by Michael Herson
He ordered his eggs: “Not gushing, but oozing gently.” Then Henry went back to his conversation with Milo. They were two aging men talking politics and books over some bacon. They met often and tacitly rejoiced in their surroundings. They liked the wooden siding on the booths and the wooden counter and the green floor printed in small tiles and the hanging lights over each booth. “It’s the anti-Starbucks” he would often say, and the place made them both feel warm. It was old fashioned, like they were. Today outside the air was thick and it wasn’t sunny, just very hot and gray and still.
Their relationship discontinued outside of the coffee shop. Sometimes they’d see a Yankee game one day out of the year. They would sit in the left field tier or in the bleachers, where they could soak up the ambiance of true fans. They loosely followed what happened on the field, but otherwise argued or sat letting their minds wander. They indulged in the sporting scene because they felt obliged as New Yorkers, but were both clueless as to what drove sports fanaticism. The atmosphere was good enough for them.
A woman in a green dress at the coffee shop counter sang the lyrics to the 80s hits playing on the radio. Her voice was wispy and only she could understand what she was saying. Henry looked at her sadly. One day she will be as old as I am, he thought. He hoped she would have friends around, but he didn’t believe it so. She just didn’t seem like the kind of girl other women liked.
They always sat in the booth by the window. Henry liked this spot because he could see the marquee of the next door movie theater roll by in brightly lit letters. He made a mental note of the movies he wanted to see, though he knew he’d forget them when he returned home.
“I wonder how Peter plans on paying eight dollars every day he comes in from Brooklyn,” Milo said.
“His head is up his ass,” Henry said.
“Where did that little cupcake go? I want some more coffee,” Milo said.
“The shvartze? Off today. Every Wednesday I think.”
“My dad used to say that. Shvartze. My niece went wild whenever she heard him.”
“Nineteen sixty-two,” Henry said, nodding his head slowly.
“Sixty-four, remember? She made the Daily News for running over that cop right on Saint Nick.” He shook his head. “Meshugener klafte.”
“Also when China got the nuke.”
“I remember,” Milo said.
Henry put the last home fry in his mouth. Milo looked outside at the sky and it was gray and muddy. A drop of water drew a thin line through the grime on the window and he thought it was rain, but it came from an air conditioner. It was very hot outside. Milo watched a bulky man in an undershirt cross the street. He was carrying a rolled up shirt in the crook of his arm. Milo knew it was hot, but decided to leave to get The News from the newspaper stand across the street.
Henry watched from the window as Milo walked back in, glossing the front page. When Milo reached the table, Henry seemed lost in thought. If you leave him for a second, Henry gets like that, Milo thought. He ponders.
“When you miss the train, you start thinking about the million little differences you could have made to catch it,” Henry said. “I could’ve not dropped my keys. I shouldn’t have held the elevator door. I should’ve worn loafers and not spent time tying my sneakers. Life is changed irreversibly.”
“No,” said Milo. “Yours isn’t. Mine isn’t. Maybe someone else’s, but not us. It’s just our turn to wait now. And it’ll come soon.”
“I’m scared. It always scares me.” Henry looked at the newspaper, folded between the table and Milo’s forearm.
“How bad could it be? No one gets away,” said Milo.
“To hell with you if you say it doesn’t scare you.”
“I never said that.”
“Then does it?”
Milo opened the paper.
“To hell with you,” Henry said.
They were quiet for a long time. Milo thought about how thick the air felt outside. He was glad there was air conditioning. Henry looked at the woman in the green dress who was now leaving with a cheap umbrella dangling from her wrist. He wished he could have told her that things get better and to stop having coffee by herself on gray days like this. He wanted to tell her that. The waitress came over and poured coffee in their cups and they both listened to its hot, silky splash. Coffee will survive everything.
“I had a dream last night,” Henry said. “I was scrambling eggs in my grandmother’s bowl. I must have put a lot of eggs in because it was a pretty big bowl and it was damn near full. Anyway, as I was scrambling my hand melted into the yolk. But somehow I kept scrambling.”
Washington Heights native Michael Herson attends SUNY Purchase College where he is studying creative writing and journalism. In 2007 his piece “Confessions of a Sex-Crazed Maniac” won the Gold Key Award from the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers.