Jesse Parker, college junior, spells Pete at the stove
for an hour or so. As Pete fills him in, Jackie changes the board on the sidewalk to the noon menu.
Pete grabs a lunch he had packed earlier, walks down the street,
turns toward the river, towards the little park there on its shore. He sits on top of the picnic table, his feet on the seat,
his chin in his hands, and he thinks.
Four or five factory and mill whistles blow, a discordant
announcement that morning is over.
Barges and tugs ply the river, a few old men on the shore are fishing. Gulls squawk and fight over pickings from the trash barrel. Peters lunch is untouched, his chin is still in his hands, he is lost in thought.
Stella dying in a barrage of gunfire.
4 in the afternoon walking the block to her door.
Young men, boys, really, defending their desperation,
pissed, armed, given to acting before thinking.
Him holding his 'Stell, watching her die.
looking into the empty stare of sunglasses
speeding by. He, left behind, left alone.
Church was too political to help him.
The widowers support group he found at the outreach center
was no help. Even his brief stint with booze did not help.
The only things that helped was his Cafe. Work. Friends.
Then, the other day while listening to the radio,
he heard about plans to march on the capital. One million black men.
It was being called a chance to reclaim male pride,
re-establish male friendship, to guide the youngsters.
To take back our neighborhoods from the criminals.
To get respect for, and from the women.
The march promised so many things.
Farrakhan would be there, and Jackson.
Those were the reasons he should go, thought Peter.
But the bus ride would be two days to get to D.C.,
a day there, two days back. Who would tend the cafe?
Do the shopping, the prep, cooking?
Peter looked at his watch, threw his uneaten lunch
to the gulls, headed back to his cafe.
Jesse says Long lunch today, boss? I thought I was finally going to get a chance to do Dinner.
When you're thirty, says Peter. He peeks through the serving window, sees Elmer and Stan Lieber playing chess at the end booth, with their latte and Officially Non-Existent silver flask.
Near as Peter could tell, those two have been playing the same position for ten years. Come to think of it, he doesn't recall
ever seeing one of those gentlemen even move a piece.
He low-whistles to Helga, asks her if she has ever seen them move a chess piece. Nope, she says, been playing the same game for ten years, and walks away to serve coffee to a man at the end of the counter.
This man catches Peters eye. Has a pretty heavy jacket on for such a nice day. Reads the paper, has a small pile of ones on the countertop, remains of a ham and cheese sandwich in front of him. Looks out the door a lot, and even in air conditioning he sweats, makes his face shine like motor oil.
Peter does not recognize him. Jackie hands Peter an order,
looks at him, at the young man, back to Peter, turns away.
As she reaches past Helga to put the coffee pot on the warmer
Jackie casually and expertly whispers to her.
Then Jackie walks to the man, tears the top sheet off of her pad, lays it on the counter in front of him, asks Will there be anything else, sir? He looks out the door, back to her, says No. Looks at Helga at the end of the counter,
back to her , says That's it for me. Keep the change.
He gets up, holding his coat closed with one hand, and walks out of the front door, turns left, is out of sight.
Jackie and Helga exchange a relieved glance. Officer Tam Brady walks out of the ladies room, buckling her Sam Brown, holding a newspaper under her arm, service cap on askew. Peter sees the young man come back into view, coat open, a very big gun in one hand, the door handle in the other. He sees the officer, she looks up and sees him. Peters hand is on the phone. The man runs off, the officer chases him, calling for back-up on her portable.
The crowd has dispersed, the police are done taking statements.
Helga and Jackie are calm again. Officer Tam tells Peter that after a short chase, the young man turned and fired on her. She returned fire. He went down, was in St. Matt’s hospital in critical condition.
The ladies are gone, the place is cleaned, and Peter hangs the CLOSED sign in the glass door. As he walks to the kitchen he hears someone try the door. He turns, hollers sorry, I'm closed
for the day.
Peter stands before a wired glass window, and the glare from the corridor lights makes it hard to see inside the dim room.
Lights from some machines, a small table lamp, an indistinct shape under a white sheet. A dark face, plastic mask, a snarl of tubes and hoses. Peters forehead is against the warm glass.
He sees his Stella. Car barreling down the street, six kids.
Stella dead on a Sunday, her murderer
gone, Stella gone, all of it gone.
Peter says to the dark face on the other side of the glass
not so bad now are you. Peter wishes his tears would go away.
Stella asks him from the shine of the window,
“What are you going to do, Pete?”
He looks at his hands, sighs,
asks, “What can I do?”
The boy on the bed asks nothing,
is witness to no pain,
drifting between the boundaries
of known and unknown worlds.
Peter watches as nurses attend him.
They never saw him with a gun,
never saw the look of angry fear on his face,
or the terror he must have felt
being shot by a cop,
when he discovered he was not bullet-proof.
To the nurses he is a child in need of their care.
Not a thug, not a hood, not an armed robber.
As the day passes Peter watches.
He doesn’t know the boys name.
Stella whispers, “It doesn’t matter.”