A Family Visit
A week before Christmas, on Sunday just before noon, a family came into Alva’s Cafe. A father, a mother, two boys and a teenage girl who looked about fourteen. They were dressed in church clothes, the boys neat and the girl in a dress and boots. The mother wore a wool hat and a heavy wool coat. The father wore an overcoat and beneath it a suit and tie. All the children wore winter coats and gloves. The girl wore a bright red scarf. They sat at a table near the salad bar. Raoul noticed them first and sent a waitress to take their order. Alva was in the back, tasting the vegetable soup that she had asked Raoul to prepare. She was most particular about soups, demanding that all the ingredients be fresh and that only her own spice combinations be used.
Alva’s soups were one of the reasons the cafe was so popular during winter months. The other favorites, year round, were her chocolate desserts. She offered the largest variety of chocolate desserts anywhere in the city, she would tell just about anyone, any time. This Sunday there were over twenty-two kinds of chocolate desserts on the menu, each one personally developed by Alva and created under her direct supervision. In one corner stood a glass case over six feet tall with desserts on round shelves endlessly rotating. The boys noticed it before they sat down and began nudging each other.
“You boys behave,” their mother snapped. They sat down after taking off their coats and letting their father hang them on one of three coat trees along the wall to the side of the door.
In the kitchen, Raoul was talking to Alva, a soup ladle in one hand poised above a huge pot, her other hand holding the pot’s cover like a cymbal, as if she was in a member of a marching band.
“Someone out there you gonna wanna see,” said Raoul.
Alva looked up from the pot of soup, her eyebrows raised.
“Look to me like your boy come home after all,” said Raoul in a quiet voice, knowing how troubled Alva had been these past weeks after her visit.
Somehow, her hold on the pot cover loosened and it clattered to the floor. Raoul walked over to pick it up.
“You sure?” Alva asked.
“Pretty so,” said Raoul and stooped down, retrieving the cover. He took it to one of the stainless steel sinks and began washing it up. “Go on and look for your own self,” he said.
Alva put down the ladle carefully and stripped off the apron she had tied around her ample middle. Slowly, deliberately, she walked to the door, her fingers knotted together and her lips moving in what could have been a prayer. At the door she looked out, surveying the restaurant, and there they were. Even the girl she hadn’t really seen before.
“They musta just come from church,” Alva said to Raoul. A waiter said, “Excuse me.” Alva stepped out of his way so he could get past the door. This was a bad place to be standing.
“What should I do?” she asked Raoul.
“Go on out there and talk to the man,” said Raoul. He came to stand beside her. “Ain’t no reason to stand here.”