Shirley Ragusa's head was swimming as the garish neon signs and constantly honking horns on the avenue unleashed another wave of vertigo. Willing herself not to pass out, again, she took a deep breath and ducked into the diner doorway. She lingered in the vestibule for several moments to allow herself to regain her composure.
"In our out?" A sharp featured woman glared at her from behind the lunch counter.
"In or out? What," the woman asked, "you think I can afford to heat half of Brooklyn? Close the door already!"
"I-" Shirley started to say, before swaying and grasping on to the coat rack. The floor tipped up to meet her as she felt herself get pulled down into a swirling vortex of black dots.
"Ma!" Another sharp voice, but this one younger, screeched out. "Happy now? You just killed another customer."
Shirley felt a pair of hands clamp around her upper arms as she was pulled/dragged into a vinyl booth. Her cheeks reddened at the embarrassing noise her thighs made against the seat. "I'm sorry, I..."
"Don't worry about it, just breathe."
Shirley followed her rescuer's instructions and spent the next several moments with her eyes closed and concentrating on the sensation of air entering and leaving her lungs. She opened her eyes slowly and saw another sharp-featured woman; though this one was much younger. "I'm okay; thanks," she said as she started to rise.
The other woman pushed her back down in the booth. :Whoa, where do you think you're going? We got a rule here; anyone that passes out gets a cup of coffee."
Shirley smiled and shook her head. "Thanks, you don't have to do that."
The other woman rolled her eyes. "I know. Cream? Sugar?"
"Both. Please," she added.
The woman across from her made a sound that was halfway between the bark of a seal and a tire losing it's air. "Please? You gotta be from out of town."
Shirley stuck out her chin and squared her shoulds as much as the high back on the booth seat would allow her to. "I've been in New York a whole month."
"Sorry, didn't know I was talking to a member of one of the first families of Amsterdam."
"Nothing. So what brings you to New York, uh..."
"Shirley. Shirley Feeney; uh, Ragusa."
"Feeneyuragusa? That's an Italian name I've never heard before."
"It's Ragusa, I'm just knew to the name, that's all," she said as she slid her left hand forward timidly.
The other woman grabbed her hand and peered at Shirley's ring finger intently under the booth's pendant light. "Would ya look at that? There's a space there for a stone and everything. Wait," she said quickly as Shirley withdrew her hand, "I'm just kidding. It's a pretty ring."
"Laverne. Laverne Rossi."
"Hi, nice to meet you." She shook her head ruefully. "You've been awfully kind. I don't know where Carmine-that's my husband-got the impression that New Yorkers are unfriendly. I mean, just today a nice man on the subway wanted to let me in on a real estate deal because he said I had a kind face. Can you believe that?"
Laverne's smile seemed to freeze on her face. "Yes. Yes, I can. Shirley, just a word of advice. If you're going to ride the subway, and I really don't think you should do that," she added, "don't talk to people, don't listen to people, don't even look at them if you can avoid it. You'll save yourself a lot of grief."
"You're probably right. It's just, well, I'm new in town."
"I'm new," she elaborated, "and the apartment is awfully small, and I"m there alone all day, so I figured I may as well go out and explore while I still can."
Laverne blinked as if surprised, and then slowly sat back against her side of the booth. "While you still can? Hey, you don't got some sort of disease do ya? Not that I"m worried," Laverne added hastily, "I just want to give my cousin Vito a head's up before he washes the dishes."
"No, not sick. At least only sometimes in the morning." Shirley felt a smile creep across her face. It felt so good to tell someone her news...
Laverne's jaw dropped. "You're having a baby?" Her eyes raked over Shirley's slim frame. Where? "Is Western Union gonna deliver it?"
"Well, if I stand this way," Shirley whispered and after furtively looking around arched her back slightly to reveal a tiny bulge hidden behind the pink cotton waistcoat of her dress.
"She's having a baby!"
Both girls jumped in surprise as the older woman butted her head in between them and looked suspiciously at Shirley's belly. "See Laverne, all the other girls are finding nice husbands and starting families. Why don't..."
"Why don't you go help those nice construction workers over at table seven, Ma?" Laverne grabbed her mother's elbow and turned the older woman towards the noisy crowd at the other end of the restaurant.
"Tony don't pay you to sit around and chat..."
"Tony don't pay me nothing because I'm 'family'."
"It's enough to send you to that fancy night school, ain't it?" A few people's head's turned as Laverne's mother's voice rose an octave and a few decibels.
"Really, Ma, go wait on the construction workers. I think I saw the fat one unscrew the top of a salt shaker."
Her mother rose to the bait and walked quickly away from them. "Hey, Lardo! Don't pretend to be all innocent! I see what you're doing, you..."
Shirley let out the deep breath that she hadn't realized she had been holding. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause a family fight."
"Fight?" Laverne looked puzzled. "That was just a conversation. Forget about it."
"Is Tony your boss?"
Laverne pointed to the menu in front of Shirley which read 'Russo's Ristorante'. "He's the owner. He's also my stepfather. The diner runs better when he's not here."
"Oh. Well, I'm sorry, " Shirley said as she once again winced at the sound that her thighs made against the vinyl booth, "I've inconvenienced you enough for one day."
"Where are you going? You still look all pasty and sick."
Shirley glanced at her reflection in the reflection of the metal napkin dispenser. "I look fine. My complexion is a perfect ivory bisque."
Laverne looked at her blankly. "I don't care what kind of soap you use, Shirl. I'm just saying you look pasty."
I"'m fine. You're working and I don't want get you into trouble."
"I'm working, but I"M ON A BREAK RIGHT NOW," Laverne bellowed across the restaurant as she looked pointedly at her mother. "I've been on my feet for the last six hours. So, " she said quickly, as if trying to change the subject, " you've been in New York one month, what have you done?
Shirley's face lit up. "We went to the Statue of Liberty!"
Laverne grinned. "Pretty good for an out of towner. What did you think of the view?"
Her face fell. "I got sick on the stairs. Carmine said that it was beautiful, though."
"Oh. Sorry to hear that. What else have you seen?"
"We went to the Empire State building!"
"Great! What did you think of the -never mind. Do you need a bucket?"
Shirley took a few deep breaths before replying and tried not to smell the heavily oregano-ed lasagna on the table across from them. "Thanks. I never used to be squeamish about heights back in Milwaukee."
"Milwaukee? As in Wisconsin, Milwaukee?"
"Well, we natives call it Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but..."
"Shirl, I know Milwaukee is in Wisconsin. We almost moved there when I was five."
Laverne looked away for a moment. "Yeah. We packed up, gave notice on our apartment and everything. Then my Pop-my real pop," she said, as she caught Shirley looking at the menu again, "died."
Laverne looked out of the window at the suddenly fascinating sidewalk as she replied. "He was driving a truck part-time to earn money to buy his own restaurant once we got there and got in an accident." Laverne shrugged. "Me and Ma had to move in with my Grandma for a while."
"That must have been rough for you, being so little and all."
Laverne shook her head briskly. "I don't remember much of it, but Ma and my Grandma-my Pop's mother-didn't like each other too much. Then she met Tony, and..."
She snorted. "We've been living in the lap of luxury ever since. What do you think? It's a marriage. He got a home cooked meal-once in a while, and she had a guy to pay the bills. Once in a while. It's the same old same old."
"It's hard to tell when you're joking," Shirley said.
"Anyhow," Laverne continued, "that's one of the reasons I'm going to night school. I don't want to do what my Ma did, marry the first guy who asks me just cause he has a steady job. I want to take care of me, not have some mooch with a bad comb-over do it." Laverne winced. " I'm sorry, I've never met Carmine. Please tell me he's not bald or nothing. My mouth kinda goes faster than my brain some days."
Shirley smiled and patted her new friend's hand. "Carmine has a full head of hair. For now," she qualified. "He doesn't have a steady job though. I understand why your mother wants that for you."
"You seem to be pretty happy," Laverne said in a wistful tone.
"I am. Usually. I worry though... My mother still isn't speaking to me since she found out that Carmine and I eloped."
"Eloped? You strike me as the type who would have a big fancy wedding with all of her girlfriends as bridesmaids."
"Pshaw? People really say that?"
"I say it all the time."
"Pshaw! I've never had a lot of friends. I did have one girlfriend back in high school, but Rosie would only hang around me if she wanted me to help her with her English homework."
"She sounds like a terrible person."
"She's not too bad... Okay she's awful. Besides, Carmine and I didn't really have a lot of time to put together a big wedding since... " She looked away.
Laverne glanced quickly at Shirley's middle section before saying delicately, "Because you two wanted to move out here so he could start his career?"
"Yes. That's it exactly, Laverne."
"Laverne!" Mrs. Russo's voice cut through the air like knife. You're break's over. You gotta help me clean up. Now!"
Laverne groaned and started to slide out of the booth. "Listen, Shirl. Do you got plans for tomorrow? If not, tomorrow's my day off. We can go see the sights-nothing involving stairs, elevators, or heights, I promise."
Shirley nodded enthusiastically. "Do you want to meet here at ten?"
"Yeah. See you tomorrow, new friend."
"See you, to," Shirley said as New York City became a little less scary.
(Close This Window To Return To LAS Fic)