SYLVIE HAS GONE TO THE DELI by Elizabeth Esse Kahrs- written version
Elizabeth Esse Kahrs is a freelance journalist and fiction writer. She has been a columnist for Parent and Kids/Boston for the past six years. An excerpt from her novel, The Trouble in My Mirror, appeared in the Fearless Voices section of the The Huffington Post. You can find more of her work in The Boston Globe, the Baby Journal, Static Movement, and Shine. Elizabeth graduated from Lafayette College with a Bachelors degree in Psychology. A native of suburban New York, she lives with her husband and two children on Boston’s South Shore. The Trouble in My Mirror is her first novel.
Sylvie Has Gone to the Deli
Sal Graziano loves to eat more than he loves his wife. The feel of a forkful of noodles in his mouth, slippery and inviting, dripping with butter and parmesan. His considerable two front teeth like Chiclets sinking into a cannoli, or a slice of Sicilian, or a buttered roll. He knows all the best places and people are always asking him. “Hey Sal, what’s good today?” And he rubs his stomach like an over-inflated Buddha and tells them.
Big fat Sal, the salt, and sugar, of the earth.
“Not too bad for a garbage man, hey Sylvie?”
He sits with his evening meal spread before him, a massive array of food for two people. It covers the length of the Formica table—meatballs and garlic bread, baked ziti and lasagna.
“What, no salad?”
He spoons piles of saucy carbohydrates onto his blue speckled Corelle dinner plate. “I’m trying to watch my weight, you know.” He smiles at his wife.
Sylvie returns his gaze, her eyes narrowing into almonds. “You better watch it, Sal.” She reaches into the refrigerator for a bag of baby carrots. “I mean it —look at you.”
Sal glances down at his substantial belly. “I’m lookin’ Sylvie and I’m lookin’ good!” He laughs and stuffs a forkful of lasagna into his over-stretched mouth.
She’s always on his ass about something, that Sylvie. “Take a shower, you smell like the truck—Turn over, you’re snoring.” But the woman can cook, he’ll give her that. The woman takes care of him.
She is folding laundry as he sits in the Barcalounger eating peanuts.
“You got man boobs, Sal.” She holds a bra to her chest. “Maybe you need one of these.”
An awkward kind of laugh that follows the truth.
Sal knows he’s probably one cannoli away from a heart attack, but he’s held it together long enough –sucked it in, sucked it up. He’s done with that now. He’s a garbage man and garbage men are born disposers. It just ain’t natural to hold it all in.
And so, he doesn’t. His size 44 waist comfort fit Levi’s button under his stomach shelf, and only after considerable effort. He breathes heavy just from taking in air off the side of the truck. But shit, he’s forty-seven-years-old, and he doesn’t smoke or drink and he doesn’t cheat on Sylvie. He’s seen how it goes out there.
“I’m goin’ to the Felice’s for bridge.” Sylvie rolls a meatball around her plate until it collides with a carrot.
“Take the wagon, it’s got gas.”
Sal’s voice is muffled by his fourth slab of Garlic bread. The overhead light shines down on his chin, slippery with butter.
Sylvie is lying. Sal cannot tell. Food has blinded him to the truth. He remains coated, protected by all that fat of his, like a chicken breast dipped in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs. He is boneless. Maybe even spineless.
She is going to meet Vinnie. Vinnie from the deli who winks at her when she is waiting in line to order her provolone, capicolli, and sometimes, prosciute. He is at least twenty years younger than she is, dark and handsome in his white deli coat. She studies his hands as he deposits her meat wrapped in white paper, the pencil behind his ear to calculate the total, the black hairs of his arms excited and erect. She wonders if he carries that smell of deli on him, grated parmesan, fresh baked rolls, melded with skin.
Sylvie scrapes off her plate. She goes to the bathroom to brush her teeth. She reapplies her makeup. She walks out the door leaving Sal at the table, a giant bowl of chocolate Gelato in front of him.
Making love to Sal is like mounting a small finger stuck out of a wad of pizza dough. She looks down at his wide face and tries to chisel away the layers. His neck has become like a pelican’s; you could probably fit an entire fish in there, head, tail, and all. The voice that used to soothe her has now become marbled and guttural, the fish’s tail lodged in his throat.
Not that she’s any picnic, either. But she hasn’t let herself go, not like Sal. The change is coming; she needs to eat less and less. Sal is not holding up his part of the bargain. But as always, they have to eat.
Sylvie has to go to the deli.
It had started out very slowly. So slowly, in fact, that she didn’t even realize it was happening. Twenty years of marriage, she had lost track of the rules; she had forgotten the signs. At some point, something shifted inside her, and the knowledge became hers again, a fifteen-year-old girl with that queasy feeling in her stomach, electricity, the fire of excitement.
It was as if someone had used those heart paddles right there in that deli line, held them up to her chest, and shouted, “Clear!”
Clear that this man, Vinnie, had shocked her dead flesh back to life. She had never considered being unfaithful to Sal, because she had never considered it. The notion of her fidelity worked like a dog’s invisible fence, a collar around her neck, a ring around her finger.
She had never thought to run.
Now, standing on this deli line, it’s as if a cup of water has been thrown in her face. She is awake and aware, aware of how Vinnie looks at her, aware of what has been happening between them for months. The smile that forms at the corners of his mouth when he sees her; the way he makes a show of reaching for a roll, or removing that pencil from the crook of his ear. She is stunned to have these feelings again.
This time, as he calculates the total, he pauses a moment before writing something down. He hands her the package, grazing her fingers. He has written a phone number below the dollar amount. His phone number. She looks up briefly and their eyes connect.
It is done.
She had waited a whole week to call him, letting the notion sink in to the point of becoming familiar. And now she is driving to his apartment and she will learn another side of him, a doctor taking off his white coat, the pencil absent from his ear. She is not nervous. Although she hates getting older, age has a way of making things easier. She deserves this. She deserves to have these feelings back. She deserves to be with a man who is like her husband used to be.
She drives to his apartment on the other side of town. At the door, she straightens her hair.
She knocks. The door opens. He’s wearing jeans and a T-shirt. His hair is wet.
“I just got out of the shower.”
Over the threshold. Into his small space.
She sits on the couch and he brings her a glass of wine. She takes a gulp. She places the wine on the coffee table. He starts to kiss her.
Vinnie’s hand moves from her thigh to the space between her legs. He wraps his tongue around her tongue; he sucks on her lower lip. She can feel the heat of his hand through her pants.
Sal had touched her there, that first time, in the car. Sitting by his side with her seat belt on, he had reached in deep to feel the moist warmth. Only seventeen years old, she had placed her hand beneath his underwear and grabbed him, warm and wobbly.
She had started to cry.
Now Vinnie’s hand is there. Vinnie who slices her meat and cuts her cheese. He smells of Halston, parmesan, and vinegar. That hand with that smell is touching her.
He licks her teeth, shoves his tongue further into her mouth. He takes her hand and places it on his crotch. He guides her fingers to the button on his jeans.
Sal is probably settling in to watch Jeopardy now. “A garbage man can never know too much.”
He has probably done the dishes.
She unzips Vinnie’s pants and his penis spills out. It is larger than Sal’s, and not doughy. She touches it lightly, a stale Twinkie. It nods up and down, yes.
Sal. He is getting up from the couch to get a beer. He is reaching into the cabinet for some peanuts.
Vinnie stands. He drops his pants to the floor. He pulls the shirt from his back.
She stares at his bare chest, his naked upper body, flesh without fat, again. His golden skin, that perfect V, a flat muscled stomach, tiny little hairs leading downward.
Sal had once looked like this.
Standing from the couch, she goes to him. She rubs her hands across his chest, grazes his nipples with her fingertips. She trails her fingers along the sides of his torso, tracing the indent, the absence of love handles. She runs her palms across his flat, hard, stomach.
Keeping her eyes closed, she tries to capture the feeling in her mind, to have it there until it lasts forever.
“Go into the bedroom and I’ll meet you there.” She whispers in his ear.
An obedient dog, he follows the command. He leaves her there, alone.
She brings her hands to her face and presses her fingers in deep, sealing in the memory.
She picks up her purse. She walks to the door.
This is all she had wanted.