This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples continues where last week’s left off. Allen has just come home from work during the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965, and he and Lenore are going out to a restaurant to eat, in the hopes that there will be at least some power and warm food there.
The Mrs. Rossi referred to near the end is the former aunt-in-law of Allen’s older sister Gemma. Thanks to Mrs. Rossi’s wild imagination and mean-spirited gossiping, Mrs. Troy broke up the happy home Allen and his sisters had made for themselves and ruined what would’ve been their first real Christmas in 1962.
They go down the fire escape so the full moon can light the way, instead of having to feel along walls while going down the stairs inside. It feels very surreal to walk past block after block of darkened buildings and to see broken traffic lights in the city that’s supposed to never sleep. Perhaps this was what it felt like to walk through Manhattan a century ago, before electricity powered everything and everyone relied so much on it for everything. Allen remembers how there was only a sliver of the moon in the sky the night Adicia, Justine, and Giovanni went from Tompkins Square Park to the Bowery Mission. They probably would’ve given anything to have had their way lit by a big full moon in a cloudless sky.
Allen holds the door of a diner for her. When they walk inside, they see a number of other people in the candlelight, with several gas stoves and wood-burning fireplaces working in the background. Someone has put a transistor radio on a table in the middle of the diner and turned it up.
“Table for two?” a waiter asks.
“Yes, please,” Allen says. “Can we have a table with extra candles? I want to see my fiancée’s engagement ring sparkling in the candlelight.”
“You’re engaged?” a woman at a nearby table asks. “How soon is your wedding?”
“July twenty-ninth of next year. It’s going to be the fourth anniversary of the day we met,” Allen says proudly, pulling off Lenore’s left glove. “Show everyone your ring, Lenore.”
“That’s a long engagement,” a man says. “Most people I know are married within three or four months of getting engaged.”
“We just got engaged under a week ago,” Lenore says in embarrassment as Allen holds up her left hand. “We don’t wanna have a wedding during the coldest time of year. I think I can wait to have it during a nice time of year and on a special day.”
The waiter leads them over to a booth in the corner, with six candles on the table, and hands them menus. “It’ll be on the house tonight, our gift to you for your engagement.”
Lenore wants to protest, but Allen is so overcome with pride at showing her off and letting everyone know about their engagement that she doesn’t have the heart to disappoint him. She remembers how overprotective of her he is since her illness, and so orders a turkey pot pie, steak fries, and clam chowder. When their orders come, Allen insists she have some of his double burger with mushrooms, onions, lettuce, and tomatoes, potato skins with melted cheese and bacon bits, and butternut squash soup. She hopes no one can see her eating from his spoon and taking bites from his hamburger. At least he wants his woman to have a healthy appetite, she tells herself in resignation, instead of looking down on her for not eating like a bird and keeping herself skinny like a lot of other girls do.
By the time they place their orders for dessert, they’ve found out from the transistor radio that this blackout is more than just a neighborhood power outage. Almost the entire Eastern Seaboard is bathed in darkness—New York City and much of Upstate; Ontario, including the capital city of Toronto; Maine; and New England. They wonder how the girls are doing, and Allen secretly hopes his parents were among the people caught in elevators or subway tunnels and aren’t able to come home tonight.
It would serve them both right to spend a night in the dark and cold, surrounded by strangers, many of them probably the very people they preach against so much just because they have some money and live in nice neighborhoods. And for good measure, he hopes that mean-spirited busybody Mrs. Rossi is stuck along with them. She deserves some kind of revenge for how she was the cause of Mrs. Troy destroying their Christmas and giving his parents the wild, completely unfounded belief that Lenore is his “bus stop whore.” He knows that means his sisters’ respective neighbors Mr. Doyle and Mr. van Niftrik must also probably be trapped in a subway tunnel or darkened workplace somewhere, but sometimes the innocent have to suffer along with the guilty.
“Have some of my chocolate ice-cream float,” he insists as Lenore nibbles at a banana split.
“Allen, you’re embarrassing me!” she whispers. “These nice people are gonna think I’m some pig who can’t control her appetite!”
“My older sister’s ex-husband’s family were guilty of that, but not me. She said they forced all this food on her, even when she was ready to pop twenty times over. I’d never make you keep eating entire extra portions even when you were feeling sick. I’m just letting you take some bites of my food.” He leans over and whispers in her ear. “Besides, I’m sure you’ll be burning off some of these calories when we get home tonight with my help, if you know what I mean. I can’t wait to get to bed with you and generate our own electricity and heat.”
Lenore is a hundred shades of red as she takes a few sips from Allen’s straw.