He came home to eat lunch with her every Tuesday. His window faced the table of the restaurant where she arrived at 12:00, splitting her attention between a pizza and a book. She looked outward so it looked like she was facing him, although she surely couldn’t see him through his smoked window because she never registered recognition. He used to feel lucky to have an apartment facing her pizzeria, but he was beginning to think it was fate. He would strain his eyes to make out the title of whatever she was reading so he could run to the library and read it the next week with her too. Sometimes she wore the same outfit two weeks in a row. He liked that.
Each Tuesday he would reheat leftovers from the night before and pour a generous class of red wine. She ordered a pizza and sparkling water just an arm’s reach away in another building. Sometimes her order changed from pepperoni to 4 cheese, but no matter what she ate, she always left the crust behind. A pale circle that covered the whole plate, scraped clean of toppings, was abandoned in the same spot each Tuesday at 1:30. She had done this for over a year now and the waiters had stopped snickering at the hapless dough after a few weeks.
She was slim and pretty, but he wasn’t sure anymore if she had changed her appearance or if she had just grown on him, since he was sure that she was the same girl he had found quite unremarkable when she’d started unknowingly joining him for lunch. The more he recognized the angles of anyone’s eyes and the proportions of their noses, the more he began to tease out their beauty. As a result, the people he knew well were the most gorgeous specimens he could imagine. And the pizza lady, well, she looked so beautiful, even while eating, that she must really be attractive. He would try to trick himself, to see her through fresh eyes, but she would only radiate more.
Today was a special day. He’d received a transfer to Los Angeles, one he’d been rejected for two times before, but that had finally come through. He had already given his landlord notice and begun packing the dearth of belongings for next week’s move. He knew he’d be so busy next week that this would be his last lunch with the woman.
He sat down with a glass of burgundy and a mound of braised endives, looking over at his companion. He was pleased to see that she was still reading the thriller from the Cold War; he hadn’t quite finished either so maybe they’d close the novel with similar satisfaction on the same day.
Part of him wanted more than anything to go to the pizzeria, to actually talk to her one time before leaving. He’d tell her, without stuttering, what he’d thought of the last two books about outer space. He’d describe what he thought had happened to the little boy in the unsolved mystery she’d read last July, without shaky hands, without awkward pauses. He’d tell her how much he thought he loved her. She could get fat off carbs and keep the light on late to read her awful fiction. He would take her and her giant nose to Los Angeles, where she could eat the whole pizza, crust and all! But he knew better. Of course he would stutter and even if he didn’t, she’d think the whole thing was creepy. All her moments enjoyed alone would be robbed from her if she knew she had been watched. But he knew he had to try.
Two hours later, a newly hired bus boy cleared the table by the window at Carbone’s. He smirked as he looked down at the two plates, covered in two circles of scraped-clean pizza dough. He wasn’t sure where to put the empty wine glass-they didn’t even serve wine at Carbone’s so he didn’t know where the glass had come from. He glanced around the empty restaurant, then out the window. He could see across the narrow alley into the vacant apartment where a lonely plate of endives sat on an otherwise bare table.
"Pizza" appeared in the ESC March 2016 newsletter