Wednesday at the Club, Selma pulls up a wicker chair, looks at me over the table number (our regular – 23), says: ‘I’m breaking up with you, Leonard’ – and I just about bust out laughing. It’s the way she says ‘breaking up’ all serious, and pulls a paper square from her purse, the edges secured with tape. Makes me think of schooldays, grubby pawed-over notes, passed hand-to-hand under desks. When breaking up meant the end of the world. Around here though, surely, nobody breaks up anymore. There just isn’t time.
But, because I catch something, an increase in the moisture that lately seems to be constantly brimming in her eyes, I don’t laugh. Not that she’s sad: the tears are something hereditary, she told me, an ailment that strikes in later years, malfunctioning ducts. She dabs at her eye with a lace handkerchief. (A fine looking lady, she’s got a lot of class, always turns out nice for brunch, no jogging pants or those nasty shuffly slippers.)
She lays her hand next to the note. Her fingernails are hard crimson shells. She’s looking over my shoulder. It’s hard to twist my neck (shrapnel wound, Pork Chop Hill, June 1953) so I kind of shimmy round in my chair. And there’s George Malone’s ugly mug at table 25. Jesus wept. Who let him in the Club?
He’s wearing a baseball cap (‘Combat Veteran – Korea’) which he pushes back on his liver-spotted forehead with knobby knuckles. He winks at me, the old bastard. Combat? He saw just enough to make him put his dick between his legs and jump the first trooper home, faking something colorectal. I’ve got his little number. Then I swivel back to that look in Selma’s eyes and realize: no, I don’t. The scar on my neck gives an electric twang.
So that’s the deal. I’m eighty-nine years old, weigh a buck five on a good day, have to sit down to piss, and now, goddammit, I’ve got competition.