I threw my bomber jacket on and headed outside. It took every bit of me not to kick him on my way by. Then he hit me with a Thanks kid and I realized there was a little bit left. I swallowed it, and kept walking. Truth be told, I could use the twenty about as much as Happy could use the hundred. There was a spot a few blocks down and to the right that I’d gone to before. It had been a while since what I hoped was my last time there. I swallowed the memory and reminded myself I needed the cash with the end of the month approaching.
Fifteen minutes later I rounded the last corner and was greeted with the sight of three white haired men enjoying cigars and coffee on a makeshift patio. They laughed through smoke and clamped teeth, their skin baking in the afternoon sun. Their gravelled voices crystallized into talks of an upcoming footie match as I arrived at the door. All three of them side-eyed me in unison, the air around us deadening to the point I could hear someone emptying a dishwasher behind the door inside. I dipped my head at them. They dipped theirs in return before jumping back into their heated debate. I reached for the door when BAM, it exploded open toward me. A dishevelled man holding a bus bin came crashing out of the restaurant and stumbled around me.
“Woh there, sorry buddy.”
That voice. I craned my neck back towards him.
Jerry spun around with a toothy grin.
“Who?” one of the Italian men chimed in.
“This is Brokeback?” a second chimed in.
The first turned to the second.
“You know this guy?”
“No. Jerry does.”
I turned to Jerry, confused, feeling like I’d stumbled into an alternate timeline. One where he’s not homeless and I’m a gay cowboy.
“You know these guys?” I asked.
“Who?” the first guy asked again.
“What are you a fuckin’ owl?” the until now silent third party asked.
“Of course I know them. I work here.” Jerry said.
“Are you Brokeback or not?” the second guy asked. His disappointment in not nailing down who I was yet was only surpassed by my confusion at just about everything going on right now.
Jerry waved him off, “He’s Brokeback.”
“I’m not Brokeback. I mean maybe I am, according to Jerry, but I’m not…I’m not-”
“-Gay?” the third guy asked.
Somebody must have hit the mute button again because everything fell silent and suddenly it was all eyes on me. Part of me hated that it was even something I needed to clarify; not because it felt wrong to me, but just because it wasn’t who I was. The other part of me hated that I hadn’t had an audience this big for my music in over a year. All that time to think and the most I could muster was a meagre, Yah and shrugged. Jerry tucked the bin under his arm and threw the other around my shoulder.
“I know you ain’t gay,” he said. His breath smelled of roasted tomatoes. The rest of him smelled like not much at all which was surprising to say the least.
“You just look like the dude from that movie.”
“Kind of,” one of the men piped in.
“Like a worse version,” added another.
Jerry smiled unwavering at me until I turned and met his glimmering eyes.
“Not much worse though,” he reassured me…and then he winked.
“Dude…I had no idea-”
Jerry spun me towards the door and somehow managed to usher me through it before I had a chance to protest.
“Listen man. I know you got some questions. Probably.”
The way he said probably made it sound like there shouldn’t be, but he understood that me specifically probably would.
“Probably, yah.” I responded.
“My shift isn’t done for another couple hours. I’ll explain later. Promise. Just don’t say anything-” he looked around for any ears that might be listening, “-here,” he finished.
The place was quieter than I remembered, other than me and Jerry talking in our hushed tones. The dishwasher behind the bar was cranked open but unattended. I assume Jerry was the one filling it before. It was dimmer than I remembered it being too; as if the lack of patrons had somehow stolen a bit of the restaurant’s soul.
First time since the last time, I thought to myself. I clocked the table I’d sat in previously. The empty chair I’d sat in. The empty chair across from me that I’d stared at for an hour after she left.
“Pretty much, yah,” I said.
“What’d you order?”
“Spaghetti with red sauce.”
Jerry set the bus bin down behind the bar.
“Let me check.”
He turned and began running off into the back when I remembered.
“Oh and a cappuccino!” I called out.
His head peeked back out from around the corner.
“Uh no. Four…”
Jerry looked me up and down.
“You good, man?”
“Yah. Of course.”
He squinted at me.
“Alright,” he said with a shrug before disappearing again.
I found myself drifting towards the table for two while waiting for Jerry to turn up with my order. The wood table stained dark; a home-done job done a few times over to hide the scratches through the years. The chair even had the same wobble when I sat down in it. I remember how my weight had shifted awkwardly in it, mimicking the see-saw of emotions in our last conversation. Wooden legs tamping the ground to the beat of my slowing heart.
“You know what hurts the most?” she’d said to me.
I looked up through shameful eyes. The space between us had taken on a foggy quality. Her form wavered, flickering in front of me, reminding me she was already gone.
“What?” I squeezed out. The words themselves died on my lips; the gravity of my regrets pulling in everything around me allowing no light or sound to escape.
“The worst part of all this is that you can’t stop thinking about it. About how great it was. Soaking it in.”
I couldn’t deny how good it had felt. The heat of the spotlight beading sweat along my brow. The captive silence, simmering to a boil and erupting in applause as I sang the final note; its vibrations pushing my very soul around the room in a way that everyone in attendance could feel.
“I hope you find what you’re searching for.”
With that she stood up, ignoring my feeble protests, and marched out of the restaurant. I remember looking around, nodding my head slowly in an air of nonchalance. The thin veil of ego protecting me from wandering eyes and the murmurs of condescension. Only then did I notice my fingers tapping the leg of the table, my heel slowly rocking up and down to the tune of my magnum opus.
She was right.
I loved every minute of it.
And I couldn’t stop.
TO BE CONTINUED…