Curves, by Trisha Ricketts

A Valentine's Day tradition

Salvatore Giacondo felt the hole crater inside him. He tried to ignore it as he slipped a finger through the dainty teacup handle. A tradition. To sip Earl Grey from Maisie’s Belleek on Valentine’s day. Her birthday.

The mere curve of the teapot brought her full into view as she would pour tea: red, full lips, dancing eyes, blonde hair so yellow it looked like it was its own light source. "Can’t take the gray anymore, Sallie," she'd say. "Makes me look like a cadaver. Think this color makes me look like a floozy?" And they’d laugh. Always the laughter even though the pain was evident in her shorter leg and crumpled hip.

Sal sighed and looked down at his stomach which was as round as the teapot’s belly. Something Maisie harped on. "Sal, ya gotta quit with the likes of bread pudding," she would jest. "Why, look at the bulge in the front of yourself." He turned on the Victrola, one of Maisie’s other favorite things. Sal placed a thick 78 on the turntable and set the needle down. Ella and Satch began to duel. "The way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea, the memory of all that…"Sal took two steps backward, held out his arms. The right with hand open, palm up; the left with hand out curving around open space. And Maisie Muldoon was there inside them. Tiny against his ample belly, chuckling at his clumsy steps. "Don’t hold me so tight, Sal Giacondo, you’ll break me in two."

Italian and Irish. He smiled at the thought—he all pasta and shout; she all proverb and jig. Each having the gift of gab. And gab and gab and gab, he’d tease her when she’d get going on a story. "Mrs. Pierce, with her jaw flapping like tomorrow’s wash, brought me over to that meat case then starts ranting—you wouldn’t believe it, Sallie—about cruelty to animals, and there I was just trying to avoid looking in her eyes…all the while, me with two pounds of prime chuck clutched tight in the hands."

He couldn’t resist her. The laughter waiting behind every word that came out of her mouth, the life in those broken, bandy legs, the shimmying swerve in those tiny hips. The rich honey in her voice making everything sweeter.

No, no they can’t take that away from me….

The music stopped. Sal walked over to the Ol’ Vic and set the needle arm in its cradle. He walked to the kitchen table, sat down, picked up the delicate cup again. “Ah, Maisie...” He held the teacup high and toasted the air. “To my beloved bride.” He sipped the last drop of Earl Gray, then placed the teacup back in its saucer watching one leftover droplet seep out from the teacup’s bottom rim.

A car door slammed startling Sal from his memories. Indecipherable chatter rose up. Sal walked to the window and looked out over the front courtyard. Of course, they would come.

His son, Carmine, and daughter-in-law were unstrapping the children from their back seats. Maisie had let him have that one. Forever asking him, What self-respecting Irish woman has a son named Carmine? But she’d shake her head as though to dispel the blasphemy. You’re a good man, Salvatore Giacondo. A good man. I’ll give you that.

Little Angela and Sean bounced up the sidewalk. Sean—thick lips, full cheeks, dark in the face—looked like him. Angela had the Muldoon skin, pale eyes and hair the color of straw. Dark and light. Like they’d been. All consequence of love and attraction.

Sal swung open the door.

“Happy Valentine’s day, Nonno!” they shouted in chorus.

 “Well,” he clapped his hands. “Look what the cat dragged in.” He scooped Angela and Sean into his arms. “Ahhhh,” he breathed in their muddy scent, then set them down.

  “We brought cake, Nonno!”

  “Gran’s favorite!”

 Sal kept quiet, watching the light in their eyes. As the four took off their coats nattering about in the kitchen, he walked over to the front window again. He looked up into the wide blue sky and felt something walk into that crater, settle into its curve.