Leftovers

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William T. O’Reilley was two years away from retirement. He had a plum job, at least that’s what the bus dispatcher, Stewie, told him every morning when he started his shift on the M2 at 6:30 a.m..

“You’ve got the plum one, that’s for sure, Billy. Right through Manhattan, yeah, right through the upper crust of it.”

“I don’t know about plums, Stewie.” Billy mopped his brow and stuffed his handkerchief in his back pocket. It was a tight fit; he had put on a few pounds since the funeral. “Never liked the heat. This week has been the worst, can’t wait to blast the air-conditioner on this baby.” He tapped the steering wheel of the bus.

“Yur good to go, pal, see you tomorrow. Stay out of trouble.” Stewie fiddled with the electronic pad, punched William T. O’Reilly’s number into the system, and the M2 rolled north.

Billy liked routines. He was a creature of habit and having his bus paced and monitored at each stop gave him a satisfaction that could be measured.

But it was on days like this, the hot ones, that some of the people getting into the bus annoyed him. He was doing his best, he thought. No one likes the heat. “Just doing the best I can,” he mumbled to the elderly lady who wanted the steps lowered faster than was possible at 4th Street. It made him think of his second wife, Heather, and the fight they had at Christmas.

 

“Just doing the best I can, honey.” That’s what he told her when she asked him to get a raise. “You don’t understand.”

“How’d you expect me to keep myself dressed nice,” she gave him a look and went into the kitchen. “I need a new pair of boots for the winter, Billy. Do you really think the ones I’ve had for three years—three years before we were married—are good enough,” she raised her voice so he could hear her.

“Nothing will ever be good enough for you,” he said.

“What’s that, I can’t hear you,” she said.

Billy sat on the couch and picked up the remote. He turned on the game and sighed.

“Football?” Heather shouted from the kitchen.

He heard his wife bang two pots on the stove. It almost gave him hope that they were going to have a real meal instead of take-out.

“What kind of soup do you want?” she said. “Chicken noodle or Beef and Barley?”

Irene, his first wife, was a good cook. She made real dinners that the family sat at the table and ate together.

“Chicken noodle.” Are you making anything else to go with that?” He called into the kitchen.

“Why don’t you get off the sofa and find out.”

Once there was a time he was content with everything and everyone. But, then, at sixty-three he wasn’t. William T. O’Reilley made three mistakes in his life: the first was to cheat on Irene with Heather.

He met Heather at his niece’s wedding; she was bubbly. Mistake number two was marring Heather who seemed to lose her fizz as soon as she had a ring on her finger. Mistake number three was ordering Chinese food the Sunday before Christmas.

 

The young woman who got on the bus at 10th street looked as though she hadn’t slept; her face had on yesterday’s makeup. Billy looked at her chipped nail polish as she dipped her metro pass into the kiosk. The bus was starting to fill up. No one wanted to sit in the back; the riders clustered around the front door waiting their turn: like rabbits ready to jump out the door when it opened.

Billy looked at the time on dashboard monitor, he was running three minutes ahead and he knew that there would be a message to hold the bus at 23rd street. He also knew that the passengers would get annoyed and start talking to him: asking him why he wasn’t moving.

“Gotta keep to the schedule and we’re ahead of it right now,” he said.

“Well that’s not my schedule, I’ve got a meeting in ten minutes.” A young man, holding his jacket and a New York Times, was leaning over the bar that separated the driver from the passengers.

“Back up.” Billy pointed to the sign that told passengers to stand behind the yellow line and not talk to the driver.

“Just getting your number off the dash,” the man said.

 Two people got off the bus at the back door, and as they did a kid jumped in.

“Hey—you!” Billy yelled. The young man leaning into Billy’s face jumped back.

“You—in the back! I saw you jump the ride.” Billy was watching him in his rear-view mirror. “Get off. We’re not going anywhere until you get off.”

The other passengers started to mumble and the ones in the rear of the bus told the boy to leave. By the time he did, Billy was on schedule and the bus moved forward, heading toward 34th street.

On good days, Billy would take the time to call out the important landmarks of each stop. It was PR they told him at his last training seminar, helpful for the tourists, too. He was tempted to say something at his next stop, but the memory of the Christmas argument took over.

 

“Soup isn’t dinner, Heather. I work hard all day. I need a real meal when I come home.” Billy looked up as his wife approached with a tray holding two bowls of soup and a box of Ritz Crackers.

“There’s still some moo-shoo-pork left over,” she said.

She had lost the edge in her voice, maybe she was trying to make-up, Billy thought. But he knew better, it was more than likely she was about to ask for something he couldn’t give her.

“I’ll heat it up for you, honey.”

Billy changed the channel from the commercial to the news. Heather walked back into the kitchen and he could hear her putting the Chinese food in the microwave.

“I met someone interesting today.” She kept her eyes on the television when she returned and handed him the plate.

Billy sniffed the Chinese leftovers that were sitting in a pool of grease.

“You sure this stuff is OK to eat, it smells a little funny? Isn’t it from last Sunday?”

Heather ignored him and started eating. “Tastes OK to me. You’re so particular. Maybe you should be the one who cooks?”

“Well, I wouldn’t eat that if I …”

Heather interrupted him. “I went to the library to return my book. The woman behind the desk told me about a book club that meets on Wednesday afternoons. I thought I should try it out.”

Billy took a deep breath. “You know, if you were working, you could use all of your salary on new clothes. It wouldn’t bother me. I want you to be happy.”

“We’ve been through this a thousand times.” Heather raised her fork and began to jab the air with it. “I can’t possible work, not after what happened to me at my last job. I told you that before we got married. It was all right with you then that I didn’t work. Look how much you’ve changed in six months. You use to be so sweet and understanding.” She shoved more leftovers into her mouth.

“I’m the one who’s changed?” Billy turned and watched her put the last bit of Chinese food on a Ritz Cracker.

“Don’t raise your voice at me.” Heather started coughing. She pushed the tray away and started to twist her charm bracelets back and forth on her wrist.

“That act is not going to work anymore, you can’t have it both ways,” Billy said.

“What do you mean?” she sniffed.

“You can’t be helpless and try and push me around at the same time. That’s what I mean.”

“I should have never married you, you’re too old and set in your ways.” She left the sofa and went into the bedroom slamming the door behind her.

 

“34th Street, Empire State Building to the east and Morgan Library just one block north,” Billy sung out. He looked at his monitor, he was running right on schedule. Billy looked out the bus window and nodded to the stream of people crossing in front of him. Letting Heather eat the leftovers wasn’t a mistake.

 

 

 

 

Warning

Jen stubbed her cigarette out on the window ledge. The room behind her was quiet, her stepsisters still sleeping, lay twisted in the cotton sheet that barely covered them: Lucy faced north and Mary south, positions they had negotiated when they were six.

Hart Street was dark; there was only a hint of the morning sky. Jen looked over at her pack of Marlboro Lights. People should have warning labels: Dangerous to your health, Not fit for family gatherings, Unable to keep promises. She held the pack and counted the number of cigarettes left. If she didn’t have one now, the five would get her through the afternoon. The argument last night with her mother had kept her awake; if only her mother knew what she had to do today.

“You need to get away from him, you’re better than he is, don’t you know that?”

Jen’s mother, Maureen, was washing dishes while Jen slowly dried them. Mary and Lucy did their homework at the small table. The kitchen became too crowded when Jen’s brother walked in and opened the refrigerator door.

“You just ate, Billy,” Maureen said. She turned away from her daughter who was drying a glass and faced her son. “Look at you, you’ve grown two inches in the last month. I can’t keep enough food on the table.”

“Sorry, Mom, just wanted something sweet. Do we have any ice cream? It’s so hot tonight.”

“Not in the budget this week.” She looked over at Jen and shook her head.

“Don’t worry Mom, I won’t get fired. I told them I was sick, had the flu, and needed to be out for two days so I wouldn’t infect anyone.” She touched the bruise around her eye.

“Well, I hope they believed you, because you know….”

“I know, Mom. I know you need to cover the bills.”

When Jen’s stepfather walked into the kitchen, she turned so he wouldn’t see her face. If he had seen the black eye, he would have gone looking for Lewis, and he would have taken Billy with him. That’s what Maureen had told her.

“Having a family meeting without me?” He leaned over the table and looked at what the twins were working on. “You girls must be really smart to be able to answer all those questions with this noise.” He smiled at his wife. “I guess you two have learned to block it out?”

“I don’t think so, they keep one ear on our conversation,” Maureen said.

Lucy looked up at her father. “They call it multi-tasking, Daddy.”

“See, honey, I never heard of that, and yet, Lucy and Mary are doing it in front of me,” he laughed. “I’m going back to the game, come on, Billy. Let’s leave the ladies alone in the kitchen.” He motioned to the boy, who moved around the two girls at the table.

Maureen looked at the closed kitchen door. “He had a good day today, Jen. I’m glad he didn’t see your eye.”

Continue reading “Warning”

Moving Day

Lizzie Bower waited on the second floor landing while the next load of furniture was hauled up the stairs. Decisions needed to be made: the contents of her mother’s apartment had arrived on Ellis Street.

“Oh, oh…so who is sending you these things? They are all so—so beautiful!” her landlady shouted up the staircase.

Lizzie didn’t need to see her face, she could imagine Mrs. Thorn’s mouth open as each item marched up the stairs: a five foot gilded lamp from a South Hampton estate sale, a small Chinoiserie desk, an iron Napoleon camp chair with brass arm rests and a leather seat. It was a seemingly endless parade of exotic furniture and boxes whose contents could only be imagined.

“Belated wedding gifts from my Mom,” Lizzie shouted back.

Turning toward the growing piles, Lizzie showed the movers where to place the excess of her mother’s life. The men positioned the alien furniture next to the Goodwill discards that decorated the apartment; they demolished any semblance of balance the room once held.

“Jeeze, whoever packed this … supposed to use the fourteen by fourteens for books, Miss, the little ones, yah know, the ones that say: BOOKS.” The mover gave Lizzie a look as he heaved himself through the door.

“Sorry, my mother…”

Lizzie raised her eyes toward the ceiling; she couldn’t expect him to be interested in the details of her mother’s move to London. It was difficult enough for her to explain her own life, but now she had to come up with a rationale for these castoff pieces of furniture. Slicing open one of the boxes with a knife, she found dirty ashtrays and cigarette butts.

Continue reading “Moving Day”

Not Everyone Is Born With Turquoise Eyes

At three months of age, Maria Lopez Smith’s eyes turned blue, not just any ordinary blue, but turquoise, the color of the sea near Porto San Sebastian, where Sophia Henrietta Vargas, Maria’s maternal grandmother, lived; she too had turquoise eyes.

It was a sign; Maria’s brown-eyed mother told the rest of the family, a sign that her child, the fifth daughter of a fifth daughter, would be a woman of great importance.

Maria’s father worked at the grand resort, Las Almandas. Far enough from Porto San Sebastian so that he only came home during the month of August. When Maria was born her mother informed her husband that she would return to Las Almandas with him. Maria’s four sisters moved in with various relatives, who raised them as their own along with their other children. Maria was left with her grandmother, Sophia, in the small house that overlooked the sea.

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“Being a woman of great importance, Maria,” her grandmother always began, “requires being in the right place at the right time.” She smiled and continued to braid her granddaughter’s hair as she repeated the adventures that led her to Porto San Sebastian.

“My first marriage was an arranged one, or that is what my husband believed. He was from Madrid and I was from Las Rozas. He had seen me…” Her grandmother went on to describe how, at the age of fifteen, she had used her turquoise eyes for the first time. “I have not always lived in this quiet village,” she said, ending the story the way she ended all of her stories. “And you will not have to either,” she added.

Maria remembered that her grandmother started to plan for her future when she was only six years old.

“When you are fourteen, you will leave here. You will go and live with your oldest sister in the place called Brooklyn. There you will learn the ways of the people and make yourself important.” Continue reading “Not Everyone Is Born With Turquoise Eyes”