Dom staggered through the heavy double doors of the Burger King feeling lightheaded. He likened the feeling to a moment before clarity comes. Usually there was the low moan of the fans, but the fans were still quiet from winter, the old-fashioned parlor lamps were on, with track lighting as well as fluorescent ceiling lighting. Dom tilted his head and glided across the floor like a disco-era pimp.
The dishwashers in their torn t-shirts and filthy aprons called him the Old Con. His black hair rakishly combed in slivers, he would pull the brass ring on his cane back and forth, working a dip into his strides, which the young men jokingly emulated behind his back. He was known to live in a boarding house run by the Sojourner homeless shelter since his release from prison five years earlier.
Dom warmed to the over-heated room and the sight of Carla behind the glistening counter dressed in her cotton-blend trousers and BK polo shirt. Enshrined in his standard greeting were his feelings for her.
“Soon, I’ll be able to get my hands on a lot of money. Nobody knows but I got money,” he concentrated on coolly walking over to the counter, trying to keep up their usual banter, but Carla got there first.
“What ‘nobody’? You tell everybody all the time, someone’s going to knock you upside the head and take it one day…. You know what one of our cooks said –one night?”
She watched him look suddenly worried, as he grazed a wet floor cone situated on the ceramic tiles.
What the cook had told her was this—Dom had been flashing a $5000 bill in her face, out to impress her no doubt. Carla humored him with the passing thought. Old people were known to leave trash bags full of money in their apartment, or give it to a waitress just because she had been nice, or shown a little interest.
Roach blew in with a cluster of dead leaves, the wind at his back, the empty parking lot spread out behind him like a darkened cove. Years spent feeding the cutting machines in a chemical plant had damaged his eardrums, so that he usually shouted.
“Hey man, yeah, old man, I’m talking to you.”
Dom had worked as a maintenance man at the chemical plant’s disposal unit after he got out of jail. It was a day job that lasted three weeks before Dom couldn’t stand the smell, the constant headaches, the piss tests or the eye exams any longer. Roach had stayed there thirty years. Everyone called him Roach, because he had lasted so long. The name on his jumpsuit and cap said Hine. Hine was the chemical plant.
Dom doubled over in pain as he leaned on his cane to steady himself. His bladder was pushing against his bowel lined with last night’s booze. The pressure in his bowels forced him to clench his teeth. All of a sudden he was burning up.
“Are you all right, Grandfather?” Carla asked.
“Yes, damn it,” he said pushing back the nausea that was crawling like a caterpillar up his throat.
“Okay, okay, take it easy. Here, do you want some help?” She started to come from behind the locked area.
“No…stay over there. It’s nothing…the bathroom,” Dom said feeling a churning urgency in his bowels.
He remembered the doctor’s prognosis, a blackened liver, imminent liver transplant necessary, probability of a donor, nil.
Roach turned his back, busying himself with the brightly lit menu.
Dom held onto the wall until he heard the loud electronic buzzer. He bared his teeth down hard with pain and dropped his pants. The viscid taste of chalky acid filled his mouth as warmth spread down his legs and he hit the floor.
He lay there for a moment, stained, stunned, seeing what he suspected was morning through the thick milky glass. He felt drained and with effort lifted his head about two inches from the tile. He stared at the tile’s geometric formations. The automatic Glade deodorizer sent up a spray of scent and it filled him with chickweed and clover pushing up among baby’s breath and yarrow, the topiary bushes and trees decked out in brilliant emerald on the Common. He managed to stand and collect his cane. His pants were damp, but he wouldn’t worry about it; if anyone asked he would say he spilled his coffee.
As he collected himself and exited the bathroom, he saw a handful of customers in Burger King for the morning rush. At their regular table sat Roach, who had been joined by Mrs. Jones, the co-owner of a bible store with her late husband.
Dom made his way over to the table as Kayo, a young man from the neighborhood, swept pass him, spreading his leather jacket like beetle wings.
Dom watched the teenaged girls twirl their plum skirts after him. Their excitement carried them forward like a wave of burgundy and white placards at a school game. They had ripe, swollen, cherry balm lips, thick thighs and penny loafers. They circled as close as they dared, watching Kayo as they tittered and whispered to one another behind cupped hands.
“Watch the queen. Watch the queen, where did she go, where did she go?” Kayo spread three worn cards face up on the table first, showing the queen, king, then the joker. He deftly tossed them into the air and the cards performed like tumblers in a circus.
“Is she in the corners or the middle card? Pick.” Kayo told his mark, sucking on the toothpick in his mouth.
“Don’t be a fool. I’m not wasting my money,” Mrs. Jones said in an early Sunday morning voice.
“I’ll give you a free chance to see if you can find the queen.” Kayo said. Mrs. Jones lifted her hand as if she smelled something foul in the air and waved it in front of her face. Kayo didn’t seem to acknowledge rejection, so he stood there like it was the most natural stance in the world.
As if she were playing a game with a tireless child Mrs. Jones reached out to touch the cards, or maybe she was reaching for her coffee. Either way her hand was out there. She made a choice, not touching the card but letting her hand hover over it.
“Ah too bad, you lose.” Kayo said, turning the Joker over and looking steely-eyed at Mrs. Jones, ‘Pay up, that will be $20 dollars. Time has run out on the special offer. Free can’t last,” He leaned in close, sticking the toothpick out and flicking it with his tongue.
“Punk” said Dom, leaning against a large barber-style pole in the center of the room. The teenies cleared their lungs in a collective breath.
“We aren’t giving you a dime, don’t you have any respect for anything,” Dom spat his words out, shaking, as he moved forward using his cane, then he threw it on a bench and leaned against a table, standing his ground. He felt the eyes in the room shifting and resting uncomfortably on him. He braced himself on the table as if he were latched with cable.
“Old man, you got a death wish.” Kayo said, almost in a whisper.
“Do you know who I am, I ain’t no small time chump like you. I hit the big time.” Dom glanced around the room at the harried factory workers, their yellow helmets propped by their sides, the wrecked mother with a handful of kids, all with sticky fingers greedily snatching open packaged Styrofoam containers and wondered if this was the time or the place for his last breath; if it was to be it was to be. He was glad that Carla was there to see it, to see him fierce and proud. He wanted to turn around and look at her, hold her in his arms, but he knew better than to take his eyes off Kayo.
Kayo picked up the cards. And as he went out with his entourage—“I’ll see you later,” he muttered.
“Thank you, Dom, you're my knight in shining armor.” Mrs. Jones said. But Dom was looking for Carla, who was no longer at the counter.
“Why don’t you come over to the house tonight. I’ll make lasagna,” Mrs. Jones said, pulling Dom down on the bench next to her.
“I’m seeing someone tonight,” Dom said and regretted his choice of words immediately.
“Who, Carla? You’re delusional. You can spend the rest of your life on a fantasy or on a good woman,” Mrs. Jones said, snapping her fingers.
“Carla, Carla,” she shouted, “Show Dom that picture of your boyfriend,” But Carla had gone into the back and didn’t return after the breakfast rush.
“Be quiet, woman,” Dom said, looking at Roach, who was looking at them, laughing.
DON'T YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? CLICK HERE TO READ PARTS THREE AND FOUR!
Welcome Eager Readers! (And Writers)
Thanks for stopping by. Please read our "About" page for some more information and please look over our submission guidelines that are on the right before submitting.
Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice
Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice