Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Anne Archer
Joe slouches forward; one hand jammed into his front jean pocket, the other waiting to remove the cigarette hanging from his mouth. He leans against the door of his pizza shop, scratchy black whiskers poking out of his strong chin and narrow jaw.
His brown unzipped over-sized parka slides off his shoulders. The Yankee ball cap he bought ten years ago last summer covers his black coarse hair.
He's cold. Gray skies, bitter wind, damp air encase his existence. Numb toes, fingers, the sensation sharpest in his gut, no longer bring him discomfort.
Dark eyes hidden by heavy eyelids embrace the world around him: boarded up brownstones, littered sidewalks, luxury cars parked within inches of the curb. Faces of strangers pass, some nodding, most staring straight ahead deep into their own thoughts.
A siren, another, police car, ambulance speed up Madison Ave. Joe's eyes follow the commotion but his head doesn't turn, his heart doesn't pound, his mind remains undisturbed by the unraveling tragedy.
Puffs of smoke mix with moist air. Joe coughs, spits out yellow phlegm onto the gum-splattered sidewalk.
One last drag, exhale, flick the butt over the red BMW. It lands in the street with enough tobacco to attract the homeless. Some get hit searching the streets for Joe's leftovers; too drunk, disillusioned, crazy to understand a moving car can kill.
Three unbaked pizzas sit on top of stainless steel trays, ready to be thrown into the oven, waiting to be eaten by River Rat fans. Joe remembers when he went to all the hockey games, that was before he took over the shop for his dad.
Louie's body sinks into the back booth, wrinkled hand holding up his rounded head, black eyes squinting toward the door. It's the same booth Joe sat in as a four-year-old, coloring, playing matchbox, sleeping. Until he was ten he sat in the booth doing his homework, learning math, mastering English. It was that summer he learned how to make pizza dough, sauce, use the 500 degree oven.
A framed photograph of Louie hangs by the register, a souvenir from opening day; Louie standing outside the pizza shop, cigarette in hand, smile on his face. It was spring, a late spring, no buds on the trees, no sun visible in the gray sky. The neighborhood was different then, mostly Italian immigrants, fewer cars, fewer homeless.
"You were just a baby," Joe hears Louie say, "propped you up in the back booth. You sat there all day, toothless smile, waving to customers."
Now Louie's propped up in the booth only he's not smiling. He's grumbling, cursing in Italian at Joe because the sauce is too thin, the crust too soggy, the pizza shop isn't his anymore.
Louie sleeps with his forehead pressed against the Formica table.
Joe throws a mound of dough high above his head, a bell clings over the front door, 'two cheese' says the man wearing a River Rat jersey. Some things never change, Joe thinks.
Anne Archer lives and studies French in Vancouver, BC. By day she is an accountant, by night a successful writer who lives in Paris. The idea for this story came to her when she was back in New York visiting family. She says, "I had forgotten the differences between east coast and west coast residents. I also remembered why I love the east."
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