By: Jennabeth Taliaferro
My back is against the fireplace, which flickers orange, red, and tiny bits of blue. Its warmth seeps through my chair, into my clothes and skin. I can’t tell if it’s the fire or the wine that is making my cheeks turn pink. Mom would tell me to slow down, but I’m nervous so I take another gulp. The restaurant door opens and I’m blasted with cold air. Glancing at the culprit in the doorway, I notice a heavy mist behind him covering the street like shag carpeting. A car honks as a pedestrian glances in the large front window and checks his watch, perhaps wondering whether he has time to grab a quick bite. I don’t blame him for wanting to be inside.
Across the table, you are in the middle of a story, in the middle of this Italian place in Mayfair. I hear the muted murmuring of the tables around us, layers of conversation fading under your resounding voice. The wine on the table is red, burgundy really, and matches the paper napkin crumpled in my lap, between crossed thighs that I thought were too big for you to like. Thousands of small lights twinkle on the wall. You say you don’t like them, but I only shrug; they make your irises dance. Before you see me staring I look down at the menu and bite my lip, trying to decide what I want.
The first ingredient. When I was a teenager, I used to bite off pieces of uncooked spaghetti before they went into the pot of boiling water. It was the first dish I helped Mom make: a ‘staple,’ simple, delicious. I felt naïve in that big kitchen, trying so hard.
She showed me how simple it is: just a few steps and voila!
I feel naïve again, as you reach over and grab my hand, as if this were just another date, just another Tuesday night. I hesitated at first when you asked, remembering unsavoury dates in the past. But you insisted, knew a great little place with “amazing Spaghetti.” You’ve never tried my mom’s, I wanted to say.
Some kitchens make their spaghetti with meatballs, but this has meat in the sauce. It’s messier, more difficult to determine what I am feeling with my tongue. I prefer it this way, though, indeterminate until the very end. Only then am I satisfied, happy, and full.
I see the strength in your hands as you break off a piece of bread and dip it into olive oil. Your words come out in half rhymes and poems, your accent slightly different than those around us. Your dark hair looks different tonight, as if you’ve brushed it back. You haven’t noticed my hair yet, but I don’t say anything. I try not to be too offended. After all, the lights were mostly off last time I saw you.
It brings everything together. The sauce is the reason the dish works as one. Some recipes are secret, like maybe this one. I buy mine in a jar from the store.
Sauce runs down my chin and I don’t hurry to wipe it away with my napkin. I secretly savour the feeling as it slides lower, under the hump of my chin, tickling, hanging for a moment until it drops. You laugh as I feign embarrassment. Your hand closes around mine as my tummy folds over onto itself like pastry. I know then that it’s not just the food making its way down to my insides.
A pinch of sugar
I forget all that when the tiramisu comes and I shove my fork through its softness and hardness. I try to focus on the dessert, despite your hand on my knee. The cinnamon, cream, and crust stoke a sweet romantic feeling that I’d forgotten. Its coffee flavour wakes me up after the wine, or maybe it’s your finger tracing circles on my thigh.
Your irises dance some more. I hear about your childhood up north, you hear about mine in the American South. I laugh when you talk about your brother. You don’t laugh when I tell you my life goals.
The few drops of Italian blood in my body surge with anticipation as you motion for the waitress.
We pay the bill and hop in a taxi.
You give the driver one address.
Jennabeth Taliaferro is a homegrown Texan currently studying creative writing in London. She loves traveling, reading historical fiction, spending time with family, and Josh Lyman from The West Wing. Her favourite food in London is undoubtedly somewhere in Borough Market.