Winter came late that year, but come it did, and soon the sky was filled
with falling snow and was gray except where the snow fell. There it was white.
The air was very cold, and we spent most of our days inside, wearing sweaters
and drinking grappa and feeling very fortunate that we had stocked up on grappa
and sweaters. School was still in session and during the day we could see
students marching along the sidewalk and the snow swirling around them and
their backpacks, crammed full of apples and books, bouncing and flapping in
time with their steps. We could have joined them but we chose not to.
As the winter dragged on our sweaters became dirty and we ran out of food
but the others did not notice since there was plenty of grappa left. They
were drunk and smelly but did not care because they were drunk. During the
evenings we would smoke cigarettes and contemplate leaving our house but we
never did because the air was cold and our house was warm. Plus, we were too
By the middle of January I had a beard and by the end of January I did
not. Beards are funny things.
On one particularly wintery day I awoke with a start to find myself feeling
quite hungry. It was the type of hunger that wakes you with a start, the type of
hunger that grappa alone cannot satisfy, and I dragged myself out of bed, pulled
on my cleanest sweater, strode over to the door, grabbed the handle, stepped
out onto the wet stone and was outside.
It was a grand feeling.
The wind was blowing hard now. It was a cold, stinging February wind
and I knew it was snowing in Austria. My sweater was clean but it wasn’t warm
and I found myself fondly recalling the dirty warm sweater I had left behind. The
cold rain felt cold on my face and I missed my beard.
I turned back to my house and waved at the others through the window
and they waved their bottles of grappa at me in encouragement. I saw the
buildings that had food off in the distance and headed out, headed straight out
until my house was out of sight and the buildings that had food became closer.
The sidewalk was snowy and slippery and my feet hurt but I was going with the
wind and my hunger outweighed my pain. I thought about buying a new sweater
after I ate, about how clean and warm and grand it would be.
It was with those happy thoughts that I happened upon Hassan’s House of
Eggs and Love, a diner that didn’t serve grappa because it didn’t have a license
and didn’t seem worth our time before because it didn’t serve grappa. It served
food though, and now, after a winter’s worth of grappa, that was all that mattered.
Hassan’s was very green and red and smelled like chili and customers
filled the booths while waitresses weaved between them shouting and carrying
plates, heavy with food and drink, to every corner. A moment after I entered I
noticed a girl in front of me. She had a thin face and a black skirt and seemed
eager to talk. “Wonderful,” she said when she saw me. “Welcome to Hassan’s
House of Eggs and Love.”
“Thank you.” I saluted, but not too much.
“Why, yes,” I said. I thought I saw her wink.
“Then let me show you to your seat,” she said, and right then I could tell
that she saw my pain, she could see the months that I had spent eating nothing
and downing bottles of grappa while wearing dirty sweaters and now walking in
the cold, through the snow with sore feet and she wanted to show me to my seat.
God knows I had not wanted to fall in love with her. I had not wanted to fall in
love with any one. But God knows I had and I let her show me to my seat and all
sorts of thoughts went through my head and I sat down and my feet felt better. I
looked up at her and she looked down at me. “Enjoy your meal,” she said. And
then she was gone.
I thought of her often.
A man in an apron came over to me and started wiping my table. He had
a big stomach and black hair and he wore the apron because he was the busboy.
“Excuse me, Senor,” he said as he wiped the part of the table in front of me. He
spoke with an accent and something about him made me uneasy. I froze. He
was German. I had once heard that there had been many Germans in busboy
uniforms mixing into college diners. I did not believe it. That was one of those
things that your roommates told you late at night after too much grappa. But
now… I reached towards my butter knife and prepared to thrust it through his
He looked at me and smiled. “Ah, Senor,” he said. “You want ashtray?”
“Yes please.” I dropped the knife and felt foolish. He was Mexican.
I sat in the booth with my back to the wall and smoked. Outside it was
getting dark. The booth was very comfortable and it made me forget my hunger
but then I would smell the chili smell and would remember. I thought of my
hostess and wondered what side of the bed she slept on. I missed her terribly.
A girl in a green Hassan’s shirt walked up to me and nodded. I would
have saluted but my feet hurt and I didn’t feel like standing up so I nodded back.
“My name is Marta,” the girl said, “What can I get for you?”
“What soup do you have?” I asked. Marta was very beautiful. She had
dark hair and blue eyes and seven freckles. The freckles reminded me of a
bottle of grappa. The hair and eyes reminded me of the hostess.
“Chicken lemon rice.”
“Chicken lemon rice,” I said. “Sounds good.”
“It is. You want some?”
“No. I don’t care for soup.”
“What do you care for?”
“Hamburger Pita with fries.”
“Ok, five minutes,” she said. She disappeared into the back.
“You have beautiful hair!” I yelled after her, but she was already gone.
The busboy heard me and snickered and I wished that I had stabbed him.
Marta returned not five minutes later carrying a tray. When she put it
down I saw a hamburger pita and a side of fries and I felt something stir inside
me that was different from the hunger I had been feeling all day. “That’s just
what I asked for,” I said.
“I try my best.”
“You are wonderful,” I said. Marta blushed.
“I’ll be back to check on you soon,” she said. I hoped she was telling the
truth. God knows I had not wanted to fall in love with her. I had not wanted to
fall in love with any one else today. But God knows I had and I ate my
hamburger pita with fries and all sorts of thoughts went through my head and
almost none of them were about the pita. I lit a cigarette and anxiously waited for
Marta to come back. I had treated our meeting very lightly, I had just wanted to
order some food and eat it but when the food was gone and she was not with me
I was feeling very lonely and I missed her terribly.
I sighed as I thought of the hostess. To think that the love I had for her
was there and then gone so quickly, much like my beard. I felt then that I had
never before experienced such beard-like love before. By the time my cigarette
was finished Marta was back.
“How was everything?” she asked.
“Oh, you’re sweet. It was fine, but it’s better now.”
“I think I may blush.” She blushed.
“Sit and smoke with me.”
“I mustn’t. I’m working.”
“Smoke with me. Please.”
“Do you love me?”
“I love you. I’m crazy about you. Sit with me. It’s a grand feeling”
“What about my other tables?”
“Forget your other tables. I want you. Sit, smoke with me.”
“All right but only for a little while.”
Marta sat down and blushed and I lit her cigarette and we were sitting and
smoking and blushing in my booth together.
“It sure is snowing a lot,” I said. Outside, it was snowing a lot.
“I’m scared of the snow.”
“Don’t make me tell you.”
“I’m scared of the snow because sometimes I see myself slipping and falling in it.”
“I won’t let that happen,” I said, although I could quite clearly picture her
slipping and falling in the snow naked.
“Why are you smiling?” she asked. “You think it’s childish that I am afraid
of the snow, don’t you?”
“No, darling. I am smiling because I was thinking about you slipping in the
snow naked and me using you as a naked sled and riding down a wonderful hill.”
“Oh, you say the sweetest things.”
“Yes, I haven’t been sledding since I was a child.”
“You said chicken lemon rice so sweetly. Say chicken lemon rice.”
“Chicken lemon rice.”
“Oh, you’re sweet,” she said. I lit two more cigarettes for us. “Darling?” she asked.
“When we’re married you won’t be with other girls, will you?”
“I’ll try to be good dear, but when I drink grappa it’s sometimes hard to be good.”
“You are so sweet.”
“So is grappa.”
“What a grand day.”
“Very grand,” I said. I looked at my cigarette and saw that it was almost
done. “My cigarette is almost done.”
“All right. Let’s put our cigarettes out at exactly the same moment.”
But we didn’t.
I knew then that she was going to die.