An Old Short Story 2/
The boy hung on his stool with the box fixed to his tiny chest. The task made him feel small but, feeling small, the boy knew he could be big. He licked his throat, cleared his lips. The milk hadn’t come yet. Over his shoulder, the boy glanced at the old ones drinking their spiraling morning coffees and luke-warm pints. The heads of the beer bubbled gold and lazy around the glasses worn rims. The old ones cigarettes were skinny and shook in their wrinkled hands. Most of their fingernails were yellow and chipped. Everyone smelled of old tobacco and Worcester and socks. There were no women, only men, leaving only the cold dull edge of the truth of life without hope or beauty.
As the boy’s eyes drifted from the hunched’ old man too crooked’ lipped geezer, he imagined himself at that age. The boy wondered what he would look like, where he would be, who he would be. The thought brought such weight and certainty. There were no chances. Suddenly time became terrifyingly vast and unknowable to the boy. All the variables of a life yet lived washed over him. If I don’t do that, the boy thought, and I do that instead, what would happen? Who would I be? And when?
The boy hugged the box, his little arms shaking. There was only the package. It told him he was there. It told the boy he was him. As he rested his face on the slightly wet but drying tape, a few old ones snickered. They felt his fear. They had all been there before. Though he didn’t know what was inside, strangely he found comfort from it. Mysteries can do that sometimes.
They were the early morning workers, the railroad trekkers, the off-hour barmaids resting up for the noon shift there, and everywhere. A couple, the ones covered in biscuit crumbs and hair not their own, were dog walkers, and then there were the freeloaders who had found one too many dimes in their couch in the morning of sister in laws couches. Their only friends were the stars through the window gate and the breeze of the cracking night. The tables were speckled with ash and dashes of sprinkled peanut salt and clammy egg skin passed around earlier from the hot steam of the trucks leaving and going and leaving until tomorrow to do it all over again.