In Fratelli's, the walls are all mirrors. This is surprising because it used to be a Howard Johnson's. Did the new owners think that mirrored walls make a classy joint? The place is filled with old people. Not terribly old people, but newly old people who still have teeth and spunk.
My dad says you know the food is good when the old people show up. He has been here before, at this maybe-classy-Italian-restaurant-former-HoJo. That is why he has requested that we come here for his 50th birthday. We are not all here, though. My brother has called via tiny cell phone to say that 1.) He hates Italian food and 2.) He doesn’t want to go to this dump. This dump is my dad's current favorite restaurant, so I go along. I am married to Scoresby, but he isn't in attendance, either. He can’t eat cheese. No cheese. So he doesn't chance a place like this.
I look in the mirror-wall opposite me and take us all in. Compared to my Italian mother, I look very pale. She is almost brown. She is shrinking. She looks like a little old brown bird, pecking at her food. My father is big and sad and tired and slouchy. He talks about how good the bread is. He looks like he could cry. He is so lonely. I want to steal him away from his life and give him a brand new one. But instead, I am pretending to celebrate the one that he has. I talk a lot when I pretend. I babble about silly things that no one understands.
We are like a painting come to life. Like Sunday in the Park with George. My sister's hair is long and mostly blond, but brown in some places. It looks like it could be crispy to the touch. She is getting old. She is younger than me, but older than me. She is 24, but could pass for 40. Her skin is tan and almost pitted or bumpy somehow. Her hands are very thin and I wonder what makes them so, the diet pills or the other drugs. I compare myself to her because I can barely believe that we are sisters. My hair is smooth and wavy and reddish brown. My face is plump and pale and forgiving. Next to her, I almost look like Botticelli's Venus. Next to me, she almost looks like an older, worn out Britney Spears. I wonder how I got here and how she got there. I remember when we were younger and I told her I hated her. I wish I could take it back right now. I almost do. But her boyfriend and 'baby’s daddy' starts talking about online gambling and I look at him and wonder how much dumber he could get. He plays online casinos. I guess someone has to. My sister's daughter, Brittney, runs around the table pretending to be an Opera singer and no one tells her to sit down. No one even bats an eye. She makes one, two, three laps and falls into her chair, giggling. I’m the only one who shares in her joy.
I wonder if I am the only one of them who can experience joy anymore. I want to ask them. Tell me what you enjoy. Tell me about joy. Tell me about happiness. But I don’t because it is my father's 50th birthday and I love him.