Portrait of love

Last evening I was sitting in Lily's Deli, the only customer, eating my dinner -- a bulama. This is a long, thin pastry filled with spinach and four kinds of cheese. A dinner to make Popeye and mice everywhere lick their chops. All day I'd been at the beach, making pictures in my sketch pad with my colored chalk, and so the shades of my fingers and even my nose were "firsts" in the annals of bulama-eaters.

Just as I was finishing, a young family of four came into the deli and made its way to a table near mine. The husband helped to seat his wife, who carried in her arms the youngest member, a bundled-up, sleeping baby; and then, with equal chivalry, helped to seat his little daughter.

Such closeness, how could I help giving a smile in their direction? And they , in turn, seemed to smile at my blue-smudged nose. I was so delighted by this appreciation (for it is always very nice when people smile at the proof that you've gotten a little carried away), I almost volunteered the timely advice, "Try the bulamas. Lily's bulamas are famous even among the angels." But then I remembered the snoozing baby and preserved the quiet.

Lily brought the family three orders of another of her glories, the pastrami sandwich, and they sat eating, glancing from time to time at the baby, and talking almost in whispers.

The first to finish her sandwich, the daughter looked at the little sleeper, her eyes brightening with affection, and said, not in a whisper, "Mama, I miss Bernie."

"Shh," her mother said, looking down at the bundle cradled in her free arm.

"But I miss him, Mama. Can't we wake him up just for a moment?"

Her father looked at her mother."I miss him, too."

"How can everybody miss him? He's right here, isn't he? He's just sleeping, that's all."

"But it's not the same," the daughter persisted. "When he's sleeping he's gone all inside himself. It's like he's inside and we're outside. Can't he come out just for a little? I know he'll go right back to sleep."

Her father nodded agreement.

Outnumbered, and not exactly loath, the mother gently shook the child awake. Tiny eyelids rolled sleepily up, revealing big eyes swimming with blue. Tiny fingers reached out toward heads bent close; then, too sleepy to touch, fell back. Down went the eyelids, shutting tight. And Bernie was back in the house of himself, asleep again.

I took out my sketch pad and chalk and drew a picture of Lily's Deli, a little place that looks from the outside like a nice pastrami sandwich with a big front window. In the window I drew the sleepyhead, blue eyes open in a smile, and around him the ones who had missed him so much they'd awakened him for that moment of love. Then I invited a lot of stars to look down on the scene, and some of them I couldn't stop from dancing. And finally the moon appeared, holding a sign. It said, "God sings." Then I took the picture to Lily and asked her please to give it to the family after the bashful artist had left.

Outside, full of bulama and beauty, I ran for joy toward the moon.

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