Editors’ Choice: Neil Serven

In the Whore’s Style

The restaurant had to be mob-owned. Spotless to a fault, and the waitresses dressed like they were in another kind of business—scoop-necked tees, ass-hugging slacks. Your hand was forced by the extortionary markups on the Pacific wines.

But the lady had insisted: they have the most amazing puttanesca there, have you been? You haven’t lived.

If there was one thing this one had no trouble with, it was putting away food, but she looked none the worse for it. Extra carbs kept up the stamina, which was useful when they got back to her place. The flesh above her hips was smooth and soft. She devoured nonfiction books—history of all kinds, new biographies the size of cinderblocks—and talked about them in bed. She had lived in Honduras with the Peace Corps, digging irrigation trenches and teaching line dance classes, before the shit started to fly with drug traffickers and the U.S. pulled everyone out. Now she was managing a bank. Firmest deltoids he had ever felt on a woman.

Another clue: the front-of-house guy was a guy. Not the owner, but someone probably installed there as a favor, who could muscle up on the fly if a customer got ass-grabby with one of the servers, or if there was a rat in the house.

Plus, the olive oil: put out by some family operation. It came with a whole spiel, and sure enough they had take-home bottles available for purchase. Hand-lettered labels.

It seemed like a good place to end a relationship. If there was a meltdown, and it drew the wrong kind of attention, it’s not like you would miss place if they asked you never to come back.


So of course she ordered the puttanesca, as though to prove a point. This way they could sample each other’s dishes. He went with the veal saltimbocca, thinking of it as a business dinner: light on the sauce, nothing that would splatter.

There was nothing really wrong with her, if he had to lay things out. Her heart was true. It had reached the point, though, nearly eight weeks in, where you could only squeeze so much juice out of the grape. She kept having these ideas: projects for the two of them, daylong outings in places where they could be seen holding hands. This thing called geocaching, which you had to go all over creation for. She began talking up her family, wanted him to meet her friends. Worse: she wanted to meet his.

The times they were in his apartment she seemed distracted, as though there were things she wanted to rearrange. She couldn’t believe he didn’t keep any fresh basil on hand.

It was beginning to feel like an audition. The conversation kept slipping away. And he began to sense that he was repeating his jokes and she wasn’t telling him.

The restaurant was called Louie’s, which of course made him think of Sollozzo and the police chief. The old-fashioned toilet in the back, you yanked on the cord to flush. Every time he watched the film he’d wonder: what about the owner? What about poor Louie? What happens now to this decent family establishment that you’ve just stained with the blood of corruption?

Tessio said the joint had good food. But it was a clear evening in the Bronx and maybe only four other people were eating there.


His tactic was to wait until the main course was over, but before they could order dessert. She would almost certainly want to share something. Back and forth with the same spoon.

Puttanesca: from the Italian, literally, in the whore’s style. They put it on the menu as a joke.

He had even brought a wad of cash, so there was no having to wait to sign the slip. He stood with their coats while there was still wine in her glass. (There was always the risk it would end up on you.) The couple at the next table got quiet. At best, an awkward minute for the lady to put it together that she was being dumped. We all get dumped, somehow the trains still run and the sun rises over the river.

If she were smart, she would make him pay for her taxi home. If she didn’t ask by the time they reached the sidewalk, he would insist.

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