Locking the place up for the last time, she hung her head low and proceeded to her car. She was a special person. One of those ladies who everyone wants to be like. She could hold a deep conversation with you or laugh and play like a child all while keeping her composure. She had a love for her life that could match no other. And, this life was not an easy one. The life of a business owner is full of uncertainty, and that of a restaurant owner is even more uncertain, and very eventful. From orders, to employees, to overhead, to community, and everything in between…it’s not for the faint of heart, to say the least. But, she held her composure. She stayed well and she left well. Even that last night she left well.
The night was beautiful. The sky was clear and the moon was full, with Pluto in view to those who would seek. It would have been a perfect night to put the top down and go out for a drive in the country. Wind caressing her tan skin and flowing through her hair. It would’ve been a perfect night to sit outside with a friend on the deck, have a drink and talk together into the night with no worries whatsoever. But, none of those options were open for her this night. For she was lower than she’d been in a long time.
Losing the restaurant was like losing a child, or perhaps like losing a parent or even like losing a marriage. She’d devoted all her time, energy and passion into this place, and now it had been ripped from her, like the very hands of God taking your 3 year old child home to heaven, in a blink of an eye. Yes, it was that bad. For months it was surreal. For months she would talk with me, openly and passionately about her feelings. For months, I would listen. For months. It was surreal, like a bad dream. A nightmare.
She unlocked the car trunk, threw in the last items which she absolutely could not leave behind. Closing the trunk, she meandered to the driver side door, and got in. She started the engine, plugged in her phone and the music began to play. Her head hung low with her hand upon her forehead, she seemed to be holding back tears. So tired of it. So short of patience now. So full of grief. Not the way it was supposed to be. Not surreal anymore. Taking it slow out of the parking lot, she drove home.
Walking in the door, throwing her keys on the counter, she poured herself a drink and headed to her bedroom. It was a place of safety. It was comfortable. She turned on the TV and clicked aimlessly through channels. Her drink lasted but a few minutes and she dozed off into a pleasant sleep.
– – – – – – –
Stepping out of her apartment early in the morning with the sunshine and cool salty breeze taunting her with thoughts of a day off work, she tossed her purse over her shoulder and began the 12 minute walk to work. Birds fluttering and singing sweet songs as she passed by the park. Couples sitting on steps and stoops flirting with their coffee as they look deeply into one another’s eyes. This was a beautiful place. This was a place where dreams are made. A place where anything is possible. Atrani, Italy in the Province of Salerno. Located in south-western Italy, several minutes drive down to the coast.
“Morning Vinnie,” she said with a smile as she stroked his two day old beard
He looked up from his newspaper and said, “You’re a sight for sore eyes, Miriam.”
“You’re too kind, my friend.”
“What’s on the menu today, darling?”
“You’ll have to come in and find out…” she kissed his forehead and walked on to the restaurant
As she walked, she thought about the restaurant patrons. The regulars, the first timers and the tourists. Oh, how she loved the tourists! They would always order the same thing…they would never stray from it. Cheese pizza, and it was her specialty…for tourists. She loved to roll the dough and toss it high. Kids and adults alike would widen their eyes and shout and clap. Spreading the tomato sauce just right and sprinkling the cheese, she would create a masterpiece, time after time.
She prayed as she walked, “Lord, protect my family. Give them peace. Help us to trust one another. Give us strength of character. Prosper the restaurant, let it be successful in all ways. Lord, let this restaurant be a place where people can feel safe and comfortable and wanting of nothing…but food! Amen”
Her keys jingle as she unlocked the restaurant doors. ‘Ristorante Oceano’ She was now in her home away from home.
“Hey Francesco! You’re such sweet boy. How was your night?” she spoke endearingly to her parrot who stayed full time at the restaurant.
“Miriam home. Fine night. Miriam beautiful.” Francesco replied
“Oh Francesco…you are too kind.”
“Too kind. Make pizza. Make pizza.” he said as he excitedly bopped up and down.
Miriam laughed out loud, filled his seed bowl and proceeded to the kitchen. She started a pot of coffee and lit a cigarette. With her cigarette between her fingers, she reached in the fridge for a string of grapes and gave them to Francesco.
She filled her cup and sat out back for a few minutes, waiting for Manny to show up…and he did. Right on time, like always.
“Hey Beautiful!” he said as he sauntered up
With a mischievous smile, she put out her cigarette, got up and embraced him. They weren’t lovers, but they were close. Manny followed Miriam to this little town in search of a dream for himself. In search of a new life. Miriam was glad to employ him and glad to have a friend nearby. Manny and Miriam made a good team for the Oceano. In fact, they would joke and say that the restaurant should have been named, “Miriam and Manny’s.”
“I think Vinnie may come by today,” said Manny
“I love Vinnie! He’s a sweetheart.” she replied
“Ya, his son is visiting. They’ll come in for a pizza I bet.”
“His son is visiting…I had no idea!”
“Not so sure they are on great terms, but Vinnie wants to heal that while he’s here.”
“That’s beautiful,” Miriam said with a smile and began prepping tomatoes for her sauce. She knew of the hurt that can go on within families. She knew the power of forgiveness and restoration.
This was the banter that ensued typically between these two. They were fond of each other, and so very much alike. It was a very comfortable situation.
The phone rang and Manny answered, “Ristorante Oceano,” he said in his best Italian accent.
Miriam laughed behind the pizza oven. Manny was born in El Salvador, but grew up in America and hardly even had a hispanic accent. So, his Italian accent was, well, just funny.
“We open at 11 and would love to see you. Miriam makes the BEST pizza…” he said to the caller
Hanging up the phone, he said, “Miriam…you always laugh when I’m on the phone!”
“I can’t help it. Your accent….it’s so cute.” she said through her smile
“Just make the sauce,” he said as he started the dough and pasta
Just then there was a knock on the back door.
“That’s strange. Manny, come with me,” she said cautiously
“What are you afraid of Miriam?” he said as he laughed at her precaution
“Quit it Manny! Come with me.”
The couple moved to the back and approached the door…
“Mom? Mom, wake up!” said Nichelle as she stroked her mother’s forearm.
Miriam’s eyes were glazed over as she tried to focus on her eldest daughter.
“Are you ok Mom?”
“Ya, I’ll be ok. Shoot…what day is it?”
“Mom, it’s Tuesday. You’re first day home. Let’s do something together. Just the two of us!”
“I just want to sleep! Oh my gosh, Nichelle! I had the best dream. I wish it was true!”
“Tell me about it Mom…tell me!”
The two lie together on the bed. Miriam told her daughter of the precious time she spent asleep last night. The beautiful moments walking down the street to her restaurant in Italy. She told her of Vinnie and Manny. She told her of the sweet town and the people. And she told her about Francesco. Oh, the memories that were made that morning were priceless.