By Jon Marin
They don’t consider it a first date. To them, they never really went on a first date. Often, they just spent time together, whether at work or outside of it, becoming friends. What they do say, however, was that it marked the time they fell in love with one another.
Ray started at Tracy Knitting in September of 1969. He’d been working at the knitting mill for 8 years when she first started working there. He got real close with the two owners, so much so that they entrusted him to run the factory when they had business to attend to elsewhere. He walked in one morning, and he saw her; beautiful, kind face, strawberry blonde hair wrapped in a kerchief. He knew instantly he wanted to know her. He approached her and said, “Good morning. I’m Ray.” But she ignored him, focusing on the woman who was showing her how to press the fabrics they work with.
Ray walked away, confused. He headed over to another woman, a good friend of his, and asked why the new girl is ignoring him. “It’s because she saw you with that other woman outside,” she says with a mischievous grin, as if there was more said that she wouldn’t tell Ray. Undaunted, Ray approached the new girl the next morning, two coffees in hand. “Good morning, I brought you a coffee.” At first, she ignored him again. But she noticed he was not moving away this time, so she turned to him, took the coffee and said, “Thank you. My name is Maria.” Internally, he was elated. He broke through. “What a pretty name for a pretty girl,” Ray whispers to her. Maria blushed, “I’m sure you say that to all the women you meet.” “No, just to you,” he responded, and walked away, confident he made an impression on her.
Weeks go by, and their work relationship is blossoming. He is assisting the women in teaching Maria the run of the factory, showing her the steaming, pressing, cutting and knitting processes. He takes her to the back area, where the large machines are that spool the thread. The machines were loud and grumbling, and she was visibly afraid of them. He put an arm around her shoulders and told her, “Don’t worry, you’re safe with me.” She drew into him a little more, saying nothing, but telling herself everything.
One night, after a particularly hectic day at the mill, he asks Maria if she would like to get dinner. “There’s a nice Spanish restaurant down the block that I used to bus tables for. The owner and I are still good friends.” Famished, she kindly accepts. Ray shuts down the machines and sweeps the floors, while Maria organizes the sweaters into neat piles and trashes the leftover scraps of the day’s work. Ray locks up the mill and they walk on toward the restaurant, not holding hands, but not far apart, either.
At the restaurant, Ray greets the owner, not like a privileged person would, but rather as employer greeting a former employee, with mutual respect. He introduces the owner to Maria. “Mucho gusto,” the owner greets, bending forward to kiss her hand. The owner seats them at his best table, back left corner, where the light is a little dimmer due to a faulty bulb, but still gives the table a romantic atmosphere. He orders a beer, she a margarita, and he asks her about her life. “I was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Chicago when I was 7.” He, too was born in Puerto Rico, but moved to New York when he was still a baby, and related this to her. They eventually began talking in both Spanish and English, trading stories and laughing about their childhoods, frowning at some of the down moments they experienced while growing up. Maria was one of three children being raised by a very religious mom and stepfather. Ray was one of 10 children raised by similarly devout and strict parents. Both of them were very rebellious youths. “In school, the teachers and students used to call me Sticky Fingers Marin because there was nothing I couldn’t steal,” which got a huge laugh out of Maria. “All the kerchiefs I wear, I snatched from any store I stop in!” she exclaims between fits of laughter. Ray loved her laugh. Loved how her smile brought out her dimples. He was finding himself loving everything about her.
Eventually, laughing turned to flirting. They’d eaten and were a few drinks into their post-meal. Ray began noticing a gleam in her eye, assuming it was the result of too many margaritas. He asked for the check, paid it, and got up from his chair, holding a hand out to help her out of hers. They remained holding hands as they walk out of the restaurant, the owner winking at the passing couple as they exit. Ray and Maria begin walking aimlessly, laughing and chatting the night away. “Where do you live? I would like to walk with you home,” Ray asks. “About a mile from here, near the hospital. And I’d love it if you walked with me, but only if it isn’t out of your way too much,” she replies. He tells her he isn’t far from the Williamsburg Bridge, and since it’s a nice night, walking isn’t a problem for him. So they walk on.
They get to Maria’s apartment building. Maria turns to him and thanks him for a wonderful night. “I had more fun than I can remember ever having,” she says to him. “I hope we can do it again sometime soon,” he says back. They stand there, staring into each other’s eyes for what seems like ages. Eventually, Maria moves in to kiss Ray, and Ray doesn’t flinch backward. He instead flows steadily forward, meeting her halfway, their lips locking in an explosion of passion and warmth, their feet lifting off the ground. After an eternity, they break away, breathing heavily, a smile across both of their faces. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” Ray says. “Be careful getting home,” she responds, turning to her door and into her apartment building.
Ray turns around and begins to walk forward, then stops. He looks up and notices the street light is a little dimmer, possibly due to a faulty bulb. He smiles, sticks his hands in his pockets and walks onward to the South Side of Brooklyn. As he walks, he begins realizing that Sticky Fingers Marin had gotten his heart stolen by a beautiful, strawberry blonde woman with hair wrapped in a kerchief.
Years later, my mom would tell me that was also the night my dad went home with her heart.
This is actually Jon’s first legitimately published piece. He’s trying his hand at writing again and hope ya’ll enjoy this story. He welcomes any and all critiques at Jonathanmarin22@gmail.com