That weekend, every inch of the Earth crawled with people, like worker ants on vacation. There were children screaming, laughing, running after each other, and into their parents’ arms. There were groups of teenagers, finally out from school, lamenting on how slow time is, and how much they want to be free from the grasp of their parents. There were lovers — she especially hated lovers — cuddling on the benches, holding hands, kissing at every turn and every corner.
It was a quarter to eleven when they met for lunch at the small, cramped Italian place, between Arnold and Forrest, built at least fifty years ago, and not much has changed since. The chairs were designed to last, but not for comfort, and the tables rocked back and forth on the stone laid floor. The waiters — which consisted of the owner’s three sons — were particularly bad, constantly spilling food and drinks. If it weren’t for him — for memories of him, she would never come here.
She sat next to the white picket fence surrounding the restaurant and stared through the menu. The daily special was not a matter of concern.
A man in dark navy suit crept up behind her. His shoes were nicely polished, shining from the reflection of the sun. His tie, a floral piece, was neatly tucked under his jacket. He stopped behind her, chuckled as he landed his warm hand on her shoulder; the inside of his palm sweated through the thin satin. She felt his breath on the back of her neck as he planted a wet kiss on her painted cheeks.
He sat down and asked for an order of lobster ravioli.
“And for the lady?”
“Just a glass of pinot noir rouge please.”
“Great, and may I recommend our dessert of the day –”
“That won’t be necessary, would it?” He winked at her, pulled out his fattened wallet, and stole a quick glance at her chest. Then, he reached out his left arm and pointed his index finger at her:
“You should’ve ordered pinot noir. You always used to order that. What’s pinot noir rouge anyway?”
She shrugged, and turned to observe the streets. People looked at her with searching eyes, and she glared.
He adjusted the tail of his blazer, undid the last button on his shirt, pulled at his tie and continued, “You got the check?”
She didn’t reply but leaned forward, examined his hand, and switched her gaze to meet his. She parted her vermillion lips, “do you mind?”
“Oh,” he flashed a prurient grin, brought back his hand and promptly took off his gold wedding band.
She gave a small nod, and lay back in her chair. The bitterness of sweet wine lingered on the tip of her raspberry tongue. She asked:
“How is she?”
“Who?” he frowned, then as if enlightened, “Oh, her. She’s fine, juuuusst fine.”
“I heard she’s expecting.”
He scratched his head and widened his eyes, “even you’ve heard? Wow, these days, news just travels — wow! Yeah, got to please the old geezer,” he wiped his mouth of residue, “you know how it is with these in-laws.”
He cleared his throat and forked more ravioli into his mouth.
After lunch, at exactly a quarter to 1, they walked to a family-owned bookstore on the corner of Christopher and Rockefeller, beside a flower shop with daffodils year round. She stood in the travel section, glossing over dusty books about faraway places that she would never visit while he paid for something from the arts and crafts section. It was a gift for his daughter’s birthday. She had only met his daughter once when it was raining and the sky was thick with greasy fog. The girl was sweet, beautiful, innocent and clueless.
She secretly wished that girls could remain like that forever, like fools, and then they would never worry about anything.
He wrapped his arm around her waist:
“I’ll buy it.”
She felt faint, “what?”
“The book you are holding,” he tried to wrestle it from her hand, “geez, woman, you don’t have to hold on to it so tightly. It’s not the last copy.”
She looked down at her hands. Her knuckles were white and the tips of her fingers pink from the pressure.
She let go.
“Yeah, I didn’t know you are still into this stuff.”
The book was thick, perhaps two hundred pages worth of colored photos and wordy descriptions about Egyptian mummies and tombs. These images of the heated sun, an eye of red hot in the sky, the tall palm trees, waving in the golden sand, and the white coconuts, fresh in her hands were reminding her of what was lost, slipped away through her fingers, like time.
She turned to look at him, and contemplated how his greasy hair was swept to one side, how there was a tan line where his wedding band was, and her stomach turned. He smiled at her, a little too eagerly. The rosy fat on his cheeks piled up as the corners of his mouth widened, like a bulldog in disguise, narrowing his eyes into two slits:
“I’ll buy it. Hmm?”
“This isn’t right,” she whispered.
He shook the book, “what? Buying you this book?”
She wet her lips, and let out a deep sigh of inquisitions, demands and fist full of ‘whys.’
His Adam’s apple bobbled as he swallowed. The tip of his tongue stationed at the corner of his mouth.
She pressed on, “what about her?”
His fingers, spread out like a fork, raked through his sun burnt hair. He croaked:
“I don’t love her. You know that.”
As if startled, she jumped out of his embrace. She took two steps toward the door. He let out a sigh of relief and followed her closely behind. He could hear her heavy breathing.
From the corner of her eyes she spotted the neon red exit sign.
“Then why do you fuck her?”
He turned her around, glared into her cold gray eyes, as his thumbs rasped against her skin. His tongue cut against his teeth. She could smell the fresh blood oozing from the wound.
He tried to keep his voice low and uttered:
“She’s my goddamn wife. What do you expect me to do?”
He cuffed his hand around her arm and threatened:
“Don’t you make a scene here.”
The nice cashier rang up the book; it was on sale.
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