we sat at the small two-person table, a tiny candle and flower in the corner as decoration. looking around, something inside me stirred. the residual paint left behind from previous owners, chipped and piled on top of each other, captured my attention on the frame of the dining room. the door in the middle of the wall - chained shut, the curtain to the kitchen - blowing with the wind of the chef and other workers getting dinner ready. it was a discordant type of symphony. an opera of antique measures.
he looked at me and smiled, "are you just taking everything in?" his thumb caressed my hand - one of his tells.
he must be relaxed, i thought.
i turned and looked at him, grateful for how well he knows me. "yes. i just...this place. it's amazing. i want to know this home's story."
he chuckled and raised an eyebrow, "well...her name was jill."
my breath caught and he leaned back. "oh. you want me to continue?"
"she was born in 1947."
i smiled, glancing again at the wood paneling.
"really? she looks old for 1947"
"she was born on the east side."
we both laughed then - hidden understanding of our city's prejudices.
the story stalled when people started showing up - the hostess directing them to their seats. our companions were a woman from iran, a houston convert with a penchant for nyc food, a man who had his jaw wired shut after being punched in a bar-room brawl, and friends of the owner - quiet people with a certain knowledge of good beer.
i grabbed russ' phone and punched in a message on his note pad i feel like i'm suddenly in the middle of a scene.
he read it, nodded and looked me in the eyes. "it's cause you are, elora."
i spoke with the iranian woman about my book, her interest sparked because of a good friend who married a columbian man. "she's in columbia a lot so she knows of this...she sees it often. i would like to read your book then pass it on to her."
i swallowed the pesky introvert poking me in the ribs and promised her silence and reflection in the morning. looking at the woman i smiled, "i would love that. really."
i could hear her throughout the night - come alive. elora ramirez. whispering under her breath, intent on remembering.
later, waiting for the sixth of seven courses, i looked at russ and whispered "i really need a camera. a real one." my hands went wide. "how do you capture this? the lights - the atmosphere - the guy playing radiohead on a piano...."
"i see it."
my breath calmed and only then did i realize how heavy it had become.
he shook his head, "it's like you quit your job and this artistic side of you just blows up...it's amazing."
and suddenly i felt seen. splayed open.
i smiled - the smile only he knows - and turned my attention to the strawberry/watermelon flavored caviar sitting in a carved out cucumber. i knew then this is what it must have been like, so long ago. when those writers were young and fresh and undaunted by life - eating with strangers and hearing stories and finding yourself inspired for the simple reason of beauty overcoming your senses. i closed my eyes for a brief second, letting myself listen to the french jazz coming from the pianist, the quiet roar of the conversation, the flicker of candlelight against the bar.
and then i opened my eyes, breathed in deep the knowledge of how a muse overwhelms you, feeling very much like i'd been visited by the ghosts of hemingway and stein.