I was locking my bike out back when Bill came out.
“I’m glad you’re early today. Gloria’s mother is sick, and we’re taking her to the hospital tonight. Larry will come in to close. You can call him at home if you have any trouble.”
“Sure Bill. Is it serious?”
“Keep on Tommy or he won’t do a thing. You’re in charge now, Danny.”
“Don’t worry,” I told him as he walked to his car. “I’ll take of care things.” Staring at his bald patch, I noticed the grease stripe down one leg of his pants, and the stained and dirty red windbreaker he wore winter and summer. I felt like sitting the guy down for ten minutes and letting him just breathe. Instead, I went inside and put on an apron.
Bill’s day cook had set me up pretty well for a change. I took care of the odds and ends, feeling relaxed. It was pleasant to be behind the grill on a quiet afternoon, making sandwiches for the guys who came in after work for a beer or dinner for the movie-goers. Everything smelled fresh and clean, from the half sour pickles to the new brisket of beef that I started after I chucked the stale end from the meat case.
A while later, I the front door open. When I looked up, a guy was holding the inner door open for Christine. She smiled at him and felt a momentary flash of anger. Her and Matisse. There’s always going to be a guy to hold the door or stop the elevator.
Watching with me, Marcie said, “Great. Now that she’s here, I’m taking lunch. Make me a roast beef sandwich, OK?” Marcie got a Tab from the machine.
“Excuse me. Do you have those eggs yet?” I look up at Christine startled.
“What eggs?” I asked, scanning the checks. No eggs up.
“They’re for Russell, from the liquor store. Marcie said there was no check. She said she’d tell you.”
No check indeed. Bill gets a good deal on California wine and Russell gets to pretend he’s the galloping gourmet.
“How does Julia Child want them tonight?”
“That schmuck. Can’t he eat sunnyside like everyone else?” I wiped some grease on the grill, broke two eggs over it and covered them with a pot lid so the yolks filmed over. The place was slow and Christine stood next to me, watching. It was nice to have a woman standing next to me again, looking at what I was doing. I snuck a quick glance and she saw me and smiled. Oh yeah.
I uncovered the eggs and slid them on a plate, added some toast and color – Bill’s patented slice of dark red cinnamon-spiced apple ring on a piece of lettuce. “Two eggs, over up. Tell Julia I hope they meet with his approval.” Christine smiled and took the plate.
A couple of minutes later she was back. “Julia sends his complements. I think he was surprised you knew what he meant.”
“I read cookbooks, too. Hey, did you have your break yet?” She shook her head no.
“What do you want?”
“A hamburger, I guess. I’d better check with Marcie first.”
And what would you like on it?” Unctuous as any waiter.
“Lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and ketchup.”
“In New York, there’s no mayonnaise on hamburgers.”
“In Rochester they eat it all the time.”
She looked at me and smiled like a middle sister with news. I resisted the urge to hug her. “One burger coming up.” She curtsied. I made an extra on the off chance I’ll get to eat with her. But people kept filtering in, and I ate it standing up. Busy night but not so busy that I couldn’t clean up around it. I closed the grill at a quarter past two, done by twenty five of three. I poured us each a beer and drank it at table seven while Marcie and Christine counted their tips. Tommy vacuumed and Larry, Bill’s son, did the register tapes and cash.
The air conditioning was off and the hot night seeped into Deli House. So Matisse is getting married. What am I supposed to do, give the bride away?
After she transferred to B.U., she kept sleeping with different guys. She’d always call me up afterward. ‘I can’t not tell you,’ she’d say. ‘But why?’ ‘Because you weren’t here.’ I slept with a couple of others, but never very successfully. It was hopeless. Let her get married without me. It’s over. Done.
“Twenty three and change each. That’s fantastic. Weekends, you only make 35.” Marcie drained her beer and stood up. “Come on,” she said to Christine, “I’ll give you a ride home.”
I’ve got my bike.”
“You must be tired. We can put the bike in the back seat.”
Christine looked at me. I’d been waiting to offer to ride her home. I shrugged and she told Marcie OK. I unlocked the front door and let them out.
“See you tomorrow,” she said.
“Tomorrow.” I locked the door after her and watched them load her bike into the car and drive off.