Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Scene From an Italian Restaurant

Kendra swung open the door to Bella Luna Restaurant as little Robert, feeling the freedom of a stroller-less day, grabbed a handful of pansies from a decorative window box.

“No, those are not for picking!” she said, pressing the roots of the flowers back into the dirt as best she could while glancing into the plate-glass window to see if anyone had caught her 2-year-old. The owner wore a white baker’s apron. When her entrance was announced by a jingling of bells attached to the door, he looked up from his conversation with an irritated expression.

“I said that’s all I got for you today, Andrew. Come back next Tuesday,” he grumbled, handing the man a brown paper bag smelling of garlic knots.

The customer was an unusually tall and skinny Caucasian man in his twenties, dressed in a taxi yellow rain coat, sweating profusely, on a cold spring day. He turned toward Kendra, who was wrestling with little Robert, and grinned.

Kendra smiled back politely and looked away. As she ordered two slices and a coke, Kendra noticed the owner watching the tall man walk out of sight through the picture glass window.

The restaurant was empty so Kendra had the luxury of sitting anywhere she liked. She picked a booth in a far off corner and settled there, cutting Robert’s slice of pizza with a white plastic knife and fork that bent with each division. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that same man re-entering the building, opening the door so gingerly that the bell stayed silent.

It was the odd guy that the owner called Andrew. The man glanced around the restaurant, but the owner was gone. Then he walked swiftly to Kendra’s table and slid into the seat across from her, next to Robert. Kendra’s eyes widened.

“What are you doing?” she said, nervously.

Andrew put his hand on Robert’s head. “You have a nice little boy here, Miss.” He smiled at Robert, asking, “Are you out for lunch with your Mommy?” Robert shook his head in agreement without removing his lips from the soda straw.

“You have to sit somewhere else.” Kendra said, trying to remain calm. But this rude stranger was ignoring her, high-fiving her child on the other side of the table.

Then Andrew turned to face her abruptly, and leaned into the table as if they were old friends.

“I don’t mean no harm, Mama.” He said, smiling as he pulled a plastic knife from his pocket. Meanwhile, little Robert, oblivious to danger, was busy removing all of the cheese from his pizza.

Kendra froze; her thoughts were racing. If she were alone she would throw her drink in this crazy person’s face and run. The idea of robbing someone with a plastic knife was almost laughable. But he was sitting next to her baby. Kendra would murder without hesitation in order to protect Robert. She had no idea what to do next so, instinctively, the mother bear inside her took over. Kendra resorted to the weapon God had given her: charm.

Taking a risk, she turned her palm up and offered it to him, cooing, “Oh wow, you must be having a hard day. Why don’t you tell me about it.”

The man’s brown eyes were darting and wild now. His hand still rested on the knife in his pocket as little Robert sat beside him singing “Chuga, Chuga, Choo, Choo,” between pizza bites.

He glanced toward the cash register; the owner was not in sight.

She smiled coyly. Andrew grinned back, chuckling low. He took his hand away from his pocket and patted little Robert on back. The baby cocked his head at the madman and gave him a sauce-stained smile.

All the while, Kendra’s thoughts were screaming, like someone was holding a ringing fire alarm up against her ear. She wished for the strength to rip this man’s limbs off. Instead she laughed, playfully winking.

Andrew put the plastic knife back in his pocket and took Kendra’s hand, pulling her against his face in an awkward, wet kiss. She went through the motions, like a man overboard swimming toward land. Don’t pull away, she secretly cautioned herself.

Out of the corner of her eye, Kendra could see little Robert frozen mid-chew, staring at his mother’s oddly sudden display of affection for the stranger.

“Ha, ha, ha!” the little boy squealed pointing at the stranger. “Mommy giv-ved you a kissy.”

When Andrew let go, Kendra grasped his hand to keep it away from his pocket.
“Tell me what’s been going on with you,” she said, as if this man were an old boyfriend. Mimicking his mother’s false enthusiasm earnestly, Robert leaned into the man to hug him.

“Oh, no! Robbie, don’t bother the nice man.” she said, feeling the irony of the label and the horrific lunacy of the moment.

Andrew’s hand was hot and clammy. He glanced back nervously, but the owner was nowhere to be found.

“I haven’t eaten in three days, honey,” he said.

Kendra slid her pizza and Coca Cola across the table to him, desperately. “Take this,” she said.

Andrew thanked her, adding the food to the brown paper bag from the owner, but he didn’t get up. Instead, he put his arm around little Robert and continued.

“I’m not going back to the shelter. Last night some psycho tried to cut me while I slept. It’s crazy in there, sweetheart. I’m hungry and I need money. Come on now, you have a nice, clean kid here, blue eyes and all-American pie. I’m sure you have a house with pansies and white picket fences.”

With one arm still around her toddler, Kendra watched the stranger reach into his other jacket pocket. Now, here comes the gun, she thought, and Kendra felt her whole body melt right into the garish orange seat, like the death of a Madame Tussauds sculpture. But she was still sitting there in shock a second later as Andrew slid the contents of his other pocket across the table: a stolen package of fake gold hoop earrings.

The stranger’s tone suddenly shifted to that of a traveling salesman. “Miss, these are worth hundreds of dollars. Today I’m going to give them to you for twenty because you are so beautiful and sweet. Miss, what do you say?”

Kendra’s fa├žade was crumbling. She glared at the man with glassy, far-off eyes.

“Stand up.” She replied, curtly. “Take a step away from the table and I’ll give you money.” Kendra reached for her pocketbook, slowly. Then, she added with controlled empathy, “I’m sorry you feel mistreated.”

But the man shook his head saying, “No can do, Mama.”

He squeezed Robert tightly against him in the booth, singing along with the boy, Chuga, Chuga, Choo Choo! Then Andrew reached down to expose himself under the table with his free hand.

Kendra gasped, her brave mask shattered. “Let go of my son, you monster,” she whimpered.

“Chuga, Chuga, Give me your wallet, Miss.” He sang.

Horrified, Kendra started to cry.

“Give, g … give me the baby. Let go of my baby, you fuck!” She stammered. Andrew chuckled, amused.

“Give me the wallet, Mommy-with-the-potty-mouth.” He sang, pulling out his plastic knife to cut the boy’s pizza. Little Robert laughed at the idea, saying:

"Mama doesn't put a potty in her mouth!"

Kendra threw her wallet at the madman. “Give me my baby right now, fucker!” She shouted, hoping the owner would hear the commotion.

“SHHH, now sweetheart, don’t use that fowl kinda talk around the kid. Give me the rings on your finger, too.” Andrew said, putting the knife down on the table and sliding her wallet into the brown paper bag.

Kendra pulled her wedding band and engagement ring off and slapped them down on the table, sobbing. Andrew scooped them up, jiggling the jewelry in his hand before depositing it in his bag. Then Andrew stood, lifting little Robert up as his mother gasped. Robert, seeing his mother’s tears, reached out for her, crying:

“No, no! Eat pizza! Go with MAMA!”

Seeing red, Kendra leaped like a cougar and tore the little boy from the man, screaming: “Help! Someone! This man is trying to take my baby!”

“Relax, Miss,” said Andrew as he ran, backwards to the door, clutching his paper bag of stolen goods, waving to little Robert as he left.

Kendra collapsed in the booth hugging Robert tightly.

Meanwhile, the owner of Bella Luna, finally alerted by the sound of the doorbell, ran out of the back room, his face flushed with excitement.

“Did he come back and bother you, Ma’am? He don’t mean no harm. He’s just …”
The owner stopped short mid-sentence, realizing something was very wrong.

“Oh, no. I’m so sorry.” He said, jogging over to the table. “I was in the back under the sink dealing with a leaky drain pipe. Did he hurt you?” Still sobbing, Kendra managed to say no.

“He robbed me and he pretended he was going to hurt my son.”

As the owner called 911, little Robert pointed to the bright yellow pansies shaking in the wind outside the picture glass window and laughed.


Caity said...

Wow. This made my cry. You're an excellent writer. The passion in this story is wonderful. I love how you captured each character so well, especially the little boy who was oblivious until he realized his mother was upset.


Loren Christie said...

Thanks Caity. I hope you're doing well. I appreciate your feedback!

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Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


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