Fifth and Apple Fritter – Tom Gaffney
“How long ago do you think it happened?”
Despite my revulsion, I could not turn away. “Not long, I imagine. Remember how they used to drive us crazy at the store – if we didn’t get the garbage all locked away they would scatter it all over the loading dock?”
Sometimes you feel like it is all coming apart, and you are watching it, and you cannot stop. We hear on the proposal today, and if this project doesn’t go through my surest bet will be looking for a new job. It is all in play now. I can only watch and wait. Now, I like to think I’m not superstitious, but at times like these I am looking for omens everywhere. Not admitting it to myself, but I am.
Which hand is itchy? Left, oh no. What color was that cat?
You see, it isn’t even these contrived neurotic signs of madness that I am looking for. Just stupid stuff, like the color of the cat that crossed in front of me. Or how many times I had to wait for lights on the way downtown. Just sillier and sillier. I look at my watch; I can feel my hand shaking. Check the phone again and nothing new. And now this.
“They say crows are smart. And they are, I’m telling you. You know, they call a group of three or more of them a murder. Did you know that?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that before. They are smart, and unlovable.”
“Did I tell you about the one that gave me the evil eye? That totally spooked me.”
“Rich, this is already gruesome enough. Come on.” Was he reading my mind? Did he know how close I was to it all just hitting the fan – with me close, so close, to the blast radius? That was his charm, he didn’t have to know, he just understood.
“There he was. Looking me right in the eye. Lifeless looking eyes. I could call them crazed, based on his behavior. Or hers. I don’t know. How do you tell one from another? Possessed he was. Banging away on the window, yelling at me as I watched him. He did not look good either. You always think of them as being uniformly black, but there was some gray in there. Some stuff was stuck to him. And there he is, just banging on my window. Old crazy fucking crow. But after that, I noticed things were different, you know. It’s hard for me to put a finger on it. But different they were.”
Rich took a drag on his cigarette.
“I’m not really superstitious or nothing, but shit started to get weird. Not long after that Sherri dumped me. I knew that was coming, you don’t have to tell me. I mean, it didn’t happen until after that fucking crow tried to break my window, puts me all on edge. Then bam, the shoe drops, and she it’s over.”
“For fuck’s sake Rich, can you shut up about the crow? Don’t you have anything else going on?”
“What’s got you so grumpy? Look, loan me some cash so I can get another pack of cigarettes after I get home. C’mon man, whaddaya say?”
“Up yours, man. It’s the first week of the month. Didn’t you just get your check?”
“It don’t come in until the tenth. What do you know? Come on – how about some apple fritters? I’ll go get them.”
I smiled. “Alright, alright. Apple fritters all around.”
Off he went. Fifth Avenue was still waking up. The night’s cloudy remnants ensured we had the sidewalk seating to ourselves. Rich and I have been friends a long time. We’d met working at the grocery store twenty years ago. I was trying to finish my degree, and he was fresh out of jail and working on staying clean. He had stayed clean, if you could call him clean with the way he smoked. You would have thought the price of cigarettes might make chain smoking obsolete. And he would say that it had. But he smokes way more than anyone I know. And we still meet every Monday for coffee and some breakfast. And we haggle over how he’s going to get enough cash out of me for a pack of smokes.
I watched him returning with the fritters. Our fritters.
“They are still hot.”
I sniffed mine before I bit into it, relieved that the odor from his cigarettes had not attached itself to my breakfast. Checked the time on the phone. You are not going to hear anything before noon, I bet. And it occurred to me.
“Wasn’t Sherri a total bitch? On top of many things, didn’t she once blow your disability on pull tabs and pitchers at Uncle Mo’s?”
“You are right. She did. I reckon if I did not go back to drinking after that I never would.”
“And didn’t she insist that you give up smoking?”
“True. That was the longest week of my life. She said it was for my health. She wanted my coin! Blast her.”
“Right, and a year later you moved in with Rita. So how was the crow a harbinger of doom?”
“Oh c’mon man, she broke my heart. We had that friction, tension, a spark. Plus, I can’t look at it that way. I ain’t like you. Its day to day, has to be, to keep my head straight. Sure, things could look up next week. But what about now? Like, maybe Sherri and me could have worked things out. But we didn’t. That crow coming to visit was a message from all that stuff that’s going on around us that I can’t decipher. All that shit swirling around I just can’t see. One way or another – if I can’t figure it out it may as well be magic.”
“Well, if that’s the case. You can’t really blame the crow. It was just some loony old crow. Don’t you think?”
“It’s not for me to ask, man. All I know is that after its visit Sherri dumped me. Kicked me out. I had to move. It just sucked. The grocery changed my shifts. And right after that the new cigarette tax came in.”
“Was there some omen before you met Rita?”
“Rita was the omen, you dummy. She still is.”
We laughed. And I sighed. Whatever way it comes out, I’d rather sit here and drink coffee all day. With Rich, two fools sitting here outside Top Pot. I can tell myself I didn’t worry then, back when we worked together, but I did. And if this project goes through I will not be sharing a toast with Rich tonight. And I’ll still be worried.
Triumph or tragedy, what’s the better time? Fritters with Rich or champagne? Win or lose he’ll still be waiting for me next Monday. Unless some bad omens get in the way
Our eyes returned to the crow dodging the rising traffic on fifth. It was dining on some roadkill, presumably squirrel. Gruesome. Screaming, chasing its smaller pals away.
“What part do you think he’s eating now?” Rich mused.
I ignored that, but indulging my anxiety, I asked, “So, is this a good sign for my day, or a bad one?”
“What am I, a crow reader – just ‘cause I stared that one in the eye? Don’t make any assumptions. You’ll have to wait and see slim, wait and see. You might know tomorrow, you might not know for years. It might not be a sign at all. Do you want your change?”
“No man, get some smokes.”
“Alright then – thank you sir, you are a gentleman. I gotta catch a bus. I’ll see you next week.”
He left me alone on the sidewalk. I craved a cigarette, if only to keep my hands busy. And I could not tear my eyes away from the crow and its feast.