by Julie Mark Cohen
Right on schedule, Frank Terrizello stomped into Tommy's Trattoria, brow heavily furrowed, worn briefcase tightly clutched. He bellowed, "Kate, if I told you once, I've told you a thousand times, have my booth ready for me when I come in. It looks like a rat's nest. Clean up that mess now!"
No one blinked as Frank's baritone sent shockwaves into the far wall, nearly catching Kate, a wisp of a young woman, in its wake.
Kate flitted like a hummingbird as she gathered supplies to clean what had become known as Frank's window booth.
"And take that disgusting ashtray with you!" Frank barked, removing his tweed jacket, revealing its shredded lining. He was an imposing figure, with his lean waist smartly belted and his broad shoulders accentuated by his crisply ironed shirt and wide tie, albeit both out-of-style.
Kate, frantic, disappeared into the kitchen. Frank settled into his booth, meticulously laying out his folders, paper, and calculator.
Although Kate returned posthaste, cautiously balancing a small tray laden with a pot of coffee, cup, saucer, spoon, a pitcher of milk, and a tall glass of pink grapefruit juice, Frank growled, "I hope that Tommy squeezed the juice this time. You always leave the seeds in."
Kate quickly parked the items in front of Frank, shaking in her shoes.
"Hop to it! My breakfast's up."
Observing from the pick-up counter, Rosalie winced, remembering how he reprimanded her yet again last week that she should've and could've made something of herself.
Thrice-divorced Betty elbowed Rosalie. "I'm glad that miserable bum isn't one of my regulars. I wonder why Tommy hasn't closed the doors on him?"
"He's been coming in here for years," Rosalie stated, uneasily glancing at Betty adjusting her top button to expose more cleavage. Rosalie momentarily wondered about its advertisement value and her own never-been-married status.
Rosalie added, "Kate's put up with him because she can't afford to be stiffed on tips. Her husband Anthony was shot on the job and in rehab for the long haul.She said that Frank leaves her tips that are exactly fifteen percent, down to the last penny."
"What type of person would do that?" questioned Betty.
"An engineer. A damn fine one at that," chimed in Tommy from behind the counter. As he stuck his head out, Rosalie gracefully extended an arm and sharply pinched his bow tie giving it a jiggle. She chuckled to herself as if it was the first time she discovered its green, white, and red colors. He's just as much of an Italian as I am Irish, she thought.
Snickering, she flicked her fingers against his matching cap, leaving it comically
cocked to one side.
Grinning, Tommy continued, "Don't you remember what a hole-in-the-wall this joint was when I bought it?" He turned sideways to finish garnishing the plate, revealing a salt-and-pepper ponytail that extended halfway down his back.
Racing against time, Kate charged to the counter. Tommy nonchalantly held out the plate with one hand and, with the other, snapped his fingers to a jazz tune. Without dropping a beat, Betty intercepted, then passed it to Kate who had already turned around for the return trip.
Tommy noted, "They told me it would cost two hundred grand to remodel this place.Frank said he knew how they could do it for half, and he went and showed 'em how." While straightening his cap to give the appearance of offering respect to Frank, Tommy remarked, "Frank's a structural engineer with aspirations. He's been on his own for thirty years, working for talented architects, but they're miserable budget negotiators."
I keep tellin' him to investigate failures. It's gotta be more lucrative."
Betty picked up a coffee pot and smacked her lips, checking her lipstick in the reflection.
Amused, Rosalie tried to imagine being in Betty's shoes. She pivoted her left foot clockwise on its toes displaying her calf and scanned down her long leg. Shoes must be an extension of legs; legs must flow from body and body from soul, she fondly recalled.
"I don't care what he did for you, or what you think he might do," Betty said. "He should treat Kate better if he wants good service, or any service at all."
"Maybe he doesn't know how to appreciate people," Rosalie commented with mischief in her eyes, pouring a cup of coffee, then placing it, a spoon, and two sugar packets on a saucer.
Slinking, Rosalie shadowed Kate back to Frank's table. Kate held Frank's plate -- an eye-pleasing presentation of an egg white omelet topped with lightly sautéed vegetables, shredded wheat in a bowl, fresh fruit in a side dish, and milk in a small pitcher. Her mainspring, wound too tight, sprung open. "Tommy-prepared-this-egg-white-omelet-special-for-you."
"What took you so long?" roared Frank "Gimme that plate and get the hell away from me!"
Rosalie's nurturing side surfaced and took over. She slid the cup of coffee onto his table.
"I didn't order this." Frank grumbled without looking up.
"Well, I'm not going to pour the coffee back into the pot!"
Frank began working, contentedly nibbling on his food. After a few bites, he absentmindedly opened a pack of sugar and took a sip of the coffee. With a hint of a smile emerging from his lips, he looked toward the counter for Rosalie, but her back faced him. She peeked at her pocket mirror to find an errant eyelash in her eye and saw what seemed to have been a momentary change in his facial expression.
Rosalie turned to Kate and whispered, "Just you wait. There's hope for that old coot, yet."
Surprising herself, Kate lifted up her chin like a coyote calling to the moon, but chortled. Tickled, she let loose and skipped back to the pick-up counter.
The next summer, a sleep-deprived and exhausted Frank maintained a secure grip on a bound journal as he dragged himself into Tommy's Trattoria. Kate was near the front door, but glanced at his booth, which was occupied by four people. Horrified and cringing, she approached Frank.
"You let somebody sit in my booth?" he queried with an unsettling sternness.
Kate shrank into herself.
"How long will they be?" Frank inquired civilly.
Kate visibly trembled. "I, I'mmm, I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Terrizello."
"I'll take a substitute table. How 'bout that booth over there. It's one of yours?" Frank spoke lightly.
Kate, confused and dumbfounded, rallied sufficiently to usher him to the open booth.
"Yes... yes, sir, Mr. Terrizello!"
Rosalie intentionally brushed up against Kate, moved in toward her, cupping her hand around her mouth. "I knew he wasn't hopeless. Be patient with him and he'll come around."
Gazelle-like, Rosalie returned to the pick-up counter, stealing glimpses of Frank.She turned to face Tommy, who knew her well enough to read what was on her mind.
Tommy explained, "Frank's investigating the Silver Bullet Casino that collapsed during construction. Five people were killed, including his godson Michael, who he sent there to watch another engineer's steel go up. Don't you remember Frank bringing him in here every now and
"That sweet young man who idolized Frank and clung to his every word?" Rosalie inquired, sneaking a paper napkin into an open hard-covered book and surreptitiously slipping it into a drawer under the counter.
"Yes. Frank was grooming Michael for a position in his office, Tommy emotionally recounted, "At the cemetery, I overheard Frank tell Father Paul, 'Michael would be alive today, if...' Father starting talking; his voice sounded consoling. But Frank just looked more and more distraught. Suddenly, something about him changed.He shielded his eyes from the sun, touched Father’s robe, and said, 'Bless me Father for I have sinned.' Shocked, Father asked, 'How long has it been since your last confession?'
At that point, I left."
"A tragic loss." Tommy took off his cap, placed it against his heart, and bowed his head.
"Sometimes a heart has to be broken to prove it existed all along," Rosalie philosophized.
She turned her head to see Frank maneuvering his weary body into the bench seat, sliding himself with much effort. With a shuddering hand, Kate passed him a menu already open to "today's specials."
"Hmmm... Hmmm..." Frank contemplated and closed the menu, returning it to Kate. "Coffee, black. Minestrone. Roast turkey plate. Dark meat. And, don't skimp on the salad. Oil and vinegar on the side. Green beans. Baked potato, plain. Fresh fruit cup."
Frank noticed Kate cowering and tossed her a short-lived smile. "I'm pressed for time. Hurry please. Thank you."
Floored, Kate happily scooted off to place his order. While Frank waited for his meal, he opened his journal to a page with photographs of fractured bolt shanks, sketched, and entered some calculations.
Tommy reached over the counter, tapped Rosalie's shoulder, and pointed. "Look at him -- his focus, his intensity... his calmness. I'll bet this will be his big break, but it's ironic and tough to reconcile financial gain from a personal loss."
Five weeks later, with a quiet dignity, Frank walked to the seating counter. Betty picked up her order and yelled out, "Leave the door open and look who walks in!"
"Well, if it isn't Mr. Terrizello! Where've you been lately?" Kate asked, as she walked alongside Frank.
Frank, sharply dressed in new clothes, sat down in the only open seat at the end of the counter near the coffee machine and pots. "I missed you, too, sweetheart! By the way, how's Anthony doing?"
"He's out of rehab and going back to work next week. Desk duty."
"Excellent!" Frank pronounced, as a framed photograph of the Rockettes grabbed his attention, stopping him dead in his tracks. Touching the circled image of the young woman fifth to the left, his eyes widened. "Who's this?"
Tommy leaned over the counter. "My new CPA!"
"What? You need to influence an IRS auditor?"
"Gimme a break!" laughed Tommy.
"That's our Rosalie! She's leaving us next month. Haven't you seen this picture before? I think it's been there for fifteen years," Kate giggled.
"So, what I can get you this morning?"
Rosalie's ears perked up. With coffee pot in hand, she pinpointed the source of the familiar, yet pleasant, voice.
"Pretty much the usual -- white egg omelet with sautéed vegetables, oatmeal, and your famous freshly squeezed juice --"
"Heh, mister G.Q.! Don't you want some fresh-brewed coffee with your breakfast?" interjected Rosalie.
Frank beamed, then winked. "Only if you've made it. I don't trust the other girls." He couldn't help himself: his eyes did a slow, penetrating scan from the tips of her shoes. Rosalie felt the warmth of his appreciation. As she moved in to pour him a cup of coffee, she felt herself blush as his eyes met her hips. Embarrassed, she tried to hide her reaction.
"I have two tickets to 'Annie.' Orchestra seats." Frank's tone could have sweetened his coffee.
Rosalie quivered with anticipation to the point that she had to set the coffee pot down on Frank's table.
"Would you do me the honor of accompanying me to dinner and the show this Saturday?"
Rosalie couldn't hold back any longer. She gushed like a teenager. "Yes. Yes!"
"Rosalie!? Your order's up," Tommy hollered, until he saw what was going on. "Legs! Your order!?"
Rosalie snared the coffee pot and dashed off to the pick-up counter, sloshing and spilling drops of hot coffee.
Frank stood, launching his words to catch up with Rosalie. "I'll pick you up at six-thirty."
Everyone noticed Frank... and applauded. Frank graciously waved his hand and sat down.
At the counter, Betty fussed with her button. "I'll be damned. That geezer is sweet on you."
Thrilled but flustered, Rosalie picked up her order, took a few steps, and barely escaped from dropping it.
Saturday night, blue chiffon swirled, gently undulating. Long legs emerged, deliberately stretching, rhythmically high-kicking. Expensive perfume dispersed, lightly floating.
Rosalie was on cloud nine, ardently visualizing.
She lept to open a new door.
Copyright 2004 by Julie Mark Cohen. All rights reserved.
Julie Mark Cohen, Ph.D., P.E., is a Consulting Structural and Forensic Engineer who practices in New York State. Her flash fiction pieces have been published in online magazines including Long Story Short - a Women Writers' Showcase, Flashshot - a Daily Genre Flash Fiction, Laughter Loaf, The Writer's Hood, The Drabbler (an anthology), The 2004 Book of Remembrance (of 9/11), and in a printed journal, Mindprints.