A short story by
John William Tuohy
It was the second day of cold and miserable weather. The kind of miserable day that lasts too long and leaves the soul feeling empty and alone. A day that took twice more than it gave. He was unloading the food from the trunk of his car when the voice reached across the cold rain and asked “Sir? How far is it to Route 2?
He slowly and reluctantly maneuvered his head around the hood to see a boy, more of a young man than a boy, tall and so thin that his wet and ragged clothes hung from every angle of him and dripped rain on to the soaked gravel of the parking lot. From inside the bar, someone flicked on the overhead sign and the words “Two Deuces Cocktails and Dining” sprinkled hundreds of red and blue reflections across tiny stones of the lot.
He looked at the boy and then looked past him into the blur of speeding cars that threatened to drown out his voice, so he yelled ‘About two miles, maybe more. Straight down this road. Route 2 crosses over it”.
He noticed the boys sneakers didn’t match. Maybe it was a fashion, he thought. He didn’t know anything about fashion. He didn’t know much about kids either. The boy, he figured him to be maybe 18-years-old, nodded his thanks, but in a way that let it be known that he was already tired and didn’t want the long journey before him.
“You gonna use that?” the boy asked, nodding his head towards the trunk floor.
“Use what?” he shouted back.
“That hat, that baseball hat?” the boy replied pointing his long boney finger at the truck.
He looked down at his Twins baseball cap. He’d bought at a game down in New York two years ago. It cost him a pretty penny. He looked over at the boy and the hood that covered his head was soaked through with rain.
“Sure, I’ll give it to you” he said leaning into the car “Take it, it’s yours.”
“I’ll take it” the boy said with a nod that seemed ever so slightly aggressive.
He reached into the truck and tossed him the cap. The boy caught it, pulled down his rain soaked hood, placed the cap on his head and pulled the hood over it. He stood to his full height and shoved his thin bone white hands into his pant pockets a move that caused the trousers to inch down precariously, forcing him to quickly move his right hand around to the back and left hand to the front and pull the pants up in one quick yank. Then he lowered his head against the rain and moved on.
He noticed the boy hadn’t thanked him for the cap but still, for a moment, he pondered offering the boy a ride down to the road because it was raining and cold and miserable and the traffic was dangerous. But he was going to offer the ride because he was a kind man, a good man, a decent man. So he pondered it and decided against it because more than once his worthy nature had caused him more grief than joy. So he returned to the shelter of the trunk hood, lifted out the last of the grocery bags and closing the trunk with a push of his elbow, he trudged across the parking lot and pounded on the restaurants thick wooden door.
He heard the lock release from inside and watched the door swing open to reveal the still dark dining room, vaguely silhouetted in an ugly yellow glow from the kitchen light. The scene made him slightly uneasy but for no particular reason other than he was a man who liked things the way they were. He liked the undisturbed sameness of things. Routine. Warmth.
“Did you get everything?” Brian asked lifting his nose above the edge of the brown paper bags and searching inside for everything and anything.
The question annoyed him, slightly, but it still annoyed him. He was not a complete incompetent; he thought to himself, he would never actually say something like that out loud. But, he added to his thoughts, that he was enough of an incompetent to need someone like Brian to run the place, to manage the details that he knew he was incapable of handling because, truthfully, he just didn’t care.
When his father ran the place, he ran it alone but he wasn’t his father and that annoyed him too. Before he answered, his mind darted back to the boy and the cap and he wondered if he had allowed the boy to buffalo him.
“Yep” he answered as he handed the bags over to him “Everybody here?”
He prayed everyone was there. He didn’t handle restaurant problems well. He was born into that business; he was not born from it. It wasn’t a joy for him as it had been for his father. For him, it was work, joyless work. Every morning he dragged himself across the parking lot whispering “Let there be no problems today, please” and every morning he recalled his father jogging across the lot, rushing inside to find a problem.
“Just about” Brian answered “the girls are in back, got all the tables covered, the cooks here” Both of them moved their heads to the right looked past the open kitchen door. The short order cook who was older than dirt and was bent over his counter in his kitchen, and it was his kitchen, lost in the rhythm of a chopping motion and the dull thud his knife blade pushing into a vegetable. He was a good man when he was sober and a bad man was he drunk and the busted bones and scars on his face testified silently that he was more often drunk than sober.
“He okay tonight?” he asked, speaking rapidly to get the cold out of his veins.
“Is he sober?” Brian answered slowly “Yeah, but the night’s young. Talk to me when we close at 2.”
“Long as he gets us past the bar rush” he said “I don’t really care what happens after that.” And they both looked into the kitchen again.
The dishwasher?” he asked hopefully. “What’s his name? Juan…..” he drew a blank.
“Juan, Don Juan, Don Corleone, I don’t know, anyways, not here” Brian answered shaking his head “and probably won’t be either. If you want, I’ll wash, you cover the floor”
He had hired the kid. It was Brian’s job, but he had leaped into the middle of things and hired the kid without Brian’s consent and now he was gone with no signs of returning.
“No” he answered with a long sigh that was drawn mostly out of resignation for his inabilities “No. You’re the manager, you manger. I’ll wash”
“I’m sorry” Brian said with a tilt of his head.
“It’s not your fault.” he answered feeling somewhat condescended to and looked down at his white shirt and blue tie “I’m going to slip home and change into something more dish washy.”
“All right” Brian answered in a way that was intended to be uplifting but felt oddly out of place “I’ll get this stuff in the back, see you in a bit”
Back in the safety of his car, he drove slowly through the increasing darkness of the day, agitated that the dishwasher, what’s his name, had taken his last paycheck and not returned. Son of bitch. No work ethic, that’s the problem. No manners. No respect.
A mile down Wolcott Road, peering through the brown mist on his windshield, he saw the tall, rail thin boy sluggishly making his way through the rain. His chin was held close to his chest, his hands buried deep in his pockets. He pulled the car up alongside the boy, lowered the window and felt the cold air invade the car. The boy bent over and looked into the car.
“You still going to Route 2?” he asked.
It took the boy a few seconds but when he recognized him from the parking lot a surprisingly warm smile came across his face.
“Oh!” he said “Hi”
“Come on” he said “Get in, I’ll give you a ride”
“I’ll take it” the boy replied. “I’ll take what I can when I can”
He climbed into the car and sat, stretched out his two long legs and rode along silently, looking out into the rain swept street. They drove along for several miles without talking, the boy adjusting the seat to fit his long legs and then leaning it back, far back, as though he intended to sleep until they reached Lakewood Road. He didn’t like that the boy moved the seat without asking. He thought about saying something but didn’t instead he reasoned his way out of it. People had to be comfortable after all. It was human nature.
“So” he asked without looking over to his passenger “Where you going today?”
“The car wash up on Route 2” the boy replied without bothering to look at him “They had an ad in the newspaper. They’re looking for people and I need a job”
“What are they paying?” he asked.
“Minimum wage I suppose” he answered lazily and then turning to him with a wry smile, the boy added “Moneys money, right?”
That’s right” he answered and they returned to their mutual silence. Common sense told him there was something not right with this boy, that he was trouble. That he had a slight but obvious bad attitude. But his better angels, he had many of them, pushed those thoughts aside and he reasoned that poverty and hard times would make anyone a cynic, make them harsh. The boy just needed a break, he needed to see that there was goodness in the world.
“So, where do you live?” he asked the boy.
“Up on Binary Road” he answered.
“Binary Road” he said repeating the boy’s words. He knew the area. It was a bad. There were trailer homes on some of those lots that were older than he was.
“That’s near my place, my restaurant he said and then added “You know, it’s a good haul up to route 2 for minimum wage. I’ll tell you what, if you wash dishes, I got a job for you. It’s a lot closer than all the way up here. Free meals too. And we’re stable. We’ve been there for fifty years now”
“If you want, sure” the boy said as he were doing him a favor.
“Yeach, I think it would be good for the two of us” he said and turned the car around and headed back to the bar.
Late the next morning the weather was equally miserable when he pulled into the parking lot. Brain and the cook walked across the lot to meet him. They never did that. Never. Something was wrong. His stomach tightened. The center of his chest hurt, but just slightly. He stepped out of the shelter of his car and walked towards them.
“White trash is all he is” the old cook grumbled “Just plain white trash. I knew it the minute I laid eyes on him”
“What happened?” he asked “What the hell happened?”
“We were robbed” Brian answered “Burglarized. Wiped us out”
“White trash is all he is” the old cook grumbled again “Just plain white trash. I said that from the get go. But did anybody listen to me? No”
“Where’s the kid?” he asked but he knew.
“I been in this here business longer any you been alive” the cook said too loudly. He was already drunk.
“He’s not coming back” Brian said with a look of sympathy across his face.
“Why do you say that?” he asked, but he knew.
“Because he broke in last night. He must have left the back door unlocked before he left. We got him on the house camera. Took the strong box with him, about $1,000. He cleaned out the register for another five hundred. All of our steaks, another $500 at least”
“I gave him everything” he said.
“It’s not your fault. Its human nature, is what it is” the cook said to him “You got yourself two kinds of people in this world, the givers and the takers. That’s all there is. He seen you a giver and he took, noth’n you can do about it. Just Human nature all it is”