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When Hope’s father announced to the family that they were all going out to a “nice dinner” that evening, it was met with a great deal of excitement. A generous man by nature, he provided for his family as best he could on a scientist’s salary.
Eating out in their neighborhood was already a cause for celebration. The West Village was a destination spot for many who lived in and outside the city.
Hope had her father’s inquisitive mind. He taught her to question things. To ask why. As a young girl, she asked how they afforded to live in their apartment on Bank Street. It was a walk-up building that required them to climb three flights of stairs to their door. Still, she often heard adults complain the rent was too high.
She also had her mother’s eye for fashion. She saw the difference in the work clothes her neighbors wore compared to those of her parents.
“Well, you’re right, honey,” her father smiled down at his young lady as she stood with both hands on her hips. “We couldn’t afford this place if your grandmother didn’t give it to us to live in.”
“Will she take it back?” the young Hope scrunched her nose and looked up at her dad wide eyed. She felt from an early age the need for security. A place to call home that wasn’t going away.
“No boo-boo,” he laughed. “Grammy lives in her place uptown. No one is taking ours away.”
Walking in the cooling evening air to Il Cantante a few blocks away was indeed a treat. It was her family’s favorite place on special occasions. Even Emily, her chubby English bulldog, relished gnawing on the bone from an osso bucco. Hope ordered it for her dog, by request.
The restaurant was packed with fellow diners. The place buzzed with an unusual air of excitement. It seemed everyone was in a celebratory mood.
New Yorkers skewed liberal and supported progressive policies for the most part. But one had the sense as they dined among fellow celebrants that the entire nation was enjoying this unprecedented historic moment in time.
There was a bottle (or two) of wine on every table. Laughter burst out often. Waiters bustled about busily from table to table. It was not a large place, and the tables we close together to maximize space.
Hope, her parents and her bulldog all enjoyed their meals prepared by the expert chefs at Il Cantante, one of the finer Italian restaurants in the neighborhood.
Hope’s mother wistfully gazed at her daughter; “My big girl is going to high school next week. Where did the time go?”
“It’s so wag. I can’t wait. I’m like-” Hope glanced over at the table next to theirs. “What?”
An older man wearing a wool sports coat and woman dressed in a dress with sparkling silver studs scowled at Hope’s dog as she loudly lapped at her osso bucco bone on the table.
“That’s disgusting,” the older gentleman gruffly murmured to his wife but loud enough for everyone at Hope’s table to hear.
“Excuse me,” Hope raised her voice. The patrons nearby hushed at her outburst. “She has every RIGHT to be here as you do.”
The older man shared an offended look with his wife.
Hope’s father finished chewing his mouthful of juicy steak, “That’s enough, honey.”
“No, dad. Emily is allowed by law to eat here just like you or me. Or him!” she poked her fork towards the older man who huffed at the gesture.
Hope noticed a boy her age, maybe older, glance over at her and smile. She wouldn’t consider herself shy, but she didn’t like drawing attention to herself. Especially not when she was causing a disturbance. She lowered her gaze, allowing her long brown curls to fall over her face as she picked at her plate of pasta. Which was totally delicious. And totally forgotten for the moment.
Emily noticed the disturbance and ceased her enthusiastic licking at the bone marrow. The white cloth on her section of the table was smeared with red sauce and a mixture of meat with saliva. She looked at her family, who all stared at their beloved bulldog. She lapped at a bowl of water and licked the droplets off her jowls.
“Let’s just enjoy our meal. And this evening, please,” suggested Hope’s mother.
Sensing a triumph, “I wish we could,” grumbled the older man.
“That’s it! Pietro,” Hope called over their usual waiter who was already hurriedly heading in their direction.
The family shared in an embarrassed several minutes as their meals were wrapped up in containers and handed to them in a plastic bag, tied at the top. Hope’s father paid their bill and they skulked out of the restaurant with Emily following closely behind.
A table with three older ladies watched their exit. As she walked by, a woman grabbed Hope by her forearm, which she jerked back out of the woman’s gentle grasp. “That man should be ashamed of himself. Carrying on like that at this day and age. Of course your sweet dog should enjoy its dinner just like the rest of us.”
“Thank you,” Hope replied softly as her family left the restaurant, which had already returned to the previous jubilant atmosphere.
Hope’s parents held hands on their way home, her dad holding the plastic bag containing the majority of their dinner. Hope walked slowly behind, stewing in her anger. Emily hung her large head as she waddled next to Hope.
“Something has to be done,” Hope announced angrily as she walked through the front door to their apartment.
“Enough, Hope,” her father had reached the end of his patience on their short walk back home.
“No dad. Someone has to do something. People can’t just treat others like that!”
Her mom was always the voice of reason and offered delicately, “Honey, the world is changing fast. You can’t expect everyone to be on board with this so quickly like you.”
Emily waddled softly between Hope and her mother standing face-to-face in the living room to her bed in front of the fireplace and plopped down with a heavy sigh.
“What are you saying? That I should just accept bigotry and let people say and do what they want? Isn’t that why these laws were passed in the first place?” Hope felt her combativeness get the better of her. She heard her voice rising. Beyond her control. Ready to fight. Wanting to pick a fight.
Hope’s dad was eager to turn the unpleasantness around, and return to his barely touched steak with roasted potatoes that he could still smell from their kitchen table. The mixture of rosemary, butter and grilled meat called insistently to him. “I’ll start a fire for our little pup.” He proceeded to stack a few logs and kindling in the fireplace.
Her mom returned her daughter’s glare without the ire in her eyes, “Of course not, honey. But this is all a big change.” She gestured around like the nation’s new laws were enacted inside their apartment. “It’s been a year. Not even a year. The anniversary of Independence Day Two is next week. You have to give people time to adjust to all these changes.”
“That’s BS,” Hope said curtly.
“Hey!” Her father looked up with his head still in the fireplace as he blew onto the lit crumbled pieces of grocery bag. After a steady blaze ignited, he quickly returned to the kitchen, glaring at Hope as he walked by her.
Emily watched the whole scene play out from her mat, shifting her gaze from one to the other.
Hope sighed, “Sorry dad. Still, someone needs to do something about this. People can’t just be allowed to walk all over dogs because they disagree with the new laws protecting them.”
“Maybe someone should,” her father sliced into a thick cut of steak still in its aluminum round container. “Now can we please finish our dinner?”
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