Aphelion Issue 293, Volume 28
September 2023
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Memories Keep Us Alive

by WB Wilson

“The usual, Frank,” Tony called to the man wiping glasses behind the bar. The barkeeper nodded as Tony pulled out one of the old oak chairs, took his tape recorder from his briefcase and leaned forward, careful to avoid an unwiped spill. Sid looks a bit pale, but then he never was the healthiest kid on the block. The chair creaked as Tony lowered his hefty body onto the seat. Hands grimy from a lifetime of working the docks grabbed the arms and bounced his bulk closer to the table.

“You’re OK with this, right, Sid?” he pointed to the recorder. “I want to make sure I got everything right. We’ve known each other a long time now, right?” Tony slid a cassette into on the old-fashioned recorder. “Some of my memories are a bit fuzzy and I kinda hope you can help jog my memories.” He sat back when the server set down his pitcher of Bud Light and a plate of fried mozzarella sticks in front of him.

Tony was a creature of habit, and the “usual” was one of the standards on the menu. He’d been coming to this bar with his buddy for, oh, he guessed, decades now. The tables and chairs were the same ones his dad sat at. Same scratches from rough work shoe heels hooking on the rungs. Same paint chips from chairs knocked over in scuffles. Bet if I reached under the chair I might find some of my old chewing gum. Dad sure took his time. Change and Tony didn’t go so well, so that suited him fine. Once, he had mixed things up and gotten Buffalo wings instead. It didn’t end well.

“What I need from you, Sid, is stories: stories about growing up in this neighborhood.” He pressed the ‘Record’ button and smiled at the form in the chair opposite him. “You and me, go back a long way, don’t we? Do ya remember the time the Mets won the World Series?” Tony chuckled and raised his glass of Bud Lite. “Yeah, that was a good day, a good day. We ran the streets of Brooklyn cheering. Hadda look out for the Yankee fans, though. Remember? A’ course ya remember!” He air punched in the direction of his friend.

Tony pulled on his beer and smacked his lips.

“Nuttin like a cold beer on a hot day, right?”

Tony picked up one of the mozzarella sticks and offered to his friend. “No?” He shrugged. “Your loss.” and took a bite. “Remember when we used to take the cheese off of the pizza and whip it around?” He peeled off a piece of cheese and smiled a smile that would have made his mother frown. “Ah well, too old for that stuff now, I guess. Good times. Messy but fun.”

Shadows lengthened as streetlights flickered on. Out on the street, traffic picked up into a steady stream of tires and horns as pedestrians tried their luck against rush hour traffic. Frank lowered the blinds and flipped on the neon light. Tony’s voice faded. It was later than he thought. He finished his beer and sticks and clicked the recorder off.

“Thanks for comin’, Sid. Can I meet you here again tomorrow afternoon?” He fished out his wallet from an inner coat pocket. “Great. Same time, OK?” Tony left a 20-dollar bill on the table and headed for the door. Frank came over and removed the pitcher and plate.

Next day, Tony was up early, ordered his “usual,” and sat down at the empty table to wait for Sid. The bell rang on the door as several customers came in and found a spot. Tony studied them. They didn’t look familiar. A frown creased his already lined forehead at the carefully coifed hair and high end clothes and shoes. Uptown folks come to slum it with the Brooklyn folks. Frank took their order and went around to the kitchen. Not much Tony could do but scowl at the surprised faces turned his way. He turned back, and there was Sid, sitting in the empty seat across from him.

“Hey! Didn’t see you come in. Got some more stories for me?” Tony’s scowl disappeared into a smile. “It’s important to me to get it right, ya know.” Tony put the recorder on the table and pushed Record. “Well, might as well get started. Do ya remember….”

Several orders of mozzarella sticks later, Tony decided he had enough to write their story. He let go a hearty belch and glanced at the table where the uptown folks sat. They were gone, replaced by a group of locals. “That felt good.” He patted his stomach and reached for a napkin that had fallen to the floor. “Ha ha, sorry ‘bout that, but you always…” He looked around at the busy room. Sid wasn’t in sight. Tony shrugged. Sid always had been the one who slipped away whenever trouble arose. Damn! Wish he’d stayed. Yeah, I asked him, but couldn’t Sid pitch in a few bucks? Nothing for it, though. He left another twenty on the table and left, carrying his recorder with him. Frank came over, removed the plate and beer mug and carefully replaced the chair back under the table.

The day dawned. Instead of raining like it should have, it was remarkably sunny. Tony’s sister Rosa called to him from the kitchen.

“Hey, Tony! You better get going. They aren’t gonna to wait for you for too long!”

“All right, all right. Don’t get your panties in a wad. I’m coming.” One last spiff in the mirror with a tug to make the tie straight before he grabbed the paper on the dresser. He clomped down the stairs and into the kitchen. “I’m here.”

“Are you gonna to be OK, Tony?” his sister asked. “You don’t have to do this, you know. Somebody else can.” Her voice was heavy with worry for her brother. He’d been through a lot the last week or so.

“Nah! I’m fine, Rosa.” He kissed her forehead and waved the paper. “Got everything I need right here.”

Somber faces turned to the large doors of the church when Tony and Rosa went in. Men and women sat quietly in the pews, their suits and dresses of dismal colors contrasting with the brilliant blazes of red, green, blue, and purple streaming in through the patterned windows. He recognized some of them as buddies from long ago. Imagine that! They came all the way home for this. For me. A dark cassocked priest rose from the first pew, and the rustling among the congregation stilled.

The priest surveyed the sanctuary, frowning as his eyes glimpsed a dim form buried far in the back. Father Karol turned back to the congregation. “We gather here for a solemn occasion. Before we begin, I have had a request from a friend to say a few words.” He stepped aside and motioned Tony to the front.

Tony set his paper on the podium next to the casket and turned to look at the people seated in front of him. He hunted the pews until he found the pale face he was looking for, sitting apart from the others in the shadows. Glad that things had not changed all that much, he smiled. Nodding to the figure in gray only a little lighter than the shadows surrounding it, Tony gently stroked the coffin next to him and began. “My friend Sid and I have a lot of stories…”


2020 WB Wilson

Bio: Retired Librarian living on the Big Island of Hawaii. I split my time between writing and exploring the beauty of the island. Currently working on a sequel to one of my novels.

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