The red and white table cloth gave the restaurant a homely familiarity, despite the exotic photographs on the walls. The man examined the black and white images and felt nostalgic. He too had been passionate about photography and travel in his youth; before the pressure to earn, before the responsibilities of his job, before the looming expectations and his mother’s illness. His wife examined the wrinkles on her hand through the magnification of her glass as she lifted it to take a sip of water, lukewarm, no ice. She flipped through the menu, though she knew he wanted grilled chicken and she wanted penne pasta - bland and predictable, dependable options. She had ventured to try calamari once and it left a slimy taste in her mouth. Waste of precious money. Life is too short to take chances. He continued to stare at the photograph as if searching for some hidden clue.
“Americano?” the waitress asked politely.
“Yes, American! We’re here to explore the beaches. They’re spectacular. We’re originally from Bangladesh, though we don’t look it. Have you heard of Bangladesh? It has the longest coastline in the world! Beautiful like Sardinia!” The old man, suddenly animated, rambled on for a while, though the waitress could not understand a word.
“Ya?” She nodded towards the menu which had each item listed in Italian and in English.
“Chicken… pollo, pollo,” he tried to mime a chicken, flapping his arms and jerking his head forward, his thin white hair fell back to reveal a patchy bald scalp. “You can point to the item on the menu,” his wife explained impatiently, irritated by his outburst of eccentricity. He was always eager to speak to others; too eager, wasting precious energy on irrelevant conversations. He never had anything to say to her. She resented the waitress’ youth and pointed to the chicken for him and the penne pasta for herself.
The waitress filled their glasses with water and scuttled off behind an arched doorway.
The room was silent again. The man fell to folding and unfolding his napkin. The emptiness of the restaurant made him uncomfortable, unsure. The woman counted the wrinkles on her hand. One, two, three, four, five, six… Six. When had that sixth one crept up on her? The large diamond on her finger caught a gleam of sunshine and she let her eyes linger on the blinding light. She remembered the day they had buried their daughter, it was a sunny day, just like today.
The food arrived and he thanked the waitress profusely, “Grazia, grazia,” thankful for any interruption in their monotony, trying to hold the stranger in their scene for an extra moment, to relieve the silence. He glanced at his wife furtively and remembered how she had been, chirpy, full of love and enthusiasm, but demanding, always demanding. He could never live up to her fantasies. In a moment of weakness years ago, he had looked for comfort else where, and when she found out, things were broken forever, irreparable, unrecoverable. She became taciturn and disillusioned and lost the glow of her skin. He became defensive and full of guilt. He spread the napkin on his lap and felt lonely once again, flooded with regrets. Things could have been so different. His wife looked up at him with familiar contempt.
He passed her the salt shaker and his hand brushed against her shoulder; his skin was frail and apologetic. She let a smile escape her stern lips and somewhere in the distance she remembered feeling excited. She poured him some water, he was too weak to lift the jug himself, no words were exchanged. She fetched his pills from her purse and he swallowed them, one, two, three, each one separately, with two sips of water in between. Every time.
She stirred her pasta and mixed in the parmesan. “Mmmm,” she mumbled to the air.
He nodded in acknowledgement, retrieving her sounds from the indifference of the world, placing them affectionately in his life. The chicken was soft, still he deliberately chewed each piece twelve times, savouring every bland bite, so not to waste the experience. His grandmother had taught him the trick, because if you were in too much of a hurry, you could gulp an entire meal and never engage with the flavour.
They ate slowly, with occasional sighs of satisfaction. When they were done, he called the waitress. His wife pulled a seashell studded coin purse from her bag and counted out the euros, checking each one. He held the door open for her as she walked out and they strolled off, holding hands, to watch the sunset.~
The red and white table cloth gave the restaurant a tinge of cheapness, but she brushed the thought away and busied herself with the photographs on the wall. “Look babe, it’s the Spaggio Del Arco! Doesn’t it look like a siren may have perched upon this very rock and lured in an unsuspecting sailor?”
He twirled a strand of her wild curls; it stretched out like a spring as he pulled it to his lips. “Do you think she let him rub sun block onto her back?”
His wife laughed and cocked an eyebrow, “Perhaps he won her over with his Italian charms. Italian men are certified lovers, the world’s best.” She grabbed hold of his muscular arm and wondered what it would be like to never sleep with another man. She was ready though, to let go of all other possibilities, to dive into this commitment with all her heart. He wasn’t the perfect man, but she could make this work.
“Spaggio Del Arco. We should check it out. It’s a top spot for snorkelling and under water photography. Red sea weed and electric yellow fishes, like fire in the water! I can try out the new camera.” He was an excited little boy, suddenly animated, irresistibly cute.
“Americano?” the waitress asked politely.
“Sort of,” he said, pinching his wife, under the table.
“Yes?” mumbled the waitress, not understanding his words, pointing to the menu.
“Oh I’m not ready. Uno momento?” the young lady asked, flipping her curls to the side, her skin glowing. She liked to take her time when choosing; she didn’t want to end up with an unsavoury dish. The waitress left the honeymooning lovers in privacy.
“Shall we order something new?” asked the man. “Two somethings new? And share?” he knew she preferred to order familiar items but he loved to experiment. He was passionate about food and she could be persuaded.
“Sure babe! You order whatever sounds good.” The ring on her finger caught a gleam of sunshine. The diamond was smaller than she would have liked, but there was time still, he’d be making plenty of money in the future. They’d have a large house with lots of luscious plants and a couple of well-behaved kids and maybe a puppy. She perked up. “Hey its sunny outside, we should go lay on a beach!”
“Naked?” he asked, grinning, “For the sake of an even tan, of course.”
The waitress returned and he pointed out the calamari, the Carpaccio, and the house wine, on the menu. She jotted down the order and returned seconds later with a jug. She poured out two glasses and scuttled off behind an arched doorway.
The lovers returned to their games under the table, poking, pinching, pressing, playing, ensconced in the romance of the deserted restaurant.
The food arrived and he thanked the waitress profusely, “Grazia, grazia!” The moment she left, he turned to his fresh bride and continued in his pseudo-Italian accent, “Grazia, grazia, ma bella, grazia forra marrying meea, muchos grazia! And grazia for being so beautiful, caramia, and grazia for the besas last night under the moon, mi amoure.”
She smiled and whispered in his ears, “I had no choice but to marry you, you’re like an Italian in bed.” He pinched her again and she giggled as she kicked him under the table.
She spread the napkin on her lap and he removed it to play with her thigh. “Don’t forget your pill,” he reminded her. It annoyed him that she was so casual with her medication; he wasn’t ready for kids, too much responsibility. She reached for her purse and popped the pill, smiling as she remembered the great sex they’d been having ever since she started using birth control. Ah, skin on skin… It was triple the joy… one, ooh, two, mmm, three, yes, yes, yes! Every time.
He passed her half the portion from his plate and she passed him the wine to refill their glasses. “Mama mia! Yummmy!” she exclaimed.
He nodded vigorously in agreement, licking his lips, chewing deliberately, savouring every bite. His grandmother had taught him that trick, because if you were in too much of a hurry, you could gulp an entire meal and never engage with the flavour. He was a slow eater, and she had a small appetite, so she occupied herself by playing with his fingers under the table, as he finished both their meals. She buzzed on about the photographed landscapes and told him of the places she wanted to visit, the trips charted out in her mind. He was happy to travel through her dreamscape with her, listening to her plans and her hopes about their golden future.
They finished the meal and he called the waitress. His wife pulled a seashell studded coin purse from her bag and counted out the euros, checking each one. He held the door open for her as she walked out and they strolled off, holding hands, to watch the sunset.~