by Jennifer Shneiderman
It’s my neighbor Annette’s birthday and reservations at the tony Connie and Ted’s seafood restaurant are not an option. We like to get dressed up and sit on the patio. We order the seafood tower, thick filets of fish and hot, salty french fries. We like to linger until the waiter brings out lit candles. Their service is stellar and the blond brownie dessert divine. Tonight, however, I stand in line outside of Versailles, the Cuban restaurant on La Cienega, for orders of garlic chicken, rice and plantains. My waiting spot is indicated with a “Stay six feet apart” circle spray painted on the concrete. The orders are stacked up in containers and wrapped in plastic bags. I wear a mask and gloves and I rub my hands with sanitizer after the waiter runs my credit card. When I get home, I will clean my card with alcohol wipes.
I drive home and transfer several of the orders into baking dishes. The containers are thrown away and the dishes are heated until the sauce is bubbling, steam is rising and any virus is eradicated. My husband delivers the two remaining chicken orders, as well as a peach cobbler, to my neighbor’s house. She and her grandson will heat the food in their oven and serve themselves on their own dishes.
We don gloves and masks and head next door with our hot food, bottled water, plastic flatware and paper napkins. Plastic tables and chairs are spaced far apart. They will be sanitized shortly after we are gone.
At the end of our meal, my son brings his upright bass and his friend, Justin, arrives with a trumpet. He uses a trumpet mute to decrease the chance of transmission, and they choose the music accordingly. Jacob and Justin know the music and each other from a Colburn Conservatory jazz ensemble. They will play a short set at the far end of the yard. They start off with “All the Things You Are”, and then “Con Alma” and “Billie’s Bounce”. Neighbors start to gather on the sidewalk, trying to peek over the gate. The call of live music is strong and their eyes are large with yearning. The boys end with “A Night in Tunisia”. They pack up and go back to my house to eat their chicken on my porch.
We can’t take a chance of hugging good-bye. Annette stands by, leaning on her walker while her grandson lights a candle on the cobbler. We won’t share dessert, or food of any kind, with them. We will leave and clean the handles of the gate with Clorox wipes as we go. We are just glad to bring some joy in the form of a backyard jazz concert. It will have to do—until we can once again gather together for evenings at tight tables, bathed in colored lights and jazz.
Jennifer Shneiderman is a writer and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Indolent Book’s HIV Here and Now, The Rubbertop Review, Writers Resist, the Poetry in the Time of COVID-19, Vol 2, anthology, Variant Literature, Bright Flash Literary Review, Trouvaille Review, Montana Mouthful, the Daily Drunk, Sybil Journal, Unique Poetry, Anti-Heroin Chic, Terror House, Thirteen Myna Birds, Potato Soup Journal, Awakened Voices, GreenPrints, Prospectus, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily and The Perch. She was the recipient of an Honorable Mention in the 2020 Laura Riding Jackson poetry competition.