Smitty kissed Marek’s cheek before taking her arms from around his neck and slipping out of the bar like a salmon, into the light filled street.
“Dude, go after her,” says the barman, but Marek can’t move at first. He doesn’t know what he wants to do. By the time he reaches the street all traces of Smitty are gone except for the pounding of his heart against his ribcage. He’s glad the barman saw her too, otherwise he’d be sure he was going crazy.
He walks back into the bar opening his wallet, but the barman tells him it’s on the house today. In the mirror behind the bar, Marek catches another glimpse of himself, still old, now sweating profusely and a bit gray around the gills. He needs to be somewhere else, anywhere else.
“Thanks,” manages to articulate past his lips.
Marek feels a headache coming on and the afternoon sun is punishing his eyeballs. He makes it down the street to his car, wrestles over the seat to the glove box to look for his shades but they aren’t there. There’s nothing for it but to squint and drive home on an eastbound route.
By the time he pulls into his driveway, Marek’s head feels ready to explode. He stumbles in the front door, tripping over the corner of one stack of newspapers and falling into another. He really should do something about straightening up the house one of these days, not today though. He wades through a pile of plastic bags that need to be taken to the recycling center, finds the bannister and locates the stairs. By some miracle he reaches the top without falling over any of the shoes stacked on each tread and hangs a left into the bathroom.
The bathroom is the only room in Marek’s house that is clean and tidy. He is fanatical about bathroom germs and cleans it thoroughly every day. He has considered modifying an acetylene torch to properly sanitize the toilet and bathtub but hasn’t gotten around to it yet. In the medicine cabinet he finds his migraine pills. He washes his hands, pops a pill in his mouth, cups a clean hand under the faucet to drink from and lays down on the floor. The cool tiles feel good on his forehead and slowly he descends into a fog of sleep.
Hours later the ringtone of his cel-phone wakes Marek. Joey Ramone wants to be sedated, bfd. It’s a client, locked out of her house for the third time. You’d think these people would learn to hide spare keys somewhere. Marek has a Phd. in astro-physics but works as a locksmith. At one point in his research, dark matter began to frighten Marek and he found he could not longer deal with the possibilities, so he became a locksmith. Due to the fact that most people are dippy verging on stupid, it was a lucrative career change for him.
Marek promises to be there in a half hour. The address is just 3 minutes away but he needs to eat something first. Navigating the stairs once more he descends this time and hangs a right into the kitchen. He takes a look at the month’s worth of dishes piled in the sink (he’d switched to paper plates and plastic cups and cutlery three and a half weeks ago) and feels queasy. He decides to go to Irv’s deli for a reuben and a rootbeer on the way to the job.
The client’s house is a typical Levittowner. He could have been in there with a screwdriver and no structural damage to the kitchen window in no time if it were his place. Smitty locked the keys in his car once and bashed the window with a hammer. That was a big difference between them, one of many. “Hello again, Mrs. Morello!” He picks the lock for the client, who is really a nice old lady. She offers him coffee afterward.
“Young man,” she says, while she pours the coffee and Marek is taken aback because its been a very long time since anyone’s called him a young man, “you are a terrific locksmith, but you look like a mess. You need to straighten yourself out. Have you been drinking?”
“No ma’am,” this woman is of an age where ma’am is appropriate, “I had a migraine this afternoon, your call woke me up.”
“Oh, well, sorry then. But you look uncared for. On the outs with your missus?”
“No ma’am, eternal bachelor, I’m afraid.”
“You need looking after. If not by somebody else than by yourself.”
“Don’t I know it.”
“Come to dinner tomorrow. I’m making gravy.”
Marek knows she means old-school spaghetti sauce because that’s what Smitty used to call it, gravy. No way he’s turning down this offer.
“Yes, ma’ am. Shall I bring dessert?”
She gives him the kind of hairy eyeball only Italian women of a certain age and size can give and he knows not to bring dessert. She tells him to be there at 6 and not to be late.
Marek goes home, wades through the junk on the secondfloor landing and throws open his bedroom window. He shoves the heap of clothes on his bed onto the floor, strips the bed and retreats to the bathroom with a book he found under his pillow. “The Magus”. Where did that come from? Strange book.
After he’s read a chapter of “The Magus”, which is as weird as he thought it would be, but entertaining, Marek decides his bedroom has been aired enough and hunts around for some sheets. He can’t find any clean ones in the mess, so he puts a couple of towels on the mattress, covers himself with his bathrobe and falls asleep reading chapter two.
The next morning he has a few jobs to do: another dip locked out of the house, antique trunk, gun rack, strongbox, kid stuck in the bathroom (another Levittown favorite). In between jobs he takes a few stacks of newspapers and the plastic to the recycling center. The shoes on the stairs are unspeakable so he bags them for trash. He can walk a clear path from his front door to his bathroom for the first time in years.
In the afternoon he buys rubber gloves at the Wal-Mart. A locksmith’s hands are his fortune, so he wears Marigolds while he tackles the dishes. He found a radio behind one of the stacks of newspaper and plugged it in to listen to while he works. The kitchen cupboards are filthy too so he gives them a good scrub before putting away his dishes.
At 5:30 pm. Marek’s kitchen is habitable. He has time to shower and make his appearance less objectionable to Mrs. Morello. He decides to bring her some flowers. It feels like a date. This makes him smile.
The aroma of old-school gravy meets him on the street in front of the old woman’s house.