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no invitation

We are at a 3 year old's birthday party in the back room of a cafe. Music is pumping from a tiny speaker. Balloon animals are popping, and waving in the air. A man in a yellow dinosaur costume dances wildly. Parents snap pictures with satisfied smiles on their faces.

A little girl approaches gingerly and stands in the doorway, straying from her parents somewhere inside the restaurant. She cannot be more than three. It must be hard to ignore all of the noise coming from this room packed with celebration. There is a perfect little pony tail at the back of her head. She hesitates, as one foot poises in the air and then rests back down. How to understand that she was not invited. How to understand the laughter, the loose jumping bodies, the presents piled high on the window. None of this connects to her. There is a little plate of food waiting for her back there, in the quiet restaurant. Maybe a warm bowl of soup, thick with noodles. I watch her for some time.

That night, her empty e…

a typical Saturday night (too much salt)

Her voice is tiny and weak on the phone. She is defeated, miserable. I offer to come and take her, to be there in minutes. The phone goes dead, and I cannot get an answer when I redial. I call all of the numbers. No one picks up. I send texts, wandering the kitchen in tiny circles. N looks at me, hands wrapped around her cup of tea. There is nothing to be said, nothing to be done but wait.
I imagine E being thrown from the balcony in that lonely apartment, or held under the bathwater. 
I panic, needing to know she is alright.  Maybe I should go there anyway, calling up from the street to see if she can answer that way, tossing a note from the window scribbled on a scrap of paper.

The pasta water is boiling. Maybe it is better to cook dinner, and think everything will be alright. Somehow, it always is and just never seems like it will be.

I drop salt in by the spoonful, so it will taste like the sea.

Thirty minutes have passed. I try again, letting the phone ring and ring. 
E answers, mumbling, still crying.
I ask if I am coming for her and she says no, she is going to bed early and will call me in the morning. 
"I am bored." She says, after some silence.
"I know kiddo." I tell her. "I know."

We send little text messages to each other. Bears giving hugs, hearts, good night kisses. I chop a piece of bacon into thin strips for the sauce, splashing it with olive oil, some chopped onion, a clove of garlic that was smashed all oil and perfume on the cutting board. A bag of crushed red pepper is retrieved from the windowsill where I hid it from myself. I pinch some in, sniffing to try to gauge how hot they are. 

The spaghetti drops into the water, bending slowly as it softens.

Crushed tomatoes are added to the sauce and I crank the flame up, reducing things after a slog of red wine from the open bottle on the table. N watches me, in my millionth pasta dance, in silence. I pull some pasta water and moisten the sauce pan which is starting to go dry. A twist of black pepper, a taste with a spoon from Vera's house. It is salty.

Draining the pasta early, it goes into the pan, drinking up the sauce, lubricated one last time with a spoonful of fresh olive oil. I toss mint and basil in as the pasta twists and the sauce thickens, as everything glistens.

"It is salty." N announces after a few bites.
"I guess the cook is in love." I reply, quoting the popular Russian expression.
She laughs a little, her mouth full as she leans forward over the bowl.
I watch her for some time, her hands graceful as she turns the fork over, one leg crossed over the other, tiny feet poking from her house slippers.


liv said…
This weave of food and fear and love and trust is really the epitome of your art. Your writing is a delicate dance, a turn this way leads to fright, a turn that way leads to light.

I want my belly full of pasta, salty pasta to chase away the fears, too.

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