Mashed spaghetti. Some things you could never prepare for.
It wasn’t as if she and Doug were mega-yuppies but they both liked their pasta al dente and they both liked to sleep late.
Then along came Zoe, God bless her.
Karen smiled as Zoe plunged her tiny hands into the sticky, cheesy mound. Three peas sat on top like tiny bits of topiary. The peas promptly rolled off the high chair and landed on the restaurant floor. Zoe looked down and cracked up. Then she pointed and began to fuss.
“Okay, sweetie.” Karen bent, retrieved the green balls, and put them in front of her own plate.
“No, they’re dirty, honey.”
From behind the bar, the fat dark waiter looked over at them. When they’d come in, he hadn’t exactly greeted them with open arms. But the place had been empty, so who was he to be choosy? Even now, fifteen minutes later, the only other lunchers were three men in the booth at the far end. First they’d slurped soup loud enough for Karen to hear. Now they were hunched over platters of spaghetti, each one guarding his food as if afraid someone would steal it. Theirs was probably al dente. And from the briny aroma drifting over, with clam sauce.
“No, Zoe, Mommy can’t have you eating dirty peas, okay?”
“C’mon, Zoe-puss, yucko-grosso–no, no, honey, don’t cry–here, try some carrots, aren’t they pretty, nice pretty orange carrots–orange is such a pretty color, much prettier than those yucky peas–here, look, the carrot is dancing. I’m a dancing carrot, my name is Charlie….”
Karen saw the waiter shake his head and go back through the swinging doors into the kitchen. Let him think she was an idiot, the carrot ploy was working: Zoe’s gigantic blue eyes had enlarged and a chubby hand reached out.
Touching the carrot. Fingers the size of thimbles closed over it.
Victory! Let’s hear it for distraction. “Eat it, honey, it’s soft.”
Zoe turned the carrot and studied it. Then she grinned. Raised it over her head.
Windup and the pitch: fastball straight to the floor. “Eh- eh!”
Time for Mommy to do her four-thousandth bend of the morning. Thank God her back was strong but she hoped Zoe got over the hurl-and-whine stage soon. Some of the other mothers at Group complained of serious pain. So far, Karen felt surprisingly fine, despite the lack of sleep. Probably all the years of taking care of herself, aerobics, running with Doug. Now he ran by himself….
“Try some more spaghetti, honey.”
The waiter came out like a man with a mission, bearing plates heaped with meat. He brought them to the three men at the back, bowed, and served. Karen saw one of the three–the thin lizardy one in the center–nod and slip him a bill. The waiter poured wine and bowed again. As he straightened he glanced across the room at Karen and Zoe. Karen smiled but got a glare in return.
Bad attitude, especially for a dinky little place this dead at the height of the lunch hour. Not to mention the musty smell and what passed for decor: worn lace curtains drawn back carelessly from flyspecked windows, dark, dingy wood varnished so many times it looked like plastic. The booths that lined the mustard-colored walls were cracked black leather, the tables covered with your basic cliche checkered oilcloth. Ditto Chianti bottles in straw hanging from the ceiling and those little hexagonal floor tiles that would never be white again. Call Architectural Digest.
When she and Zoe had stepped in, the waiter hadn’t even come forward, just kept wiping the bartop like some religious rite. When he’d finally looked up, he’d stared at the high-chair Karen had dragged along as if he’d never seen one before. Stared at Zoe, too, but not with any kindness. Which told you where he was at, because everyone adored Zoe, every single person who laid eyes on her said she was the most adorable little thing they’d ever encountered.
The milky skin–Karen’s contribution. The dimples and black curls from Doug.
And not just family. Strangers. People were always stopping Karen on the street just to tell her what a peach Zoe was.
But that was back home. This city was a lot less friendly. She’d be happy to get back.
Let’s hear it for business trips. God bless Doug, he did try to be liberated. Agreeing to have all three of them travel together. He’d made a commitment and stuck to it; how many men could you say that about?
The things you do for love.