It took me a few weeks to notice him. Well, that’s not true. I noticed him right away, I mean he did have pink tinged hair and a door knocker hanging from his septum. A handsome bull, he was, positioned behind the register with flour dusted on his brow. So, I noticed him, but it was three more Tuesdays until I really saw him.
Maybe it was the near constancy of his stance, his unwavering stare into my eyes as he took my order. He was there for me. Or at least I thought. I couldn’t imagine him in his home, at a store, anywhere, anyhow, without his black apron. Without his countertop register that hid his bottom half. He was always there in my mind. Always there for me. He began to be the best part of my week.
The satisfaction I felt dragging columns of numbers down a spreadsheet was nothing compared to the joy I got from imagining how I’d retell it to the pizza boy. The pizza man. The pizza guy. My pizza guy. I’d tell my pizza guy about Excel functions and how I could shave 6 minutes off my data transfer. I’d tell him with my eyes.
Black olives. I always ordered black olives so I could hear him repeat it back with beauty. “Saracene.”
I loved the dissimilarity of him, how he couldn’t commit to one self. His precise catlike eyeliner and the forced carelessness of his hand-written T-shirt slogans. I loved the contrast between the darks and whites of his eyes. The perfect line across his beige-pink braids, showing the black of the roots.
I knew he was left handed from the fake tattoo he drew on his right forearm in permanent marker every day, probably the same marker he used to make his shirts. I think I’m the only one who noticed when it moved just a bit from week to week. His skin was so dark, the marker barely showed, but I got a better view each time he reached out to me with a slip of curled paper in his hand. Of course I want a receipt. Of course I want a receipt.
Last week he was wearing a sleeveless undershirt with marker angling up to the left. “Flying diamond” it said. I’m not sure what it meant.
The day his colleague wasn’t there, he was positioned 3 feet to the left of where he normally stands, assembling a pie. He sidestepped and wiped flour on his apron, leaving a hand-shaped streak so he could man the register. His brown eyes turned to mine. His lips said, “Saracene” and he reached out his hand. Of course I wanted a receipt. He stepped to his right, my left, in his white undershirt scrawled with “free air, $5” and assembled my pizza. My heart fluttered as he evenly distributed the black olives. I think I added a year onto my life that day.
I’ve been sitting at my desk today, reading about how sitting at desks will kill you. Clicking hundreds of links about carpal tunnel to find an ergonomic mouse for my throbbing forearm, bereft of his art. I’ve seen him 47 times now, seen 47 different slogans, 47 different shirts. “Going to Vegas yesterday” and “try option B” and “nicely marbled.”
He is. Nicely marbled, that is.
So today is a Tuesday and I will tell him. I’ll tell him, not with my eyes, but with my olives. That I’m ready to change, ready to love him. If only he’ll love me. And I’ll hear it the first time from his plump rose-brown lips, “Cerignola.” The green, unripe olive that will be the start of our story, the metaphor for my willingness to un-set my ways. Maybe his colleague will be out again and the olives will shimmy down his fingers to my pie. Maybe he’ll pop one in his mouth and smile, saying something endearing and off-beat about the new leaf I’ve turned over. I can already hear the Doppler effect of our lifetime’s witty banter trail off into the future, starting at the counter. Today.
Before I know it, I’m walking to the register, my heart beating “I need you” at a steady thump. There’s an orchestra playing in my sides, but outward appearances don’t betray. He won’t see it coming until I order. 47 times we’ve had the same exchange and 47 times I’ve said, “black.” I’m screaming with ecstasy now, kicking my legs in the air and clicking my heels, roaring with absurd joy and grinning like an idiot. But only on the inside. My lip has barely budged, just a tiny twitch on the left side and I walk up to his post. The trumpets are sounding louder.
We go through the motions, the glorious routine until he asks, “What type of olives?” He’s already moving his chin toward the microphone, ready to relay my dreams to the kitchen.
“Green,” I say, my soul pouring into the syllable as an orderly gift.
In my mind, the chorus of trumpets is drowned by an airplane descending, plummeting too fast. He’s continuing to the microphone much too quickly. No, wait! Wait! I can’t hear you, I can’t hear through the crushing tedium of your reaction. I can’t hear you. I can only see your lips move.
Why isn’t he stopping? Why doesn’t he respond? Why doesn’t he hear me, calling to him on bended knee?
Perhaps he doesn’t know me. He really doesn’t know me after all. My muscle memory reaches out for the strip of paper. Of course I want a receipt.
I won’t come back. I’ll swim and pivot through the numbers in my tables, telling my adventures to no one. All on my own now. And I’ll never know if he comes to work with a shirt bearing a hand-drawn heart around the word “Cerignola.”