The second Wednesday
“Mind closing that door?” The shaven head of Henry Jennings scowled from the dim yellow rectangle of a kitchen window along the back wall of the Pizza Place, his annoyance amplified at his recognition of the young man who had just entered his restaurant.
Double-J frowned, his shoulders suddenly rising as a cold March gale blasted through the partially closed door behind him. “How many times I gotta tell ya to fix that damn hinge?”
“Jesus! You don’t — ” a telephone rang in the kitchen, Henry turning quickly to its sound as if in relief. A couple whom Double-J didn’t recognize had risen from their chairs before Double-J arrived, were now putting on their plump winter jackets as they walked towards the door. Double-J stepped aside, made contact with the man (late-twenties, the soft face and careful grooming of a professional), raised his right hand and pointed with his thumb behind his shoulder.
“Just give it a good pull, on your way out.” The young man nodded, the smiling woman behind him thanking Double-J as they passed, the man opening the door fully (the PLEASE SHUT DOOR sign on its front catching Double-J’s eye) and letting his companion walk out first, then pulling on the door handle without looking behind him, the glass barrier to the late winter evening shutting with a heavy klumpf.
Grinning, Double-J cast his gaze across the Pizza Place’s dining area. A row of booths, two at the side near the front door and three on the far side, bookended six smaller square tables, each with two plastic chairs, arranged in no particular sense of order. Nearly every table was occupied, Double-J recognizing many people as customers of Lefty’s, the garage where he worked — elderly man with white hair and dark eyebrows (brake job in November, fronts were just about gone but rears could wait until spring) sitting at a booth with two happy toddlers; woman in her forties (Mallory? Marjie? Worked at a bank) reading a newspaper while chewing on a breadstick; two middle-aged men in flannel, faces dirty with grease (one facing the front might’ve been in for his transmission, last month); another couple he didn’t recognize —
She was sitting at a table, toward the back wall. Alone, a fact Double-J found hardly surprising. Strait, shoulder-length black hair curtaining down the sides of her face, which started with blank concentration at the red and white checkered tabletop, empty save for the small metal napkin dispenser and condiment jars. If Double-J hadn’t known she had asked for this meeting, he’d have assumed she was there to enjoy the sensation of being ignored.
The burly teen shuffled past the tables and chairs, stopping behind the empty chair in front of the table at which sat this frail girl who seemed to have too many names (Kassie, Sandy, The Girl Whose Mother Was In Those Stupid Sav-Anna Commercials) and had now adopted the one he had given her as a joke during that fencing practice in the fall. He waited for her to acknowledge his presence; seeing no reaction, he cleared his throat audibly, her eyes finally raising to meet his.
“Do I call you Bird — or, The Bird?”
The Bird’s attempt at a smile failed, like a candle wick that would’t light. She said it was not up to her what name people used to address her.
“Huh.” Double-J pulled out the empty chair, sat quickly. “You order yet?” The Bird shook her head. “Hungry?” Nod.