Latte Macchiato.

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© Lucia Saldarriaga Photo

An hour into her self-guided walking tour of Rome (and always with a book in hand), she was struck with a sudden hunger and decided to duck into a nearby, yet unassuming bistro. Selectively, she chose the corner table with both a sunlit view of the Colosseum and birds-eye view of the cozy interior.

She sat down and ordered her first Latte Macchiato of the morning.

Within minutes, the bartender hastily placed the hot drink above her silverware. At first glance, she mistook the red heart for a stain splashed on the inside ring of what she thought was a dirty saucer. But, after the first sip of her frothy morning pick me up, the “dirty spot” slid in the dish from under her cup and she realized it was a little red heart. No larger than the size of a twenty lire coin, she picked it up, and began flipping it over for any trace of a signature, “But who placed it there?”, she whispered.

Her eyes coolly scanned the room in Osteria Blu for a fitting suspect. The restaurant was buzzing with a late breakfast or early lunch (depending on what side of the bed you wake up on) energy that could only follow a Friday evening of dancing and invincible carelessness. The type of deceptive invincibility that  evaporates with foggy memories as the body is jolted to reality at the first peek of sunshine on a Saturday morning. The rude awakening is then usually followed by a splitting headache and grumbling stomach, while the body begs for carbohydrates, a taste of fat and a pinch of salt that’s possibly too good for the soul. By now, she was used to this Saturday routine.

She looked to the bartender on staff, he was busily shuffling back and forth from the kitchen, table to table and bar. His ambidextrous hands were juggling plates of Insalata Caprese, slow roasted Ragù and Gnocchi di ricotta between refilling clinking glasses of house Chianti. She noticed the dusting of tattoos running up his strong arms. There was the ring of dots beginning at his left wrist that faded up his arm until they blended with his freckles. Near his right elbow was the mysterious name and floral cluster of red roses and morning glory that curled up his tricep and disappeared under his black T-shirt. She noticed the designs when he first delivered the menu when she sat down. He was handsome and had an endearing smile, that now seemed faded by the volume of new diners. Regardless, she deemed he couldn’t be the red heart artist, or could he?

Nor could it be the couple intertwined on the olive green Chaise lounge at the opposite end of the restaurant. They were tucked together under a giant replica of Tina Modotti’s Roses, Mexico City (1924). Hand in hand, she watched as he gently brushed a curl behind the ear of, “Mio amati“. His love simultaneously brushed toasted bread crumbs from his lover’s beard. They touched with such delicate care, she thought that they would both disintegrate before her eyes like the Tritons taming the Hippocamps at the Trevi Fountain. Could the heart have been intended for one of them?

Maybe the couple to her right, with the old dog sitting next to them were supposed to discover the heart. She could make out his endearing praise towards what she assumed was his new wife, girlfriend, or perhaps even a lover, “Mia carra…,” he cooed. His enamored partner coyly stared deep  into his eyes. The old dog sat up and simultaneously stared into the pair eyes, nose cautiously scanning the table, at just the right moment, the canine lapped up a half eaten piece of Bruschetta while his humans stayed lost in their private romance.

Certainly not the new mothers, catching up about the “…sorpresa fronte freddo,” and consoling eachother, “Ho bisogno di dormire!”. Their two children, oblivious to both the change in weather and their mothers’ sleep deprivation chased each other around an empty stool, batting each other with half eaten breadstick swords. She had no idea, but it seemed as though the new moms could use a Latte Macchiato too, for different reasons from her own.

Still puzzled by the sweet gesture, and at a loss for a resolution, she took out her cell phone, tipped her hat at a slight angle that was worthy of Diane Keaton’s approval. She snapped a selfie with the chatter of the restaurant behind her, posing with her Latte Macchiato for the last few sips, and she thought to herself, I think I’ll order another.

(To be continued…)

Source: © 2018 by Lucia Saldarriaga, reprinted by permission of the author.  

To my readers, I wrote this story after an experience I had eating in the real-life restaurant that was the inspiration for this story. I’m a loyal restaurant go-er of Osteria Da Clara – they have an incredibly friendly staff and kind owner, since I wrote Part 1 of Latte Machiatto, the restaurant has since closed (which breaks my heart), but I used to go to this restaurant once or twice a week).