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Peter Kravet was almost thirty-two years old and he had never been on a second date. His entire family was sure of it. His sisters, his father, his uncles – everyone was perplexed. After all, Peter was neat, handsome enough, and he kept a steady job at the 10th Avenue Sanitary Plant right across the street. What wasn’t there to like?
“Maybe he’s too luke-warm,” his sister Laurie often said. “Women want a man who’ll mess them up emotionally.”
Many of the Kravets gathered together for Tuesday coffee, and it was then that the half-deaf aunt Minnie would say, to anyone listening, through the sandpaper filter of her voice, “Obviously, he’s still a virgin. We need to get that boy laid.”
So imagine the family’s excitement when the news got around – Peter had somehow snagged a second date. A woman had made the intentional choice to spend more time with him. It was a Thursday in early May when this news dropped, and the Kravet family quickly got to work. Numerous phone calls were made, and Peter’s parents, his two aunts, and several of the uncles met in person to plan Peter’s second date.
It was agreed that the date would take place at the parent’s railroad apartment, where all family events took place, and that the party would be planned to a tee. Peter’s mother, for a moment, wondered out loud – were they getting too involved in her son’s life? But after an hour of heated debate, the rest of the family talked her down.
“Peter’s date is on Saturday,” one of the uncles said. “We only have two days to prepare. So we move fast.”
“This might be the only chance we ever get,” Aunt Minnie added, squeezing her ancient forehead because of stress. “If we screw this up, Peter will be alone for the rest of his life. If we love him, we’ll do this for him.”
Aunt Ina was put in charge of food. Ina, who chain-smoked cigarillos as a guilty pleasure, decided on frying up her famous Deruny potato cakes. The next day she started grating onions at 7 AM and didn’t take a break until dark. Peter’s sister Jessica spotted an old piano put out for trash collection on the corner of 111th, and she convinced five of the six uncles to help her carry it back to the building. It took the uncles hours to carry the piano up the several flights of stairs. The neighbors complained about the noises of grunting and banging keys.
Behind his back, everyone bad-mouthed Uncle Morty for not helping with the piano, and then became concerned when they couldn’t find the man – not in the living room or on the stoop. Morty was, after all, always around – where was he? After an hour of searching, it was Jessica who found him, sitting in his bedroom, perched over a typewriter. He was typing a resume, he said.
“I’m outlining all of Peter’s best qualities.”
Morty was afraid that Peter would be too quiet during the date, and this document could help describe all of Peter’s accomplishments that “the boy himself is too shy to list”.
On Thursday, the Kravets met in person at 5 pm to discuss their progress. Peter’s father brought up the elephant in the room – the largest obstacle in their way.
“We need to lure Peter up to the apartment, obviously,” his father said, speaking in low tones, as if he was a small child pretending to be a spy. “There’s no way he’s going to agree to have his second date up here with us. You know Peter – he hates being the center of attention. And he needs our help, but he doesn’t know he needs our help. So we trick him.”
Intense debate followed. There were many ideas and none of them were good. Until Uncle Leroy struck gold. Leroy worked as an usher for an Off-Broadway play on Bowery. The idea was this – Leroy would call up Peter and tell him there were two free tickets for Saturday night’s performance. He’d arrange to meet Peter outside the apartment building at 3 pm, to hand-off these tickets, but at the last minute he’d fake a stomach pain and delay the ticket hand-off until later that night. Peter would have no choice but to bring his date along to pick up these tickets that did not actually exist.
“This plan sounds needlessly complicated,” Jessica said. “But I think it will work.”
The big day arrived. Minnie Kravet spent most of the morning on decorations, letting loose the worst curse words imaginable as she continuously pricked her fingers with the safety pins she used to hang the paper stars she bought at the dollar store on Grand.
At seven o’clock it was almost dark, and the apartment building’s front stoop was lit up by a flickering green flood light. Peter arrived at the building with his date, a small blonde woman. Leroy was waiting for them, trying to tamper down his nerves with mindful breathing exercises. “I forgot the tickets upstairs,” he said bluntly. The three stared at each other for a few moments, and then quietly began the walk up five flights.
As Peter opened the apartment door, a thin haze of smoke escaped into the corridor. The house smelled like someone had been frying onions for two days straight, and based on the high-pitched sizzle and whine coming from the kitchen, cooking was still very much in progress.
“Surprise!” the entire family yelled, as if it were someone’s birthday.
Before they could do anything, Peter and his date were quickly led through the twists and turns of the railroad apartment, to the living room and their seats at the table.
The family immediately got to work judging Peter’s quiet date, a young woman named Willow. Aunt Minnie used her one good eye to stare at the girl through the smoke – Willow’s platinum blonde hair and pale skin made her glow white against the dark brown wallpaper of the Kravet’s living room. No one knew anything about her. Not even her family name. No matter how intensely all three sisters stared, Willow gave no hints and remained a total mystery.
“She’s not bad to look at,” Minnie whispered to whoever was listening. “For a blonde, at least.”
Peter and Willow sat at the end of the Kravet’s long table, and they tried to talk. But they couldn’t hear anything over the sound of frying onions, the clamor of fifteen people talking loudly, and the banging of the piano, which had been dropped in the only empty spot available–right next to the dining table. The piano was mostly broken–no one had bothered to check its condition before it was hauled up five flights. Only the black keys worked.
Uncle Howie was nominated to play the instrument because he was the only one who knew how. The old man did his best, repeating the same Hynacker song over and over, The Ballad of Aphrodite, humming half-remembered lyrics. Occasionally he shouted the phrase “Everyone now!” but no one joined in. When the famous bathroom heat pipe started banging, Willow and Peter gave up. There was no use in trying to talk over the noise. They sat there silently.
Dinner was served two hours late. It took four of them to carry out the giant platter of Duruny, a three-foot tall tower of potato and onion. Everyone applauded and looked to the happy couple to see their reaction, but no one could find them.
Their seats were empty – they were gone.
“Shit,” Minnie said, saying what they were all thinking, feeling her body swell with that familiar wave of sadness. “Shit.”
Outside, on 10th avenue, it was quiet. The air was cold and perfect.
Peter and Willow turned to each other, finally able to speak. Except neither one of them could think of a single thing to say. Instead, they stayed quiet, occasionally looking at each other.
There was a lilac tree near the fire hydrant, and Peter noticed that it had recently bloomed. Its complex fragrance filled the city air. He looked for the moon, so that he could point at it, but it was hard to find.
Eventually, he saw it – its thinnest crescent form – rising high above the 10th Avenue Sanitation Plant. He showed it to Willow, who nodded, and they stood there, looking at the crescent moon, as if it had a secret, as if it was about to quietly speak their names.
About the author: Dylan Tuccillo is a writer and filmmaker. He loves to explore stories in which everyday reality collides with the magical. He is a co-author of the non-fiction book *A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming *(Workman-2013) which has sold over 80,000 copies and was translated into eleven languages. His short films have appeared in various festivals and he was the winner of a $10,000 Sloan Foundation prize for a screenplay he wrote. You’ll find him daydreaming over a mug of coffee, quite possibly losing his mind. | Web | Instagram |