Ringside Seats by Jennifer Anthony

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23 August 2008

The ninety-minute wait was no more than a dim memory as Roxie, Javier, Graciela and Rickey marched to the table that awaited them under the tin ceiling in Park Slope’s Al Di La Trattoria.

 The restaurant was Kyoko’s idea. The staunch Brooklynite had touted it as the City’s finest Italian restaurant and had gone so far as to say it was essentially “sex at a table.”

And before Roxie had left for the date, Kyoko had given her some stern advice.

 “At ADLT, you need to get out of your head,” she’d warned. “You have to relax, let the food overwhelm your senses. Once you do that, it’ll be like a food orgasm. Trust me.”

 But Roxie was having a tough time crawling out of her head, conflicted as she was about the double date. The couples were in such different phases of their dating careers. Even though Roxie had indeed blurted out a few I love yous during moments of passion, her relationship with Javier still felt new and tenuous, with the occasional awkward silence and fumbling for words. Meanwhile Graciela was wearing an engagement ring that symbolized a deep understanding and a life-long commitment.

 But no sooner had they ordered, than Javier and Graciela launched into a cross-couple conversation about their latest performance at S.O.B.s. that alleviated some of Roxie’s anxiety.

 The Chianti Classico Riserva was silky-smooth, and with each sip, Roxie could feel her body detaching from her meddlesome mind and drifting ever so slowly away. By the time their food arrived, she was content to dive into her plate of beet ravioli with poppy seeds and relish each bite at little more than a primal level.

 She stopped only to watch Javier launch into his hangar steak, chewing slowly and thoughtfully. When she tapped his foot under the table with one heel, he smiled and winked.

 “You have to come see us perform with the guest musician,” Javier said. “Graciela’s developed a bit of a crush on his sax.”

 When Graciela waved her hand at him dismissively, her diamond engagement ring caught the light from the chandelier above. “Oh, stop it!” she said.

 “I’m beginning to get a little jealous,” Rickey said.

 Roxie looked over at him, expecting to see his usual grin, but his smile looked crooked and forced.

 “It’s the instrument I’m interested in,” Graciela said. “And although the musician is handsome, he’s nothing compared to his sax.”

 “Sometimes a sax is just a sax,” Roxie quipped.

 A few seconds of silence ensued, and Roxie returned to her raviolis, savoring each swallow. Javier’s foot had found her ankle and begun to slide up her leg.

 A foreign giggle spouted from Roxie’s mouth and her tablemates looked up in surprise.

 “This food is just so good!” Roxie said, her cheeks on fire.

 “So, speaking of the guest saxophonist,” Javier started. His foot fell away from Roxie’s leg.

 Rickey leaned back in his chair and sighed, as if annoyed that the subject would not die.

 “I haven’t been sure when to bring this up,” Javier continued.

 “Bring what up?” Roxie asked. The sudden bizarre tension was steering her back into her head.

 Javier brushed at invisible crumbs on his lips with a napkin. “Fernando shared some good news with me the other day. He’s going back to Cuba for a month. Has a gig lined up there. And he wants our salsa band to go with him.”

 Roxie’s fork clattered against her plate. Speechless, she looked over at Graciela for reinforcement. But Graciela was beaming.

 “Que maravilloso!” Graciela exclaimed. “Cuba! How long have I wanted to go there? And we’d have a gig?”

 Roxie stared in disbelief at her friend. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that Rickey’s face had crumpled.

 “I guess that Graciela has forgotten that we’re supposed to be planning a wedding,” Rickey said, in a monotone. Before anyone could respond, he turned and signaled for the waiter. “Check, please!”

 Roxie stared at the last bite of ravioli, stranded on her plate. Minutes before, she had nearly experienced the much-anticipated table nirvana. Now, she was fully back in her mind.

 Sometimes, a sax was just a sax. And sometimes, inexplicably, a ring was perhaps just a ring.

 


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