when I get to heaven
When I get to heaven, in a section way off to the side somewhere, I know I’ll find a spot made just for me. It looks just like my favorite tapas bar in Ciudad Real.
When I walk in, it’s full like always. And Santi is holding it down all on his own behind the bar, like always.
Though the place is blindingly white (everything in heaven is, you know. It’s the lighting.), there’s still those little piles of used, wadded up and tossed away paper napkins sprinkled along the front of the bar. Things can be dirty in heaven, too. If that’s what your heaven is like. There’s also a perfect sized space for me to squeeze into near the end of the bar.
Santi eyes me and ask-orders in that friendly, gruff way of his, “Díme.”
“Una cañita,” I reply. Almost before I’m finished saying it, he’s sliding a frosted glass filled with a foam-capped amber beverage down the length of the bar toward me. It stops neatly into my cupped palm. I know Santi’s waiting for my food order. I’ll give it to him. But not before I say hello to this oh-so-refreshing-looking beer. I gulp once. Twice. Man this watered down fizzy shit is the best cure for a hot Spanish day. It is perfection. It is life itself.
Santi prods. “Y para la tapa?”
“Rejos,” I reply without looking up.
Santi’s gravelly voice erupts like a low rumble of distant thunder, “Dame uno de REjos!”
Behind the saloon doors leading to the kitchen, hands begin to move. Grabbing the octopus legs, quickly battering them, then dropping them into the screaming hot oil. I wonder if it is the old woman or the young woman working behind those doors today. Sometimes, if it’s very busy, the young woman overcrowds the oil and they come out a little less crispy. I still enjoy them anyway. I’m only wondering.
A few minutes later, the young woman emerges and places the plate at the end of the bar. The door swings open when she re-enters. The old woman is sitting on a small chair in the small space, watching the young woman cook. The doors close and Santi retrieves the plate from the edge of the bar, then delivers it deftly to the space in front of me. Several crisp, still slightly sizzling sections of suction-cupped tentacles are splayed on the plate next to small stack of steak fries. I inhale deeply, the aroma of fresh fried sea critter filling my nostrils. I wait several patient moments for them to cool a bit before spearing one of the little legs with my fork. I bite through the thinnest and crispiest of batters into the tender-chewy flesh of the octopus. My eyes close as I savor the taste that is salty, mildly fishy and sweet all at once. For the next few moments, I, the amber liquid, the crispy fried octopus legs, and the golden creamy potatoes have our own little rendezvous at the end of the bar. At the end of it all, they are depleted. I am replenished.
After the last drag of the beer, I catch Santi’s eye.
“Me cobras, porfa?”
He waves his hand.
“Te invito, yo.”
I smile. Nod my head in deferential thanks. Then get up and make my exit. The blinding white light engulfs me. It’s one of my favorite things about heaven besides the food. The lighting. It’s simply glorious.