december in august

December 4, 2009 | add comment

When the sun sets on other lazy towns, hushing them into a quiet slumber, you’ll find this city stirring restlessly. There are more than eight million people living in New York City. Even deep into the night, endless voices drift through the air – sipping cocktails, kissing, whispering, shouting. And each is connected in some invisible way, like how stars form constellations. You can’t see the lines, but you know they are seamless and unshakable.

Allen was rushed to St. Vincent’s hospital at 10:47 pm. He had been checking on orders in the kitchen when broke out into itchy red hives and his chest suddenly tightened.

“Yo, what’s up with your lips? They’re all puffy and shit,” said the dishwasher. The general manager walked over. He’d been in the business long enough to recognize an allergic reaction to food.

“Call 9-1-1,” he barked.

Earlier that night, Sherry and Brandy met for dinner at the same restaurant. The sisters meet every other week to discuss life, love, et cetera, always choosing a cozy little place downtown. This week they opted for the snug European joint, August, which recently killed its no-reservation policy.

“This place looks so romantic, Brandy.”

“I’m actually setting you up on a blind date,” she replied amusingly. Though she might as well have been serious – one of her favorite past-times was finding a soul mate for her shy sister.

Though twins, they were about as different as the drinks their names shared. Brandy: a distilled spirit. She was the brash, outgoing one, with dark messy curls and long lashes. Sherry: fortified and amber in color. The slightly older sister, she was the protector – intuitive and cautious with quiet green eyes.

They were seated at a warm candlelit table in the corner, offering a good view of passers-by. Their contrasting personalities did not transcend their eating habits, as was observed by Allen, their tall and bookishly handsome waiter. One ordered the wild mushroom and radicchio pizza, along with a vodka martini, the other ordered the chilled pea soup with marinated fluke and a glass of Italian white wine.

“Ok, well I dare you to ask him for his number,” said Brandy, noting that Allen had his eye on Sherry all night.

“Now? He’s working. Come on, it would be awkward.”

“Well, then write your number on the bill.”

“Hmmm, it’s your turn to pay if I recall correctly. Besides, that would just be lame.”

“Fine then, I’ll triple dog dare you,” said Brandy mischievously. “How about you take his pen after I sign the bill, and if he comes after you for it, you’ll have an excuse to at the very least continue flirting.”

They walked down Bleecker towards 10th Street. Pausing in front of Good Fellas to hail a cab uptown, the sisters wondered aloud why the pizzeria’s owners chose to repaint the interior in such awful colors. In mid-discussion of the red and gold hues, they were taken by complete surprise when Allen jogged up to them. For a fleeting second Sherry thought and hoped he was going to hit on her. Her heartbeat quickened.

“Ladies, sorry to interrupt, I was just wondering if you had my pen? I wouldn’t normally bother but it’s my last one.”

“Um, oh, I don’t think so,” said Sherry nonchalantly. “Let me check my purse.” She could feel herself blushing. Fumbling through her hobo bag, her mind suddenly went blank. In fact, she thought that somewhere inside her brain’s twisting roadmap, a lone deer stood frozen in headlights under a pitch black sky as a truck was charging towards it. And she couldn’t find his pen. Unbelievable. In fact, the only one she could find was candy cane shaped and smelled of peppermint. “I have this?” she offered shyly.

“As long as it writes,” he said smiling before rushing back up the street.

“A candy cane pen? Come on!” said Brandy, laughing hysterically once he was out of earshot.

“I swear, I couldn’t find his pen!” She felt foolish and wished her sister would just shut up.

Back at the restaurant, Allen smiled at his new pen, granted it wasn’t the most professional. He liked the smell of peppermint too. It reminded him of his grade school cello teacher, though come to think of it he never remembered her actually eating mints. He sniffed the writing tablet heading into the kitchen to pick up an order of soft-shell crabs and a braised rabbit dish.

Sherry and Brandy rode home in near silence for five blocks. On the sixth block, they simultaneously giggled at the situation. “A candy cane pen, brilliant,” Sherry muttered as they pulled up to her sister’s apartment.

“Hey, maybe that can be your thing, the candy cane pen – playful yet seductive. Good night, sweetie,” said Brandy.

“Night,” said Sherry. The cab continued uptown.

At the same time, Allen was feeling hot, feverish even. He figured it was just the heat from the wood-burning oven in the tiny kitchen. But now his arms were itching. Seven minutes later, he was in a cab on the way to the hospital. He was suffering from an allergic reaction to peppermint oil.

Back at the restaurant sat New York Times foodie Frank Bruni. Satisfied and sipping coffee, he was waiting to sign his bill and head home. The problem was, both the bill and his credit card were in the check-presenter, which was in Allen’s apron, which was with him at St. Vincent’s hospital.

Frank had been teetering between a two and three star rating since first tasting the panna cotta with rhubarb. Though he strove to maintain objectivity in his reviews, he was only human. And he was becoming impatient. In a world where restaurants live and die by a critic’s bite of soufflé, the difference between two and three stars is a vast culinary cosmos.

Allen left the hospital after an injection of Benadryl and two blood pressure tests. For the remainder of the holiday season, he froze up at the sight of candy canes, peppermints, and – occasionally – barbershop poles. Sherry never learned of the incident, nor did she ever find his pen. On occasion, she day dreamed of Allen and wished she had the guts to return to the restaurant. She wondered whether he thought of her. Frank’s credit card was delivered to him the following day. He gave the restaurant two stars.

Though the three of them were unaware of the tangled path their lives wove, for that night there remained a connection between them. It wasn’t fate, nor was it coincidental. It was just New York. And far, far up in the night’s sky, three stars connected to form Orion’s belt.

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