At the next table, a single dad expounds on the Kennedy years to his daughter, the Italian half of what was once a whole. Single fathers grasp at time, unlike the father at our table, who lets it run through his hands, a slippery eel laid out on a brick of rice. His Kennedy story leaks regret. Not just for our last great President, but also the tiny apartment he has allotted to his ex-wife, where she cooks pasta carbonara because of the minimal counter space it requires.
Instead of Kennedy, the divorcée at the next table offers a brief lecture on Nero’s reign of terror.
The other attentive children dot the tables like edamame, his children want a prawn rolled in imported bread crumbs dropped into sizzling fat and rolled again in rice that is not risotto. Everything drizzled with the mayonnaise that Romans cannot eat sushi without.
Unlike our own children, whose home is unbroken on the surface, the 16-year old at the next table holds up her end of the conversation, asking the questions her mother never did about the Bay of Pigs, says okay instead of okaaaiiy at her high school on the edge of the Tevere where bars on the windows can’t contain the noise of a thousand teenagers who never stop talking. The unaccented English of her father will lead her eventually out of Rome towards sushi restaurants that will not dollop every jeweled cross-section with mayonnaise swirls.
At our table, the father is not expounding on the cold war, or Nero, or the most recent theory of why Rome fell because we are stir-frying time, pushing it around the pan. I have packed sketch pads to play the same arsenal of games we have overplayed at restaurants all my married life. There is psychiatrist, where one person leaves the table and the rest of us try to trick her into not discovering what our particular neurosis is that evening. Exquisite Corpse: one person draws the head, the next the torso, then legs, and finally, shoes with unfurling laces.
Stop staring! My daughter stage-whispers, but I am intrigued by the kind of family talk that strives to make an imprint, as much as I am with the idea of a mother in high heels and matte cerise who is right now in that tiny apartment pouring wine for her boyfriend. The woman who hoped her Italian man would not expect her to be his mama, swirling her life around his with a dollop of mayo.
What would I trade for this enviable state. Me, a grown woman.
BIO: Tej Rae is a freelance writer currently based in Rome, working on her third novel. After teaching high school English for 15 years, she transitioned to journalism and fiction. Her publishing credits include The Washington Post, BBC Focus on Africa magazine, The National newspaper in UAE, YogaLife Middle East, The Wheelhouse Review, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, Eunoia Review, Romeing, Spittoon, and Fiction365, among others. Many of her publications can be found on http://tejrae.com
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