Marek lets his nose lead him up the path to Mrs. Morello’s front door. The combination of garlic, tomatoes and basil is so closely tied to long neglected places in his heart that he needs to catch his breath before ringing the doorbell.
Tiny Mrs. Morello opens the door wearing a black marocain dress and a frilly apron. She has black patent leather killer heels on her feet. Marek notices her legs are still rather lovely. She notices him noticing and blushes, but she’s pleased.
“Mr. Marek, so nice to see you, come in, come in. You brought flowers. You shouldn’t have, but I’m so glad you did. Come and meet my friend, Mr. Jaffe.”
Mr. Jaffe is sitting in the livingroom and nursing a rather powerful highball, Lachesis Morello does not skimp on the Canadian Club. Marek sees an elderly gentleman in what used to be called “Sunday clothes”: dress slacks, a sportcoat, shirt and surprisingly a colorful bowtie rise out of his overstuffed chair to greet him. He is starting to feel a bit like a third wheel for Darby and Joan.
“Lach darling, take the flowers from the boy, pour him a drink. Come in son, come in and take a load off. Welcome to Lach’s Cherry Orchard, I’m Al.“
“Marek,” says Marek by way of introduction, shaking Mr. Jaffe’s proffered hand. He settles into the overstuffed chair opposite Mr. Jaffe and within seconds, Mrs. Morello has provided him with a shockingly potent highball as well.
“Just Marek? What are you, some kind of a rockstar that you go around with just one name?”
“I’m a locksmith, sir, “
“Ah, that explains how you know dear Lachesis.”
“Al, I heard my name. What are you saying about me?” called Mrs. Morello from the kitchen.
“Just good things, my heart, just good things…”
Mr. Jaffe winks at Marek and they clink glasses.
“Me, I’m with Time.”
“No. My little joke. I’m a clockmaker.”
The two men traded stories about clocks and locks while Mrs. Morello put the food on the table.
“Gravy” was the understatement of the year.
“Lach baby, you culinary temptress, what a spread! You didn’t use too much garlic, did you? You know my heartburn…”
“Al, just sit down and eat. Mr. Marek, come and sit here on my left…”
The meal began with stracciatella, chicken soup with escarole and parmesan cheese that formed swirls in the broth and gives the dish it’s name, “little rags”.
Next came the cappellini, angelhair pasta with red sauce,
“I’ll get you a big napkin for your shirt, Al, you know how you are with gravy,”
This was followed by vitiello al limone, minted mushrooms, and stringbeans with almonds in lemon sauce.
Marek tries to get up to help Mrs. Morello clear away after the meal, but across the table Mr. Jaffe’s eyebrows flee for the ceiling followed by a vigorous shaking of the head and Marek is in his chair again before Mrs. Morello turns around.
Mr. Jaffe murmurs, “She’s old school. It’s an insult to offer to help.”
“What’s that, Al?”
“The meal was fabulous, cara mia”
“Flatterer. Who’s for coffee?”
Mrs. Morello doesn’t serve coffee out of the pot. She teeters back to the table on her killer heels carrying a shining silver coffee service and pours for everyone.
“A little dolce, my sweet,” says Mrs. Morello handing a cannolli on a wafer thin china plate to Mr. Jaffe.
“I really shouldn’t.”
“Go on, you know you want to.”
“Just the one then.”
“Mr. Marek, these cannolli are to die for. Have you ever had cannolli?”
“Not for a long time. Thanks, it looks delicious.”
“You’re probably wondering what I’m doing here,” Mr. Jaffe says between bites of his cannolli. “Lachesis invites you to dinner and you arrive to find a cuckoo in the nest. Don’t deny it, you didn’t expect me.”
“No sir, I did not.”
“She tells me you need some straightening out.”
“I knew I liked you, Mr. Marek, “ schmoozes Mrs. Morello.
Mr. Jaffe cocked an eyebrow at Mrs. Morello, mouthed the words “behave yourself” to her and continued, “I said I was in Time and that it was a little joke of mine, but there might be something I can do for you.”
“I don’t have any clocks worth repairing.”
“What about your lifeclock? That skein spun by Clotho, measured by Lachesis here, and when the time comes, cut by Atropos?”
Marek’s word rush past his lips so fast he’s surprised himself and he can’t stop them.
“My skein is so knotted, I’m almost willing to ask for the scissor myself because my life’s a mess and much as you’d like one, you don’t get any do-overs.”
“Look here, Dr. Locksmith, you know how the universe works, what’s impossible? I read your paper on dark energy.”
“I wrote that a long time ago. It’s scary stuff. I’m not an astrophysicist anymore.”
“It undermines God.”
“Oh. Does it?”
“For me it does.”
Mr. Jaffe takes a pocketwatch from the inner flap of his sportscoat and lays it face down on the dining table.
“I’m offering you one hour, any day, any year. One hour to undo the right knot which will help you to undo all the others. Lachesis doesn’t appreciate tangles, the others agreed.”
“You’re joking, right? Look you’re a very funny man, Mr. Jaffe, but enough is enough. Mrs. Morello, thank you for the lovely dinner, I really have to be…”
“Sit down, Mr. Marek.”
Something in the man’s voice makes Marek sit down and ask, “Who are you people?”
“He thinks we’re ‘people’ ,” says Mr. Jaffe rolling his eyes toward Mrs. Morello.
“Depends on what you mean by ‘people’, doesn’t it, dear? ” she remarks with a smile ,as though the thought amuses her.
Mrs. Morello walks into the kitchen and returns to the table with a cut glass bottle and three tiny stemmed glasses with colored bowls. She pours a straw colored liquid called strega into the first glass and puts it in front of Marek.
“Drink it, it’s good for you.”
Marek can’t move. He is one with the chair.
Mrs. Morello picks up the bottle and tries to pour a drink for Mr. Jaffe.
Mr. Jaffe holds his hand over his glass and shakes his head.
“Al, it’s a digestivo.”
“Go on then.”
Mr. Jaffe downs his glass of strega and turns the pocketwatch face up.
Marek finds himself raising his glass and drinking it in one shot. Then suddenly he’s on the street back at college. It is April. He knows this but doesn’t know how he knows. He’s carrying books. Two backpacks. His own and Smitty’s.
Smitty calls out to him and he turns around. She is standing in front of John and Olympia’s Greek lunch truck. He is dazzled by the sight of her. She’s so incredibly young.
“Marek! You want tzatziki on your souvlaki or what?”
The early spring sun catches on something around Smitty’s neck. His school ring on a chain. What is he doing here?
He catches sight of himself reflected in a car window. His hair is black again and it needs cutting, he is wearing a leather jacket with a broken zipper. He knows that the left pocket of this jacket holds 4 quarters and a money clip with 10 singles, four fins and a twenty. The right pocket holds his car keys and student i.d. He slips the i.d. out of his pocket for a look. It says 1985. He is twenty-four years old.