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Tabasco and Marmalade
Azure water caressed the shore; above, seagulls plunged down to leaping fish. Travelers would flock from throughout the world to sit on the cliff and gaze upon the gentle waves. They would lie for a while in appreciative silence, ignoring the hunger pangs in their stomachs. The sun would slowly drop, dimming the sky, and only then would they reluctantly retire to the Ocean View Restaurant.
The restaurant was situated just fifty feet below the cliff’s peak, on a little break that connected to the highway. An “Est. 1950” sign hung above the oak doorway. The restaurant was just two rooms wide, but tall glass windows expanded the space. Among the world travelers and acquainted locals, a single woman stood out. She tugged at her wispy, greying hair and stared out at the ocean. A whole lifetime of battles lost and won was etched into her face with soft wrinkles. Next to her lay a blue leather bag; a pair of sunglasses stuck carelessly out the front pocket. The bartender asked her what she’d like.
“Just a drink. A Bloody Mary,” she said.
The door swung behind him.
She sat there in silence, shredding up her paper napkin. The floor had changed- the vomit green carpet had been replaced with hardwood flooring. She’d never liked that carpet.
The bartender emerged from the back with the drink. She took it and tilted it precariously at him, the alcohol sloshing around inside. “Did you know,” she asked the bartender, “that I invented this drink? Well, not the actual Bloody Mary. I didn’t invent the Bloody Mary. But I invented this Bloody Mary.”
The bartender mumbled something genial, and began organizing the beers.
She continued. “The Tabasco and marmalade? That was me. 22 years ago. In this very bar, where you’re standing now.”
It was the winter of 1985. She swung up onto the counter. A giggle. A responding chuckle, deeper.
“Cassie, you’re crazy.” Rob laughed.
She playfully smacked him on the chest. “Tabasco!” she said, squeezing some into the blender.
Rob smiled and shook his head, and pressed the on button. There was a droning silence. Cassie hopped off the counter and drew him close to her. She was happy. Just happy.
The door swung open and the bartender emerged with her drink. She stirred the straw around in the glass, thinking. Why couldn’t she just go back to the Bloody Mary times?
The winter of ‘85 slowly morphed into spring. Tourist season- the restaurant was filling up.
“Cassie.” Rob walked into the room, twirling a pen rapidly between his fingers. He put his hands in his pockets, and then took them out.
“Cass,” he started again. He took a deep breath, and words started spilling out of his mouth. “I- I need to talk to you about something. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’ve talked to all the right people, and my dad said he’d back me up- financially, you know- and”
“Woah, slow down,” she said.
Rob inhaled. “Cassie, I’m going to buy the restaurant.”
He repeated the sentence. “Uh, say something.”
“Are- but- you’re going to buy the restaurant? What about money, and- and- can you even do that?”
He started to explain it to her again. “I’ve got it all-”
“What about Paris?” she interrupted. “And Africa, and everywhere else... I mean- are you really going to spend the rest of your life working here?”
He studied the tiled pattern of the floor. “What do you want me to do instead? We overlook the world’s most beautiful view. Why would anyone want to move away from that?”
“That’s the point. The view. The same freaking view. Every single day, till we die. Don’t you want to see all the views the world has to offer?”
Rob sighed and rubbed his neck. “I want to be with you. I want to be with you here.”
She finished her Bloody Mary. “Hey, can you get me another one of these?” she asked the bartender.
It was only a week after he signed the papers when he gave it to her. The present was wrapped crudely in a wrinkled paper bag, the kind you get at the grocery store. The paper crinkled with each layer she took off, and finally, at the bottom, she saw it. She gasped and leaped up, kissing Rob. It was a Polaroid camera- she’d been wanting one for a long time.
She held the bulky camera awkwardly, peering through the lens. Click. The button felt magical under her fingers. She sat for a minute, turning the camera around and around in her hand. The picture slowly started to gain color, and she gasped. She could create art with a single click. It was exhilarating.
The summer of 1985 was almost over. She was sitting in the break room, looking at the picture. It was undeniably a beautiful scene: the juxtaposition, the colors, the moment. She was looking at the picture, and thinking, and she knew what she had to do.
Rob was sitting on the rocks, digging his toes into the sand. She stood watching him from a distance, planning out the conversation in her head. Sighing, she mustered up her courage and approached him.
He heard her coming and turned around. “Hey, Cass.”
A crab scuttled across the sand.
Rob took a deep breath. “Cassie, there’s something that I’ve been wanting to say for a while now. I know this summer’s been really busy, but you have to know that I’ll always be here for-”
“Baby,” she interrupted. She felt the picture in her pocket. “Rob, I’m leaving.”
In front of them, a seagull dived down and caught a fish in its beak.
“Leaving what?” His face suddenly paled.
She sighed. “Leaving town. I’m going to Paris. And after that, I- I don’t know where.”
The seagull started eating the fish.
She said, “Babe, don’t-”
She stumbled a couple of steps back, startled.
“Don’t- you have no right to call me that!” He spun around and started walking, then running, back to the road.
She watched him disappear in silence.
She took a gulp of her Bloody Mary. Reaching for her bag, she pulled a photo album out. The edges were worn down and the pages almost fell out. The album had a mahogany cover, made of faux leather, and she slid her fingers over the smooth surface before opening it. She flipped through flimsy sheets of children and birthdays and smiling faces before reaching the last page. A yellowing envelope was stuck carefully in between the cellophane sheets, and she took it out, spreading its contents in front of her. She picked the first picture up, taken over two decades ago. It was of Paris, the first place she went to after she left.
She stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower, the city spread out before her. The lights were like constellations of stars, glittering brightly in the inky sky. Across the city lay the Sacre-Coeur. Its pearly dome gleamed with elegance in the distance. She took out her Polaroid and snapped a picture. The photo slowly gained color, and she smiled.
She pushed the photo towards the bartender, almost as if she were offering it to him. Next to the photo was a picture of her in front of Big Ben, taken nearly 17 years ago.
She turned the street corner, and there it loomed. Big Ben. She’d only read about it in books, the old classics. It had a timeless, almost imposing, quality to it. A laughing couple, walking hand in hand in front of her, caught her eye. She asked them to take her picture, and they quickly snapped one and left.
She flipped through the pictures again, ignoring photos of exotic locations around the world. Istanbul. Cape Town. Morocco. Brazil had been the best, she thought.
She stood on the cliff in Brazil, waves pounding into the rocks before her. The wind blew her hair across her face, and she tied it back so she could see. She stayed there for two hours, contemplating the scenery. She took the picture, and later, pulled out the frayed one of home. There was a cliff in both of them, and the sea, and birds, but there was something missing in Brazil’s. The sea was almost the same shade of blue as the other one, but not quite- this one had a tint of grey. She was standing there, and thinking, and she knew what she wanted to do.
It had been years since Brazil. She sat at the bar, absentmindedly drumming her fingers on the counter. The bartender would know Rob. Of course he would. How could you not know the owner? She sighed and pushed her stool out, making her way to the window. Outside, pinks and purples and oranges blended upwards in the summer sky. Sunlight danced on the rippling water, and azure waves gently caressed the shore. It was beautiful.