November 24, 2017 | Rome, Italy | °C

Buona Sera, Uncle Ray (Rosebud, New Jersey, 1969)

By Jeff Freiert
Published: 2017-10-29

"Can we, Ma?"

He leads them inside to the bar, gets them a small table and two cokes from the bartender, tipping generously.

"Keep an eye on these boys," he says across the bar.

"Bowling for Dollars" is on the black-and-white TV above the bar. Only a few barstools are taken.

"Okay, boys, you two behave like young men. Enjoy the show, and we'll come get you. You stay put. Capish?"

They nod, and Ray claps each on the shoulder.

•

When Ray steps through the stone archway, he sees the patrons have been banished, the tables have been cleared… except their table, overturned to reveal itself as an enormous half scallop shell, on which stands Bella, gloriously nude, her long hair blowing to one side, a wavy waist-length tendril held loosely, almost absently, over the V of her smooth pelvis, her other hand pressed to her pale beautiful breasts. Cherubs flutter about her on white wings. But as he peers at the angels' faces, he recognizes them — Louie and Tony!

And the vision falls away…

Clearing his throat and straightening his tie, Ray crosses the terrace, weaving around waiters to where Bella sits alone, gazing into the glow of the candlelight and picking at the dry, dripped wax on the bottle.

The wind has picked up and her hair is lifted by the breeze, too close — he thinks — to the leaping flames of the torch. Ray moves quickly and wraps his hands around the iron stem, lifting and carrying the torch away from their table.

"Sir." A waiter is suddenly at his side. "Can I help you, sir?"

"She's gonna get her hair set on fire."

"It's all right, Ray," Bella says calmly. "Sit down."

He twists his pinky ring as he watches the waiter retreat, then takes a seat next to her, so that their backs are to the terrace wall and they face the door. Still breathing heavily, he brushes some loose strands of hair back in place with his hand. The plates have been cleared and dessert menus lie on the white tablecloth. Ray looks at the array of tables and thinks, They really pack them in here.

"I wish I could take you dancing," he says, looking straight ahead.

She pats his hand on the table. "I know."

He looks at her.

"What can I give you?"

She points a finger at the menu. "I'd like cake."

He calls for the waiter and orders a slice of chocolate cake for the lady and an espresso for himself.

"The boys all right?" she asks.

"They're fine."

She touches his hand briefly once more.

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