“I’m not understanding why they’d want to hire you exactly?” My husband pokes a hunk of burrata with his fork. I sit across from him in the busy, rustic Italian a few blocks from our house. Smells of oregano and meatballs and brick oven pizza and pasta marinara, sounds of chatter, sizzling food, laughter, all around me. I clutch the rough hem of the tablecloth in my lap and look at my empty plate.
“It’s a position in the office, secretarial.”
“Did you already apply?”
I shake my head, no.
“I mean you’re not really Employee of the Year material are you, love?” He leans back in his chair, licking his big teeth. “You’ll have to tell them you’ve had no career, and you’re a college drop out.”
“I have a degree.”
“What’s that?” He leans forward, cupping his hand to his ear. “You’re mumbling.”
The teenage waitress, no make-up and frizzy hair, comes over to ask if we need anything.
“No, this is spectacular,” he said, smile wide and voice loud. “Tell me, these are San Marzano tomatoes, right?”
The waitress shifts, reaching for words. “I don’t know.”
“Must be. They’re very distinctive.”
“Would you, I mean, do you want me to ask the chef?”
I look at him, and as I meet his eyes, I feel myself shrink to the size he prefers me. I straighten my back, slowly, and say, “I have my degree.”
“Ah, yes, of course. The degree I paid for, how could I forget?” He pours himself another glass of red wine.
“I did the work.”
“Oh, Sweetheart, yes, you did, didn’t you?” He pushes the fork’s side into the plump burrata until it gives way, splitting into two, thick cheese creeping onto his plate. He scoops some up with a chunk of tomato, and slowly eats a mouthful, before touching his napkin to the sides of his lips. “However, just because you got the credits to graduate, that doesn’t negate the fact that you had earlier dropped out of college, does it? Am I wrong? You did drop out, correct?”
I turn to the window. It’s a grey fall day, overcast sky threatening rain. In the tree set into the sidewalk, there are three parakeets, two green and one yellow. The parakeets are a peculiarity to our north-east town. No one knows if the first of them escaped or were released, but somehow, they have thrived, and a colony now resides in our local park.
“I only stopped my course to move here for your job.”
“Well, that’s your narrative, isn’t it? But who knows if you would have stuck it out.” I squeeze my hands tightly under the table. “A job’s not a good idea for you,” he continues. “You fell on your feet with me, I take care of you. Thank God, honestly. You’d be a lonely little thing without me looking after you. Little Orphan Annie.” His fork scrapes the porcelain plate.
“I’m not an orphan.”
“You might as well be. Useless people, your family.”
Our waitress sidles up to our table apologetically, her nose creased, her face tilting. “The chef said they’re just regular tomatoes, just from the wholesaler in town.”
I recognize her desire to absorb his embarrassment. He doesn’t look at her. He picks up his wine and sucks in a mouthful, eyelid twitching. Outside, the yellow parakeet takes flight and circles the tree before heading off towards the park.
My chair slides easily along the wooden floor as I push it backward. He looks at me, the question in his eyes turning to a hard stare, a challenge. I return his glare and take a deep, long breath.