"Ye Olde Corner Shithouse," said the man in the corner, as the waitress wrote down his order and ignored him. "How can't there be 'Merican cheese. What's a grilled cheese without 'Merican cheese. That's like a burger without fries." "Ready for the big snowstorm?" His short friend with the big, fuzzy ears asked the waitress. "Swiss is good," the waitress said quietly, without looking up from her slip of green paper. "Swiss is better than American." "Yup, Bill, a cup without a saucer, Bill," said his friend with the ears. His friend, for all Bill's life, followed him around with his big ears like a little brother, and Bill, because of his personality as much as his big ears, always called him "Little Jumbo," until Little Jumbo was so used to it that he endorsed his checks at the Elks Club with that name every Friday and Saturday night. "Is that it?" Asked the waitress. "Yup, two a them boys," said Little Jumbo. "Make mine with 'Merican too." The waitress jotted something down that looked to Little Jumbo like two parallel lines and went to spear the green slip on the spike for the cook to read. No one has ever been to the Four Corners Cafe when Little Jumbo and Bill have been absent, and nobody ever saw them order anything except grilled cheese. "So I read J.P.'s burnt down," Bill said, softly, and took off his red flannel shirt. Underneath he was wearing a black tee shirt with some sort of eagle and American flag design on it. "Can't believe old J.P.'s burnt down to a crisp--drank there all my life three sheets to the wind. Read it this morning in the Globe." He looked around for a minute, and stared at townsfolk snooping for a second, and then he leaned over into Little Jumbo's big right ear. ("But I'll tell you. Jewish lightning, I'll betcha--Jewish lightning--know what I mean guy?-- He threw a match in his greasy chicken bones & napkins trash--started in the garbage I'll bet you--he threw that cigarette butt in the trash there and went on home right to bed 'till the phone rang and he probably drove back all cursing about his fuckin' luck in the bar biz.") "Hey, can you guys keep it down," someone asked. They stared like they were going to jump up and down something violent. "Yeah," sad Little Jumbo, and scratched one of his ears. They continued at a slightly louder volume. "But it was an electrical fire. The socket was on the front page of the Globe. I saw it there all melted. Looked like hell! They say snow tomorrow though." "Bill never stopped talking over his friend: "God bless old J.P. though, that lucky son-of-a-bitch somewhere loving life with a wad of cash from here to Seattle! And another thing, I hope that Jewish lightning strikes me down too and fuck the Globe." "Met J.P. once, "Bill continued. "Got a drink there once. I met J.P. and he said himself he was gonna go set a blaze and get that insurance on that fuckin' rat hole bar and go look for a better place, he said. A better place! He says. Just like that--he's gonna go find a better place. I used to hang around with him quite a bit." Bill took out a pack of matches and a small cigar that he had already smoked and wrapped gingerly in a piece of graying toilet paper. He lit it and put the toilet paper back in his pocket through thick clouds of smoke. "Fuck," he said, swinging out the match. "It's true," said Little Jumbo. "What's true?" "I don't know. Nothing." His voice trailed off like he wasn't interested and the first stench from the cigar hit the nostrils of all the townsfolk pressed into the little place. Little Jumbo lit a cigarette, and they smoked and looked at each one of the customers in the Four Corners Cafe. Some looked back, but most sober-breakfast-eating faces didn't, because this was every day for them. From the corner where they always sat, Bill and Little Jumbo always had that same air about them like they owned the place and everyone in it. "Used to be the big county fair up in Stovington and people would come all over from everywhere, all out of town and shit, remember that?" "Course I do!" Bill said. "Remember that double Ferris Wheel." "Oh, fuck. That's when it used to snow? Right Bill?" "Yup because I used to plow the road back then!' They both laughed at that. "Me and Smith used to run the plow and we used to do 9 up the mountain and drink mulled ciders. His dirty Thermos jug. Hot ciders. That thing it was so dirty I swear--" "Gonna snow tomorrow," Little Jumbo interrupted. "All day and all night, then all day again, they say." Bill frowned and looked out the window, and the waitress took his plate and left the green slip with the two parallel lines and the hole in it from the spike. Bill said, "What's this the bill before the burger?" Little Jumbo looked out the window to see what Bill was looking at, and he could feel that gray like it was heavy, like going underwater. Like it was crushing him into the ground all winter, and all summer too because he knew it would come right back. Bill looked somber and then angry. He began to yell: "I was there when J.P. set that fuckin' place on fire. I was there! He brought me in the back room after last call after everyone split and he took his book of kitchen matches and fiddled with them for a while and asked me how to set the biggest fire in the world." Out the window, it was raw looking and the kind of pre-snow weather that hurts knuckles. The waitress arrived at their table with the grilled cheese sandwiches. "We ordered burgers," Bill hollered. "Yeah, with flies," Little Jumbo said, and they both giggled like little kids. The waitress set the food down and walked away so quickly that she didn't appear to hear them. "I told old J.P. to go back there and set all them greasy chicken bones and napkins in the big garbage up and get out of there and go home to bed, that's what I said." He took an enormous drag off his cigar and hollered "That's what the fuck I told J.P.!" People looked up from their breakfasts and stared, but then went back to their two eggs home fries toast coffee, murmuring, wiping their faces. "Said fifteen inches," Little Jumbo said. He cut away the crusts with his knife. "Betcha it snows all weekend and January, February, March and most of April, and we'll die under all that snow." Bill put the remains of his cigar in the remains of his sandwich. The waitress flipped through channels on the overhead television. "But where J.P. is it don't matter."
PREVIOUS || FICTION INDEX || NEXT