The Beauty of Pizza
by Austin Rogers
Ambrose Pizza is nestled in a La Mirada strip center between a florist and a coin-op laundromat. It was Heather’s favorite pizza place, so it became my favorite pizza place by default.
We walked in one day, having spent the afternoon in an exhausting argument, although “argument” probably isn’t the right word for it. If you could compare it to a war, it would be the Cold War: long, sullen, and sparse of direct conflict. It began when she asked me to leave her apartment so she could get work done on her screenplay assignment—a simple enough request, but from there the disagreement branched out in multiple directions. I harkened back to the days when she wouldn’t let me leave her apartment because she couldn’t stand the fifteen hour intermission between kissing and cuddling. Where had those days gone? On the other hand, she implored me not to be so selfish with her time and her apartment—her roommates wanted time with her, too. For Heather, the conflict arose because I demanded too much from her. For me, it was a desperate attempt to quell the fear that she was losing interest.
I left her apartment without any semblance of resolution, but I convinced her to get dinner with me. Ambrose—I’d buy. She couldn’t say no.
We sat at our usual booth, on our usual sides. My side had strips of duct tape holding the worn leather together in places. The air smelled of warm grease and salted cheese, every breath a savory appetizer to build the anticipation. The cooks bustled behind the counter, chattering in Spanish. A boisterous cluster of arcade machines screamed for attention in a back room. Across four long, picnic-style tables, a giant, big-screen box TV posted up in the corner, always on ESPN. Jerseys and sports posters and various other paraphernalia littered the walls. Some of it completely unrelated to sports, like a rusted tricycle set on a shelf and the Mexican flag pinned up by its top corners. Nobody went to Ambrose for the atmosphere, but they made an effort.
We didn’t talk much, and the little we did concerned other things. Assignments due that week. Drama between roommates. A funny story about a mutual friend involving weight loss pills and red velvet cake. Lots of red velvet cake.
They called our number and we retrieved the pizza—our usual, a large single-slice Hawaiian we’d share. It was more than enough. The slice, cut into manageable segments, filled the foot-and-a-half-long tray. Steam rose in seductive wisps from the glistening pizza. Moist pineapple chunks, baked golden, sat amidst flat squares of ham, some cupping shallow pools of grease. All of it embedded in a cushy sheet of mozzarella, red sauce peeking through in places. A few wayward streaks of cheese burnt into the crust at the end. The hot, savory smell took control of us.
We closed our eyes for a prayer, a show of patience if not thankfulness.
Then we dug in. She started on the tip while I claimed a square with crust—our favorite parts. The flavors melded together with the doughy crust into a warm, salty silkiness. The pineapples added small bursts of sweet juice. I tried to include one in every bite. I avoided the ham, and Heather happily accepted extra. She looked at me and smiled as she chewed. A smile of contentment. A smile that put aside the conflict.
That was the beauty of Ambrose pizza: it sliced out a chunk of time for an armistice. It reminded us of a tasty commonality.
But that smile, that cute smile crinkling her eyes and dimpling her cheeks, didn’t comfort me. Pizza may alleviate hunger, but it can’t alleviate conflict. It can’t bridge divides.
I sat back and watched her eat. In that moment, nothing in the world could’ve been more important to her than that doughy slice of pizza. She wouldn’t bring up the conflict again, and neither would I.
That fear from before remained somewhere deep down, but I chose to do what anyone would do before an unfinished Ambrose pizza: I grabbed another slice and enjoyed the armistice.
|Austin Rogers grew up in the dust and heat of central Texas, with few other plans for his future than to write. He earned his bachelor’s degree in screenwriting from Biola University and is currently pursuing a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Western State Colorado University.|