Cerigrola


It took me a few weeks to notice her. Well, that’s not true. I noticed her right away, I mean she did have pink hair and a door knocker hanging from her septum. A pretty bull, she was, positioned behind the register with flour dusted on her brow. So, I noticed her, but it was three more Tuesdays until  I really saw her.

Maybe it was the near constancy of her stance, her unwavering stare into my eyes as she took my order. She was there for me. Or at least I thought. I couldn’t imagine her in her home, at a store, anywhere, anyhow, without her black apron. Without her countertop register that hid her bottom half. She was always there in my mind. Always there for me.  She 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 girl. The pizza woman. The  pizza lady. My pizza lady. I’d tell my pizza lady about Excel functions and how I could shave 6 minutes off my data transfer. I’d tell her with my eyes.

Black olives. I always ordered black olives so I could hear her repeat it back with beauty. “Saracene.”

I loved the dissimilarity of her, how she couldn’t commit to one self. Her precise catlike eyeliner and the forced carelessness of her hand-written T-shirt slogans. I loved the contrast between the darks and whites of her eyes. The perfect line across her pink braids, showing the black of the roots.

I knew she was left handed from the fake tattoo she drew on her right forearm in permanent marker every day, probably the same marker she used to make her shirts. I think I’m the only one who noticed when it moved just a bit from week to week.  Her skin was so dark, the marker barely showed, but I got a better view each time she reached out to me with a slip of curled paper in her hand. Of course I want a receipt. Of course I want a receipt.

Last week she was wearing a man’s undershirt with marker angling up to the left. “Flying diamond” it said. I’m not sure what it meant.

The day her colleague wasn’t there, she was positioned 3 feet to the left of where she normally stands, assembling a pie. She sidestepped and wiped a floured hand on her apron, leaving a hand-shaped streak so she could man the register. Her brown eyes turned to mine. Her lips said, “Saracene” and she reached out her hand. Of course I wanted a receipt. She stepped to her right, my left, in her white undershirt scrawled with “free air, $5” and assembled my pizza. My heart fluttered as she 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 her art. I’ve seen her 47 times now, seen 47 different slogans, 47 different shirts. “Going to Vegas yesterday” and “try option B” and “nicely marbled.”

She is. Nicely marbled, that is.

So today is a Tuesday and I will tell her. I’ll tell her, not with my eyes, but with my olives. That I’m ready to change, ready to love her. If only she’ll love me. And I’ll hear it the first time from her plump rose-brown lips, “Cerigrola.” The green, unripe olive that will be the start of our story, the metaphor for my willingness to un-set my ways. Maybe her colleague will be out again and the olives will shimmy down her fingers to my pie. Maybe she’ll pop one in her 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. She 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 her post. The trumpets are louder now.

We go through the motions, the glorious routine until she asks, “What type of olives?” She’s already moving her 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 sound of trumpets is drowned by an airplane descending, plummeting too fast. She’s continuing to the microphone much too fast. 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.

“Cerigrola.”

Why isn’t she stopping? Why doesn’t she  respond? Why doesn’t she hear me, calling to her on bended knee?

Perhaps she doesn’t know me. She really doesn’t know me after all. My muscles 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 she comes to work with a shirt bearing a hand-drawn heart around the word “Cerigrola.”