It was Donny first. His wife said that he came in from the cold on a Tuesday and started on about the carpets again and then he went to his knees. She could hardly get him to the bed, clutching his chest like that. He was the first of three.
When you feed a man lunch, everyday, for thirty years, you learn more than a bartender. The deli was my way to give them something, them in their work shirts and pocket flasks. They called me Tony, but that’s not my name. I’d open the doors and something about the white painted metal and the glass made them feel like it’s ok to have a man as a friend.
They’d sit down somewhere around twelve thirty and then the bell would ring later around one. In that time, I’d hand them thick rolls with hunks of meat in between. They’d tell me of the Angelas they dated and when they wanted something better, which was most days. Some would sit real quiet and let the food sit in their mouths, maybe more there than here. There was the mustiness of something growing in their shoes and the way they were rotting with age, cheeks falling off a little every day.
When it was over, and I’d closed up shop, their smells would come to me like seizures, memories of before. Sometimes I’d go by the place and put my hand on the cold metal of the door.
It’s better I didn’t know about the pastrami and the asiagos. Too much and too stupid. Felt like I’d been killing them when I found out. I didn’t know.
At John’s funeral, my wife Lisa came up to me and said that we should eat. That it was respectful. We went to the spread and there was a small tray of cut fruit, boiled eggs, and bits of fresh vegetables.
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