Just One American Beauty Rose
by Marilyn Jacobs
The crash woke me. Sitting up, I looked around. In the dim light coming through the window, I saw my tall glass bud vase broken on the floor.
My cat must have been admiring the red American Beauty rose I'd received that evening. "Oh, Candy," I sighed. "Your curiosity has done it again." I switched on the lamp, went to the hall closet, and took out the broom and dustpan.
"Brrrr. It's still cold." I remembered how I'd shivered outside earlier while waiting for the WALK sign, my breath forming little clouds in front of me. Three cabdrivers stopped and almost in unison started tapping their fingers on their steering wheels, feet no doubt poised above accelerators, anticipating the maneuver around Columbus Circle.
I crossed the street and headed uptown, walking along Central Park. With my black hat covering my head, I buried my chin in my black scarf, hunching up my shoulders, hands in my pockets. My black windbreaker had a Burberry beige, white, red, and black plaid fabric on its cuffs and collar. The red plush pile lining, neither detachable nor visible, kept me warm. My pants and walking shoes, too, were black. "THE New York color, especially in winter. It's such a thrifty idea," I reasoned. "If everything I buy is black, everything matches."
Very few people were out in the strong wind. Mid-February in New York City is usually like this. "But I'm here," I mused, "where I decided to move, so I'll just have to get used to the cold." My friend Jeffrey had emailed me from Florida where he'd spent the morning on a beach. "Come on down," he wrote. "I saw your weather report, and you have my sympathy!"
I kept up an even pace. "Heel, toe, heel toe," I said out loud, concentrating on getting the most out of my walk, like the book I was reading had instructed. My large black handbag, the size leftover from years of carrying a diaper bag, rested easy on my shoulder. But it got in the way of swinging my left arm, so I just did the best that I could. "This," I thought, "is real exercise."
I crossed over at 66th Street and continued up Central Park West. Twice, as I walked north, I had to stop for the light, breaking my rhythm. I'd eaten at a nice Italian restaurant on Columbus Avenue several times before. A friend had recommended it. "I'll go there tonight," I thought, raising my eyebrows. "I'll treat myself to capellini with tomato sauce and capers." I was feeling good, free, emancipated from a marriage that had been going nowhere.
I marched past apartment buildings with doctors' offices on the ground floors, signs advertising their specialty. A young deliveryman stood outside a deli, rocking back and forth to keep warm. An elderly man was walking his dog. But I mostly scanned the architecture, sometimes craning my head to see it. A few buildings featured art deco designs, dating them back to the 1940s.
I rounded the corner and walked south on Columbus Avenue, almost always filled with people. You can window shop, or buy clothing and makeup in airy, well lit, non-intimidating boutiques, often open at night, with young attractive twenty-something salesmen and women. On warm days and nights, you can eat outside and watch passersby, couples holding hands.
Even though it was not yet 6:00, the official start of the dinner hour, a Chinese restaurant was already half filled. I paused long enough to look at its taped-up menu, but still wanted pasta.
A man and woman walked into the next restaurant with their little boy. Its menu read in big bold letters, FAMILY STYLE PLATTERS. "I'll bring my grandchildren here sometime," I fantasized, and kept going.
When I reached the Italian restaurant, I went inside to find almost all the tables taken, the conversations melding into a loud buzz. I smiled at the host, "Table for one, please."
"Madame," he said, "I cannot accommodate 'one' this evening, we have no table for you." He then turned to the next woman and asked, "Table for two?"
"Really?" I asked. He glanced at me but did not answer. I'd been dismissed. "Did he reject me because I was alone?" I wondered. It was Valentine's Evening.
It had happened to me before, several times. The first time I had felt devastated. Left out. Discarded. Invisible. I felt a slow anger rising. "I'll call the owner tomorrow," I thought. "Tonight is too perfect to throw away."
There are enough restaurants in this area, I knew I'd find another one quickly, maybe a quieter one. As I walked along, a little faster now, I told myself I would never go back there. The other times I'd been alone, they'd been happy to feed me, but a single woman, on this night...
I remembered going into almost vacant restaurants other times where I'd been led to an undesirable table, near the kitchen. I would gesture towards a better location and say I wanted to sit there. They usually moved me, but if they wouldn't, I'd leave and go elsewhere. I figured, "It's my money and I want to feel comfortable, respected, and taken care of. I want to feel that way all the time."
I continued down Columbus Avenue, crossed the street, and stopped at a restaurant I'd never noticed before, for good reason. A food market adorned its front with permanent, though empty, bins and shelves. An awning projected out over those.
Polished wood paneling framed a large glass window, beckoning me to peek in. An arrangement of large red shrimp flowers and exotic leaves sat on the bar. The lighting was set at a comfortable glow, making the place look warm and inviting. Scanning the menu by the door, I saw sea bass. My mouth watered. The prices were a bit high, but I peered in again. Only a few tables were taken. I went inside. The hostess was wearing a black dress with a red jacket, shoulders squared with pads, her black hair styled in a pageboy. She sat me at a table for two. One side wall was brick, the other painted white. There were etchings of buildings and New York City scenes in black frames. The tables had white linen cloths, and the glasses and flatware had an upscale look, making me feel special, showing promise that I would be treated well. So many times I'd been to a restaurant where the food was good, but the ambiance was not. I sat back, content and hopeful. The servers and busboys were in clean, white, starched uniforms, and they were smiling.
My waitress told me the specials. I started with a glass of white zinfandel wine. I like sweet wines. It came in a generous round shaped goblet with a delicate stem. "Elegant!" I whispered.
My salad combined the flavors of apples, skinny red onion slices, lettuce, and goat cheese with balsamic dressing. So far, I rated the restaurant as excellent. The service was polite, and not rushed. The busboy kept my water glass filled. I like lots of water. I did have to ask a second time for a slice of lemon for it, hardly a major catastrophe.
The kitchen prepared my sea bass as requested, grilled rather than sautéed, butter sauce on the side. There were mashed potatoes with herbs, baby carrots mixed with sweet red peppers, and a sprig of broccoli with a delicious white sauce. I ate slowly, leaving a small amount on my plate, too full to order dessert. I declined coffee, feeling completely satisfied.
My watch read 6:45. I paid the check, leaving a generous tip. The restaurant was full now,and there were about two dozen people waiting. Most were in casual dress but neat looking. At that moment, the waitress came over and put one long stemmed American Beauty rose wrapped in cellophane on my table. "This is for you, Madame," she said.
"Thank you, it's beautiful. And so thoughtful." I noted that not every female patron had received such a gift.
I thanked the hostess for the rose and put the restaurant's card in my purse. "I'll definitely be back," I told her. "Next time, I'll bring friends." I walked south toward my apartment building, smiling all the way home.
Excerpted from Single Women - Alive and Well!
Bio: Marilyn Farber Jacobs is an internationally published poetess. Her poems have been published in the Hidden Brook Press No Love Lost II Poetry Anthology, the Merseyside Arts Magazine (UK), Mountains, Memories and Ferrys Anthology (UK), the Amateur Poetry Journal and in the Poetry Protocol. Lifetime member of the North Tulsa Literary Guild, Marilyn is the sponsor and judge of annual Marilyn Jacobs Poetry Contest. She also writes travelogues and press releases. Her restaurant and museum reviews can be seen on Digital City New York. Marilyn lives in New York and in Florida. A past president of the Children's Service League of Westchester County, NY, she has received the Mental Health Association's Community Leadership Award and has been recently interviewed at Palm Beach Community College for their Distinguished Florida Community Personality Series.
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