Monday, June 6, 2011

When the moon hits your eye

Hyde and Vallejo, Chestnut and Jones

“Dogs are wise.  They crawl away into a quiet corner and lick their wounds and do not rejoin the world until they are whole once more.” – Agatha Christie


As fall approached and I rooted myself at my new school in the City, my separation from Berkeley became final, and with that separation, my relationship to Bob took on new dimensions, deeper and better now that the daily jangle of life’s details no longer interfered with it. 

My relationship to Graham, however, even though I had finally laid down the baggage I picked up the day I found the letter from Lois, seemed somehow stripped of depth.  And while certainly a warm familial commitment remained, the intimate commitment to sacrifice, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, was gone.  It had left the building right behind till death do us part. Thus we became the kind of crabby, loving roommates that siblings make.

I found my life spiraling outward from the apartment at Hyde and Vallejo, just as Bob’s life had already spiraled out from Moraga and was beginning to spiral out even from American soil.  Scott, now Bob’s academic advisor instead of his teacher, in addition to being his lover, had a connection in Paris that would result in a job for Bob soon after he finished his BA in romance languages.  The president of the Banco di Roma, whose home was in Paris, had a chauffeur who was getting married in July and planning a permanent move to Greece.  The job was Bob’s, if he wanted it, starting July 1, 1975.  His dream had come true:  he was going to be a European, a free man in Paris.

Graham had developed an obsessive imaginary relationship with Blondie.  He seemed to genuinely enjoy watching whatever she did in the window now, either dressed or naked.  She represented for him, he told me, unattainable female perfection - the key word being unattainable - that allowed him to rationalize that real, sweaty, effort-filled relationships were somehow unsavory, and therefore not for him.  His voyeurism made life much easier, to be sure, both for him and for me.  While photography was now Graham’s perfect medium, he rarely had time even for it any more, what with the world of eight to five pulling at him.  And even Lois had become history.  These were not conscious choices, but they were shaping who he was.


One dinner hour while I was behind the counter at the deli, where I had more time to spend now that I wasn’t commuting four hours a day, I was fixing Armistead his favorite hot dish, vegetable lasagna with Boudin bread and butter on the side.  He was due in a couple of minutes and wanted it warm when he got there so he could run home and write a chapter for “Tales of the City,” which still didn’t feature me in it anywhere.  I was just wrapping the foil around his meal when Ray came up.

“Hey, Shel, here’s somebody I want you to meet.  Valerie, this is Shelley, the one who makes your favorite blintzes every Saturday.  Shel, this is Valerie.  She’s a producer for KPIX.”

I said with my warmest voice on, reaching over the glass to shake her hand, “Pardon my fingertips, Valerie; they’re a little olive-oily.”

“Funny, you don’t look like Olive Oyl,” she replied, both of us laughing as she grabbed my hand and winked.

“Well, I can see you two need no further introduction here,” Ray said with gruff amusement, rubbing Valerie on the shoulder blade.  “Take good care of my Val, now, Shel.  Anything she wants tonight, it’s on the house.”

“You got it,” I said, setting Armistead’s lasagna on the counter behind me and wiping my hands with a cotton towel.  “Val, what can I fix for you?  This chicken divan casserole melts in your mouth, and it’s great with the broccoli red pepper insalata.”  She was nodding and grinning as I spoke, so I continued my pitch.   “I’ll pour you a little Pinot Grigio while you’re waiting.  Sound good?”

“You sold me.  Some of that.”  She weaved her fingers together backward and stretched her arms in front of her, yawning out loud.  “MAN, it’s been a long day.  Do you live nearby?”  Just then Armistead walked up and threw his arms around Valerie.

“Val, sweetheart, you look great.  What a doll!  Let me look at you.”  He held up her hand and gave her a twirl. “I hardly see you any more.   Don’t they ever let you out from that sweat shop they call a TV studio?” he chit chatted. 

I slid his dinner up on top of the glass case while I was pouring Valerie’s wine, and he rolled his eyes, giving me a big happy sigh, and patted it.  “Here’s some for you too, Armistead,” I said, pouring a second clear plastic cup and setting them both on top, turning to pull together Valerie’s dinner.

The two of them chatted aimlessly, and then Armistead quaffed his wine, gave a tiny wave with his fingertips, and went home with his lasagna for company.  Valerie picked up where she left off.

“So are you from around here?  There’s got to be more to the deli girl than just deli, with blintzes like that,” she probed.

“You ARE a newswoman, aren’t you?  OK, I go to the Art Institute – you know, just over the hill.”  She raised both eyebrows at me and smiled, tilting her head. 

“Yeah, I’m a photography major,” I went on.  “I’ve taken some shots for the Berkeley Gazette, so that makes us both newswomen.”  We both laughed. 

“And I live right around the corner on Hyde, between Vallejo and Green, right across from that little park.”

She fell silent.  “Really?” she asked, emphasis on the “real.”

“Yeah,” I replied my answer curving up on the ends, like a curious smile.  “Why, do you live around here too?  I live in the gold building, 1555.”

“Really!  I live right across the street from you!  Well, right next to the park, on the Vallejo side.”

Now it was my turn.  “Really?” I asked, turning slowly, now taking in her strawberry blonde hair, her pale freckled skin, her alarming blue eyes, and – the fact that she was stacked.  The look on my face had to be as transparent as Blondie’s picture window.  “What floor?”

“Third,” she answered, then paused.  She took in the expression on my face, and suddenly got very, very pink.  “Can you . . .”

“I’m afraid so,” I said sheepishly.

“Oh, NO.  I knew it, knew it, knew it, knew it, knew it!  I KNEW it!  Crap.  I knew I shouldn’t have put off ordering those curtains.”  She was grinding her fingertips into her eyes, red with embarrassment.

“Don’t be silly,” I said.  “I’m sure I’m the only one who’s ever seen you.  Both of the men that hang around my place are oblivious.”

“MEN?” she exclaimed.  “Please, not men.”

“I’m afraid so.  But like I said, I’m completely sure I’m the only one who’s ever seen you.  Still, I wouldn’t delay on getting those curtains, and in the meantime, I’d dress in the living room and pee in the dark.”

“Oh my GOD!” she said.  “It’s a good thing we met, because I wasn’t in any hurry.  I thought I was the only one up that early.”

I thought it was best not to mention that she was definitely NOT the only one up at that hour, and that Graham had adjusted his sleep schedule just to watch her.  And naked or dressed, she had become the woman of his dreams.  Probably best left unsaid.


 One cold Sunday night soon after, Ray came around behind the counter when I was just shutting down.  I had wiped off the meat slicer, which was now sparkling, and was headed back for the kitchen to start a batch of spinach ravioli with garlic cream and parsley to round out the leftover chicken divan and steak and kidney pie we already had for the next day.  I was contemplating whether I had time to add a batch of pan-fried mashed potato patties with scallions when he walked around and asked me to sit at the counter with him.

“But first, gimme a pound of extra rare roast beef,” he joked.  Rare roast beef was the only thing filthier to slice than Monterey jack cheese, which left a thick scum of creamy white all over the surface of the slicer and sticky globs lodged behind the viciously sharp blade that had to be carefully scoured out until there was no trace left.  Rare roast beef was just a pure bloody mess.

“You’re kidding, right?” I said, eyeing my spotless slicer, but still ready to grab the joint of beef and start over.

“Of course I’m kidding, bella.  I wouldn’t do that to you.  I would do it to Jean, but not to you.”  We both chuckled.  Poor Jean.  “Let’s sit.  You want some wine?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, and went over to the walk-in to grab the Cabernet I had uncorked that afternoon, pouring us both a glass.

“Here, Tranquilla, Let me show you something.  We’re going to add a little game of chance – kind of like a raffle - for our favorite customers.  Because we want to make it special, you know, so they know how much we appreciate them, we are going to keep it elite.  Only certain customers can play.”

“That sounds like fun, Ray.  How will I know which ones get to play?” I asked, intrigued.  Ray really knew how to treat his customers - that’s what he and I had in common, that we loved people and knew how to make them feel like they were the one most special favorite customer of all time.  That’s why they always came back, and why Lighthouse was as much of a place to be as it was a place to shop.

Ray laid out a handful of white printed cards on the counter with small type and started explaining.  I leaned over and looked at the cards very hard, trying to connect what Ray was saying to what I saw.  On each card there was a list of football teams, one team vs another team, and after the team names on each line, two numbers, like 6-5, or 4-10.  Ray described something about a point spread and a parlay, none of which made sense to me.  But, OK by me.

He went on. “So I’ll give you a list of people who get to play, and if somebody asks for a card, you just glance over at the list kind of quiet and make sure they’re on it.  If they’re not on the list, just act like you don’t know what they’re talking about, because you don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.”  I thought to myself, not to worry, I can promise you I won’t know what they’re talking about.  He continued. 

“If they’re not on the list, just say, ‘If you’re looking for greeting cards, they’re over on aisle two.’  Or something, depending on what they say.  Real natural.  Then after they leave, tell me.  That’s important, OK?  Because that might be one of our best customers some day.  Capiche?  The only ones who should even ask you are the ones I tell about it, and they’ll just ask quietly, ‘Do you have a card for me?’  You got all that so far?”

I looked at him blankly probably about a second too long.

“Alright, so do you get it?” he asked again.  “Ask me a question or something.”

“Well – not really,” I had to admit.  “But if you tell me exactly what to do, I can do it.  I probably just wouldn’t be good to play it, or to teach anybody to play.  I’m not great at math games.”

He stopped for a minute, looked down and then back up, and smiled at me broadly.

“You know what?  That’s OK!  In fact, that’s better.  A lot easier.  Just do this:  when somebody says, ‘Do you have a card for me,’ you just give them a card.  If they say anything else at all, play like you don’t know.  And fuggetabout the list.  Too much trouble.   I’ll just make sure they say exactly, ‘Do you have a card for me?’ and nothing else.  So they have to say exactly that.  By the time they ask you, they will know how to mark it, because I’ll tell them how when I put them on my list.  Just remind them to circle all the teams, each one they want.   And then you take their card and their money, cash only, and you put it in this box.”  He pointed to a plain metal cash box he had set at the end of the counter.

“Can I make change?” I asked, now in a territory I could wrap my mind around.

“You sure can!  Good question, Tranquilla.  Everyone will pay a different amount.  Most people will only pay a dollar or two, but once in a while you’ll get somebody who wants to pay a lot.  They’re going to give you back their card when they pay you, and they have to mark what they paid you on the card right after the point spread.  See?  I’ll make one for you.  Every card should look something like this.”

He circled a couple of teams, one team at a time, on the card, and wrote an amount after each one in the space to the right.  “When they give you the money, check to make sure it matches the amounts they put on the card, all added up, and put the card in the box with it, under the tray.

He paused, looking at me to see if I understood.

“OK now, Tranquilla?”

I looked at the card.  “This, I can do.”  Something in this moment reminded me of the night at the loading dock, and I felt a tiny jab at the back of my brain, but I decided to ignore it.

He raised both his eyebrows and smiled.  “It’ll be fun, like a little special treatment for our best people.”

I smiled and nodded.  “One more question:  how do I know if they win?”

“You don’t have to worry about that at all.  If they come in and tell you they won, you just buzz me and I’ll be right down.  All prizes are claimed from me only.  If they don’t win, they might want to see me, too, depending.   Just buzz me, and I’ll come down.”

Way at the back of my mind, right where I had felt the jab, a small voice nagged at me.  This sounds a little like gambling, it noticed.  Might it be illegal, it inquired?  I considered the voice, there at the back of my mind.  Then I made a conscious, but only barely conscious, decision to ignore it again.  It flickered past me, disembodied, like sudden headlights in the fog rounding a corner, in front of a horn muffled and fading as it passed.  I decided not to stop, look, or listen.

“What if you’re not here?  What do I do then?” I wondered, a little worried, but not overly.

“I will always be here when it’s winning day, always.  Don’t you worry.  If I get sick or something, I’ll train Bruno just in case.  OK?”

I smiled and took a deep breath.

“OK!  When do we start?”

“Thursday morning.  I’ll leave you two bundles of cards in the cash box.  Don’t forget, ‘do you have a card for me?’  Don’t forget.”

And so my days as a hapless bookie began, to continue the entire remainder of my time working at Lighthouse.  To this very day, I still can’t wrap my mind around a point spread, let alone a parlay, whatever that is.  And it took a bolt of lightning to the head before I admitted to myself that I had even been a bookie at all.


The store was empty except for me and Bruno one December Saturday night, with lights already turned out everywhere but the kitchen, the loft, and the night lights in the front window.  It was starting to get cold, and you could almost see your breath in front of your face even inside the store now that the heat was off for the day.  I was hurrying to finish up for closing, lost in thought over my work, picking out recipes for the  next day so I could grab the freshest ingredients early before the customers came in.  Bruno and I had been bantering back and forth all day, him “meep meep” -ing around the deli like my shadow; and me noticing his antics more than he realized, tracking his every movement with my eyes, smiling my Mona Lisa smile whenever he noticed me noticing him.

“Merry Christmas, Tranquilla,” he whispered, suddenly out of nowhere, his lips barely touching the back of my hair. 

I gasped and wheeled around, the shock of his unexpected presence, the unfamiliar heat of his breath near my ear, and his granite body behind me causing the fine hairs on the side of my face to stand up.

He laughed as my chestnut mop whipped into his face, catching him in the mouth.  I had been leaning over a little file box in front of the pass through, studying a recipe card, when he had sneaked up and abruptly planted his hands on the counter around me, sheltering me in the space he created.  He let go of the counter as I turned, and backed up, grinning at me.

“You smell nice, bella,” he said.  “What is that?”

“Irish Spring and Tide,” I flirted.  “If it smells like more than that, it must be my natural sweetness.”

“Awwh, you beat me to it,” he joked, pressing his clenched fist into his heart like I’d shot him there.  “So tell me, Tranquilla, do you still have to stop and think about Graham whenever you see me?”

We stood there staring at each other for a moment, the air between us thick with surprise and the electricity of emerging connection.  I looked him over thoroughly as he calmly observed me, waiting for me, while I took in his skin, the thick, loose black hair that he was constantly smoothing out of his eyes, those eyes, like ice but somehow warm, eyes that penetrated deep to the center of me and melted there, leaving something of his behind that didn’t go away.  And the well muscled frame that I didn’t dare look at, not yet.

“No,” I said simply.  “No, I don’t.”

“Well, good for me,” he said huskily, a slow smile still playing around his lips as he held my gaze.  He cleared his throat. “So here I go.  Can I take you out for a drink tonight, bella?  You know I missed your birthday, and I have something to give you I’ve been keeping.  I’ve been waiting, you know, until you didn’t, you know, have anything on your mind any more.  You know what I mean.”

I knew exactly what he meant.  My 21st birthday had been in October, and even though he and I never talked about Graham, he knew that my heart still ached from something back then, from whatever that thing was that had been hovering over me when he and I shared the bottle of Chianti months ago, the thing I couldn’t tell him about.  And he had waited for my eyes to clear and my heart to lighten all this time.  He had known just the right moment, to the day and hour, when it was time, not a moment too soon, or too late.

I took in a breath. “OK.  Right now?”

“No, next week. Yes, hippie girl, right now.  Can I help you clean up?”

“No, you goof, we’re already clean.  I’ll think about recipes later.  I want a Kahlua and cream.  Two.”  I fake-punched him in the jaw, and he craned over backwards like I’d really jabbed him.

“Oww, Tranquilla, you knock me out.  You can have as many as you want.  I got you.”
We walked the grocery aisles together, looking for items out of place or fallen; then he locked down all of the outside doors and turned out the lights in the kitchen and the loft.  He came back out to grocery, where I was still waiting between the canned fruits and vegetables and the bread aisle, up by the cash register.  He stopped about eight feet back and stood, hands in his pockets looking at me.  His left eye twitched a little, and a smile broke across his face.   He approached me slowly, reaching up and weaving his hand into my hair as soon as the length of his arm would allow.  His fingers came gently around the back of my head, pulling me toward him, bringing my face to within inches of his, his eyes boring into mine.

“I’ll arm the store and meet you at the truck,” he whispered.

 Once we were bouncing along in the little red market pickup, the newness melted away again, giving us the respite of our old easy friendship and gossipy chatter to fall back on.  The conversation came in a flood, almost like a reaction to the intense silences of moments ago: what were Ray and Nannette doing for Christmas; was he giving bonuses, or a party at his big house in San Bruno.  We all loved parties at Ray’s house because he had a home version of Pong, a computer ping pong game that was built into a game table where the top should be.  We would sit around that thing for hours until our brains shut down.  He was going to add Pac Man to it for his two little ones for Christmas, and we were trying to talk him into putting one up in the loft. 

As we got closer to the wharf and could see Alioto’s Restaurant in the distance, Bruno told me word was that two Italians were going to run for mayor, and we debated who our favorite of the two likely contenders would be, Moscone or Barbagelata.  We were kind of leaning toward Moscone, a man of the people who didn’t hide out in his St. Francis Wood home, but spent time in the stores and cafes of the city’s neighborhoods, keeping tabs on people.  Plus he had been majority leader of the State Senate, while Barbagelata had just been a Supervisor, and Willie Brown liked him. And I liked Willie.  He used to give parties for us poster factory kids, since we worked for his friend Jeff, another man of the people.
Solidly back in our comfort zone together, we pulled into the narrow alley beside The Tide, a little bar right down on the wharf where it turned out Bruno was connected.  That meant when he walked through the door, the owner came out and said, “Eeyyy, Bruno, goombah, come stai?” and patted Bruno on both shoulders with his hands.  It also seemed to mean that Bruno could park wherever he wanted, avoiding the need to circle the block countless times to wait for a space to open on the street, or to pay the freight for a garage space and walk.

“Eeyyy, Pietro, non c’è male,” he replied, gathering up the broad-chested barman in a bear hug and patting him on the back.

“So who’s da dish, my friend?” our host asked, wiping his hands on his apron as Dean Martin sang “C’e la luna, mezz’o mare” from the little nickel jukebox in the booth next to where we stood.

“This, my friend, is Tranquilla, of whom I have spoken many times.  Or Shelley, to you.  Shelley Hobson.  Shelley, this is Pietro.  You can call him Petey if you want, or whatever.”

I extended my hand to shake, and Pietro took it in his and turned it, backside up, raising it halfway to his lips and bending down as if to kiss it, but just bowing low over it instead.

“My honor, Miss Shelley.”

“You’re a gentleman, Pietro.  So nice to meet you,” I said lowering my eyes shyly.

“It’s good you didn’t kiss, goombah, cause you should not be gettin’ spit on the lady,” Bruno cracked, and they both chattered off something in Italian, laughing and punching each other in the chest, faking heart attacks in turn.

“OK, Tranquilla, let’s sit.  Petey, can we sit here?” Bruno asked, nodding his head to where Dean – no, Dino – was crooning.

“Be my guest.  My house is yours,” Pietro replied, sweeping his arm across the front of himself like a doorman.

“You are too kind.  No, exactly kind enough – meep meep!” said Bruno, taking my hand and ushering me into the booth.  “One large White Russian for the lady, and a Michelob for me.”

“You 21, paisan?  Just kidding,” joked Pietro, laughing in strange little barks.

“Shaddup, stunad.  Bring a frosted glass, OK?”  Bruno smiled and shook his head.  “We love each other like brothers,” he said to me as Pietro went for the drinks.  “We went to high school together and he graduated a coupla years before me so he likes to bust my balls.  Excuse me, give me a hard time.  You look beautiful, by the way, deli girl.  But that little aroma of mortadella behind your ear I like the best.”

I wadded up a napkin and threw it at him, just as Pietro brought the drinks.

“Kids, kids, let’s keep it quiet in the house now or I’ll have to call the authorities.”

“Funny guy.  This is a funny guy,” remarked Bruno winking, cocking his thumb toward Pietro.  “You make me laugh, Petey.  Now make like a tree.”

“You are a tree,” said Pietro, snapping Bruno on the shoulder with a kitchen towel and scuttling back over behind the bar, with that same rolling shuffle Bruno meep-meeped around the market with.

“You guys almost look like brothers,” I observed, looking around the place and taking in the waterfront paisano ambience.  The tables were thick with lacquer over brightly colored Italian ads for Campari, Galliano, Coca-Cola, San Pellegrino, and Bolla Valpolicella and Soave.  The entire back wall was tight with bottles stuffed into shelves, with liquers, syrups of every flavor and color, and sparkling waters packed in alongside the Johnny Walker Red and Black and the Wild Turkey.  There were mirrors all the way around, making the tiny space look three times its size, and the booths along both walls were upholstered in alternating tufted stripes of shiny, thick red and green vinyl.  The little juke boxes on each table top had a mix of current hits and Italian standards, including C’e la Luna, Volare, and Oh Marie, Bruno’s favorites.  I knew this because he liked to sing little bits from them when he was meep-meeping around. 

But the best part was the sidewalk outside, now dark and covered over with canvas for the night, where the crab pots boiled during the day on either side of the glass cases, filled with whole cracked Dungeness, shrimp, calamari, oysters, clams, and whatever came back fresh from the traps and nets that morning.  Wooden barrels full of French loaves, Colombo and Boudin and Francisco, stood out front, inviting you to grab something in white paper with a plastic cup of wine along with your loaf, and dine by the water.  I had only ever walked this sidewalk as an outsider, but being here with Bruno made me feel like I had more cousins on a new side of town now, where I never had before.

Pietro walked up with a tray. “Here’s your drinks.  Enjoy, brother.  You call if you need me, Shelley, OK?  Don’t you let this one give you a hard time.”

“I can take care of myself.  Besides, he’s a good boy for me,” I replied.

“We’ll see,” said Pietro, winking and walking away, Bruno whacking him on the forearm as he turned.

“A character,” said Bruno.  “Is that good, bella?”

“Wow!  It’s strong.  Is that what Kahlua and cream is, a White Russian?”

“Pretty much,” Bruno answered, taking a swig of his beer, eyeing me.  “Do you like it?”

“It gets better with every sip.  Better order another one because this one’s going down.”

“You got it, Tranquilla,” and he raised his arm over his head without turning around.  In seconds I had another one with a fresh tiny red straw and a little square napkin sitting in front of me.  I almost didn’t notice Pietro come up.

“So, Tranquilla, I have a little belated birthday gift for you.”  Bruno took a small square box out of his jacket pocket and slid it across the table.  I felt a little intimidated at the sight of it.

I opened gingerly, and inside tacked to a little loop was one half of a heart with a broken edge, very thin delicate gold, and engraved with what looked like Hebrew letters on the back.

“It’s a mizpah,” he said.  “When I can’t be around to watch over you, you know I have the other half, and I’m thinking of you.  You’ll know I’m always there, always your friend.  See?  I’ll keep the other half with me.”

He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his wallet, opening up the picture section and showing me where the other half was inside one of the sleeves.  “Now you have to give me a picture of you so I can put it in here with my heart.  OK?”

I was touched, and uncomfortable, but not so much that I wanted to push it back across the table.  “It’s beautiful, Bruno, thank you.  I’m going to put it on my chain right now, next to Bob‘s locket.  You know Bob . . .”

“Sure, Tranquilla, I know all about Bob.  Great guy.  I would be proud to share a chain with Bob.”

I took off my chain and added the mizpah, then put it back on and held it up to show Bruno.  “I love it.  It makes me feel very safe.  Thank you.”  I was about two-thirds of the way through my second drink by now.

“You want one more of those, Tranquilla?” Bruno asked, holding up his hand.  Like magic, another one in front of me.  I definitely did not see it arrive this time, and before I knew it, I had finished it.  Bruno, I thought, might still be nursing his first beer.  Or it might be my imagination.


“Hell, no.  I think you’re growing another head.  No, it’s a whole twin.  I might be ready to go home,” I said, holding my hand up to my cheek, wondering why it felt clammy on the outside when it felt so hot on the inside.

“You bet, Tranquilla.  Here, let me help you to the truck,” and he came around beside me and lifted up on my elbow, starting to lead me outside.

“Don’t you have to pay?” I asked wanly.

“No, bella, I have an agreement.  You’re always welcome here now too, and come for lunch if you’re ever down here without me.  Petey’s treat.”  Bruno and Pietro nodded at each other, both of them looking very far away to me, and small.

I was both impressed and impaired.  I tripped a little going over the doorstep.

Bruno poured me into the truck and maneuvered it backward out of the alley, then through the narrow, criss-crossing streets around the wharf, and down Beach over to Hyde, making the long pull straight up the cable car tracks, manual transmission and all, without a single slip or grind, the muscles of his forearm rippling under his taut skin.  It seemed like only a minute to me before he pulled into the alley beside Lighthouse and turned off the engine, probably because, admittedly, I was out of it.  Suddenly it got very quiet in the cab of the pickup, and stuffy.

“Why don’t you come inside with me a while, bella,” he said soothingly.  “We can sit in the loft and talk before you go home to Graham.”

I was thinking coffee actually sounded pretty good and had opened the door of the truck, stepping out into the alley ready to go inside for a hot cup.  But as soon as my feet hit the pavement, I was hunched over, all my snacks from the dinner hour at the deli and the White Russians in a puddle between my feet.

“Aayyy, madone!” Bruno cried out.  “Poor Tranquila.  What have I done to you?”  He scrambled over the stick shift to the other side of the cab, reaching over to pet my hair.  “And to me,” he said to himself more quietly.  “It must have been the vodka.”

“Vodka?!!? What vodka?  All I had was Kahlua and cream!” I moaned, retching up nothingness.

“Well, really Tranquilla, you had a few White Russians.  White Russians have just a drop of vodka in there.  Just a drop.”

“A drop of vodka?!!?  I can’t drink vodka!  Ever since I binged on screwdrivers in high school I can’t drink vodka.  It makes me sick.”

“I know,” he mourned.  “I’m sorry.”

“Well, me too.  But next time don’t do me any favors with drinks, OK?  I’d give you a kiss, but I just had vodka.  Again.”

Bruno moaned softly, tilting his head back. “Ay, bella.  Can I walk you home?”

“What, no ride?  Just kidding.  Yes, you can.  I would appreciate it.  Oh, my head,” I groaned.

“Wait, take these.”  Bruno pulled out a bottle of Coke from behind the seat and a bottle opener, handed me three aspirin from a bottle in the glove box, and popped open the Coke.

“You take these now, and you won’t feel a thing in the morning, I promise.”

I obeyed, and walked around behind the truck, meeting him in the middle of the alley.

“I had fun anyway,” I said.  “And thanks for the drinks.”  I poked him a good one in the chest with my free hand and took a swig of Coke with the other.

He took his jacket off and draped it around my shoulders, taking my hand in his and walking me silently all the way to my doorstep, waiting until the door closed behind me.  And I only had to stop and bend over the gutter twice on the way there.  

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