Hartford

         Woody unpacked his dufflebag when he made it back to his room.  The clothes were wrinkled and smelled faintly of the various odors that permeate a bus station.  He pulled out a small transistor radio and tuned in to 60-80’s oldie station.  When the time was announced he set an alarm clock.  He lay down on his bed, on top of the clothes.  He stared up at the ceiling.  There was a feeling of domesticity having all his clothes and the meager worldly belongings he’d packed away when he first came to Hartford.  Trying not to nod off he folded the clothes and repacked them.  He got up and shook off the ennui and went downstairs.  Sophie was sitting in her parlor, hands folded in her lap, watching afternoon soap operas.  Woody knew she probably couldn’t follow the convoluted plots and was taken aback at the casual attitude towards sex. 

           “Would you like some tea?” She asked as he passed the door.

           “No, I have to do laundry.”

            “It won’t take but a minute.”

            Woody stood there, thinking.  He could afford to allow the old lady some company.  Except for Sunday church and trips to the supermarket she rattled around the house most of the day.  She had no relatives or friends he saw.

           “Okay, the laundry can wait.”

            “I’ll put the pot on.  Sit down.”

             She went into the kitchen and set the kettle on the stove.  Woody could see her put a tea service on a tray with cookies.  She hummed to herself as she waited for the water come to a close boil.  Woody sat on the armchair and fidgeted with the closure on top of the bag.  She came back in holding the tray.  She put it down on the coffee table and poured his cup.  There was cream, sugar and lemon wedges on the tray.  Woody added sugar and a squeeze from a lemon wedge.  He sipped the tea and tried to make small talk.  Sophie chatted about people at church and the delinquents who prowled the neighborhood wreaking havoc on law-abiding citizens.  She wasn’t a bigot.  She was just afraid of someone invading her home.  It was all she had.  Woody understood.  He’d spent a lot of time on the street protecting what he owned.  He agreed with what she talked about.  The people on the street didn’t care about who they frightened or what they stole.  She was elderly and would be easy prey.  Woody finished his tea and cookies.  He took the tray back into the kitchen.  He left Sophie watching Oprah.  He went to the laundromat.  An hour later he was back.

        The alarm woke him the next morning.  He showered, shaved and dressed.  He was out the door twenty minutes later.  It was a cold morning and a brisk wind stung his face.  He got to the parking lot and huddled with Chico next to the back door.  Gus’s Lincoln pulled in.  He got out and climbed the stairs.  Walking through the unlocked door Woody flipped on the kitchen lights.  The kitchen had a scent of vegetables, cooking grease and industrial cleaner.  Woody changed into whites and set the dish machine up.  He helped Chico set up for breakfast.  The waitress came in and began setting up the dining room and got the coffee machine behind the counter.  Pretty soon the smell of fresh coffee and the bacon that was in the oven.  By six thirty the dining room was filling and Chico was dividing his time between putting out orders and prepping lunch.  The night cook had cooked a round of beef and Chico was slicing it and portioning it out.  Woody was moving.  He scraped and loaded the machine.  He carried trays of cups and saucers out to the front of the house and kept Chico supplied with plates in stainless steel carriers.  By lunch he was sweating.  The steam from the machine flattened his hair and his hands were red from the soap in the pot sink.  Despite the slight discomfort Woody worked through breakfast into lunch and finally to two o’clock.  The night shift arrived unnoticed.  There was the final duties, dumping garbage, draining, cleaning and refilling the machine. When he was done he punched out, grabbed a roast beef sandwich and headed home.  He stopped for a can of soda at the Mini Mart.  He got home and showered the smell of the kitchen off.  He took his supper downstairs to watch afternoon TV with Sophie.  He put his dinner in the refrigerator while Sophie brewed tea.  They sipped and munched cookies until it was time for five o’clock news.  They discussed news stories and Woody was amazed that Sophie had a firm grasp on events that had a bearing on her neighborhood.

          Sophie went to sleep at eight thirty and Woody watched cable channels until he was sleepy.  He checked the locks on the doors and shut off the lights.  He went upstairs and lay in bed listening to the radio.  He fell asleep and as he fell deeper into darkness he found himself in a familiar setting.  A motel on the Berlin turnpike, Mickey, Jimmy, Ed and Dolph were there.  His brain knew where this was going and it wasn’t good.