After Death

Michael Parke, Staff Writer

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I stood in the shadow of the cobbler’s across from the bakery. The sun had not yet set. I looked left, then right, then took a piece of wood from my left coat pocket and worked at it with a knife from my right. I looked left then right again. He was coming from the left. Once he was close I could see that he wore his corduroy jacket and dark jeans. His hat was tilted back. We weren’t a bad lot.

I put the materials away. “Hello,” I said.

“Hello.”

We turned right and started walking on the sidewalk. I asked him about work but he didn’t respond at first.

“How’s work going?” I asked again.

        “Well.”

        I looked straight ahead. The trees were beginning to lose most of their leaves and a lot of the brown ones were blowing in from the street to the doorways of the buildings on the right. In one of them was an old woman in a faded, baby blue dress with two pockets on it. Worn gloves peeked from them. She had glasses on and swept the leaves aside.

        “What time is it?”

        “Two.”

        “Have you had lunch?”

“No.”

I checked my pockets for coins. That was all you needed then. I had some. “Let’s eat then. The place over there’s got food.”

“All right,” he said.

We walked a bit further and into an old restaurant. The bell rang as I opened the door. A table for two was to my right near the window, and we were the only ones there. I promised to save us the table and gave him the money. I sat and watched him walk up to the counter. Behind it was a woman who had her hair tied back like a Greek. Her eyes were green and lips healthy; the nose was good.

“Good afternoon,” he said. I could tell he was nervous.

She smiled. “Good afternoon.”

He looked down at his hand. It was tan now, and older. He asked her something in a low voice and her smile faded. He looked at her hand then ordered the meals. He came back with them and handed me the change. I counted it and put it away. We ate for a bit in silence.

“You can’t get everyone to like you. I don’t even know why I stick around—”

“Shut up.”

But he had that look of understanding in his eyes. We finished our meals and left a good tip. The woman was smiling again. Outside we put our hats on. A couple was entering so I held open the door. He looked in after them, then started walking. It was a pleasant walk on the surface but he didn’t seem to notice.

“How much does a ring like that cost?” he asked.

We stopped, looked to the left and right, waited for a car to pass and continued.

“It depends,” I said.

“On what?”

“The material and design.”

“It was plain gold,” he said. “And she had on a necklace.”

    I ran figures through my head. I knew little about jewelry and he knew nothing at all. But no matter what price I gave him he would know whether I lied or not. He was too smart for that.

“I suppose it’s expensive enough,” I said.

We came to the edge of town. From here was the desert and sparse shrubs. As kids we used to go out and chase after each other of throw rocks as far as we could. It was the same desert but now we were older. The sun was beginning to move behind one of the plateaus. I stood facing it, covering my eyes. He turned around.

“I better be going back,” he said.

    I looked at him. He didn’t look at me.

“She had the same hair, you know.”

“Yes.”

“Her eyes were exactly the same. Hell, even her lips were the right color.”

“Yes.”

“But she had on a ring.”

We stood facing opposite ways.

“Well, I better be going back.”

He walked off. I watched him until he was too far away to see clearly. It was getting cold now, so I flipped my collar up. Then I went home.

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After Death