“Let’s order Bloody Mary’s.” Claire winks mischievously.
“Ok.” I was going to order one anyway, as a vegetable. Claire usually orders sparkling water at lunch with a wedge of lemon. It looks like a cocktail but it tastes like water with a doorknob dipped into it, but I don’t say this to Claire who is making steps toward being chic. I only tell her that it’s like cola with all the flavor drained from it, which sounds less harsh, but she’s a little bitter when she replies, “Who says cola?” and I’m glad that we’re even.
“How old is this place?” I ask.
“As old as us,” she sighs. The red velvet wallpaper is peeling off the walls in a way that is not wabi-sabi and the cardboard dragon hanging from the celling is from the last Year of the Dragon. The speakers trickle Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love” in Chinese, and from the way Claire is twirling her chopsticks, I can tell it’s making her just as sad.
“You can still twirl like a champion majorette,” I say. “A very tiny one.” She chuckles.
“Ben asked me if I still have my cheerleader outfit. Actually, his exact words were, ‘Do you still fit into your cheerleader outfit?’”
I don’t ask if she does because I can tell from the way she bites her chopstick that the short skirt no longer covers her blooming bottom. “Devaluated real estate,” she calls it. A trade joke.
“We came here when I was little,” Claire says. “I remember my parents sitting me on that centerpiece and spinning me around.”
“You would get arrested for doing that to a kid today. Without a helmet,” I add. Claire nods in agreement.
The restaurant is wedged between a tall casino and its five-level parking garage because the owner would rather send pictures of a restaurant full of Americans back home than photos of a pile of cash.
“We always came here on Easter Sunday,” Claire says. Her mother is an atheist and her father was a devout gambler. Claire decided to become a Catholic because she wanted to wear a white dress to Confirmation like the rest of us, and Catholicism was a good excuse for her constant feelings of guilt. “One time after lunch, my father said, ‘Order dessert, I’ll be right back.’ He was at the casino so long we eventually ordered dinner, and the nice owner spun me and my brother round and round until Stevie fell asleep.”
We spin shrimp crackers back and forth to each other like sober DJ’s at a Bat Mitzvah. Our drinks arrive and she sucks a big gulp and smiles at me.
“I dare you to ride on it,” she says. “C’mon. Go for a spin.”
“What do I win?” I ask.
“I’ll treat,” she says.
“It’s your turn to treat anyway.”
“Oh, well.” She takes another gulp and whispers, ”Ben wants us to have a threesome. Or a swing thing.”
“Well, of course,” I say, biting a shrimp cracker. ”What guy doesn’t?”
Then we both suck busily at our Bloody Mary’s because someone was about to suggest that we should just swing together and then realized what a terrible idea it is. Claire actually makes a face as she swallows, as if the idea of Josh and I is so repulsive.
I know you should never order sushi at a Chinese place. The tuna nigiri has lost its sheen and hangs limp like Ben’s flaccid dong. I want to make a joke about Ben’s dong but I’m worried that Claire might think I’ve seen it, which I have, but only by accident because Ben never locks the door to the bathroom, not even when I’m over.
We leave the sushi on the side and order more Bloody Mary’s. Chinese Whitney chirps something like, “Yeeaaah I wanna dance with somebody!” and I say, “Let’s dance!” so we snort and wiggle in our chairs and people smile and pretend not to see us. And then there’s a slow song and I know it’s Claire’s favorite, that it was on the mix tape that she carried around in her back pocket, the one that she slipped into the car stereo the first time she did it with that buzzhead. She had cried afterwards and said she had always wanted to do it to the song but she had hoped it would’ve lasted longer than a song and when I drove her to church I stood outside the confession booth and heard her bawling and blaming the song for losing her mind and the next most important thing.
I stand up and extend my hand. “Dance?” I ask. She laughs but then her face becomes serious and she gets out of her seat and comes into my arms. She smells like the sweet tang of tomato as she rests her soft head on my shoulder and lets me sway her. “Lazy Susan,” I whisper.
“The spinning centerpiece, it’s called a Lazy Susan.”
“What did Susan ever do to deserve that?”
Maria’s Recipe for a “possible” Paloma:
1 tall glass half-full of crushed ice
1 finger of tequila (whatever works for you)
“10 cent Pink Grapefruit Soda” (fill remaining glass)
squirt of lime juice. lime slice if you’re feeling fancy
Originally from New Jersey, Maria Poulatha lives in Athens, Greece with her husband and daughter. Her stories have appeared in Split Lip Magazine, Copper Nickel, SmokeLong Quarterly, Flash Frog, trampset, Okay Donkey and other lovely journals.
image: MM Kaufman