Abode of Love

by James Penha

It wasn’t its role in The Wolf of Wall Street that made the Shalimar Diner in Queens, NY special to me—or to my Aunt Lucille, now ninety-four years old, who never saw the film. But she saw and had breakfast—a breakfast that often extended into lunch—on her stool at the counter of the Shalimar Diner every day, weather permitting and sometimes not, for more than forty years. As well as the great coffee and hearty meals, my aunt relished the company: the long-time staff of waiters, cooks and, of course, Demi and Chris Karayiannis, owners of the eatery from 1944 until the Sunday after last year’s Thanksgiving when it closed its doors permanently. 

 

“We were all crying,” my aunt told me on the phone when I called her the following Monday from my home in Indonesia.

 

I felt horrible for my aunt and for the waiters I got to know when my partner and I visited New York, and my aunt vacated her stool for a table for the three of us. The breakfast was extraordinary as was the bluish joking and the political views.

 

I worried about how my aunt would spend her days. “I’m going to have to shop and cook again.” I suggested that her caregiver, who comes by twice a week, could prepare meals in advance. “But I don’t want to sit at home all day every day,” she said.

 

My aunt uses a cane, having broken her hip in a fall on the icy sidewalk outside the Shalimar last year, but she regularly walked to the doctor’s office, to the bank, to the pharmacy just as she did to the Shalimar. 

 

“There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts on the Boulevard,” I reminded her. "It’s comfortable. The coffee is great. You can hang out there.”

 

“I suppose," she said.  "But it's not the Shalimar.”

 

“No," I agreed. "The Shalimar is gone."

 

My aunt goes out less and less now. There was the problem with the elevator, after all; out of service for two months as its machinery was replaced, and then the residents had to wait for the City to recertify the Otis. My aunt lives on the sixth floor.

 

And now it’s winter again already. “Too cold out there now. I have lost the oomph.”

 

“The oomph?” I ask.

 

“To go out. No reason any more. As long as the TV works.”

 

In Sanskrit, the word Shalimar means "abode of love." My aunt lost more than just a diner last Thanksgiving. She has found no new abode in the succeeding year and has, I’m afraid, given up searching for one.

About the Author

A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived for the past quarter-century in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his verse appeared in 2019 in Headcase: LGBTQ Writers & Artists on Mental Health and Wellness (Oxford UP), Lovejets: queer male poets on 200 years of Walt Whitman (Squares and Rebels), and What Remains: The Many Ways We Say Goodbye. (Gelles-Cole). His essays have appeared in The New York Daily News and The New York Times. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Twitter: @JamesPenha