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Day 176-7: My Dinner at Anna’s

Sorry, people, I’m fine. I appreciate your alarm when I fail to post. I apologize.

At Anna’s insistence—even after the priest’s earthly intervention caused so many staffing problems—I kept our dinner date. I hated relying on her to cook after all she does, but she can’t legally (or safely) walk home late, while I can. And I’d been waiting to taste what she’d make just for me, on her turf.

MANHATTAN BRIDGE UNDER CONSTRUCTION, 1909Anna lives near the Manhattan Bridge in a slummy neighborhood that looks like mine did years ago. It’s the last unspoiled nook of downtown Manhattan, where cheap but authentic Chinese eateries still flood the streets with thick, piquant odors that sing dim sum, congee, salted pepper squid….

Hers is a typical rent-stabilized flat, old and small with decrepit fixtures her landlord will never replace until rehabilitation expense accounting can free the apartment of regulation by lifting the monthly rent over $2,500. (My place was liberated shortly before I arrived.) As long as rent is cheap, owners treasure shabbiness.

Why is this ungrateful critter saying this about his dear friend’s home, you ask?

Because her space is a timeless refuge I couldn’t have imagined in that drab walkup. It’s colored in aqua and magnolia and hung with fabrics that suggest a tent in a desert breeze. The vibe is both restful and stimulating. It was a dream to sit there, sampling cognac and herbs amid hushed, wailing chamber music.

I reclined in her dining area while she fetched appetizers she must have conjured: There were two good cheeses and an original dip redolent of garlic and ginger, with strips of celery, avocado, carrot, and asparagus.

We didn’t talk shop, never mentioned the priest after she asked if I thought she’d go to hell. (No way.) I was dazzled by her world and her Hot Black Silk. (Thanks, Jason Molina & Songs Ohia.)

Then I noticed photographs over the stereo—a little girl with a shy smile and wide eyes, dancing in a red fairy outfit. For a moment, I thought it was Anna as a child, and then Anna explained that she and her daughter used to hula-hoop together in this room. She seemed happy to remember.

Anna asked me to open a malbec as soft and intense as her gaze. Wherever he was last night, Ric toasted her. He probably gave her the bottle.

Triumph of Good Will

We sipped wine and ate almonds. I could have imagined we were picnicking as we spoke of how we’d grown up, where and when—and why she waited so long to reveal herself to me. Readers have asked: Is she really so shy? Sadistic? I was curious, too.

We weren’t ready, Anna told me. She thought she was months ago, but I drove upstate the day she was planning to introduce herself. One pandemic wave led to another. I cooped myself up. She decided I had simmered long enough when she read my longings for a partner to join me by the lake in the park. It spurred her own development. Within days, Ric’s death slammed us together in that very spot, fighting for our lives.

Before anyone suggests she be toasted for sorcery, let me add that Anna is one of the most innocent people I’ve ever met, someone who follows her impulses with consummate integrity. If she doesn’t feel like talking, she can’t. But she’s brilliant at anticipating how others will react. When she needs something, she’s like a gifted fullback approaching an alert line: Though her target is clear to everyone, she’ll get there.

She says power is a mirage that helps others accept what you want.

Will Anna mind my posting this? She says she doesn’t care, so long as I tell the truth.

Frankly, dinner turned out to be a ravishing pesto oozing a fine blend of pine nuts and garlic and basil and arugula. I’ve tasted nothing like it since long before the pandemic. Ric taught her some tasty tricks while they were whipping up batches of blander food.

Want me to keep going? Is this too painful to read? I can’t help myself: Dessert was chocolate-covered bananas and espresso. She was sad not to offer lemon peel.

Days ago, I feared I was dying. Now I was in heaven, her world. I’m still there in spirit.

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