The Deli–A Short Story

deli lesters

Image by Magalie L'Abbé via Flickr

This rather irreverent story is true, except for the pick-up attempt at the very end. As a disclaimer: the very politically incorrect language is a direct quote. These are not words I would choose to use. This story was published in The MeadoW…a literary publication of Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno/Sparks Nevada in 2003.

The Deli

I watch a middle-aged man staring out the window of the deli. His lack-luster eyes penetrate the bright desert landscape. The setting sun casts a glare on his countenance. It highlights his furrowed brow and weathered skin, accenting a scowl.

Does he see the purple and vermillion Lantana blanketing the median separating the four-lane boulevard? Or the mauve Santa Rosa’s hurtling shafts of light that pierce the smudgy pane? To the west the orb heaves a heavy sigh and expires.

I’m here for an evening of relaxation with my Mother who doesn’t get out often. She wants Matzo ball soup. “Comfort food,” she says.

The man turns to the woman sitting across from him. “If this government doesn’t wise up, I’ll damn well commit suicide.” His strident voice jolts the dull undercurrent of conversation.

Well, girl, you picked the right table, I tell myself. I taste his negativity. He’s obnoxious. O-B-N-O-X-I-O-U-S.

He startles other diners. Conversations halt mid-word. Some patrons sneak a glimpse of him. A few heads turn. An older couple hides behind their menu to further observe. Or, perhaps, in a futile effort to escape.

“Congress plunged us into debt. There’s no need for us to be involved in world politics. Our soldiers are just young kids. They’re fucking dying!”

He’s ranting now. I want to break away. I wince inside.

His companion looks away. Her face shows signs of once-upon-a-time beauty but wrinkles have etched a map across her skin. She nurses the last mouthful of red wine that appears to have been sitting in the glass for a while. Distinct burgundy-colored rings mark the stages of her discomfort as she’s let the potion rest between his tirades. She studies the ceiling tiles for a while and then closes her eyes. I imagine her thinking, Erase, erase! She frowns but says nothing.

The man shifts towards her and she meets his vision. Her eyes beneath arched brows take in his expression.

“Have you ever been in love?” he asks.

“Of course,” she whispers. “Of course I’ve been in love.” She looks away, scrutinizing a silver BMW convertible parked outside. Over-permed, color-treated blonde hair frames her face, backlit by the bronzed sky. Her accent’s foreign. French. Her heavy lids close, blocking him from her presence.

I wink at Mom ensconced in the booth across the table from me. She seems oblivious to the conversation and doesn’t notice me. She’s forgotten her hearing aids again. Good thing. His outburst would upset her strongly conservative sensibilities.

“Our environment’s gone to hell.” He lashes out again. “Nothing’s being done. Corporate America’s responsible for this. The politicians are in the pockets of the rich.”

You’re one of the rich, asshole. Your clothes betray you. And the pinkie ring. I can’t ignore him. I can’t not get involved. Damn! My stomach burns.

“Why don’t you move to Canada?” the woman asks.

“Too cold. That’s why I live here, for God’s sake.”

The man drones on. His tone of voice escalates as he consumes the rest of his wine.

“They’ve got to close the borders. We’re paying for these illegals.”

Hmmmm. There goes his political correctness.

“I’m here legally,” the woman says.

“I know that. I’m talking about the ‘spics.”

A knot forms in my stomach. My corned beef sandwich remains untouched as I cradle my glass of chardonnay.

The woman squirms in her seat.

“While they’re at it, they may as well deport the homos.”

Oh God, get him out of here.

They sit there, the two of them, with empty wine glasses. They share a space but lack of eye contact and her silence sells them out. They’re strangers! How’d she end up with him?

Servers seem anxious as customers queue up, waiting for an empty table. No one offers the couple a refill.

Mom says to me, “Do you and David talk together when you go out to dinner?”

“Of course.”

“What about?”

“Lots of things. Whatever’s going on at the moment, I guess. He likes to keep me up to date about sports. We share our day. Work. I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it.”

“Well then, why don’t you talk to me?”

“Because it’s noisy in here and you’re not wearing your hearing aids.”


I repeated it.

“Oh. You’re right. I forgot them.On purpose. I hate them.”

I motion with my eyes to the table where the man and woman still sit, staring at each other now. Mom looks at them, and then turns to me with a quizzical expression. She hunches her shoulders and cocks her head, as if to ask, “What about them?”

I mouth: “I’m listening to them.”

She looks over at them. He’s peering out the window again and she’s resumed communing with her empty wine glass.

Mom nods and begins to watch the couple. I know she can hear if he speaks again and if she’s attentive. And if she wants to.

“I’ve been drinking beer all day. I’m drunk.”

The woman says nothing.

He blathers on. “If they want to get something done with the environment, they should bring in kike scientists. They’re the ones who can do it. They’re the ones who get all the Nobel prizes.”

“Oh,” she answers. She looks out the window as he reaches and takes her hand.She draws back a bit but he does not let go. Her face is pinched, etched in psychic pain.

“I like to touch you.”

Mom looks at me; she heard him. She says, “I’m going to puke.” I know she’s hooked. A good distraction for an eighty-three year old widow, I decide.

“I don’t have to work tomorrow. I can fix us breakfast.” He’s not looking at the woman.

“Oh.” She lifts the empty wine glass, focusing on the sediment.

He lowers his tone and drivels on for a few more minutes. His hand covers his mouth and I can’t hear what he says.

The woman gets up and brushes the crumbs from her white crinkled linen skirt. She murmurs something to the man and turns, walking slowly to the back of the restaurant, where the restrooms are located. Her calloused, cracked heels hang over the backs of her sandals.

She waits in a short line while he ogles her. When she enters the bathroom she looks back briefly in his direction. He gets up, pivots and walks to the front to pay the bill. Exiting through the grubby glass door, he glances back to where he last saw the woman, then stands waiting.

When they’re gone my Mom and I laugh. “He’s a winner,” she says in a tone a bit too loud. A couple at a nearby table looks at each other and nods.

A good five minutes later, Mom catches my attention with a gentle kick under the table. I see the man entering through the door. He walks at a clipped pace back towards the women’s restroom and stands at the door for a couple of minutes. He leaves abruptly, takes in his surroundings, goes outside again, and waits.

Mom covers her mouth and says, “She split.”

I nod.

I see him from the corner of my eye rapidly stepping to the phone booth outside the restaurant. He’s on the phone for a few moments, gesticulating as he talks. Then I lose him.

My Mom and I smile at one another. “You didn’t need your hearing aids after all. We had plenty of entertainment, Mom.”

“No shit,” she says. (She’s not that conservative.)

Finally I tackle my sandwich.

We leave thirty minutes after the mini-drama has unfolded. I pull her Mercedes around the back of the deli to exit the parking lot. There he is, loitering behind a seventies’ model long white Cadillac. A restroom window stands open behind his parking space.

The man’s talking to a waitress who’s just getting off work. She’s Latina.

I hear him pontificate, “I can’t understand why the government hasn’t given amnesty to you hard-working people. Would you like to go for a drink?”

We drive away giggling like teenagers.

“That blonde,” Mom said with a snort, “she’s one smart lady.”

Submitted as a response to my Wordsmith Wednesday prompt.