23 January 2012
nice to meet you (and the vinegar kick)
One and one has become two. Two years. Two people. One life. One bed. One kitchen. Four guitars. Bags of mismatched socks. Plates of foreign coins. A tiny pair of wooden shoes hanging from a nail in the wall. A jar of wine corks.
There are three toothbrushes next to the bathroom sink.
Staring down the lens of memory, the chain of events is still impossible. Me, sitting on a plane to New York to get a new visa. The woman next to me with a hawkish nose and a pile of magazines says nothing for the first nine hours of the flight. Before we land, they hand out immigration forms. She is nervous, and asks my help. In broken English and my terrible Russian I talk her through the questions, suggesting the safest answers. She is thanking me, asking me where she should eat, where her French boyfriend should take her. I give a few names, places that hold countless memories for me. The Italian place I ate lunch at every day of the Fellini festival when it was clear he was going to die.
She takes my information, sees E's picture on my phone. This was back when I was too scared and embarrassed to tell the truth of our situation. She has a daughter too, a bit older. I explain things in crude sentences. She stares at me, suddenly knowing everything before I say it.
A month later, I am living in a two room apartment with a kitten. The chance of keeping E overnight is rare, the blackmailing and police calls are only getting started. The woman contacts me, thanks me for sending them to such great places. She asks about E, about everything.
She tells me there is someone she wants me to meet, an old friend that speaks excellent English. I have very little money, but the thought of entertaining, of cooking for a stranger and a new friend with children running around is overwhelming. We agree on the day - Saturday, January 23. I clean the house, the little cat chasing me from room to room. E helps me, soaking the savoiardi in a dish of espresso. All at once the phone rings and she is asking for directions, and I do not realize her English is suddenly better, and that it is her friend on the phone. I am speaking fast, my hands caked with flour, describing landmarks to turn at. There are never signs here.
And then the they are ringing the doorbell, and I have no place to hang their coats. There is a forest of boots in the entrance. And N is standing, fixing a belt, adjusting her black sweater, instinctually moving her hair around even if there is no mirror. And she sees me, in an old pair of jeans, barefoot, unshaved. I am wiping my hands on a dishtowel. I take hers, shaking it gently.
"Ochin priadna." I tell her.
"Nice to meet you." She replies, her eyes as big as quarters.
I made us some eggs a few days ago, a mess of homefries and bacon. I splashed tabasco on my side of the dish.
N looks at me, twisting her mouth.
"What." I say, sipping coffee.
She tastes my side.
"Mmm." She says. "Why don't you give me some tabasco?"
I am lost.
"I thought you don't like things that are so spicy." I say.
"It's not so spicy." She replies.
She makes that little smile, that half-sigh, half-laugh.
"So now you like tabasco?" I ask.
"I always did." She says.
I roll my eyes. I look at this beautiful woman in her loose bathrobe, her hand on her knee, her foot resting against my ankle. I close my eyes, breathing in the scent of cold juice, the salt, the vinegar kick. That's what the good times smell like, I tell myself.