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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…

as salty as the sea


V is turning a lemon around in her hands, four tiny fingers squeezed together, tapping the thick skin. N is stirring kasha for her, to be fed patiently in little spoonfuls. The baby will cry out, twist her face, wiggle, moan and then eat another half spoonful spreading much more across her cheeks. This goes on for about an hour sometimes until the kasha is gone or N surrenders. A moment passes. V calms down, cracking a little smile as two bottom teeth shine from her pink gums. N wipes her face, her hands cool and smooth, washing the crust of dinner from her nose, cheeks, even eyebrows. I love this moment, the fresh water, the shine of her skin, the little "ahhhh" sounds N makes, as if being clean is the most perfect feeling in the world.

In pajamas with dalmatians on them, V waves her palm at me. This is how she says goodnight, as if she is saying goodbye. I kiss the top of her head, her hair more duckling fluff than anything else. They go behind the door and I start dinner. It is a humble anniversary meal of fresh pasta. I measure one cup of semolina, one cup of double zero flour, two big eggs, a splash of olive oil and turn it under my palms until it is smooth. It rests under a towel and I bring together the pine nuts, arugula, mint, garlic barely warmed over in some good olive oil, a pinch of some exotic dried chili and a generous mound of grated pecorino. This is the same dish I made six years ago, the night we met. It was a different kitchen, with a tiny table so wobbly it danced every time you put your fork down. I put the pot of water on, cupping my palm to measure the salt for it. It should be as salty as the sea, they say - that's what it should be like. Every time I make pasta, I go to the ocean.

The baby finds sleep easily and the water is just boiling when she comes back. There are roses for her, already in a vase bending low in the darkness. A few short candles flicker in the cool air drifting in from the balcony. It is colder than -20 tonight. She sits and watches my calculated movements. I think I am never as confident in life than when I am with a sharp knife and some flame. Everything is clear here. There is no doubt in my kitchen.

The wine opens with a happy pop, and I sip from the glass of Gavi. And all at once, the pasta is ready, the bowls filled, forks placed, extra cheese grated. I watch her face in the dim light. In six years, a hell of a lot has happened. Ever since she got pregnant, her skin changed, a few odd freckles for example. When I look at her, sometimes I see that twelve year old girl from some old family movies. The one cracking her gum, ponytail swinging, old jeans and a t-shirt. The tough girl with the sharp tongue. Then, I see the shy round face, cheeks red from embarrassment when we went on our first date. I also see the mother, tireless, unstoppable.

We eat quietly, talking about the week behind us.

I stare at her, drinking in the details of her nose, her eyelashes the very same way I did the night we met.



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