Email subscribers: Apologies for just tossing Part 1 of some funny fiction on you, without warning. Here’s Part 2. I thought we could all use a laugh right about now. It’s set pre-covid, when we were young and naive, maskless and vulnerable. Enjoy! Please comment!
Joe got to Cicerro’s early. Sat in the seat opposite the door so he could see Rose coming, watch her walk in. Chatted with Frank, the wiry and flamboyant head waiter.
“New woman?” Frank asked, raising his eyebrows, nodding to the empty chair.
“Yeah,” Joe said, with an odd catch in his voice. “Really new. Just met.”
So, they chatted about the menu, the specials, what the new woman he just met might like.
Rose was late, rushing in around quarter after, all apologies and flushed face. And Frank must have been busy, because his usual thing was to take a lady’s coat, hang it in his special closet at the front, pull out the chair. Anyway, as Rose sat quickly, Joe noticed that she seemed to have her hair styled in a way that covered her face more than he recalled, and she was doing this thing he hadn’t noticed before, talking from behind her right hand, index finger curled around the top of her mouth. It made her hard to hear. And truth be told, Joe’s hearing wasn’t all that great, probably on account of all of the rock concerts he enjoyed in his youth. She said something and he said what?
“Shirt. Love that shirt.” He looked down, not recalling which one he had on. It was the deep red and gold one, with the big diamond pattern. As he was saying thanks, she was reaching over with her left hand, to touch the front of it. Their eyes met, he had a chance to briefly caress her hand and she said, “You have the best shirts.”
He shrugged. She slid out of her coat as she settled back down and he caught sight of the low-cutness of her top. Nice. It was a tad . . . distracting. He cleared his throat.
“You look nice,” he said. “You have the best tirts, I mean tots, I mean tops too.” Oh geez. He was blushing. Thank god for dark skin; maybe she won’t notice? The way her eyes lit up, he could tell she was smiling behind that finger, elbow propped just so on the table, back arched. Which made his gaze drop again, to that breath-taking creamy cleavage. Which he got away with for a while because Frank came by then and, picking up her napkin, placed it with a flourish across her lap.
“I will hang this madam?” he said, indicating her coat, and he pulled it from the back of her chair, laid it over his arm and launched into his menu spiel, describing the dishes in a way that made everything mouth-watering.
“Guess we don’t need these,” Joe said, handing Frank the menus, agreeing with Rose on shrimp cocktail and steak and a bottle of red, a zinfandel.
“I always thought zinfandel was a rose,” Rose said from behind her finger.
“Ah, you have much to learn,” Joe said, a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face. He really wanted to ask about the finger-thing, but perhaps it would make sense at some point? When she took a sip of wine, maybe? As they watched Frank gracefully open the bottle, Joe noticed how she kept that hand there, either fingers splayed up, index finger across, or hand just scrunched there covering up the bottom half of her face. He took the sip Frank offered, said it was fine, Frank poured the rest and vanished.
Was Rose purposely thrusting her chest toward him? He felt hot, burning up, so he unbuttoned his cuffs, rolled his sleeves. Looked up and caught Rose watching, her smoky eyes on his forearms. She looked up, seemed embarrassed, then swayed from side to side, said something he couldn’t hear.
“I beg your pardon?” Oh man. Was this the way it was going to be? What, what, what?
“This music.” With her left hand she pointed up, as people tend to do, whether speakers are up there or not. “Norah Jones. ‘Come Away With Me’. I love it. So – ”
And they said it at the same time: “Romantic!”
They laughed. “Cheesy huh?” she said.
“Not cheesy,” he said. “Not at all . . .” And he told her about Alicia. Rose was so interested, so open, despite the covered mouth, so easy to talk to. It was after the shrimp, though, that things started to deteriorate. And not the conversation. It was her face, which was growing redder and redder, starting at the chin line – which Joe could only see the left side of – and then rising, up and up. And her lips seemed to be swelling. He couldn’t see this, but could hear it in the way she talked. She fidgeted and fidgeted, holding her napkin to her face often, then finally excused herself and disappeared into the loo. For a very long time.
When Rose looked in the mirror, despite the poor lighting, she did not know whether to laugh, cry or vomit. Her stomach felt squeamish – from the shrimp? – but not enough to hurl. Blowfish. That’s what she looked like. If a blowfish has swollen-to-bursting red cheeks and lips, a pussy white moustache and beady eyes nestled within fire-y protruding lids. Omg!
What happened?! And what to do?
She ran water, then wet sheets of harsh brown paper towel and placed them over her face. Ah. Stumbled to the toilet, plunked the cover down, sat, cried. Peeled the paper off, looked in the mirror again. Did a quick review of facial events as she leaned on the sink.
The super-restorative-radiance cream Deni had been so tenderly putting on her red-purple moustache had a scent. And it was wonderful. Rose. How ironic was that? Rose, allergic to roses? All these years and who knew? She had no idea the make or ingredients of the “ultimate coverage 24-hour foundation” Deni had generously slathered on her face tonight, but for sure, she must be allergic to that too. And the lips? The shrimp? How long had it been since she’d had shrimp? She was allergic to shrimp now?
Whatever the hell was going on with her face it was beyond repair. For tonight, and perhaps many nights to come. And as much fun as she’d been having with Joe, as tingly as she felt about getting to know him better on many levels, the tingliness of her face overpowered everything. Her impulse to bolt – like at Starbucks two days ago, like when Glen was into all the hijinks that led to his death years ago, like when CJ passed before him, like . . . when Gregory, scrawny, nerdy Gregory from high school, sat almost where Joe was sitting right now. Waiting for her to return to the table. She should have said no to that date. But she hadn’t wanted to hurt his feelings. Then? After she’d tolerated their stilted conversation and his halitosis for over an hour, while also ravenously devouring filet mignon cooked to perfection and a loaded baked potato . . . hmmm. Such extreme feelings.
Anyway. It was from this very bathroom she’d escaped and she’d do it again goddamn it! She checked the window. Same. But . . . her body had changed, considerably, since 17. Would she fit through? She must. Returning to the table with blowfish face was not an option.
She unlocked the double-hung window, then struggled sliding it up. It was tight in the opening and it took some forcing, up, down, up, down, to get it to the top. No screen, thankfully. Rose figured she’d just text Joe, when she was safely outside, say sorry, so sick, (puke emoji?) didn’t want to bother you, snuck out the back. Thx for dins.
As she eased her barely-covered-up breasts out through the window and the cool November night made her nipples tingle, she remembered her coat, hanging in Frank’s closet. Dang! She’d come back tomorrow night for it. And then Rose just about, almost, let’s say she came very close to clearing her womanly hips through the opening when the interesting thing about a double-hung window, one she’d not had to notice at 17 when she had the agility of a track star, became so obvious that, well, it came down and almost bit her in the ass. In her grappling to slide through she’d reached her left hand up for leverage and pulled the top half of the window – which must have loosened downward when she forced the bottom half up – right down. Slam! It had wedged above her left hip, effectively trapping her. Ouch. And, although neither arm was caught in the window, her left arm was at a most unhelpful angle and her right hand was tangled in the straps of her purse, which was dangling inside the bathroom along with the lower half of her body.
It was, to say the least, an awkward position to find oneself in. And it was about then, as she wriggled and jiggled like an overturned turtle, trying to loosen the window, the purse straps, that she remembered she was wearing a dress, it was bunched up around her waist and she’d done her habitual thing of going commando. At least she hadn’t used sandpaper down there. Ha ha.
As there was nothing else to do, Rose looked around. The night was navy and still. Despite the lights from the nearby restaurants and shops, she could see a few stars and a stunning full moon, spooking-looking behind some slender, swirling clouds. If only someone would walk by. Did she want someone to walk by? Would she be embarrassed or grateful? Both. Oh those extreme feelings.
She heard muffled knocking. A voice. Soft at first, then louder.
“Hey Rose! You ok in there?” Joe’s voice.
Instinct had her flailing about again. One last-ditch effort to escape. But no.
“Um. A bit of a problem in here.”
Nothing. With the inside window fully up and the outside window mostly down, sound was not travelling well. Her face throbbed. And the pressure on her right hip and hand was rendering them numb. What to do? Scream?
It seemed like forever, but maybe it was just several seconds? She had time to think: Joe will find me like this? He’ll see way too much of me. He’ll think I’m nuts. He’ll never want to see me again. Please! Let me out!
The door burst open and there he was, eyes wide, taking in the spectacle. As their eyes met, Rose managed a shrug with her left shoulder and turned her head away and down, so her hair would cover her face while she waited for his response.
Joe figured Rose must be sick. And as he’d waited at the table, testing a few bites of the aromatic and tender steak, at first patient, then impatient, then worried, he’d expected to hear her say just that when he finally decided to knock on the bathroom door. Then? When she’d yelled help? And he quickly dug out his Swiss army knife, found an appropriate tool, managed to jiggle the lock free? Her voice had such a far away, echo-y sound, he figured he’d find her hunched over the toilet bowl, perhaps needing medical help?
Stuck in the window? Not a chance in hell did he think that’s what he’d find. Also? The view.
“Ah. A full moon tonight,” he joked, venturing inside. Then, acknowledging her attempted escape: “Was it the conversation? The wine? The food?”
As he got closer, he realized she probably couldn’t hear him that well. And she looked completely and thoroughly trapped. Interesting. Should he set her free? Or just go back and finish that lovely meal? She peeked over her left shoulder then, eyes pleading.
“Bit of a situation,” he said, hooking his fingers under the window, forcing it up, helping her back into the bathroom. He was about to say something smart, like, “Shall I help you continue on your way, out this fine window?” But then, as she straightened her dress, stretched her body out, her back, her hip, her hands, he caught sight of her face. He put his right hand under her chin, said, “What? What happened? You ok?”
She hung her head. Shook it. Said, “You wanna?” while pointing toward the door. He led her back to the table. And when Frank approached, with a questioning look on his face, Joe shooed him away. And she explained it all, from the sandpaper to the salve to the foundation to the suspicion about the shrimp.
“Oh. And here,” she said, pulling his freshly laundered hanky from her bag, extending it across the table.
“You know it was chocolate on your lip the other day, right?” He said. “You really think I could rub facial hairs off with this?” He took the hanky, held it up, as she shook her head.
“You made this, um, kind of, face of disgust.”
“I had the sun in my eyes.”
“Yeah. Then, I got, ah, inspecting my face when I got home, saw things in the mirror I hadn’t noticed before I left.”
Joe reached over then, gently touched her swollen face. “Rose. Before you got messing with it? The most beautiful face. And wow, is it hot! Burning. Wait there.” And he went back to the bathroom, ran cold water on his handkerchief, returned to the table. “Here.”
She held it to her face, breathed a sigh of relief.
“Let’s get you home,” Joe said. He signaled to Frank for the bill and her coat and within minutes gave Rose the escape into the cool night she’d been angling so desperately for.
“How about I drive you home in your car, then I’ll come back for mine later,” he said.
“Sure,” she said, fishing her keys out of her bag, leading him in the direction of her car.
Then? Joe took to laughing. And his laugh was deep and warm and hearty, making him stop in his tracks, wipe his eyes even. And Rose smirked, as best as she could with those blowfish lips.
“Sandpaper?” he said. “Did you use a – ”And Rose crossed her arms.
“Nevermind,” he said, chuckling. “I won’t ask if you used a belt sander.” He swatted her bum playfully, then put his arm around her as they took up walking again. “Ah, look. Another full moon.”
Although it hurt, Rose had to laugh too. “So much great scenery tonight, huh? Mr. Shirts.”
And Joe said, lips close to her ear, his deep voice reverberating in the most pleasant way, “You’ve got it Ms., um, Tops . . . and Bottoms.” Then, “Or is that Mr.? You know.” And he tapped his own moustache area so as not to irritate hers any further.
“I deserve that. Sure. But once again. Mom was right.”
“Getting the guy before the facial hair!”