Mortality’s Strong-Arm Man



  Jerome Turken

As he climbed the stairs there was the familiar aroma of his mother’s cooking, a roast of some sort.  She was still busy in the kitchen.  His father, in his chair in the living room, seemed fast asleep.

“Hi, beautiful,” he said.

“Save your beautifuls for your girlfriends,” his mother said.  She had just picked a large pot off the stove and, with a characteristic expression of irritation laced with a little smile of pleasure, put it down again and waited for him to approach, extending a cheek for him to kiss.  She fingered the bottle Lou was holding.  “What’s this, wine?”


“Don’t give daddy any.  He don’t need wine.”

“A little wine isn’t going to kill him.  Maybe it’ll do him some good, perk him up a little.  What are you cooking?”

“You’ll see when it’s on the table,” his mother said.

“All right, I’ll see when it’s on the table,” Lou said.  He went to the sink and took a look at the water dribbling from the faucet.  He tightened the hot water knob.  “The leak got worse,” he said.  “I brought some tools.  I’ll fix it.”

“Not now,” his mother said.  “Now I’m too busy.”  She poured the contents of the pot into a colander in the sink.

From his jacket pocket he took the tools and washers he had taken from the stock room and put them on a shelf in the china closet.  “How did it go with Dr. Ballin today?”

“This Dr. Ballin must be a very important doctor,” his mother said.  “He always has a waiting room full of people.  We had to wait two hours this time. He’s so busy rushing people from room to room I’m not so sure he knows what he’s doing half the time.  And when you go in he doesn’t even talk to you.  You call that a doctor?  A doctor talks to you, a doctor explains things.  We were there so long it was already rush hour coming home.  We had to stand all the way packed like sardines.  The subway is getting worse and worse.”

“I don’t know why daddy doesn’t let me drive him there.  It’s nothing for me to take off a few hours.”

“You don’t know your father yet?  He’s ashamed to be sick.”

“Was he tired when he got home?”

“Sure he was tired,” his mother said.  “So what does he do?  He goes for a walk.”

“I don’t believe him!” Lou said.  “He’s tired and he takes walks.  He overdoes it.  What’s the matter with him?  In this hot weather yet.”

“You know how many times I told him?  But you know your father.  He has a head like a rock.”

“He’s feeling okay now, isn’t he?” Lou said.  “I mean besides being tired.”

“Something new,” his mother said.  “He keeps getting a cramp in the toes.  Dr. Spector told him to soak it in hot water with Epsom salt a few times a day.  You think he listens?”

“Are you keeping an eye on him with his pills?  Sometimes he forgets.”

“I’m keeping an eye,” his mother said. “What’s the new prescription for?”

“Just something Dr. Spector gave him to calm his nerves,” Lou said.  “Dave is coming, isn’t he mom?”

“No,” his mother said.  “He called this morning and said he couldn’t make it.”


“He said he’s he has to meet another deadline,” his mother said.  “Him and his deadlines.  When’d the last time he came, five, six weeks ago?”

“His work is important to him, ma,” Lou said.

“So is his family,” his mother said.  “His father is sick.  He ought to find time to come and visit more often.”

Lou lifted the front page of a calendar next to the refrigerator.

“Louie, you’re in my way,” his mother said.  “Go in and talk to your father.  He slept enough.  First do me a favor and open up the table.  Wait a minute, I’ll give you a tablecloth.”  She pulled one out of the kitchen cabinet gave it to him.

Lou took a pen from his shirt pocket and circled a date on the calendar.

“What’s that for?” his mother said.

“Daddy and I are going to a night game on that day,” he said.

“That’ll be good for him.”

His father’s reading glasses were resting precariously awry on the tip of his nose.  Rumpled in his lap was an open newspaper, his hands still limply grasping it.  Those hands.  How many times he had ducked away from the swipe of those hands.  How frail they look now.  Bald, benign old man asleep, his reading glasses about to fall off his nose.  In the old days, steer clear, active volcano.  Moody.  Yeah, trips to Coney Island in the old Buick, threw us around in the water for a minute or two, took us to a few ball games, but be on the lookout for signs of eruption.   My hand  yanked out of my pocket.  You don’t  listen?  What are you, stupid?  Pay attention now.  How many times do you want me to tell you? Don’t put your hands in your pockets in case you slip on the ice.  You want to break your head if you fall?  Aah, dad, come on, we were just kids.  Couldn’t you be a little more gentle?  Loosen up a little, kid around, rub our heads and sit us down and tell us about growing up on the Lower East Side, or something?  Did you ever run into George Gershwin?  Or Al Jolsen?  Or Lucky Luciano?  Did you ever dive off the docks and go swimming in the East River? How about the hot nights, did you ever sleep out on the fire escape?  Aah, come on dad, you could have had us eating out of the palm of your hand.

He took his father’s glasses off and placed them on the end table beside his chair, then went to his old bedroom and lit the small lamp mounted on the headboard of his old bed and pulled the three table leaves from underneath.  Got rid of Dave’s bed but kept mine in case she gets a little visitor for overnight.  In the cramped space where his desk and bookcases used to be were the box of toys and some stuffed animals and a pile of children’s’ books his mother accumulated for Cheryl when Dave and Ronda come.  Us?  Did we ever get a single toy?  Or book even?  That Louisville Slugger daddy once brought home for Dave.  Said he bought it but Dave was sure someone left it in his cab. A thirty‑six ounce bat for an eleven year old kid.  After struggling with it for a week Dave sawed four inches off the end to lighten it.  Still hanging in a corner at the foot of the bed was his lopsided Taylor Cub, its yellow craft paper aged and sagging.  He had spent hours on those things getting drunk on glue and going blind cutting balsa wood slivers that kept splitting on him.

His father was breathing heavily.   He’s sick and he takes these long walks to keep his mind busy.  He goes around looking for interesting things.  Today I saw a kid almost get hit by a car.  It missed him by a whisker.  Yeah? That’s interesting.  A manhole cover popped out on Powell Street ten feet in the air.  It could have killed someone.  No kidding.  A truck knocked down the hydrant down in front of the A & P, the water was shooting up three stories.  Boy, dad, that’s something.  And while he’s talking about all these interesting things worry shades every expression in his face.  Hey dad, what’s going on inside that head of yours?  Come on, dad, relax.  Sit down in your chair and read the paper.  Watch TV.  Get that look off your face.  Buck up, dad, you’re only dying, that’s all.  No big deal.  Everyone dies sooner or later, right?  Look at it philosophically.  What’s death anyway?  Sleeping forever, right?  That’s all death is, sleeping forever.  The end of this shitty life.  Just think, no bullshit dreams to fuck up your head.  Peace forever.  No more worries about where your next dollar is coming from, how about that?  Or getting bounced out of a company because some crapass foreman wants to give your job to his brother‑in‑law.  No more fighting your way through traffic in a cab to scrape out a living.  Or getting aggravated on cake routes when the other guy puts his stuff in front of yours.  Or greedy bosses to screw you around in those dismal box factories.  Just think, dad, no more headaches.  No Louies to let you down by always doing the wrong thing.  No rain to get you wet or sunshine to get in your eyes.  No nothing, dad.  What a load off your shoulders, eh?  Peace at last.  How does that sound?  Peeeeace. Something to look forward to, eh?  Dad, tell the truth, you know what’s going on, don’t you? Spongy fibrosis, Mr. Morris.  Nothing to be too concerned about.  Not a word out of his mouth.  No comments, no questions.  Spongy fibrosis is okay with him.  The treatment is simple.  Radiation.  You’re  going to feel tired for a few days, Mr. Morris.  Nothing to be too concerned about.  Just don’t exert yourself too much.  Your hair will fall out, that’s normal.  It’ll grow back after a while.  If your skin feels a little raw just use some hand lotion.  Next patient.  Dad, we’re talking about radiation here.  Not unusual, Dr. Ballin says.  One of his patients is a big shot corporation lawyer, top man, brilliant.  He thinks he has a touch of emphysema.

As he opened the table and placed the leaves he looked at the dime-a-dozen painting he grew up with, hanging above the sofa: Courting in Old Spain.  With its dark purple background and bright swaths of yellow, red and blue.  A young caballero in formal dress of the period serenading his beloved with a stringless guitar, his dark-eyed beauty in her black-laced headdress and shawl, sitting on a divan in front of a blue velvet drape gazing shyly at him over her tessellated fan.  So romantic.  How many hours he’d spent dreaming and yearning over that gaudy thing.  He was going to buy a guitar when he grew up.

He spread the tablecloth on the dining table then seated himself on the sofa opposite his father.  Wake him?  On the wall above his father’s chair was the wedding picture, the other fixture he grew up with. Their night.  Both younger than he now.  His father in a tux.  Sharp, his hair pomaded, a part in the middle.  Proud, handsome fellow.  A bit of rake in his smile.  And mom with her twenties‑style bridal chaplet, a perky smile on her pretty face that still lights up the same way when she gets going on something; on her second finger, the ring, her heirloom, handed down to the eldest daughters.  Intricately engraved oblong with some small diamonds and sapphires.  Never actually saw it on her finger.  He once asked her why she never wore it.

“I’ll wear next time I go dancing at the Waldorf Astoria,” she had said.

“Let’s see how it looks on your finger, ma.”

“My house dress looks schmahty enough without it.”

“Come on!”

“Later, after supper,” his mother said.  “It’s on the top shelf in the closet under everything.”

“That’s some place to put an expensive ring,” he said.  “Under everything.  You ought to wear it once in a while.”

“You’re giving me advice, cocker?”

Depression, his father eking out maybe six dollars a week hacking and his mother stretching it, borrowing a few bucks from her sisters, noodles and cottage cheese two, three times a week.  Then one day there’d be lamb chops and french fried on the table, and he and Dave would get a half dollar Saturday for the movies and deli, and you’d know momma hocked her ring again.  How she redeemed it God only knows.

He regarded the wedding picture again.  Bliss.  How long did it last?  A month?  A year? Dave’s theory: until I was born.  Why?  They didn’t want you. You were a surprise.  Used to tease the shit out of me with that.

They didn’t want you.  Surprise!  Surprise!  Here  comes the surprise.  Ha ha.

Stop it!  Stop it!  Because I’m going to surprise you with a kick in the balls one of these days, you fuckin bastard!

Aaa, pull your socks up, you little schloomper.

The newspaper rustled.  His father’s eyes opened and for an instant he looked puzzled, as if wondering what Lou was doing there.

“Uh!  I fell asleep?” he said, blinking himself awake.  He straightened himself and placed the newspaper on the floor beside him.

“Your glasses are on the table, dad,” Lou said.  “You had a hard day today, eh?  You look tired.”

“Nah, I just fell asleep,” his father said.

“How’ve you been feeling?”

“All right, I guess.”

“What do you mean, you guess?”

“Nah, I feel all right.

“You went to see Dr. Ballin today, eh?  How did it go?”

“It went all right,” his father said.  “Dr. Ballin says I need some more of those X‑ray treatments.  He saw some more of that spongy stuff.”

“Sometimes it takes a little time to get everything, dad,” Lou said.  “You had a lousy subway trip home, eh?  Mom says you looked a little tired when you got home. My offer still stands, you know.  I can take a few hours off and drive you there.”

“Look, Louie, how many times do you want to go through this?  You don’t have to take time off from work.  It’s not necessary.  Now I mean it.”

“Then I’m arranging for a car service to pick you up.”

“Don’t go arranging for no expensive car service,” his father said.  “I’m not an invalid.  I enjoy taking a ride on the subway every once in a while.  I buy a New York Times and look important.”

“Boy, you’re a tough customer for accepting some help,” Lou said.  “Listen, mom tells me you’ve been taking a lot of long walks.  Isn’t it enough you took that subway trip?  Didn’t you hear Dr. Spector say that with your lung condition you have to avoid getting over‑tired?  You ought to cut down on your walks in this heat.”

“It’s all right, a walk isn’t going to kill me.  I take a lot of rests.”

“You’re taking your pills like clockwork, aren’t you?”

His father turned his head and rolled his eyes.

“Just asking, that’s all,” Lou said.  “Remember what Dr. Spector said.  It’s important.  Listen, what’s this business with cramps in your toes?”

His father waved the question aside.  “It’s nothing.”

“Ma tells me you’re not soaking them like Dr. Spector said you should.”

“Your mother’s a genius when it comes to making something out of nothing,” his father said.  “I don’t have to soak them.  It only lasts a few minutes.”

“Boy, when it comes to taking care of yourself you’re the champ.”

“You don’t have to worry about me taking care of myself.”

“Because he already has someone to worry,” his mother said coming into the living room with soup plates and silverware.  She put them on the table and returned to the kitchen.

“Will you listen to the things your mother comes out with?” his father said.

“Listen, I noticed you didn’t circle the date of the Giant-Philly game we’re going to,” Lou said.

“I didn’t lose my memory yet,” his father said.  “I know the date.”

“Well, I circled it.”

“Good!” his father said.  “How are you?  How’s your car running?  You were having some trouble with it.”

“The transmission was a little out of whack.  My mechanic adjusted it.”

“You know, you have to take care of a car.  If you’re good to a car, a car is good to you.”

“I know, dad.”

“You have to … the right pressure …  change the oil at least …  You  have to …”

Mrs. Walker sitting at her desk smiling at him kindly, his composition in her hands, looking at him with those pink eyes of hers through rimless glasses. Was your father really an admiral in the navy, Louis?  And me trembling with mortification.  Well, I must say, Louis, this is an excellent composition as always.  You know, imagination is a wonderful gift, but for this composition I would like you to put imagination aside and be very truthful.  So why don’t you think a little more about it and write it over again?  Will you do that for me, Louis?

“How about a little wine, dad?” Lou said.

“Sure, why not?” his father said.

Lou went to the kitchen and got the can opener with the corkscrew from the silverware drawer then looked into the china closet.

His mother turned from the gas range.  “What are you looking for?”

“Glasses for the wine.”

“You’re going to have it before supper?” his mother said.

“Yes, we’re going to have it before supper.”

“Don’t give too much to daddy and don’t drink too much yourself,” his mother said.  “You still have to drive home.”  She came over and pointed to the shelf next to the top.  “Use those.”  They were small crudely fashioned goblets made of heavy yellow glass that she had gotten years ago as handouts at the RKO Stone’s Tuesday dish night.

“Jesus, you still have these things?” Lou said.

In the living room Lou opened the wine and filled a goblet a quarter of the way and handed it to his father, then filled his own.

How was the traffic today?” his father said.

“Not bad,” Lou said.

His father emptied his goblet in one series of gulps, then held it out for more.

“Don’t drink it too fast,” Lou said.  “It can get to you.” He poured another quarter into the goblet.

“What are you, stingy?” his father said.  “Fill it.”

After a moment’s hesitation Lou filled the goblet more than half way.  “Just sip it, dad,” he said.

“You’re telling me how to drink wine?” his father said.  “I drank wine before you were born.”  But after a few sips he put the goblet down.
His mother came in carrying a tureen of soup.  Lou went to the table to place the bowls as his mother filled them.

His father made no move to rise.

“Come on, dad, soup’s on the table,” Lou said.

His father pushed himself to his feet and after taking a step toward the table noticed Lou holding his wine and went back to get his.

“Go easy with the wine, dad,” Lou said.

“I’m all right,” his father said, seating himself at the head of the table.

His mother glared at her husband’s goblet as she seated herself. “Are you going to drink all that, wine, Sam?” she said.  “A little wine and he don’t know what he’s saying anymore.”

“You and your remarks,” his father said.

“Me and my remarks,” his mother said.  “Didn’t you learn a lesson from Lena’s seder?  Eat your soup before it gets cold.”

His father glanced at Lou.  “Will you listen to your mother?”  The wine had gotten to him.  He was sitting there drooping, staring into space.  His eyes, deep in their sockets, were half closed; in the gauntness of his face his teeth appeared overlarge, and his lips, drawn against them, distended.  Was once an ox of a man, a big beefy guy, could carry a chest of drawers up three flights of stairs by himself.  With unsteady fingers he picked up his spoon and started on his soup.  How fragile he looks.  Pushed around by mortality’s strong‑arm man. He swallowed a few spoonfuls then put the spoon down.

“Aren’t you going to finish your soup, Sam?” his mother said.

“I had enough,” his father said  and looked at Lou.  “Are you still seeing this girlfriend of yours, what’s her name?”

“Beverly,” Lou said.  “On and off.”

On his mother’s face appeared a look of distaste.

“Ma thinks Beverly is phony,” Lou said.

“Ma met her?” his father said.

“Ma doesn’t have to meet people to know them,” Lou said.  “She answered the phone when Beverly called here a few times, so she knows her.”

“That’s your mother,” his father said.  “She comes to these conclusions.”

“Just like any other detective” Lou said. “Except she comes to conclusions first then makes it her business to find the right clues.”

“Wise guys,” his mother said, getting up and starting to collect the empty soup plates.  “I don’t need clues.  All I need is a few words to know when someone puts on a false front.  ‘Hello, Mrs. Morris, how are you?  You feel fine?  That’s good.’  She’s so concerned how I feel, with her sweetie pie voice.  She’s certainly not worth going into a trance over in my book, with her airs.”  She went to the kitchen

His father’s face brightened like a sudden ember in ashes.  He called to his wife: “You put on airs and I went into a trance over you.”

“That’s the wine talking,” his mother called back.

“Ma put on airs?” Lou said.  “Ma?”

“Boy, did she put on airs,” his father said.  “Don’t deny it.  When I first met her?  She just started working in Buttricks Candy and I was still with Shifman’s Machine right across the street.”

Daddy’s Sweetfingers story.  Bits and pieces over the years, know it by heart.  Look at his face, still gets a kick out of telling it.

“She used to sit there eating lunch on the bench in front like regular high society,” his father said.

“Sure,” his mother said, coming back with a platter of pot roast and bowl of vegetables..  “High society in a white smock and a shower cap.”  She served his father a modest plate of food

“And her nose always fifty feet in the air,” his father said.  “You should see her put on the looks.  She’s looking at me.  It’s the truth.”

“I think now is a good time to go soak your feet in Epsom salts,” his mother said.

“Let him speak,” Lou said.  “I want to hear what he has to say on the subject.  Go ahead, dad.”

“I gave her a nickname,” his father said, smiling. “Sweetfingers.  You know, the candy.”  All teeth, eerie eyes. Like in some movie or cartoon or something, a pathetic joker, a death’s head clowning around.

“All right, Sam, that’s enough,” his mother said.

“It used to drive her crazy,” his father said.  “She couldn’t stand when I‑‑“

“Sa‑am!” his mother said, giving her husband a mock-severe look with a smile somewhere in her eyes.  The wedding picture.

“Well, what’s the difference,” his father said, and the ember died down again.  He was sitting there immobile with drooping head and eyes half closed

“How much wine did you drink, Sam?” she said.

“Not much,” his father said.

“He’s exhausted so he drinks wine,” his mother said. She turned to Lou.  “How much wine did he drink?”

“He had less than a glass,” Lou said.  “But he gulped it down like he was drinking soda.  That’s why it hit him like that.”

“Nothing hit me,” his father said. “I’m all right.”

“Maybe if you eat you’ll feel better,” his mother said.

“I’m not hungry,” his father said.

“Are you nauseous, Sam?” his mother said.

“Will you stop now?” his father said.  “I’m not nauseous.”

“He was out walking all day,” his mother said.  “Maybe you should go lay down a while, Sam.”

His father’s eyes were half closed.  “Aa, what are you talking about?” he said.  “I’m all right.  I’m just not hungry.  Maybe I will lay down for just a little while.  If I fall asleep wake me up.”  He got up but lost his balance and plopped back down again.  Lou got up to help him.  “I don’t need help,” he said.  “I’m all right.” He got up again and floundered to his bedroom.

His mother gave Lou a her look of reproach.  “You shouldn’t have brought wine.”

A silent moment while he and his mother served themselves, passing the food around. On his mind was his father.  Already asleep probably.  Dr. Spector’s advice.  Soon sleep forever.  Have to talk to Dave.

“Daddy doesn’t look so good,” Lou said.

“You’re surprised?” his mother said.  “Come around more often, you’ll see him not look so good more often.”  She started to clear the table.

“How are you doing, ma?” Lou said.

“Me?” his mother said on her way to the kitchen with the some of the dirty dishes and silverware.  “I do what I have to do.” Her eyes welled with tears.

Lou followed her with the remainder.  “What’s the matter, ma?”

“Nothing,” his mother said, putting away the leftovers.  “Aah, it’s your father, it’s Davie, it’s … he ought to come see his father more often.”

“I’ll do the dishes, mom,” he said.

“I’ll do them.” his mother said.  Right now I have to get busy with something.  You go sit down and rest a while.  You’re tired and you still have to drive home.  Just do me a favor and close the table.”

He went through the foyer and looked in on his father, who seemed fast

asleep, a hand resting on his chest.  In the dim light reflected from the other rooms his fingers looked translucent, brittle almost.  Sitting next to him in the movies, his arm across the back of my seat, his stubby fingers playing around my neck and the side of my face.  Could smell them.  The smell of my father, his closeness.  Felt like taking hold of his hand and pressing my cheek to it.  Why didn’t I?  Sitting there watching the picture, sniffing his fingers.  He repressed an urge to go up to him now and smell his fingers once again, that special smell.

His father spoke: “Who’s there?”

“It’s me, dad.  Louie.  How do you feel now?”

“Every time I close my eyes I get a sick feeling like I’m dizzy.  Like I’m sinking, or something.  Maybe I shouldn’t have drank that much wine.  Is it warm in here?  I feel hot.”

Lou approached his father.  He was all perspired.  “Did Davie come yet?”

“He couldn’t make it, dad,” Lou said.  “He had some important work he had to get done.”

That callous quality of Dave’s.  Could be cruel too at times.  Even when they were kids.

Aah, you’re weird.  You and that little runt, Morty  Feldman.  Walking around yards at night looking in windows. Two weirdoes.

Don’t call me a weirdo.

Weirdo!  Weirdo!

And how about you?  You’re so intelligent.

Don’t compare me to you.

You’re worse.  You and that schmuck, Googie Weinstein.  Putting pee in Sandra Wolfe’s soda, that’s so intelligent.

You put three packs of Juicy Fruit in your mouth at one time.

You fall asleep in the toilet taking a shit.

A knuckle in the head.  You walk around all day with two different socks.

I’m telling momma, you sonofabitch.  And I’m telling her you held me on the trolley tracks when a trolley was coming.  And you’re a crook.  I’m telling momma you stole a book from the library and hid it.

Well I found it myself and gave it back, didn’t I?

It don’t make no difference.  Once you steal you’re a crook.

Well I’ll tell momma you and Morty wrote fuck on the sidewalk in front of the school.

That went for you.

Another knuckle in the head.

His mother came into the room with a pot of ice water and a compress and felt his father’s forehead.

“You have no fever,” she said.  She wrung out the compress and wiped her husband’s face, dipped and wrung it again and applied it to his forehead.

“Does it feel better?”

“I think so.”

“Come, let him sleep.”  She went back to the kitchen.

In the living room he took the table cloth off the dining table and removed the leaves and closed it.  His father’s chair, sitting there reading the papers smoking a cigar.  His touch, his smell.  He gathered the table leaves and carried them to the small bedroom and put them back underneath the bed, then put on the small lamp and lied down.  He thought of his conversation with Dr. Spector this afternoon.  Advised against chemotherapy.  Too metastasized.  A lot of agony for nothing, a  hundred percent sure. Live out the rest of his life as comfortably as he can.  If pain, morphine.  If depressed, a tranquilizer.  How much time?  Maybe two, three months more or less.

That fuckin mortality, he sure knows how to pick his strong-arm men.  This guy, he’s a crackajack, you can see it as soon as soon as he comes out for the first round.  The way he moves in, methodical, like a clock.  This guy knows his onions.  There’s no fooling him; he knows all the moves and all the tricks.  He doesn’t believe in haymakers.  He draws you in, and when you think you got him he gives you a double combination to the body and a left hook to the chin.  He don’t hold back.  He wears you down for fourteen rounds, and when you come out for that last round you’re ready to drop.  You don’t stand a chance against this guy.

I think we should tell him, Dave.  What if he has something to say to us?  I think we ought to give him the chance to say it.

What do you think he has to say?  Tell me.

I don’t know.  Some … I don’t know.  Something.

Love?  You can’t even say it.  Bullshit, love.  He’s going to sit around all day crying for himself, blaming momma for his miserable life.

What makes you so sure?

Aah, he can’t handle it.  He knows what he has anyway, but he doesn’t want to admit it to himself.  What do you think, he doesn’t know what radiation treatment is for?  I’m telling you, he can’t handle it.  He’ll go to pieces.  So will mom.

Hey Dave, maybe there’s more to them than you think.

He woke from a doze and went to the kitchen.  His mother was drying a pot.

“Ma, I’ll dry them,” Lou said.  “Go sit down and take it easy a while.”

“All right,” his mother said.  “But don’t try to put them away.  Just leave them on top of the sink.”

“I know where they go.”

“Really?  Then they must get up and walk to the wrong place after you’re finished.  Just leave them on top of the sink.”

“All right, I’ll leave them on top of the sink.  Then I’ll change the washer.”  The washers and his tools were not on the shelf where he had put them.  In the living room his mother was sitting there knitting something.

“Where did you put my tools, ma?”

“Look under the sink.  Maybe you should leave it for another time.  You look tired.”

“I’d better do it now.  The leak got worse.”

When he was finished he opened the hot water valve and tried the faucet.  Perfect.  “All right, ma, it’s fixed,” he said.

His mother came to the kitchen and tried the faucet.  “So why did you have to wait half a year to do it?” she said.

“I was busy with other customers,” Lou said, gathering his tools.

“When you get home go right to sleep,” his mother said.  “And be careful driving.”  She offered her cheek.

“I’ll call tomorrow to see how daddy is doing.”

“Wait,” she said.  “Take this home.”  A piece of sponge cake she had baked.

Outside the quiet of the street and the cool gusts were refreshing after the heaviness of the meal, the wine, the closeness.  After daddy.  There was a long, low rumble of thunder.  He sat on the stoop rail a few minutes, enjoying

the freshness of the pre-storm air.