Just my luck. We’re ready to go to the tracks with a genuine Mafioso. I’ve got student loans on my mind. Credit card debt. Family debt. Plus, I’ve got on my mind a girl who invited me to drive up to Santa Barbara for a weekend of coffee and unprotected sex, which I turned down because I have been invited by a buddy to hit the dog tracks with his father-in-law, a bonafide gangster. Those loans. They get up into your cerebral frontal cortex and light a fire. All morning I am doing the math. You’ve cashed your last check, and half a lifetime of monthly millstones have already begun to hang around your neck. You’ve woken up early, showered, eaten your scrambled eggs, and you’re watching the minute hand spin circles while you wait for the old man to get out of his jammies. You shave. Take a walk to Mayfair. The Mafioso still sits at the kitchen table. He tells you that at his age you don’t care about a woman who looks like Jane Fonda, you look for a woman who can cook. Like I give a shit. All I’m thinking is, get me on a winning streak, and we’ll stuff the trunk with cash. Clear my financial statement in one throw. I’ll cook him all the goddamn sausage and gravy he wants. The old-timer informs us that if you wake up and drink beer all morning, then you are a drunk, but swallow mimosas at brunch, nobody has a problem with it.
“That’s the power of language,” my friend says.
“That’s a class issue,” the old-timer says.
I take my buddy into the hallway and pull him into the john.
“Are you sure this guy is legit?”
“Of course,” my friend says.
“Has he killed a man?”
“Ever had a man killed?”
“I never asked him.”
“I’m not going to ask my father-in-law if he has killed a man.”
“Is he at least a made-man?”
My friend makes it clear that he is not going to discuss the matter, and we return to the kitchen, where the Mafioso continues to sit at the table. He leans back and tells us we should think about quality of life. Don’t think about money, think about how you live your life. Learn when you must learn, and life can teach you as much as any classroom. He says you have to think about that, and my mind drifts up to Santa Barbara and all of the possibilities. What did she say she wanted to do? Stay in bed and read. Hit some coffee shops. Walk the beach. Sit in the tub and rub the tar off our feet with vinegar and ammonia. Go back to bed.
The Mafioso starts in again with his wisdom and says that when your adversaries expect you to be in one place, you go to another. He muses aloud and changes plans. “No,” he says. “No flight back to Cincinnati. I’m taking the train. The Silver Streak. Phillipe’s for lunch. Sandwiches and sawdust. French dip and a couple of cold beers. Forget about the dogs. Forget the tracks. No more gambling.”
The first date I had with this girl was at Laguna Beach. We walked miles along the sand and laid down for a while. On the walk back to the car we passed a seal freshly washed up on the shore with its head ripped off, presumably by a shark, the fat hanging out like a bag of molten wax, tubes, and such. Wires and tendrils. She had to be thinking, if that’s not a bad omen, I don’t know what is, but a week later, she calls me up, and she’s got plans. A drive up to Santa Barbara for the weekend. Believe me, it wasn’t as if the call did not come as a shock.
Tim Fitts lives and works in Philadelphia. His stories have been published by Granta, The Gettysburg Review, The Baltimore Review, Shenandoah, The Xavier Review among others. His story "Sand on Sand Yellow" is available on Amazon and is free for Kindle users. He is the author of two short story collections, Go Home and Cry for Yourselves (Xavier Review Press 2017) and Hypothermia (Madhat Press 2017).