh of air escaped his nose, and a kind of cough/snort, along with it. She closed one eye, and moved her mouth into an almost grimace, at the noise. He quickly turned it into a cough, shaking his head, and covered his hand with his fist, completing the noise ritual, as he bent forward, trying to catch his breath.

The restaurant, as if suddenly permitted to react, erupted into laughter.

The waiter, carrying a tray out the door, and startled by the sudden roar, dropped the tray of entrees through the half-open swinging doors of the kitchen, and a muffled, cursing series of outbursts drifted out from within, as he covered his forehead with his hands, defeated, left the tray where had had dropped it, cast a concerned look in her direction, and retreated into its depths.

"Hungry?" he said, finally, a bit weakly, having caught his breath at last. "The chicken fettuccini is great. And.....ah....yours is still warm." He pointed to the plate from across from him. Steam rose from it.

He rose from where he was seated, moved around to the other side of the table, pulled the chair back three feet, stepped over to where she was standing, slipped her purse from her arm, placed it underneath the table beside where her chair would be, flipped up the tablecloth (as it settled over her lunch like a blanket), and pushed her into the place under the table, as if she was in a wheelchair, while she gripped the edge of the chair arms. He stepped back around, sat down at his chair, flipped back the tablecloth, and the gentle flip of accompanying sauced landed squarely in her left eye.

She wiped at it quietly, with her pointer finger, stuck it into her mouth, and made an appreciative "mmm" of approval, before peeling the fettuccini-sauce-glued tablecloth from her right breast. Beneath the soft silk of the simple white blouse she had worn to impress him with her dress sense, she now suddenly appeared to be breastfeeding.

She ignored his admiring glance at her nipple responding to heat, twirled a fork through the noodles, adroitly popped the sauced goodness into her mouth, and nodded in his direction, swallowing.

"Nice flick", she said. He smiled at her, chewing his noodles like gum, just to annoy her (she hated it when people left their mouths open while they ate) and gestured towards her glass, and the bottle of wine on the table. She leaned back away from the table, eyeing it warily, and nodded, in preparation and pour permission, lest he pour it into her lap.

"Just half," she said, sighing, and looking at him suspiciously. "I'm already pretty much a mess, and I expect I don't need to SOUND like it, too, at this point."

He poured her half a glass, with a flourish, only flicking a tiny bit on to her sleeve - more like affectionate wine spittle, really - and they continued their meal, uneventfully, saying nothing further. Sadly, she noticed that he didn't get ANY on himself. She looked towards the ceiling again, to see if a mad stray air current had collided with the path of the wine spittle he had shared on to her left arm.

A fly peered back at her from one of the hanging plant leaves there, waiting to spring on to her plate. She looked back at him, and then back at the fly again, quickly, in case they appeared to have a pact with each other to destroy her appetite, or eggs landed on to her pasta, from space, too microscopic for her to catch in time, before they melded with her pasta, and were lost forever.

Tormented thusly, he winked at her every few minutes, and she made little squinting glare looks at him, as he suddenly moved as if to fling his noodles at her. She raised her fork at him, squinting a warning, then placed her fork on her plate, and raised a glass of wine to her lips, appreciatively. Thank God: Nature's antiseptic. She had watched the bottle being opened: no spit, leftovers, urine or germs of any kind could possibly have made it into the bottle in that brief span of time. The wine - praise the Most High - was safe.

"Guess what we're taking with us, for dessert?" he said, mildly, swigging contentedly at his wine glass.

"Crème caramel?", she said, breathing out in exhausted expectation. Hopefully no one had licked the bowl, or stuck their finger into the mold, while making it. She sighed.

"Butterscotch pudding", he said, softly. "Perfect with outies." He licked his lips at her, exaggeratedly, smiling, quite pleased with himself, as she squirmed uncomfortably, the heat shooting into her face like a laser.

"I'll buy you a new blouse", he said, happily. "But only if I can watch you try it on, first." He winked.

"Perv", she retorted, curtly. She put her fork down, glaring at him. He laughed, waving at the waiter. The waiter, looking at him quizzically, walked into the door, head first. A shout erupted from inside of the kitchen again, as the waiter successfully went through it, this time, nursing his nose. It slammed into him on the back swing, stopping suddenly as it connected with his backside. His shriek ended when the cursing resumed from the inner sanctum of the kitchen.

He looked at her breasts, answering his own question.

"Confusingly, a generous 10, I think," he mused. He looked up at her, proud of himself. Her hair, he thought, was sticking straight up, where the fettuccini sauce had dried on it, after she had tried to wipe it out of her eye.

"......but nothing gets over those hips - except a 711!", he whispered at her, exaggeratedly, appreciating his own joke, and waving his hand in the air, like Groucho Marx. She choked on her wine. The woman at the table next to them shifted in her chair, and patted her throat, suddenly, seeking air.

"Stop this instant", she whispered back, mortified. He patted the table with his hand, laughing quietly.

"Ah yes: no hips like a ten year old boy, here."

She peered back at him, nearsightedly, her spectacles making her look like a slightly electrically shocked owl. Her hair was sticking up beside her eye again, like a fettuccini sauce sentry. He wet his index finger, leaned over the table, and mashed it back down on her head, beside her glasses, affectionately.

"Sorry about the sauce", he said, softly, grinning at her. "It'll be fun to suck on your hair, though."


Dawn M. Nevills   - Final draft March 6, 2020