A Man Among Men
Lenny came up out of the subway at eight-thirty in the morning. As he walked along Lehigh Avenue to the machine shop where he worked, snow began to float down out of the slate-gray December sky. The thick flakes struck his cheeks coldly before melting and running down his face. What do you know, he thought, a white Christmas.
From time to time, as the morning wore on, Lenny looked up from the workbench where he was cutting threads into quarter-inch bolts. Beyond the shop’s grimy windows, the snow fell, heavily, steadily.
At eleven o’clock, the foreman came around and told the men at the benches to go home before the weather got worse. Big deal, Lenny thought. It was Christmas Eve; the shop would close at twelve-thirty anyway. Lenny collected his pay envelope, counted the contents to make sure that every cent of the $187.63 owed him was there, and went out into the snow. Lenny didn’t mind the wet stuff. It was good to be out of the shop before noon, away from the smells of hot oil and just-shaved metal and the endless high-pitched whine of the cutting machines.
Too early to go home, Lenny thought, as a grimy subway train carried him southwards beneath Broad Street. Rita wouldn’t want him hanging around the house. Not on Christmas Eve. She had things to do. And he himself was in no hurry to go back to the narrow rowhouse, the faded wallpaper, the worn carpets, the scratched furniture. The kids would be running around, and Rita would be yelling at them, and if he was there, she would be yelling at him to yell at them. He could take a pass on that. He had money (he tapped his shirt pocket and felt his pay envelope); he could kill a couple of hours at Gallagher’s, have a few beers. Maybe there’d be a football game on television, an early bowl game, of which there were so many. Maybe some guys he knew would get off early too and stop in for a drink. They could shoot the shit about why the Eagles didn’t make the playoffs again. And even if none of that happened, it would still be better to spend the afternoon drinking in the tappy instead of enduring all the noise and running around in that crowded little house with Rita and the kids.
After the subway, Lenny rode a bus west on Snyder Avenue. The windows were fogged up; Lenny could hardly see out. The snow had slowed the traffic; the bus inched along. Lenny got off at Gallagher’s corner. Half-hidden by the falling snow, the digital clock on the bank across the street said 12:22. The snow crunched under Lenny’s feet as he trudged across the sidewalk to the front door of the taproom. Some of the snow got in under his trouser cuffs, wet his socks, chilled his ankles.
Lenny blinked as he stepped into the half-light of the taproom. Four men were in the bar, three customers perched on stools in front and the bartender behind. Lenny knew them all. The customers were older men who spent most of their time and most of their Social Security and pension money in Gallagher’s. Gaunt, gray-haired, red-faced, sad-eyed, they looked like three feuding brothers as they hunched separately over shot glasses and beer mugs. The bartender, a burly man named Tim with little pig eyes in his fleshy face, wore a stained apron reaching from his waist to his shoetops. The television on the wall over the back corner of the bar was turned off, but in the background the jukebox played Christmas carols.
Melted snow lay puddled on the black-and-white checkerboard squares of the linoleum floor. Lenny started yet another puddle by stamping the snow off his shoes. As he climbed onto a bar stool, the bartender came over, peered at him out of those little eyes, and said, “Lenny, good to see you. Got off early, eh? That’s nice. What’ll it be?” Lenny smiled. It pleased him to be known at Gallagher’s. The bartender almost sounded sincere.
Lenny ordered confidently, in his element, a man among men. “Just a beer, thanks, Tim. Schlitz, a draft.” Lenny’s father had been a Schlitz drinker, fond of repeating the words of a television ad – “When you’re out of Schlitz, you’re out of beer.” Draft beer was better than bottle beer, his father always said. More taste, less gas. A man who orders Schlitz by name knows what he is doing.
Lenny fished a ten-dollar bill out of the pay envelope and laid it on the bar. Tim the bartender brought the golden, creamy-headed beer in a ten-ounce glass and set it down on a cork coaster that said “Michelob Light.” He picked up the ten, rang up the beer on the register, then put three ones and a five down in front of Lenny.
Lenny took a first long pull at the beer, then licked the foam off his lips. He always liked that first bitter taste of beer. It put him in a different world, the world of grown-up men. It reminded him that he was long removed from those years in his late teens when someone else, someone just twenty-one, had bought the beer in Gallagher’s, quart bottles of it, and carried it out to the car where Lenny and his friends were waiting to take the beer to a deserted playground and drink up the beer, a quart per man, in the shadows.
Lenny took a second, smaller sip of his beer. He remembered his father drinking beer at the kitchen table, drinking slowly and steadily after a day spent shuffling bills of lading in the traffic office of the old Reading Railroad. Lenny tried to drink the same methodical way himself. As a boy, he had sensed that his father didn’t have a great job, but it had not mattered once his father got home and was sitting at the kitchen table with his beer. There he was in control, he was the man. Sometimes, when Lenny’s father was late coming home from work because he had stopped at the taproom, Lenny’s mother referred to him as “the toad.” The name had made Lenny recoil in pain. He put the memory aside and took another swallow of beer.
“White Christmas, huh?” he said to Tim the bartender, who was rinsing glasses at the sink under the bar.
“Yeah. Well, maybe. Radio says this’ll be only three, four inches, let up in a couple of hours. Melts fast, you know. Anyway.” The bartender shrugged his shoulders. The weather was not his concern.
“Not very busy,” Lenny said.
“It’s early,” the bartender said. “People’ll be in. Payday, with Christmas tomorrow. Want some pretzels? Potato chips? Free. On the house. You know, Merry Christmas. All that shit.”
“No. I’m good with just the beer for now.” Lenny looked up. Liquor bottles rose in long glassy rows in front of the mirror that ran along the wall behind the bar. Somebody had strung a set of tiny blinking red and green lights along the edges of the mirror. Somebody had also hung a paper “MERRY CHRISTMAS” sign across the top of the mirror. The letters were red and shiny, with silver trim. The sign sagged in the middle.
Lenny drained the rest of his beer. He caught Tim’s eye and raised his glass. The bartender refilled the glass at the tap, foam welling up over the rim and running down its side. The bartender let the head settle, then pumped another few ounces of beer into the glass. He wiped off the bottom of the glass with a rag, then brought the glass back to Lenny. He took two more dollars from the wet patch of bills on the bar and punched the register. The three older men sat in silence, sipping their own drinks, staring straight ahead.
Strange, Lenny thought. Christmas Eve; peace on earth, good will to men; let the good times roll. But the bar was dead. He tried to remember guys he knew who drank at Gallagher’s. “Quinnie been in lately?” he asked the bartender.
“Nope. Haven’t seem him for . . . must be months.”
“What about Sprockets? Beep? Oscar? Any of them been around?”
“Naw. Ain’t seen them. Maybe they drink somewheres else now.”
It was obvious; Tim had no interest in conversation. Lenny’s questions sounded dumb, even to him; he didn’t ask any more. The bartender walked down to the far end of the bar, where no one was sitting, spread out a newspaper, and began to study the racing results. A real barrel of fun.
By four in the afternoon, Lenny had put two more tens on the bar. He had also made three trips to the tiny, foul-smelling toilet in the hallway beyond the end of the bar. The last trip, he’d had to steady himself with one hand on the damp, sweating tank above the bowl. The toilet’s tile floor was always wet, guys missing the bowl usually, but today, maybe from melted snow too. The toilet was one thing Lenny had against Gallagher’s. Couldn’t Gallagher pay some nigger to come in and clean the fucking bathroom out once in a while? Lenny could never figure out why the stench from all the shit and all the piss didn’t get out and stink up the bar too. He was just happy he did not have to go to the toilet as often as bigger guys did. They ragged him about it. “Scrawny little guy like you,” they would say, “and all the beer you drink, and it’s like you never have to piss.” They would shake their heads, and Lenny would square his shoulders and give them a little shrug. “It’s a gift,” he would say.
The taproom had filled up now. The customers were all men. Very few women showed their faces in Gallagher’s. Lenny liked that. Gallagher’s was a man’s world. The air was hazy with tobacco smoke. Lenny knew a few of the later arrivals, not really well, but well enough for them to buy rounds of beer for each other on Christmas Eve. Lenny liked standing guys to beers and being stood to beers himself. The holiday spirit. God rest ye merry gentlemen. All that shit.
More than three hours at the bar now, and Lenny could feel the beer taking hold. Every couple of minutes, he found himself gasping for air, and though his head was clear, his words were coming out slurred. He looked across the bar into the mirror behind it, and had trouble focusing his eyes. Maybe it was time to go home. Shouldn’t get drunk on Christmas Eve. New Year’s Eve maybe. Not Christmas Eve.
Lenny slid most of his change off the bar. Mr. Personality with the dirty apron could have the rest. The bills were soggy. Bar was like a fucking lake. Pig-eye bartender ought to wipe it off once in a while. Lenny spun around on his stool and eased onto his feet. He made his way along the row of backs towards the door, patting the shoulders of a couple of men who had stood him beers, saying “Merry Christmas” as he went. One of them, a big guy named Paulie in a Roofers Local 30 jacket, half-turned, put a hand out and grabbed Lenny’s arm. Most of the time Paulie was all right, but he could get belligerent after a few beers, start busting balls.
“Hey, where you goin’?” Paulie said. “You leavin’ already? What are you, some kind of faggot?”
Lenny shook off Paulie’s hand, tried to keep it light. “Gimme a break. Just gotta get home. You know. The wife. Kids. Christmas Eve.”
“Oh, so that’s the way it is. I take it back. You ain’t no faggot. You’re just pussy-whipped.”
So much for keeping it light. “Fuck you, Paulie,” Lenny said. “You got it all wrong.”
“Oh, no? Guess again, pal. The old lady don’t give me no orders.” Paulie turned back to his beer. Lenny shook his head, blinking at Paulie’s broad back, before continuing on his way down the bar. No question, bars attract assholes.
Outside, the snow still floated down out of a darkening sky. Cars crept along Snyder Avenue, their headlights picking up the falling flakes, their clanking tire chains muffled by the snow, their exhaust pipes billowing vapor. A cold wind whipped at Lenny’s face, driving snowflakes into his eyes and mouth. He hunched his shoulders and started along the avenue, plunging through knee-high snow. Three or four inches my ass, he thought. So much for know-it-all bartenders. As he lurched ahead, the ground rushed up from under the snow to meet his feet, jarring his knees at each step. Pussy-whipped, Paulie had said, pussy-whipped. Fuck him. Just another asshole. With the wind. the snow underfoot, and the beer, Lenny was having trouble keeping his balance. He was relieved when he turned into his own street. The wind died as the rowhouses cut it off.
The previous owner of Lenny’s house had installed an iron railing for the front steps. Lenny hauled himself up the railing hand over hand. Rita and the kids, Jason and Jennifer, were on the enclosed porch, trimming a Christmas tree. Rita had picked the kids’ names. Lenny had thought she was getting above herself, but what the hell, if she was going to raise them, she could name them.
Lenny opened the door and stepped onto the porch. “Merry Christmas,” he said. His head was clearer now. The walk in the cold and the snow had done him good.
“Hi, dad,” the kids said in unison. Jason was small, dark, lean. Like his old man, Lenny thought. Jason had been born six months after the marriage. Her parents, his too, had said it was the right thing to do, and so they had done it. Jennifer was pretty in a plump sort of way, reminding Lenny of the way Rita had looked that glorious summer when they would drive to League Island Park at night in his old junk heap of a car and crawl into the backseat and do the deed right there. The glory had gone out of the summer the morning Rita called him up and said she had missed her period. That had been eight years ago. Lenny had been feeling squeezed ever since. Rita’s good looks were beginning to fade, her plumpness turning to fat.
“About time you got home,” Rita said. She was wearing an old sweatshirt and baggy jeans, and she had not bothered to put on any makeup. “Take your jacket and shoes off and leave them out here. Don’t go tracking that snow into my living room.”
Wordlessly, Lenny complied. Welcome home, he said to himself. He padded through the house in his stocking feet, back to the kitchen. He took a tall brown bottle of Schlitz from the refrigerator. Pussy-whipped. Fucking Paulie. Lenny opened the beer bottle and went back to the porch, where he leaned against the door frame and watched Rita and the kids as they worked on the tree. It was a scraggly little thing, and they were throwing handfuls of tinsel at it, trying to fill the open spaces amid the branches.
Lenny pointed at the tree with the beer bottle. “That the best you could do?”
“Yeah,” Rita said. “Unless I wanted to pay a fortune for a bushier one, but since you don’t make a fortune, I didn’t want to. O.K.?” She paused and looked at him. “Is that all you have to say? On Christmas Eve?”
Lenny said nothing. Christ, he thought. What a bitch. Always putting him down. In front of the kids too. He took another swallow of beer and inspected the tree more closely. In spite of the tinsel-throwing, the children had missed a space near the top. He left the doorway, weaving a little as he walked. He put the bottle down and took a handful of tinsel from Jennifer. “This is how it’s done,” he said, but as he tossed the tinsel at the top of the tree, he nudged a lower branch with his knee. The tree swayed on its stand.
“Hey,” Rita cried. “Get away from there. You’ll knock it over.” She looked hard at him. “That isn’t your first beer, is it?”
“No. I stopped at Gallagher’s for a few. What’s wrong with that?”
“I thought so. Well, why don’t you just go get lost for a while. The three of us, we’ll finish this.”
“O.K. Excuse me for trying to help. Big mistake on my part. Don’t worry. You won’t get no more offers of help from me.”
He picked up the beer bottle and went into the dining room. From a side compartment in the buffet, he took a bottle of Seagram’s Seven. He brought both bottles out to the kitchen and set them on the table. He took a shot glass out of the cabinet over the sink, sat at the table, and poured himself a shot of whiskey. The liquor sloshed over the rim of the glass onto his fingers. He licked them clean, the fiery edge of the alcohol searing his nose and throat. He raised the shot glass, said, “Merry Christmas everybody,” and drank off the whiskey, chasing it with another swallow of beer. The warmth of the liquor spread through his body. He poured a second shot, drank it down, then returned the liquor bottle to the buffet. Better not give the bitch something else to yell about.
Lenny was still sitting at the table when Rita came into the kitchen twenty minutes later. Ignoring Lenny and the bottle of beer on the table, she took a bowl of leftover spaghetti and meatballs out of the refrigerator, emptied its contents into a pot, and set the pot on the gas range to heat. The recipe for the meatballs and the tomato sauce came from Rita’s aunt. They had it for dinner at least once a week. It tasted all right the first time around; leftover and reheated, it was too dry for Lenny’s taste. Rita’s family called the tomato sauce “gravy.” Strange.
“You want any?” Rita asked when the spaghetti was hot.
“I’ll pass.” He liked turning Rita down when she offered him food. It gave him a feeling that he was in control, no longer a scrawny little guy with a dead-end job cutting threads into bolts in a rundown machine shop.
Rita would not let it go. “You gotta eat something. You can’t live on beer. You’ll pass out if you don’t eat. You’ll probably pass out anyway, all the drinking.”
“Leave me alone. I’m O.K. I’ll be all right.”
“Have it your way.” She went off to the dining room to serve the kids.
Afterwards, Lenny watched as Rita, brisk and business-like, sat at the kitchen table and stuffed the turkey. The children were in the living room, watching Christmas shows; Lenny could hear the carols. He remembered his father, the night before every Thanksgiving and Christmas, helping his mother stuff the turkey. His old man would sit there in the kitchen, maybe a little tight but it didn’t matter, breaking up slices of stale bread, chopping stalks of celery, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, cutting up onions, all for the stuffing. Lenny did not volunteer to help Rita, and she did not ask him. He sat and watched and drank his beer, the third since he came home.
Later, after the children had gone to bed, Rita’s friend Elaine from across the street came over to visit. Elaine’s husband was a cop and worked funny hours. She was always looking to Rita for company. Lenny retrieved the Seagram’s bottle and mixed highballs for them. He served the drinks, then wiped up the rye and ginger ale he had spilled in making them. The women sat in the living room with their highballs, talking. Lenny sat in the kitchen with another Schlitz. His father had always made himself scarce when his mother’s friends had visited their house. Let them talk, Lenny thought. What fucking Madonna was doing, what fucking Oprah said last week. Jesus Christ. Gimme a break.
After Elaine left and Rita was sure the children were asleep, she went upstairs to bring down their presents. She had bought all the presents. Early in the marriage, when she and
Lenny only had Jason, they had shopped together at Christmas time. They didn’t do that anymore. Hell, Lenny thought, they didn’t even buy presents for each other anymore. A couple of weeks ago, he’d given her a couple hundred for the kids’ presents and an extra three twenties for her to go and buy something for herself. Tomorrow, he would probably get one of those twenties back, in a paper Christmas gift wallet.
Rita poked her head into the kitchen. “Wanna come out and look at the toys and decorations?” She looked and sounded friendly enough. About time.
He bumped into the kitchen table as he got up. In the living room, the kids’ presents were arranged in two neat, colorful piles. A blonde doll leaning against one pile marked it as Jennifer’s; a black-and-white soccer ball marked the other as Jason’s. The toys and gift-wrapped packages stood out against the threadbare carpet and the battered furniture.
“Very nice,” Lenny said.
“You haven’t seen the tree yet.”
They went out onto the porch. The tree was draped with ornaments and tinsel, and lit by strings of lights that blinked red and blue and green and gold. The tinsel and the glass in the porch windows shimmered in the blinking lights. Lenny had to admit, it was kind of pretty. You had to look real close to see the open spaces.
“Not bad,” Lenny said, “especially for a tree with no branches.”
“Get off it, will you?” Rita said. “I’m going to bed now. You coming?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ll be up in a little while.”
Lenny heard her footsteps on the stairs. He looked around the porch. Other than the tree, a paper poster of Santa Claus taped to the inside of the front door window was the only decoration.
Lenny considered going upstairs. Rita would be good for a quick kiss, nothing more. She would say she was too tired or, what was worse, she would tell him he was too drunk to get it up. She might be right. Beaucoup beers since noontime and a couple of shots of Seagram’s too. Even if he could get it up, she might not want to, and he would not force her. He had done that before, and it had never been good. He went back to the kitchen and opened another bottle of Schlitz. Last one of these for a while, he told himself; he was beginning to feel bloated. The kitchen clock said eleven-thirty. He went back onto the porch, opened the front door, and looked out.
The snow had stopped. Bulky figures in overcoats and parkas were trudging along the street, on their way to midnight Mass at St. Thomas’s. They said you had to get there real early if you wanted a seat on Christmas Eve. Well, Lenny thought as he leaned against the door frame and lifted the bottle of Schlitz in salute, you’re welcome to my seat. He chuckled at his own wit.
Lenny liked to look at the street after dark at this time of the year. Snow or no snow, there was a warm rosy glow to it. From inside and outside the enclosed porches, Christmas lights were gleaming. The lights of the city reflecting off low-lying clouds filled the sky with a soft pink haze.
Lenny went back inside. In the living room, he turned on the television to the local news and sank down on the couch. Before long, he dozed off. When he woke, the screen was filled with men and boys in long robes moving around an altar. A solemn voice said viewers were watching the midnight Mass from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. That’s about enough religion for me today, Lenny thought. He got up and switched to a rerun of David Letterman. Back on the couch, he squinted at the screen. He had trouble keeping his head up. The raucous laughter of Letterman’s studio audience faded away. Lenny slept again.
He woke to the national anthem. A rippling American flag filled the screen. Was the station was going off the air or coming on? Lenny turned off the television, then went to look at the kitchen clock. Two-thirty. Going off then. Yeah. Lenny sat down at the kitchen table, folded his arms on the table, lowered his head to them, and fell asleep.
The next thing Lenny knew, Rita was shaking his shoulder, not gently either. “C’mon, Ernie, wake up. Let’s go. It’s almost seven. They’ll be down any minute now.”
Weakly, Lenny pushed her hand away. His head bobbed up and down. It was hard to lift. He could not look her in the eye. “What you want? What’s matter?” His voice was hoarse. His throat felt clogged. He coughed to clear it.
“Jesus Christ,” Rita said, “don’t you remember what day it is? It’s Christmas, and the kids’ll be coming down to open their presents. I don’t want them to see you drunk at the kitchen table at seven o’clock on Christmas morning.”
“I’m all right,” Lenny said. “Not drunk. Just a little tired.”
“What do you mean, ‘not drunk’? You reek of booze. The whole house does. They can probably smell your breath down at the corner.”
“Leave me alone. I’m telling you, I’m all right. Just tired. Be O.K. Just let me be.”
The children’s feet pounded on the stairs, then Lenny heard their excited voices in the living room. His head was bowed, nodding gently from side to side. “Have it your own way,” Rita said, and stomped out of the kitchen.
Lenny pushed himself up from the table. He took a fresh bottle of beer out of the refrigerator and went out to the living room. Leaning against the archway to the dining room, he watched the children open their presents. They were chirping with joy. Rita had done good in picking out their presents, but hey, that was her job. His job was to provide the money, and he’d done that, hadn’t he? He nodded to himself.
Jennifer looked up and saw him. “What are you saying yes about, Daddy?”
Lenny shook his head. “Nothing. Just thinking. Thinking how Santa Claus was real good to you guys.” He went back to the kitchen.
After a while, an hour or so, Rita came in. First she turned on the oven. Then she set about preparing breakfast. While she and the children ate French toast, Lenny drank from his beer bottle. Lucky he had thought to buy a case last week and stick most of it in the refrigerator. Once the breakfast dishes were washed, Rita took the turkey out of the refrigerator and put it in the oven. She went out to the living room, where the television set was on again. More carols.
The phone rang. Jennifer picked it up and called to her mother. Lenny heard Rita talking into the phone, but could not make out what she was saying. Eventually she hung up and came out to the kitchen.
“That was Elaine. She wants me and the kids to come over and visit. Her and her kids are lonesome. Her husband had to work today.”
“What about me? Ain’t I invited?”
“She didn’t say anything about you, and I didn’t ask. I don’t want you staggering over there and mortifying me and the kids.” She paused. “Look, we’ll only be gone half an hour. Till ten-thirty or so. I promise. You’ll be O.K. here, won’t you? Besides, you wouldn’t enjoy it. You wouldn’t want to play with the kids, and you don’t want to talk with me and Elaine, do you?”
Lenny was silent. Rita was right, but he was not going to give her the satisfaction of saying so.
Rita took his silence for consent. “All right. Just half an hour.” Then she was gone. Lenny heard her and the kids dressing for the short trek across the snowy street. The kids were asking to bring one present each with them, and Rita said yes. The front door opened and closed, and the house was suddenly very quiet. The kids had turned off the television before they left. That was not like them. The kitchen clock said five after ten. Lenny took out another bottle of Schlitz, popped the cap, and took a long greedy pull at it. Too much beer and not enough mouth, he realized, as beer dribbled out of his full cheeks and down his chin. He sank back onto his chair. He sat there quietly for a long time, his eyes closed, taking an occasional swallow of beer. The aroma of the turkey roasting in the oven began to fill the kitchen. Lenny breathed deeply. Always liked that smell, he said to himself. He thought again of Christmas Eve when he was growing up, of his father, a small man in some ways but big inside, sitting at the kitchen table with tears from the onions streaming down his face, helping his mother stuff the turkey. He thought too of the night before, how Rita had stuffed the turkey alone while he had sat silently by, watching, drinking. He shook his head. Something was wrong.
He opened his eyes and looked at the clock. Eleven-thirty. Where was that bitch? Should have been back by now. Lenny knew why she wasn’t. It had been coming since yesterday. She didn’t want to be with him – her husband, the father of her children – on Christmas Day. She would rather spend the time with her pathetic girl friend. Well, he’d teach her not to make a fool out of him. Somehow he’d teach her. The smell of the roasting turkey was warm, comforting, homey. Oh, he would teach her all right.
Lenny got up from the table and opened the oven door. Warm air flowed out over his face and chest. He stepped back. The turkey, already golden brown, sat in a large black oval roasting pan. He reached into the oven and hooked two fingers over one of the pan’s handles. The hot metal seared his fingers. He snatched his hand away and looked for potholders. He pulled three of the drawers in the cabinets near the sink onto the floor before he found two. He used them to pull the roasting pan out of the oven. Christ, this is a big turkey, he thought as he hefted the pan.
Turkey drippings sputtered and popped in the bottom of the pan as Lenny carried it through the house to the front porch. The lights on the Christmas tree blinked merrily. Lenny set the pan down and opened the front door. The street was quiet under a gray sky, the snow lying thickly on sidewalks and the roofs of parked cars. Down the street, near the corner, a young man was using a broom to brush snow off a parked car.
Lenny stooped down, his hands protected by the potholders, and picked up the roasting pan. In the open door, he swung the pan backward, then forward. As it came forward, Lenny let go of the potholders. The pan, turkey still inside, sailed out a couple of feet into the icy air, then plummeted abruptly into the snow. It hit on an angle, and the turkey tumbled out. The potholders fluttered down nearby. Drippings turned the snow around the turkey golden brown.
Lenny looked up and down the street. The young man near the corner was staring at him, his broom suspended in midair. Lenny went down his front steps, tramped deliberately across the street, and climbed the short flight of steps to Elaine’s front door. A little girl, one of Elaine’s kids, opened to his knock.
“Where’s my wife?” Lenny asked. It was like yesterday afternoon in Gallagher’s, easier to think of what he wanted to say than to say it. He hiccupped. He suddenly realized that it was very cold and he was coatless. He was shivering and his teeth were chattering.
Rita came to the door.
“If you want your fucking turkey,” he said, “it’s down there.” He turned, almost losing his balance, and pointed to the browned bird, half-buried in the snow. Swinging awkwardly back toward Rita, he said, “The next time you say you’ll come back in half an hour, you make goddamn sure you’re back in half an hour.”
Lenny turned, half-slid down Elaine’s steps, and retraced his path across the street, kicking the overturned roasting pan along the way. He went into his own house, slamming the door behind him. In the kitchen, he opened another bottle of Schlitz and sat down at the table.
A few moments later, Rita came into the kitchen with the roasting pan; the turkey, dusted with snow, was inside. Her eyes were angry, determined; she did not look at Lenny or speak to him. She put the turkey back in the oven, shut the door, and checked the temperature control. Then she turned to face Lenny.
“You’re nothing,” she said. “A worthless, useless, drunken, good-for-nothing bum.”
“You asked for it, bitch,” Lenny said. “You’re lucky it wasn’t the fucking tree.” He wasn’t nothing. He was a man, big inside, where it counted. If she had asked, he would have helped her to stuff the fucking turkey.