From Negril, with Lovebyavasogently©
They had sat at the far corner table so many times before, when egg creams still were on the menu. Their weekly conversations had seeped so deeply into the cushions of the tangerine banquet seats that the waiters knew when to surprise them with monogrammed anniversary cheesecake slices. Back then, it was Sinatra piping through the speakers in the ballroom disguised as a dining space, but now Aretha's voice was gliding and diving amid a fluttery flute in "Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)."
Wanda could still see her newly beloved's handprints on the crisp, white, linen tablecloth that used to leave residue on her favorite black painted-on jeans. And the chandelier that would shake every time patrons would run up the narrow staircase to the restrooms till shimmered its bright lights through vintage crystal. But one thing was clear: Her prince wasn't coming back, no matter how often she returned to the restaurant with her shattered-glass heart.
Wanda clutched the white tablecloth at the memory. It was like reliving the summer day that Shaquan walked out, dashing so fast past the white lace curtains that they sailed up in surrender. She had more to say, but the breeze he had left behind took her breath away. All she could do, standing in the kitchen, was grab ahold of the curtain panels as he swiped his bass guitar from the hall closet. He snarled his goodbye and slammed the metal door on their marriage.
It had taken Shaquan a year to save up for that guitar, which dangled from a hook in the window of the pawn shop at Seventh and Third, but double that time for him to compose the one tune that would end up stringing together another woman who had fallen to pieces like a neglected antique doll.
Hearing Shaquan's construction boots thudding on the main floor two flights down, she recalled how her heart was beat out of her chest when she first heard his heavy feet headed up the staircase toward her apartment, when they first began courting. She remembered that they hadn't discovered each other's bodies yet, and she fantasized that she would thrust into her as passionately as he'd leaped up the steps.
Three years after the Negril honeymoon, they were barely getting by in Brooklyn. Shaquan was growing weary of 3 a.m. risings and lackluster blowjobs from his wife. Soon, he began giving Wanda grief because he was losing "needful sleep" by painting the nursery. Before the pink semigloss paint could dry on the walls, the long-awaited baby daughter they had prematurely named, emerged silent from Wanda's womb. In the months that followed the funeral, Shaquan grew quieter at home but was making the buxom receptionist from L.B. Schatz Construction shriek his name.
Now, several years after exchanging vows for better or for worse, Wanda stood frozen in the kitchen where chef-quality dinners had grown cold on too many nights. There she remained as stiff as a cadaver, heavy with burden, a half-hour after learning the news that he and she were expecting an unplanned baby. Wanda snatched the flimsy curtains from the tension rod and sank down to the linoleum floor until she was in the fetal position, the lace panels covering her like a disheveled wedding dress. Clutching her belly, she cried "Why-y-y-y?! Why-y-y-y?!"
When her face emerged from her moistened hands, as if she had been immersed in deep prayer, Wanda's eyes met an extended dark-brown hand holding a glass of water. Her head slowly rose as she drank in all six feet of his lanky frame clothed in the black and white of his uniform.
"I tawt ya might wann dis," the waiter said, in a singsong accent somewhere between a tropical breeze and a steel drum. "Me wanna console ya, so can I stat widda ello?"
"Thanks for the water, but I'll just have the menu now, please," she replied coldly.
He wished that the gleam in his ready smile could dry her tears and that she could glimpse promise in his gemlike eyes. As she opened the menu that he gently placed before her on the tearstained tablecloth, the first strains of the Grace Jones song that had been her ska-loving ex-husband's favorite piped in from above: "My Jamaican Guy."
"Eh-EH," said the waiter, which caught her off-guard and made her smile and broke the ice between them like Appleton rum poured quickly into a glass under a beaming Negril sun.