Friday, October 19, 2012

Meetings at the Corner Restaurant

Meetings at the Corner Restaurant

“So, what’s the big news you wanted to tell me?” Giovanni asks as he scoops more of the cream and tomato smothered pasta on his fork. “Did Brian finally propose or somethin?”

“Daddy!” She drops her fork loudly against the china plate. “I’m not even seeing Brian anymore!”

“What’s wrong with Brian!” He pulls off a steaming piece of bread and dips it in the garlic butter sauce.

“Nothing, Daddy. I just don’t love him, that’s all.” Vera picks up her fork and begins to dig into a juicy meatball.

“What’s love got anything to do with it?” Giovanni snaps his finger at a passing busboy and gets another glass of dark, purple wine.

“Oh, Daddy!” She rolls her eyes at him, “You think you’re so funny.”

“Well, if you aint getting hitched to Brian yet then what’s going on?” He stops chewing for a second, “You better not be pregnant, so help me Vera!”

“What! No! I’m a good girl Daddy!” She covers her mouth with her petite white gloved hand.

“Yeah. Yeah, sure you are. You just make goddamn sure you stay a good girl. Otherwise I would have to break that no-good-dirty-rotten-scoundrel-Eddy’s kneecaps!” And he spears a meatball on the end of his knife for emphasis, “Why you gotta hang around that goon?”

“Daddy, Eddy’s not a goon.” She pushes her pasta around as she tilts her head sideways and stares at the light above them dreamily, “He’s kind, and decent, and a real gen’leman.”

“Yeah, I got you’ gentleman right here.” He mutters as he spears another meatball and barely chews it, washing it down with another piece of garlic bread and a swig of the pinot noir. “So, if you aint getting married and if you aint havin a baby, what’s the big news?”

“Daddy,” She turns to look at him, sitting on the edge of her seat, eyes sparkling with excitement. “I got a new job!”

“What? A new one. What happened to the old one?” He doesn’t even look up as he sops up the last of the creamy alfredo and tomato sauce with a piece of the garlic butter bread.

“Oh, Daddy, I couldn’t be a seamstress. There’s no glamour. I just sit in that boring factory all day cutting fabric and stitching pearls and adjusting dresses. I want more than that, Daddy.” She plays with the corner of the napkin while she waits for him to say something.

“Leanora!” He turns and yells to the waitress. “Can we get some dessert please!”

“Comin, Gio! Hold ya ho’ses!” And the waitress disappears into the steam of the back kitchen, loud accordion music resonating from the back.

“So, what’s this new job of yours?” He asks, preparing himself for the worst.

“I’m gonna be a pilot!” And even as the words are still reaching for his ear she’s already throwing pamphlets and booklets and training manuals out of her purse and on the table.

“Excuse me?” And then he starts laughing, “This is a joke right? Hahaha, oh Vera, honey you sure got your old man good! I thought you were actually serious for a moment!”

“But I am Daddy! Look!” She holds up a discolored pamphlets with a woman aviator in a flapper dress and red lipstick with a headline declaring that could be her, “They say there have been leaps and bounds made in increasing safety. It’s no worse than driving a car.”

“But you can’t drive!” He pulls the napkin from his collar and throws it on the plate.

“Daddy! Please!” But before she can argue more Leonora the waitress arrives.

“Hey, Gio! You’re gonna make the poor thing cry in a second!” She slides two plates with dark chocolate cake smothered in melted fudge in front of them, “There won’t be no more dessert on the house for you if you’re driving my other customers away by making a scene like this!”

“Listen, Nora, you wanna hear something that’s rich!?” And he glares over at Vera, “My daughter says she’s gonna be a pilot!”

“Oh, really?” And she turns to Vera as if Giovanni doesn’t even exist anymore. “That’s exciting! How you gonna do that?”

“She aint gonna do it!” Giovanni tries to yell but Nora just raises a single finger that tells him he doesn’t talk now, so he just starts to shovel in his chocolate cake.

“Well, I’d have to go to pilot school first. And get my liscence.” She sighs, opening one of the books, “There’s a lot of rules and stuff I’d have to memorize for the test. But I’m sure I’ll pass it. I’ve got a really good feeling this time.”

“Sure you do, hon.” She winks at Vera, “And I’m sure you’ll do just fine.”

“Oh, I think that’s Rodney outside!” Vera hops up, “I wanna go tell him the good news. I’ll be right back.”

They both watch her leave and Nora sits down across from Gio and pours herself a cup of coffee.

“You shouldn’t encourage her like that.” He scowls at her and takes a cup of coffee for himself.

“Hey, you shouldn’t worry.” Nora winks at him and lights a cigarette, “You know how she is. You remember when she quit that job as a teacher.”

“After only three weeks.” Gio shook his head.

“And that was cause she wanted to go and become a seamstress instead. Work in high fashion and all that.” And Nora waves her hand back, as if her kitchen is the “all that” of fashion. “And now look, she’s already done with that too.”

“One month.” Gio massaged his forehead. “I mean, is it too much to ask that she chooses something and just sticks with it? Or for that matter why does she even need a job? Why can’t she just get married and have babies and be happy?”

“Hey, don’t you go talkin bad about woman havin jobs!” Nora puts her cigarette out. “And you know she can never be like one of them tame housewife types. She’s a free spirit. And you gotta let her do her thing.”

“I don’t have to let her do anything!” He throws his fork down. “She’s my daughter! I’m her father! She’ll obey me!”

“Right. Sure she will.” Nora gets back up and picks the coffee can up too. “But you better watch out cause one of these days that little girl of yours is gonna wanna do something and you really won’t like it and when you try your hardest to stop her, you’ll end up losing her all together.”

“What do you know!” Gio looks down and folds his arms scowling.

“Plenty.” Nora gathers the last of the dishes on her tray, “I did the same thing when I was her age. One job after the other. And when my old man tried to make me settle down. I ran away to the city with my boyfriend.”

“Who, Tony?” Gio feels nervous where the conversation is leading.

“Oh, no. Bennie. You remember him. Anyway, he got me here and started me out in the cabaret and I earned my keep till I could buy my own restaurant. So you be careful otherwise you’ll end up pushing your little girl away too.” And with that Nora disappeared into the steaming accordion filled kitchen.

Outside he could just make out Vera and Rodney talking. He wasn’t sure why but he was glad Rodney was outside. He didn’t really like Rodney. Couldn’t put his finger on it. There was just something about the kid that made him uneasy.

“So, I’m gonna be a pilot instead!” Vera laughed a tinkling laugh, “What do you think!”

Rodney paused, seemed to chew the side of his lip as if he was thinking. He opened his mouth to answer but stopped halfway, then started again. “So, you are, eh, leaving Madam du Fres?”

“Yes, high fashion wasn’t what I thought it would be.” She spun around, twirlling her coat, “Though I did get to make some pretty cute outfits while I was there.”

“Ah, yes.” He smiled nervously as if he’d finally found some conversational ground he could latch on to, “They are very... eh, pretty.”

“Thanks, Rodney.” She winked, “So, I gotta pass a bunch of test first and Daddy’s gonna have to pay for my license fee. But it’ll all be worth it in the end.”

“Ah, yes. Good. Um. Has it occurred to you.” He paused and sucked in air through his teeth, “That is to say. There is a pattern. Not sure if you’ve. Uh, noticed.”

“What are you talkin about Rodney?” She laughed, “You’re so strange sometimes.”

“Well, it’s just.” Rodney paused, “Operator. Nurse. Radio girl. Teacher. Seamstress. And now Pilot. You’ve started on six new professions since January and it’s not even June yet.”

“Of course I know that Rodney!” She shakes her head as if explaining something to a child, “But none o those really fit me. You know. It’s like tryin on dresses at the department stores. You buy it and then you take it out a bit and then you bring it in a bit until you have it hanging just right.”

“Oh, er, right, dresses.” Rodney was fast losing his conversational ground, “I, er, I think, that is, what I mean to say is. You may want to. I mean, it would be wiser. Or er, wise, to perhaps chose one and then, follow it through. You can’t always be, what was it, taking things in and bringing things out.”

“Well, course I can’t.” She winked again. “That’s why this time, this is gonna be it!”

“You’re certain.” Rodney tried not to sound skeptical.

“Course I am!” Vera stomped her foot, “Me and Eddy. We’re gonna fly and see the world!”

“Oh, er, good.” Rodney coughed, “Well, I’m glad to hear you’re sticking with it. I, um, just remembered. I have. This thing. At the Belmont. I have at three. I should really....”

“Yeah, sure.” Vera laughed again, “You’re so funny Rodney, you know that.”

“Oh, er, good. Yes, funny is good...?” Rodney played with his hands, unsure of where they went.

“Yes, Rodney. Funny is good. Now get going you goon! You’re gonna be late if you don’t hurry.” She laughed as he turned to run, stopped, ran back shook her hand formally but a bit too long, dropped it very suddenly and then ran back down the street calling back.

“Er, goodbye. I mean, good day. I mean, er, well, yes, bubbye!”

Inside the restaurant Vera sat down primly and pulled out her makeup bag, opening her small hand mirror and applying her red lipstick from her bronze canister. Her father scowled from across the table.

“I still say you’re too young to be wearing all that paint.” He growled.

“Oh Daddy, it aint the 1890s anymore. Girls start wearing their faces much sooner now.” She puts the makeup away and looks over at her father as he sighs.

“Fine, Vera. If you really wanna be a pilot I guess I’ll give you my permission.” He sighs, thinking about Nora and cabaret and how thats not the life he wants for his daughter.

“Thank you Daddy!” She leans over and pecks him on his cheek, leaving a small red cupid’s bow. “There will be some money that I’ll need for the application.”

“Of course.” He sighs as he wipes the red off his cheek with the napkin. “We can talk about that later.”

“Oh, thank you Daddy!” She beams and digs into her chocolate cake.

The small silver bell on the door rings out with a tinkle in the steamy rafters above. Gio’s face drops as he sees the young man before Eddy sees the two of them.

“Vera! Mr. Delcori!” He waves and walks towards them, hanging his hat and coat up on the coat stand by the door.

“Eddy!” Vera acts just a bit too happy and a bit too surprised as she jumps up from the table, “What are you doing here, honey bear!”

“Please, I just ate.” Gio says, clutching his stomach.

“How are you today Mr. Delcori.” Eddy takes Gio’s hand and nearly wrenches it out of its socket.

“I was doing a lot better until now.” Gio glares at him and then finally sighs as he sees the faces Vera is making at him, “Alright, fine! Eddy, would you like to sit down?”

“Thank you Mr. Delcori!” He plops down in the seat next to Vera. “Well, this is cozy.”

“What you havin Eddy?” Nora appears with notepad in hand.

“Oh, just a coffee please. No cream. Thanks Nora.” He beams at her that row of pearly whites.

“Anything for you, sugar.” She winks and walks back.

“Anyway!” Vera says drawing him back to her, “Eddy, I was just telling Daddy about my new idea for a job!”

“I think it’s wonderful that you wanna pursue your dreams. Your daughter truly inspires me everyday to be a better man, Mr. Delcori.” Eddy shines that same white smile at  the two of them.

“Alright, alright. I get it. You can turn the mush off.” Gio scowls more, “Please, you’re giving me indigestion.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m not quite sure I follow.” Eddy keeps smiling his sincerest of smiles.

“Eddy, you’re a good kid. I can tell. You just be careful, okay.” Gio sits back and props his hands on his prodigious stomach. “Brian’s pretty serious about Vera and you don’t wanna get in over your head.”

“Well, thank you so much for your thoughtful advice, Mr. Delcori. I will definitely think about it.” Eddy smiles until his eyes look like they are about to be swallowed by his dimples, “But I’m sure when Brian sees how much I love your daughter, he’ll understand that no one can love Vera like I do and that we are meant to be together.”

“Oh, baby, that’s so sweet!” Vera cries, “I love you so, so much too!”

“Right.” Giovanni massages his temples, “Well, you two just be careful. And no hankypanky! You here!”

“Oh, of course not, Mr. Delcori.” And Eddy chastely takes Vera’s gloved hand and places a single kiss on the top, “I would never ever even dream of dishonoring your daughter like that.”

“Alright. Alright. Enough, Vera, you’ve made your point!” Gio stands to get up, leaving more than enough money on the table. “I gotta get out of here. I have a meeting at the Belmont later tonight.”

“Do you have a car here, sir?” Eddy asks getting up and helping Vera in her coat.

“No, I was gonna phone one of the boys.” Gio pulls on his heavy coat as well.

“Well, I have mine here. I would gladly give you a ride if you’d like sir.” He beams and then winks as he says genuinely, “Save you the nickle on that phone call.”

“Alright. You drive a hard bargain.” He sighs, “Just make sure you don’t drive on the road like that.”

And Eddy burst out laughing as if it is the funniest thing he’s ever heard, slapping his knees in the process, “Oh, that was so funny, sir! You really have a way with humour!”

“Right. Get the car.” Gio scowls again, “Vera, we’re gonna be takin care of family business. You won’t wanna be there. It’ll only bore you. You okay with walking home?”

“Sure, Daddy. I’ll be fine.” Vera smiles up at him.

“Course you will. But mind you get home before dark, aright. I don’t want you anywhere near the west side after dark.” Gio says as he follows Eddy to the door.

“Don’t worry, Daddy. I’ll be home before then.” She waves as they leave, Eddy blowing her a heartfelt kiss.

“You better leave soon then,” Norma appears, taking the dishes and counting the money, “Looks like its gonna rain.”

“Oh, I’m not actually walking.” Vera laughs her tinkling laugh as she sits down. “I’m waiting for someone to come pick me up.”

“Oh yeah? Not another boy I hope.” Nora gives Vera a knowing look. “You be careful with that Eddy’s heart. You hear. He’s a good boy. Those are a rare thing in these parts.”

“Oh, Nora. You know I love Eddy. I really really do!” Vera sighs as she leans her white cheek against her gloved palm. “But Eddy is... Eddy.... you know... and there’s so much more out there. So much more I wanna experience and feel and taste.”

“And you know Eddy won’t like any of it cause he’s set in his way.” Nora motions towards her kitchen as if it contains Eddy and all of his set ways.

“Right.” Vera bites the side of her lip. “He knows what he likes and what he doesn’t like and he aint gonna change that.”

“And so you are doin all this other stuff behind his back so he doesn’t get hurt. Is that right?” Nora lights another cigarette.

“I must sound terrible to you.” Vera looks down and then back up, “But really, honestly I do love Eddy. I really really do. I just need this too.”

“And what exactly is this?” Nora asks, a knowing look in her eyes.

The small silver bell rings again and another man is standing in the doorway. He’s not as tall as Eddy, but makes up for it in sheer muscular girth. His jaw looks like it has been chiseled out of marble. His pinstripe suit is barely showing the first few drops of rain from outside.

“Brian!” Vera is up on her feet again.

“Vera, honey. Did you miss me?” He leans forward for a kiss and Vera stops him, giggling.

“Brian! Not in public!” She blushes across her white cheeks.

“Ah, let em look!” He says and kisses Vera hard and violently.

“That man.” Nora says quietly to herself as she counts the money on the table, “I tell him desert is on the house too and he goes and pays for two times the food he ate.”

“Nora, we’re gonna head out!” Vera calls out, wrapped in her furs and Brian’s thick, short arms. “See you later!”

“Yeah. Yeah, I will.” Nora says, drawing from her cigarette again as she tries to shrug off how much looking at Vera is like looking in a mirror, and begins to clean the table and take the money to the register.

Outside, the orange neon sign flickers as the rain starts to pour down in sheets and curtains. Lovers and couples ran across the sidewalk huddled under umbrellas. Vera talks to the short, stocky man whose arm she’s attached to, laughing as she tells him about her plans to be a pilot. And from behind them, Rodney walks and watches, no umbrella, his hat bending under the downpour with water, not even seeming to notice that it’s raining.

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