A fierce gust of wind blows the paper placemats off the table, and my hair into my forkful of goulash.
Traffic roars, toxic fumes billow, bathe our food and our faces.
A spavined speckled pooch lifts a leg at the pole beside our table. Is yanked back in mid-trickle by his handler. Both, extremely pissed at the sight of us, impeding access to what is clearly a favourite pole.
A car alarm erupts a blare of earsplitting BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEPs.
“Beep beep beep beep beep!” shrieks our 2-year-old baby girl. “Beeeeeeeep! Beeeeep!” her 4-year-old brother ecstatically commingles. The tot a table away bursts forth in screamy companionship.The thwarted dog howls. Several sets of parents bellow fruitless commands for silence.
Everybody is grinning. Holding napkins down, glasses up, and hair out of food.
Because this is the first time in a year; an endless, joyless, stifled, faceless and fear-filled year, that we have been permitted to be out, like this, all together. That this has been allowed us. To be in this place, this East Toronto patio outpost of Budapest, out of doors, far from our own houses and our own backyards, eating food cooked up and served, in person, by other people, people whose profession is cooking, eating on real crockery, with real forks and knives, raising real wine glasses; and, within chuckling and beeping and shrieking distance of complete strangers. Everyone’s face totally hanging out: fully revealed, not only eyes and eyebrows and furrowed foreheads and unstyled hair, but noses, mouths, chins. Chins! Nostrils! Lips! Stubble, lipstick! Teeth! All, except for the milling masked waitpersons. And even they are grinning with all their eyes.
So: blow, wind. Roar, traffic. Spew, fumes. Bleat, babies, and pee, pooches.
This is Heaven.
This is what VE Day must have felt like. VL Day: Victory over Lockdown.
The other evening, the first night post-Ontario lockdown, it was at an Italian patio downtown, long a favourite of family, and of the Toronto artiste community.
Here, after two martinis seriosissimi, which is to say bathtub-size, virtually unadulterated ice-cold gin, this mommy is speaking to the owner in what she believes is his language, and he is making as though he understands.
Holding tight to her third martinus, which nonetheless dribbles over occasionally, this mommy is up on her feet, dancing her unfettered Elaine-dance to the rock track, along with two couples of equally Elaine-dancer strangers. Mommy’s son is smiling gamely. His 13- year-old son, Mommy’s grandson, is practically rolling on the floor.
But the strangers, all keeping a similar dribblous grip on their glasses of drink, are rowdy with appreciation.
“You are such beautiful persons! Please to share my drink,” lilts one woman, dribbling half the dregs of her Negroni into my now-empty gin glass, the other half, into my son’s.
We clink, but we do not drink.
So: Clink, drinkers! Drink, clinkers! Dance, dribblers! Frolic, festivators! Speak Italian, motherless Mommy!
Because if Hell is other people, so is Heaven.
Especially, until the next lockdown.