November 19, 2017 | Rome, Italy | °C

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

By Jeff Freiert
Published: 2017-10-29

"Then let's relax."

The cake arrives on a small white plate, drizzled with raspberry sauce.

Bella breaks off a piece with the side of her fork and scoops it into her mouth. She pulls the fork out slowly, lips together, savoring.

"Mmm. You have to taste."

She slices again with her fork, a larger square with more frosting, and lifts the fork to Ray's mouth. His lips part, and she slips the fork into his mouth, the underside of the cold steel tongs hard on the top of his soft, wet tongue, the moist cake sliding over his taste buds, as he too closes his lips so that as she withdraws the fork, he can lick the frosting and raspberry sauce, and after chewing, lick his lips.

"Mmm?" she says.

He nods.

He takes the fork from her hand, dips the tongs in the sauce, then slices off a corner with frosting, and raises it to her lips, which part, showing him her tongue. She closes her eyes, and he slides the fork into her open mouth and holds it there as she closes her lips, curling her tongue — he imagines — over the cake.

"Mmm…" she murmurs.

He swallows and holds the fork until she is finished, parting her lips to release.

Her eyes open and she smiles.

"That is good cake."

He reaches for the little cup, knocks back the espresso, and scoops another piece to feed her again.

•

After, Ray goes and brings the brothers back to the table. He calls for the check, being sure not to meet their eyes as the boys watch him expectantly. The waiter brings the check in a bound, black casing, and Ray looks once at the boys, gravely, to tease them. They squirm. He opens the case with one hand and grasps his chest with the other.

"Oh!"

"Uncle Ray's having a heart attack!" they exclaim with glee.

"We…can't pay this." Still clutching his chest. "You boys… will have to… wash dishes."

Annabella rolls her eyes.

•

It's quiet in the car after he drops off Bella and the boys. The driveway remains empty, Mike Bonaventura still on the late shift. Pulling from the curb, he leaves the music off and the windows down. As he drives out of town, he can hear the echo in the underpass as his tires roll over a metal plate. He passes the Jack in the Box, where a car of teenagers laugh and yell orders at the clown head. At the light, instead of heading toward his apartment, he turns left.

He parks across from her house. All the windows are dark, as they should be with Mama deep in slumber. A brief glow brightens the car as he lights a cigarette and slowly breathes in, wishing himself in the darkness of her backyard. He leans against a post of the arbor, smokes, maybe even lies on the grass and waits for a glimpse of the moon from behind the clouds. He wouldn't want to scare her, though, a man in her backyard, so he stays in the car and listens as he hears a lonely whistle and a train rumbles by, while in her dreams Mama is again with the man she loves.

— Jeff Freiert's stories have been published in StoryQuarterly, Best New Writing 2008, Joyland, Referential Magazine, and twice before in The American. His short fiction has been awarded the Eric Hoffer Prize for Prose and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

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