Johnny America


Lunch at the K‑18 Café


é“I don’t know,” her hus­band said, “why do you ask?”

In her hands she held the lo­cal news­pa­per but she had cof­fee on her mind. She poured an­oth­er cup from the carafe. “This thing’s mes­mer­iz­ing.” she told him, “Noth­ing like some cof­fee and a good word jum­ble. Not even go­ing to guess? ‘What do la­dy bees wear to the beach?’”

“Did you say some­thing about adding a bee doc­u­men­tary to our Net­flix queue?”

Ann fold­ed the news­pa­per and set it be­side the win­dow. She ex­tend­ed a fin­ger and or­bit­ed it around the han­dle of the brown mug, re­volv­ing the han­dle like the hands of a wrist­watch as she poured in a cu­plet of cream­er that wob­bled in­to the black. She craned her neck to look over the cus­tomers of the K‑18 Café. “Who are you look­ing at, sweet­ie? You’re not here.”

Jack didn’t want to be sure he was sure but he was. “That’s my un­cle Ron over there with the cell­phone on his belt and his keys be­side his bacon.

“The one who…? I thought you thought he lived in Russell.”

“Do you think I should go up to him?” he asked her, un­sure what he want­ed to hear. “Yeah, last my mother’d heard he was in Rus­sell but she doesn’t hear much any more.”

Ann’s at­ten­tion swept over the restau­rant, swirling around the ketchup bot­tles queued on the counter, then set­tling on a poster ad­ver­tis­ing two dol­lar Buds and live karaōke on Thurs­days. “Too bad we’re on­ly stick­ing around for the week­end,” she nod­ded to­ward the poster, “we could give the lo­cals a run for their money.”

Jack’s mind had de-camped, to the ta­ble across the din­er. “What­ev­er feud he and his sib­lings are play­ing, what­ev­er grudge he’s got against my mom, what­ev­er went down with the fam­i­ly farm, that’s be­tween him and them not me and him, right?”

Ann took a slow sip of coffee.

Jack looked at the bear of a man with the broad blue shirt telling jokes with his bud­dies. He was twen­ty years old­er, gray­er, fat­ter, but un­mis­tak­ably Ron. A mus­tache like that’s as good as a fin­ger­print. “Wish me luck,” he asked.

Ann squeezed his wrist as he slid from the booth. “I do.”

At the long ta­ble of farm­ers and sons of farm­ers, Jack ex­tend­ed his hand and said, “Ron. Un­cle Ron. It’s been a long time.”

The rud­dy face of the man red­dened, his con­fu­sion plain.

“It’s Jack. Jane’s boy.”

The look of con­fu­sion on his broad face swerved through recog­ni­tion, then fleet­ing­ly, joy. “Jack?” Then all ex­pres­sive­ness paled away as if sucked by a black hole.

The bear stood, as­sess­ing the younger man, then wiped a rivulet of sweat as it formed on his neck. “What are you do­ing in town, Jack?” He low­ered him­self back down while his friends con­tin­ued talk of weath­er and Wild­cat football.

Jack nod­ded to­ward Ann. A wait­ress was lift­ing the steel carafe, check­ing its heft. Ann had opened the news­pa­per and was pen­ning the squares of the cross­word. “Thought I’d show my wife where I grew up. We’re on a road trip.”

Ron cra­dled an emp­ty mug. He said sim­ply, “That’s nice, Jack, hope you two have a swell time. A re­al swell time,” then mo­tioned to one of his co­horts for the carafe. The younger man stood for a mo­ment, not quite be­liev­ing he’d been so read­i­ly estranged.

Jack walked back to the booth where his wife was pluck­ing a crin­kle-cut fry from his plate. Ann squeezed his palm as he slid in­to the seat.

“When la­dy bees go to the beach, they wear bee-ki­nis,” she said. “Bee-ki­nis at the beach, get it?”

Jack’s eyes red­dened with tears as he laughed and stran­gled back the urge to punch through the win­dow. He dipped a fry in ketchup then took a slow chomp of the best roast beef sand­wich he’d ever tasted.

Filed under Fiction on February 25th, 2011

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