“You’re lookin’ a little off today, Joe. Somethin’ buggin’ ya?”
Joe takes a sip of his coffee, twists his lips, and gives a long sigh. He and Frank have been meeting here at Lola’s Coffee & Pie every Friday since they retired from the phone company, which, now that he thinks about it, was more than 8 years ago. Up until lately, the talk has been mostly politics, which has made the conversation a little tough on occasion, given the fact that Frank doesn’t quite see things the right way.
Frank’s pretty much gone soft since he retired. All he seems to want to jabber about is climate change. Social Security and Medicare cuts. GMOs…whatever the hell they’re supposed to be.
Isn’t it enough that gays are getting’ married? Those folks can’t develop an empty lot if there happens to be some frog no one’s ever heard of squatting there?
And don’t even get him started on women’s rights…
He shakes his head and turns to his friend. “I ain’t wearin’ old too well, Frank. I think I picked the wrong size.”
Frank smiles and pats Joe on the shoulder. “The ol’ knees a creakin’ on ya this morning?”
“Knees, hell. It’s the shoulders, back…everything. Doesn’t help that I can’t see past my nose, can’t hear half what anyone’s sayin’ anymore, and, holey moley, it takes an hour to pee. My prostate’s gotta be as big as a damn watermelon.” With another sigh, he starts to scoop up the last piece of his apple pie, making sure to keep the vanilla ice cream right on top, but stops, turning back to Frank. “You know I take 5 different kinds of pills every morning? And then there’s them damn vitamins and crap that Ethyl makes me take, supposed to give me more ‘energy’. You know how embarrassin’ it is to have to take one of them, little blue guys, just to have my old buddy stand at attention when she wants to get, you know, ah…amorous?”
Frank starts to put up a smile, but catching Joe’s stare, covers his mouth with a quick hand. “Well, what’dya expect, Joe, you’re 68, comin’ up on 69, and, hell, I’m 70—“
“And who is this guy I keep seein’ in the mirror?” Joe interrupts. “Whoever he is, he’s more wrinkled up than a wet towel tossed in the corner of the bathroom. That poor slob’s only got 4 hairs left on his head because all the rest of them migrated south to them big Dumbo ears and that potato of a nose stickin’ out the front of his face.” He pats his stomach, holding out the forkful of pie. “Okay, I’m the one to blame for this Santa belly, but, good lord, how’d all the rest of this happen?” He shovels in the pie and licks off the fork, the edge of his mouth taking a little sag. “Here’s something for ya…I just read the other day that we start to stink when we get older. Can you believe it? We’re gonna stink, Frank…” He gives his head a hard shake and lays the fork on his emptied plate. “I have to watch my sugar, my blood pressure, my cholesterol…you know, sometimes I wonder if it’s all worth it…”
Frank again opens his mouth, ready to speak, but just then Margie, their waitress, steps up behind the counter, an ever-present coffee carafe in her hand. Her graying hair in a bun, a pencil behind one ear, she pushes her glasses down her nose a bit and glares over the top.
“Sounds like you boys could use a little more coffee,” she says, a bite in her voice. She fills Frank’s first, then turns to Joe. “You know, hon, there’s somethin’ else that seems to have fallen by the wayside: Your memory.”
Joe’s eyes bug open, his head taking a slight jerk.
“Yeah, me, and just about everyone else along the counter here, heard your pathetic groanin’ and moanin’. Good gracious, Joe, you’re takin’ 5 pills and lost a little hair?” She juts her chin in the direction of a booth toward the corner of the café, where 2 construction workers—they still wear their reflective vests, but their helmets rest against the window along the back of the table—are digging into their pancakes. “If you remember correctly, I used to serve you right there at that table. There were 4 of you then. You can bet Charley and Sam’s wives would have loved to have them around the house complaining to the high heavens that they had to take some damn pills or didn’t have enough hair. That their joints creaked more than they bent.” She tips the carafe, filling Joe’s cup. “But they ain’t with us anymore, now are they?” Standing erect, she points a finger into Joe’s face. “When you see that Dumbo-eared SOB in the mirror tomorrow mornin’, or when you see that sweet lady of yours… hell when you wake up in the morning, you need to get down on those creaky knees and thank your lucky stars. Or whoever it is you take a moment to be thankful for. But one thing’s for sure, mister, I’d better not hear you bitchin’ some silly-ass nonsense about hair in your nose or a mouthful of pills in my café. Because if I do, I’m gonna dump this here hot java right in that sorry lap of yours. And then let’s see what good that little blue pill will do’ya.”
With that, she whirls on a heel and marches off in a huff.
Joe, his shoulders having fallen into a shallow slump, watches her disappear into the kitchen, then sits in a hypnotic daze. It takes him a moment to snap out of it, and when he finally does, he takes a long sip of his coffee and then turns to look over at Frank, who’s doing all he can not to laugh.
“Yeah, yeah yuck it up,” he says. He runs an open hand down his face and slowly lets go another long sigh. “Okay, so maybe…just maybe, mind you…women may know a thing or two. Maybe.” With a quick twist, he spins in his chair and points a stiff finger at Frank. “But don’t you go getting cocky, now. That don’t mean I think your dumb-ass climate change thingy holds a teaspoon’s worth of water.”
After a long career of tinkering in telecommunications, Jim Bartlett switched to tinkering with words, both, of course, requiring a stretch of the imagination. He has since been fortunate to have a number of stories, ranging from flash to novella, featured in Fiction on the Web, CrimeSpree Magazine, Short-Story.me, Ontologica, The Scarlet Leaf Review, Fairlight Books and a number of other wonderful publications. Most recently one of his stories was featured in the print anthology, The Best of Fiction on the Web, 1996 – 2017. While mentally he strolls along a warm California beach with his wife and golden retriever (shhh, she doesn’t know she’s a dog), physically they reside on a special little island in the Pacific Northwest.