By Paul Garrett
“Eat!” my brother said. “Eat!”
The elaborate sleeves on his arms made my prison tats look puny.
He had his paper hat cocked sideways and the stub of a cigar poked from the edge of his mouth.
I watched a fly land on the hamburger in front of me and shooed it away with a wave of my hand.
“You ain’t gainin’ no weight just sittin’ there,” he said.
The hamburger glistened with a patina of grease, some of which had already moistened the bottom half of the bun. The top half lay inverted; its slathered, mayo coated underbelly was exposed like that of a dead fish.
There was some wilted lettuce and a slimy looking tomato lying on the plate beside the burger. A cardboard tray barely held its cargo of fries sitting next to the plate. The greasy spots on the container gave away it’s oleaginous origins. No wonder the place was empty.
The tea was so weak I could see my hand through the glass. The whole presentation seemed to have a palliative effect on the burning pain in my stomach. Maybe I wasn’t hungry after all.
“You got to pay whether you eat or not, bro. Mama always said you were a picky eater.”
“Mama always said you couldn’t cook for shit. How you keep this place open is a mystery to me.”
I was trying to work up the nerve to dive in when I was jolted by a loud pop as my brother slapped an ant—or was it a roach?—with his fly swatter.
“You gonna eat or not, pencil neck?”
“You know I hate when you call me that.” I touched the shiv in my boot.
“What you gonna do about it, pencil neck?”
I pulled the shiv, jumped the counter, and pressed the rough blade against his throat.
He leaned back against the flat top. “You gonna break mama’s heart again?”
“Shut up about mama,” I said, pressing the knife against his flesh. I saw his Adam’s apple jump, the twitch of his jugular pulsing beneath the skin. The seconds snailed by. The look in his eyes slowly turned from disdain to fear, then to a look I’d never seen from him before: something akin to respect.
Finally, he said, “Okay, Roger, whatever you say. I guess the joint did you some good. You ain’t the wimp daddy used to say you was no more. How ‘bout we shitcan the burger and I make you a nice chop, you know like mama used to make?”
We shared smokes and memories until closing time when I helped him clean up.
He always called me Roger after that.
Mama woulda’ been proud.