Salud, Dinero y Amor
They sat across from one another, the man and the woman. The table was round and small and covered with a ruby-red circular cloth. Centered between them was a brass-fitted hurricane lamp that gave off a wavering candle light.
They smiled into each other’s eyes, watching the reflections of flame and shadow. He raised his iridescent, compact glass of Vintage port, she raised hers. Each tipped their rim in the other’s direction, like a salute and acknowledgment. Then they sipped.
In front of the woman, on white stoneware dessert plates, rested a slice of chocolate raspberry ganache gateau and a piece of apricot mousse cake. The man had ordered a wedge of tiramisu bathed in Amaretto sauce.
The cafe hummed with intimate conversations in the luminous semidarkness. The impeccably dressed waiters seemed to tip-toe on the terra-cotta tile floors so as not to disturb the mood, as they delivered food and wine, or poured coffee and handed patrons the red-leather check covers.
The man paused to run the index finger of his right hand along the label of the wine bottle. “Fonseca Guimaraens, Oporto Portugal,” he read. “Vintage Port, 1994.”
The women widened her eyes, making her brows lift and arc, then she lowered her green-shaded lids and smiled. She elevated her wine to a position in front of her lips and inhaled deeply. “Very nice, and thank you,” she finally said.
He felt a rush of heat course through his limbs, up into his neck. “You deserve it, sweetheart,” he said. He gazed with both anxiety and pride at the woman, at how her strapless apple-green dress wrapped itself around her slender yet voluptuous figure. “You haven’t tried the apricot mousse cake,” he added.
She set her glass down and straightened, then pushed back in her seat. “I will. But I am somewhat distressed that you chose the Amaretto topping for your tiramisu. You know it doesn’t really blend well with Vintage port.”
His glass descended until it contacted the tablecloth and stopped. Wine sloshed for a moment. Dismay played on his face as he tilted his head a bit and gazed at her. “Teresita, Vintage Port has enough body, flavor, and alcohol content. It can be used with desserts that are made with liquors.”
Her complexion darkened, the volume of her voice rose a notch. “But you know that’s not quite true. If chocolate is involved, or fruit, perhaps that’s a different matter. Even so, I deliberately asked the waiter to hold the Grand Marnier on my apricot mousse cake. Knowing that this magnificent bottle of wine cost you over two-hundred dollars. But you went right ahead and told him to douse your tiramisu with Amaretto.”
“Teresa,” he said with a sigh, “does it really matter? What good did a whole year of marriage counseling do for you, I’d like to know?”
Her expression hardened and her hazel eyes seemed to lose their brightness. She lifted her chin and fingered one of her triple-diamond earrings. “Excuse me?” she said. “Overreacting much?”
A stocky waiter materialized on the far side of the table, his hands clasped behind his back. “Is everything all right with you folks?” he asked. His tone was confident and secure, and he looked to be older than the other servers they’d seen that evening. “Is there anything else I can get you?”
They both registered satisfaction and enthusiasm on their faces while they nodded and said at the same time, “Oh, it’s all just perfect,” and, “Wonderful, it’s all great, thanks.”
“Are you set?” the man asked the woman. “Need anything else?”
“I’m just fine,” she said, her attention on the waiter. “Really, everything is fine.”
“That’s gratifying to hear, ma’am,” the waiter said. He swiftly and easily brought one hand around from behind him, and laid the rectangular check-holder next to the man’s left arm. “Please,” he said, “take your time, finish your dessert and wine. I’ll be back in a little while.”
They both watched him flit away, and then calmly and simultaneously turned back to regard each other.
She scooped up her wine glass and poured some more of the garnet-colored liquid into her mouth.
“Teresa,” he said, his forearms stretched in front of him, his fingers drumming on the cloth. His gold cufflinks gleamed. “Teresa, doesn’t it occur to you, don’t you understand….”
She drained her wine, set her glass down carefully. She ran her tongue along her lower, bright-red lip. “What are you trying to say, Jack. All I did was point out….”
He looked away, focusing on another table in the twilight, on another couple who seemed to be so affectionate and unconcerned in their little world. “Okay,” he said after a moment. He threw out his hands, palms up. “You’re right. You’re always right.” He avoided eye contact with her, and folded his arms on the table in front of him. He abruptly flipped open the check-cover, to confront the costs and charges for the night. He tried to tuck the edges of despair and hopelessness back under his conscious thoughts.
She brought the knuckles of her left hand to her mouth; her face looked tight and strained. “I’m sorry,” she muttered, focusing on the tablecloth in front of her.
There was a moment of silence, as if the entire restaurant had disappeared. He reached across the table and grasped her other hand as it rested in a fist. His eyes abruptly began to pinch and ache and he battled to keep tears at bay.
A rivulet rolled down her cheek, next to her nose, tracking through her makeup. Her eyes were watery and ready to spill. She sniffed and pulled back both her arms so she could grab her napkin from her lap. She used a corner of it to blot.
The man continued to lean forward, stroking one of her arms. “Are you okay?” he asked softly.
She nodded, replaced the napkin. “Could you pour some more wine, please?” she asked, and watched as he complied. “Thanks,” she said as he replaced the bottle on its tray.
“I love you, Teresa,” he said. “I want this to be a new start. No more of the old….”
“The old stupid, shallow crap?”
The man smiled casually, in a kind of lopsided way. “… Well, old habits are hard to break….”
“Jack….” she began, but her emotions started to rise again.
“So, this wasn’t the new beginning, this was the end of the old one,” he said. “That’s worth celebrating.” He reached for her fingers and gently played with them. “If we can both stop being such narrow-minded jerks, we might make this work.”
She peeked up at him from under her lashes, and smiled. She felt such need, such hope and pain all at once that she couldn’t think of anything to say.