Romeo and Rita by Robert Caporale

 

Musclehead steps into the Empire Café, sidles up to the bar next to Paulie. He orders a shot of Stolies and a beer.

How'd it go? Paulie asks.

Musclehead slides an envelop in front of Paulie. You can mark Sid Spain paid in full.

Cool.

Is that Romeo out there darting in and out of traffic?

He's trying to kill himself, Paulie says.

The Lovely Rita walk out on him again?

He walked in on her; she was in the sack with a merchant marine and a glassblower named Alice.

She's a trip.

You got to love her, Paulie says.

She's messing with Romeo's head.

Romeo has to learn how to deal with her.

Romeo's in love, Musclehead says.

That's the problem.

Why didn't you drag him off the street?

I sent him out there.

You!

He's bluffing, Paulie says. He's dodging traffic, not jumping into it. He's been out there for good ten minutes and he's still not dead.

But it's dusk...there's no depth perception out there now. One slip up and boom boom out goes Romeo's lights.

There's a screech of brakes; someone lays on a horn.

Through the blinking red Empire Café sign Paulie and Musclehead look out the plate glass window to the street. The early evening sky is dim and grainy. Beams of headlights crisscross as they swerve to miss Romeo.

Tomtom drops a shot and beer in front of Musclehead.

Musclehead peels a Jackson off his roll, places it on the bar.

Outside more horns blast.

Musclehead wants to know why Paulie's being such a hard-ass.

He got on my nerves. He was close to tears. It was disgusting. Ask Tomtom, he saw the whole thing.

It was not pretty, Tomtom says wiping down the bar.

So you send him out to play in traffic?

He wouldn't listen to reason.

Musclehead gestures to Tomtom for a bowl of beer nuts.

I told him we're all amateurs when it comes to matters of the heart, Paulie says.

What the hell does that mean?

It's good advice. I told Romeo to chill. I told him that some girls are not the marrying kind. And that The Lovely Rita is not the type of girl you bring home for mom's meatballs. I told him to take The Lovely Rita at face value, nothing more; nothing less. Enjoy.

Probably not a good move.

Evidently, Paulie shrugs.

Another loud screech accompanied by a blast of a truck's air horn.

We should do something, Musclehead says.

Paulie drops some beer nuts into his mouth, chews.

There is a long loud shrilling screech of hot rubber. Paulie and Musclehead brace themselves waiting for the thud.

I'm not looking forward to peeling Romeo off of someone's grillwork, Musclehead says.

He'll be dragging his sorry ass back in here soon enough, Paulie tells him.

The Lovely Rita blows through the door of the Empire Café in turmoil and a tight skirt. She glances around, spots Musclehead and Paulie, floats over to them. There's some fool out there dancing with traffic, she gestures.

That fool is your Romeo, Paulie tells her.

Rita glances out the window, squints across the boulevard. Christ, she says.

Paulie sent him out there, Musclehead tells Rita.

Nice, Rita says and shoots Paulie a nasty glance, I wouldn't expect anything less from Paaaulie, she says. She says it just like that, Paaaulie.

Paulie ignores The Lovely Rita.

For some strange reason Romeo looks up to you, she tells Paulie, he trusts you, and you send him out to play in traffic.

He didn't have to go.

You backed him into it...playing those little mind games of yours. I hope he gets crushed out there.

That will teach me a lesson, Paulie grins.

Rita spins around on her heels and blatantly parades her very best stuff across the barroom floor towards the door to everyone's delight.

Rita swings open the door letting in a drone of traffic noise. A beam of headlight hits her dead on while she stands in the open doorway. The intense brightness illuminates her and transforms her into a dazzling light fandango, a hazy celestial ghost. Rita steps out of the Empire Café in gossamer clothes.

Paulie and Musclehead love it. They order another round for themselves and invite Tomtom to join them.

They get comfortable and turn their attention back out the plate glass to the darkening boulevard. The city sparkles in neon.

Rita rubs the bright from her eyes, shouts something out to Romeo and steps into traffic. A UPS truck sends her hustling back up onto the sidewalk where she starts running to and fro out of harm's way trying to reason with Romeo while gesticulating in some bizarre abstract pantomime to please get his scrawny ass off the blacktop.

Musclehead and Paulie cannot hear Romeo and Rita's conversation, but that does not diminish from the overall experience. It actually adds to it, giving it the flavor of a slapstick absurdity.

This is great, Paulie smirks.

I'm loving it, Musclehead says.

Pretty soon Romeo zigs and zags his way over to Rita. They stand face to face on the sidewalk just inches apart. Romeo is sweating, taking deep breaths. They exchange a few soft words. Romeo stares into Rita's eyes. There is nothing endearing in them, they are only mirrors reflecting city lights. Romeo takes a hold of her, draws her in to him.

Rita grabs Romeo's hand and leads him up the stairs of a brownstone stoop, and in the shadows of the entranceway throws a liplock on him. Romeo jacks Rita up against a bank of doorbells; Rita glances over to the Empire Café before peeling up her short tight skirt. Romeo lifts her off her feet. Rita works on his belt buckle while wrapping her legs around Romeo. Doorbells start chiming in a dozen apartments.

Paulie and Musclehead show their appreciation with a subdued standing ovation.

Robert Caporale lives and writes in Massachusetts. Some of his work has previously been published in Confrontation, Zahir, Hardboiled, Tattoo Highway, Cafe' Irreal, Conversely, Avatar Review, Alsop Review, and Zuzu's Petals Quarterly, among others.