a short story by Dina Di Maio
([email]editor [at] thesquaretable [dot] com[/email])

There is a part of Barrow Street where the road not so much forks as curves and joins with another. At this juncture, there is a restaurant, a quaint, bricked place. Inside, there is a glow from candles and dim lights. There is noise of chatter. The restaurant is like that of an inn hidden in a cozy town in Europe. A small theater is a few doors away. Gorgeous homes flaunt impossible remodeled kitchens through open windows. This corner does not feel like New York and that is why I come here when I need to think. My mother once told me that when she was a child, she used to look through the windows of a restaurant on this street when she visited her aunt. I am almost positive it was not this restaurant but I understand the feeling she described to me as I pass this spot now. It is the feeling that reminds me that I am still in New York and I am curled within one of its secret spots.

From the lights and the voices and laughter, it sounds as if there is a party going on behind the wooden door. I peer through windows that seem to draw me closer, and I see a man raise a glass of dark wine. The restaurant looks like a comfortable place, like the dining room of a dear friend, and yet I know it is not. The warmth of the light pulls me near, but the faces of the patrons push me back to the sidewalk, the concrete, and the steps of a house a few doors down.

I sit on the steps, cell phone in hand, as ladies with silk scarves and velvet wraps walk by and enter the restaurant door. The screen on my cell phone shines green as I wait for the numbers to appear. I want his familiar number to appear, so that I know he wants me as much as I want him.

So here I sit in the New York cold, yet I don’t feel cold. I stare at the green screen, hoping that the little song I picked out from the menu will play and I will know he wants me.

Ladies and gentleman pass me. An old woman who can no longer stand erect throws bread from a brown paper bag onto the sidewalk for the pigeons. A bald man with wire-rimmed glasses and a denim jacket slows down his bike. “Why do you do that? They only shit everywhere,” he says, stopping and walking his bike up the steps.

“They gotta eat too,” she answers, but he is already gone.

A woman nears me. She wears a sea green chiffon dress. A thick blue shawl sits across her shoulders. Her hair is wildly hanging. She walks with confidence, firm step upon firm step, until she stops abruptly in front me. She smiles. “What are you doing there?” she asks. Her tone is familiar and for a moment, I wonder if I know her.

“Nothing,” I say.

“Nothing? You could do that anywhere. Why are you here? Are you an actress in the play?”

Suddenly I don’t know why I am here. I’m at a loss for words.

“I…I’m waiting for someone.”

“Oh. You look so beautiful sitting there. I thought you were an actress in the play I’m going to see. But no, something’s wrong,” she says, examining me. “I can tell by your posture. Your legs are crossed. Your chest is tight. Your arms are crossed. You’re protecting yourself.”

She looks at me closely. Her smile is a cross between the unwanted concern of an annoying aunt and the fake-flattering persuasion of a saleslady.

“Honey, you can’t let him control you. Be free. Here,” she says, taking off her shawl. She nears me but I don’t clutch my bag and shrink away. My reaction is not that of a New Yorker. I lean toward her as she places the shawl across my shoulders.

“Elongate your neck. Hold the shawl against your shoulders, low.”

I do as she says because she seems so sure of herself. “Lovely. You’re gorgeous. So sexy. You should be an actress.”

Then I feel that I have become what she says. I feel like a woman in an elegant painting from a shop on Bleecker Street, that my sleek form should be standing next to a bottle of Campari.

“Listen, sweetie, I’m going to a show tonight. I’m on a date. I’ll get a drink at the bar here. Wear the shawl until your fella comes. You’ll get him. Then bring it back to me. I trust you with it.”

She’s gone before I can say no. My fella isn’t coming. I know this. I want him to but I know he will not.

I stand up to follow her to return the shawl but she suddenly reappears.

“I need the shawl back,” she says, taking it off of me. “I’m going to the theater now with this schmuck. I don’t want to go. Here, wear my bracelet instead. You can keep it.” She takes a stretchy, handmade beaded bracelets from her wrist and slips it on mine.

“It’ll all fall into place, honey. Be the woman that you are. You’ll get what you want and if it’s not meant to be him, it’ll be someone else. You’re lovely. Flaunt it. You’ve got it. Walk like a woman. If he doesn’t want you, another man will. Be a woman and enjoy yourself.”

With that, she is gone again. I feel as if she has given me an invitation me on scented paper. She has said I belong. She has said I can walk up to the restaurant door, push it open boldly, walk through and men will gaze at me in awe. They will hang my coat and get my drinks. Ladies will invite me to their tables to share the latest gossip. She has told me what my mother failed to tell me–that I can walk through any door as if I am a queen.

I press the button to shut off my cell phone. It goes in my purse while I stride–yes, stride–like a flapper from the 20s, free for the first time. The chatter becomes closer, almost like the buzz of bees, mixed with clinking of dishes and the din of motion. It all blurs along with the yellowish blur of warm light as I get nearer the door. The yellow turns to green before I reach it, and there she is again.

“I have to get away from this schmuck, honey.”

She grabs my hand as she whispers this, as if we are close friends and this is her signal for get-me-away-from-this-guy.

“I don’t want to sit through a play with him. I’m going to hail a cab. Just stay with me a minute. It’ll cost me $20 to get home, that’s all.”

Past her, I see the door to the restaurant. Two women enter. They have pointy-toed shoes, up swung hair and spaghetti-strap dresses with no bras underneath. The voices from within grow clearer as the women open the door.

“I don’t have $20,” I say, looking back at her.

“Oh, no, honey, my husband’s a doctor,” she says, turning from me and adjusting her shawl. She walks back through the door. As it closes behind her, I watch the lights inside, yellow and bright, become fainter. The closing door is a crack and then only a crease. I look through the window. The glass is a TV screen and the people inside are two-dimensional characters–not real flesh and blood New Yorkers.

©2003 Dina Di Maio

[b]Editor’s Note:[/b]
Dina’s websites include [url=http://www.thesquaretable.com]www.thesquaretable.com[/url] and [url=http://www.mediabistro.com/ddimaio/]www.mediabistro.com/ddimaio[/url].

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