Sidney Poitier II

by | Apr 25, 2021

Molly keeps cutting her meat against the grain, as blood and balsamic puddle in the center of the plate. She’s got the wrong knife, the wrong motion, even the wrong angle. I feel like taking the proper knife and doing some proper cutting and forking a cube of meat up to her—“See?” But Molly wiggles through the steak somehow. She slides a lump of meat into her mouth and sighs, eyes closed.

“Isn’t Paris the best?” she says.

“Does that mean,” I say, “no more questions about him? Liam is officially off the table?”

“Oh, Glenny, there isn’t even a table for him here.” Her smile collapses like one of those Venus flowers. “I just need my little pill here.”

“What’s wrong, Em?”

“Nothing, you worrywart. Just a headache all of a sudden.”

“Did you check your sugar? How’s your sugar? Did you check it?”

“Not since you asked the first time, dear. Just hold your horses. I’ve been living with this for a while.”

“It’s high school all over again, isn’t it?” I debate whether calling the waiter over, just in case. In my mind, I scroll through the terms of our travel insurance. Was diabetic coma among the exclusions?

Molly takes another bite and there’s her smile again.

The air flows through me once more. “I’m worried about you, that’s all.”

“You mean the sugar thing or the Liam thing or just about anything?”

“Don’t be an ass, Em.”

“Retirement,” she touches up her lipstick, “has made you the opposite of relaxed, dear.”

“Yeah, well, it seems like it shrunk my house, too.”

“Tom will make any house feel tiny, Glenny. Especially when he’s not there.”

“But look at me, I’m relaxing, I’m in Paris with my best friend, we’re at this gorgeous restaurant having a—”

“Shit!” she says. “Pardon my French, but shit! Look, over there, it’s Sidney Poitier.”

“No way!” I crane my neck.

“And he’s having dinner alone. Come, let’s join him.”

“Are you nuts? We’re not even sure it’s him.”

“Of course it’s him. Well, you can have fun here with your steak à la something. As for me, Mr. Poitier, guess who’s coming to dinner.”

Molly gets up and drops into her chair again, with a pull on the tablecloth that makes plates and cutlery and glasses jiggle.

“A little dizzy,” she says. “No big deal.”

I take her purse. “What am I looking for, Em? Help me out.”

“You should be looking for fun,” she says, slurred. “But since you’re there, look for a small syringe. And a vial.”

I find a vial, she holds it up, tells me it’s another one. My hands are sweating so much they can’t hold on to anything. Another vial, and it’s the right one this time. I hand her the syringe, she unwraps it, fills it with the liquid from the vial, taps it against the light of a chandelier, comments on how beautiful the chandelier is, rolls up her shirt a little, and empties the syringe into herself.

“Better?” I say.

“Always.” She takes a breath that straightens her back and lifts her head. “Now, I’m off to Sir, with love.”

This time she wobbles but doesn’t fall. With every step, I tell myself to follow her, make sure he’s alright. Five steps. I can hear his voice, telling me to hurry up, make myself useful. Ten steps. I look at my plate and take a sip of wine. When I get to her, her hand is already stretched out toward Sidney Poitier, who smiles and takes it. Molly points at me, he says something, I think we all smile. They keep talking but I’m scanning her instead. Are her pupils always that size? Is that sweat beaded on her face? At some point she calls him Buck and they burst into laughter. The waiter comes to cat-herd us away from him. While Sidney Poitier says something to the waiter in French, I whisper into Molly’s ear, asking if she’s alright. She waves off my questions with a tsk-tsk. Sidney Poitier invites us to sit down, and the waiter pulls two chairs back as our plates are rushed over.

“I’m not sure we—” I look around us as if a frozen lake were cracking outward from our feet.

Molly drops into the chair, napkins her lap, and pulls me down to my seat. She passes the back of her hand over her forehead and smiles. She pokes Sidney Poitier’s shoulder with some comment about Paris having nothing blue about it. Laughter, knives, puddles, sweat. Molly is doing worse cutting against the grain, but it shows up on her face as delight just the same. I measure her. I wolf down my dinner, steady myself to hold her if her bones are yanked from her body. Like last time, in Spanish class. Her teeth chatter, color drains out of her cheeks.

She signals something to the waiter, who brings her the check. She stands, propped on the table. Her eyeliner is fading.

“Well, Sidney, dear,” she says, “I’m not going to be tacky and ask for your autograph, but you can have mine.” She signs the credit card receipt. “This one’s on me. Next time you’re in Billings, I’ll let you pay for dinner.”

Molly walks toward the front door without looking back. I follow her, palms out, as I did with Tom Jr. when he was starting to walk, and again when he was recovering from the accident a couple of years ago, while his dad was, well, anywhere but there. Molly and I make it outside. She says something to the maître d’, holds on to a chestnut stunted by gardening, and plops on a brick ledge, curling into me like a mimosa.

In the ambulance, they bring her back. Her eyes return before her voice, probing everything.

“When you get to double vision,” she says at last, “that’s when it’s time to leave.”

“You made it, that’s what matters.”

“Are you kidding me? What matters is we had dinner with Sidney freaking Poitier. With two of them, actually.” We laugh.

“And what did Sidney Poitier II have to say?”

“He said you were right.”

“That’s a first. What about?”

“Liam being a bastard. I need to stop being a chickenshit and get out of there.”

“I’m so glad to hear you—”

“But so is Tom, Glenny. You know you won’t fix Tom by fixing Liam for me, right?”

“I know,” I say, head down.

“Good news, though. There’s a Sidney Poitier for each of us.”

“Nah, you can keep Sidney the Second.”

“Because he doesn’t exist? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Because I don’t care about someone who’s so quick to tell me I’m right. Sorry. Can’t trust him.”

Molly smiles from the crevices of a thick wool blanket. She looks out the window of the ambulance. “Isn’t Paris the best?” she says.

I don’t need to look out the window to agree.


  1. Randal Houle

    Fun night with Sidney Poitier. What do people sometimes say, never meat your idols, right? The form works for me especially since the dialogue feels natural. I kept thinking you were going to end with “it wasn’t him” or something of that sort. Your way was better of course, less punch-line-y. The need to be drugged to talk to a personal idol was interesting. I’ve talked to some of my personal idols before completely sober and I can tell you I still fucked it up. So i have no judgement of the character LOL.

  2. Judy Bates

    Hello Federico, I love this charming story about Paris, and Sidney and your plucky, optimistic female lead. You maintain the tension about her sugar level through to the end, without passing believable —or my patience. Your dialog moves along at a good pace. Well done. Paris is the best.

  3. Suzanne van de Velde

    Federico —
    What a lovely, seductive, persuasive interlude! Your precision and control are the perfect complement to this powerful narrative. I can just picture all of this, and Paris again.

    Thank you — I really enjoyed discovering your work.

  4. Wendy Oleson

    Federico, “Sidney Poitier II” was not what I expected in so many wonderful ways! You have such control of your story’s unspooling—in part, I suppose, because as a reader I feel the way you quickly create tension and drama, loosen it up, then pull it taut. Molly is a wonderful character—and Glenny’s observations: “blood and balsamic puddle in the center of the plate…But Molly wiggles through the steak somehow…she slides a lump of meat into her mouth and sighs, eyes closed./

    Those nouns and verbs: puddle, wiggles, slides, “lump of meat,” – everything about this screams unsophisticated, the antithesis of chic AND YET Molly manages to enjoy it: “’Isn’t Paris the best?’ she says.” I love the way I’m seeing her through Glenny’s eyes, and she’s so very vulnerable but also tough and persistent—AND SHE FREAKING SITS DOWN WITH SIDNEY POITIER!!!

    Is it worth risking a diabetic coma to have dinner with Sidney Poitier? Maybe? I don’t have to decide because I get to experience it right here. I liked the way SP II tied into their difficult relationships with men, and I liked that they had the prior issue with Molly’s blood sugar. I wondered whether a little more info about that first experience of helping her in high school could be useful—and more info about how long removed they are from high school—decades, I’m assuming, but I’d love more grounding and context.

    Thank you so much for sharing this story! (And I loved every time you worked in a movie title! Delightful!)

    My best,

  5. Benjamin Niespodziany

    This was a joy to read, Federico. I love the interaction with Sidney and how cool it all plays out, without making a fool of herself. I was waiting for tragedy to strike and it was heartwarming knowing she met a hero and didn’t slip. Felt like I was at the table. I want to know more about Tom and Liam and the friendship between Glenny and Molly. I feel like Tom and Liam demand some more descriptions/background, as I’m not sure of the relationships here. You mention high school and also retirement, so I’m assuming Glenny and Molly are older, but are they just friends? Great piece and full of life!

  6. Trent

    Such great juxtaposing here, Federico –

    love some of the retorts like “no table for him here” –

    and “Next time you’re in Billings…” –

    A really great example of a vignette story!

  7. Jan Elman Stout

    What a delightful romp. I hope it was as fun for you to write as it was for me to read. Your characters are a hoot. The dialogue is fabulous–I was glad to see us come back to it after the first wonderful round of exchanges. And your use of Sidney Poitier–so clever to use him as a conduit for these women negotiating their relationship and their relationship with their partners. I also love their sassiness. Nice job!

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