Twelve tables, two booths,
staff of three:
Frank on the grill
Merla waiting table
Mrs. on the register.
Weekends the wait
is an hour or more
Frank hovers over
the smoking flat-top
like a symphony conductor
each order taking up its little area
a big wedge of hashbrowns
down one edge
bacon and sausage cooking
in the side broiler.
Merla glides through
like an ice skater
pitcher of water
and pot of coffee
in perpetual motion,
plates stacked across her arm.
Mrs sits watching
like a chickenhawk.
Oh he don’t look like much, Birdy, with them cross-eye glasses and orthopedic boots, but I tell you that kid is worth more than his weight in silver dollars. You put that crook-face boy up on a ladder and he can tell you the layout of everything in the room worth a pickled cent. Jewelry, TV, watches… that stuff is all easy. He can spot a wall safe, or a closet strongbox. He can tell you whether the woman of the house is a light sleeper, whether the man has an in-town girl he sees.
Oh yes, Birdy. He’s gold.
The roach-crawling apartment, broken down car, the Waffle House, forty-plus hours a week of aching feet and grease-saturated clothes.
All gone now, left way away down there.
It’d been in her mind ever since signing up for the course. She’d ingratiated herself with Jerry, a middle-aged divorcee who thought he knew everything about ballooning and was eager to share.
The look on his face when she cast off the ballasts and left him standing there. Poor sucker couldn’t believe it. Probably planning what he’d do when she landed.
But she wasn’t going to land.
She turned the burners to full.
Them days we’d meet up after work at Fat Vince’s.
Little Stevie was still alive then, before all that shit with his Ma.
We’d eat and figure out what to do with Saturday Night.
I was holding down seven-to-four at Saragaglia’s Hardware, mixing paint and flirting with the women.
That place got more women than you ever saw in a hardware store, all of them helpless as does.
What’s a Phillips screwdriver, James?
Will this plug fit my drain?
I always remembered all of their names, too.
They loved me.
Looking back, I think that’s why Saragaglia kept me on.