People around Red were saying they were going to charge Piggy with a hate crime, that the advance man had thought he heard a homosexual slur as Piggy threw the plate.
Photo by J. Mikael Siirilä
Red had never met a politician before, never one in the flesh. In elementary school Anthony Weiner had marched in the Marine Park Joe Torre parade, once around the oval, and then gathered for a photo op by the flagpole. The senior center hadn’t been built yet. Red didn’t remember the event. Weiner must have been on the City Council. Later there was a Weiner Award, when he became congressman. In high school, Red had won. It was a sort of consolation prize, the sportsmanship award of academics. Red never cut class, never stood out. Weiner, the spokesman announced, was sad that he couldn’t make it this year, but she’d be here on his behalf. She wore a tight-fitting black dress which Red realized was making her look skinnier than she really was. Still, she was beautiful. His hands got clammy when he walked up on the stage to accept the award. No one clapped, as they’d been instructed.
College was a few years for Red, first up at SUNY Cobleskill and then back home in Brooklyn. He was a few classes short from certification as a medical technician, but he wasn’t absolutely ready to get the job, or enroll in the final classes that would have secured it. His father retired and was suddenly always around the house, which to Red felt only precariously his now, his ownership fading. The two of them stalked the rooms like caged bulls in the afternoons, before one or the other relinquished and withdrew to wander around the park. His mother came home dutifully at six and began making dinner. She never mentioned the future. Red couldn’t imagine the summer stretching out this way. A friend of his applied as a joke but then was accepted to be an alternate ball boy for the Mets. Red couldn’t think of anything that clever. One Thursday when he lost the standoff to his father, he walked down Quentin Road to Bassett’s, and offered his services as a summer caterer.
Summer was the busiest time of year for Bassett’s. His first day they gave him a polo shirt with the Bassett’s logo on front, stitched in white. Red drove the van with another, more experienced employee, whose name was Lester but whom everyone called Piggy. Piggy was a setup man, getting the trays laid out and the Bunsen burners started, pouring the correct amount of water and preparing the flame. At the end of the event they took everything back out of the houses. Eventually Red noticed that Piggy had a smell to him, a slightly musky scent. He only realized it by looking at the faces of the people whose houses they were entering. There was always a blank stare and a wriggle when Piggy appeared at the door, with his stained Bassett polo, asking to come in. Piggy’s ambition was to transfer over into Bassett’s cooking division. He wanted to be a chef, though he’d never trained as one.
Piggy told Red never to take his shoes off, that they were food professionals, not servants.
Before the parties began, the very last moment, Red and Piggy brought in the actual food—hot and steaming in hand-sealed platters. Then the families, usually the fathers who had wrinkled their noses at Piggy earlier, would smile graciously, expressing some modicum of relief, and point to the empty water trays and Bunsen burners, as if Red and Piggy had forgotten about them. Red would drop the absurdly large see-through plastic bag of sailors’ rolls on some kitchen table, accompanied by half a pound of packets of butter. The platters were identified by a few initials on top, in black Sharpie. Stuffed shells with red sauce, eggplant parmesan, and chicken marsala ready for the water trays, bubbling. Afterward, it was an easy cleanup—in the rear of the van they loaded everything, sauce-laden, against the metal divider. Piggy told Red never to take his shoes off, that they were food professionals, not servants. Piggy wore heavy construction boots even in the worst heat waves.
The summer slid by. Red worked more than he didn’t. On days off he went to different local beaches with friends who either hadn’t graduated yet or hadn’t gathered together their lives. It was different then, compared to summer vacations from school—with two days off a week he felt constantly unsatisfied. He grew irritable on his off days, anxious to jump in someone’s sandy Toyota and pitch in for the toll over the Marine Parkway Bridge, or else take the bus to the train to Coney Island at night, a newly Disneyfied place, the high-speed batting cages and shoot-the-freak attraction gone. There were a few girls whose lithe sand-tanned bodies he chased on those days, followed their footsteps to parents’ basements at nighttime. Whenever he came home, when he ever did, his father gazed at him triumphantly, continued reading his paper. His mother smiled softer and offered words that only deep down resonated with concern. He was twenty-one. It was only July. Piggy was waiting for him every workday morning.
On July 3, a Monday, Red came in to work and felt a sense of excitement in the small drab offices, already echoing with activity. The Bassett’s top chef had his head fixed over a book of menus, each menu tacked in and lightly curled from the humidity. The head of the business side of the operation, a tired middle-aged man named Jose, was gleefully running numbers on the handheld calculator that served as technology in the Bassett’s office. Red found Piggy on his feet in the waiting room with a copy of the Daily News, running his finger up and down the columns of the sports pages. The Mets’ star pitcher needed Tommy John.
What’s up? Red asked. Piggy jumped a little, his grin unfolding. It’s you, he said, in what for Piggy was a heartfelt way. He placed the paper neatly on the radiator.
Chris Quinn’s people called, Piggy said. Chris Quinn! We’re catering for them tomorrow afternoon.
It had been a long time heading up to the mayoral races in November, and Red had never really tuned in before, but like everyone else he knew the name.
Are we working it? Red asked. Piggy said, Absolutely.
That afternoon, they drove two vans over, packed with empty trays stacked to the top and a set of cheap plastic tablecloths that Jose had found wholesale from a friend. They drove down R, made a left on Marine Parkway, and continued into the park, past the sign that said, “Cars Do Not Enter,” up the newly paved path to the senior center that had been completed that June.
The woman in charge of the senior center, in her Parks Department uniform, was in her office waiting. Welcome, she said, welcome. Have you been in before?
The senior center was a round pagoda-like building, empty in the circular middle except for tables and chairs. Bathrooms and empty classrooms made up the area around the edges. It was all clean and new. The roof had an observation tower in the middle of it that as far as Red could see you couldn’t get to. The surface of the roof was covered with grass, for energy conservation. The construction had cost 16 million dollars. The building that it had replaced, which had been there since before Red was born, was made of bricks and painted ocean-blue, and besides bathrooms and the storage of a tractor-trailer, Red didn’t remember what its purpose had been.
Piggy was asking the senior center director where they should plan to be serving the food, and where they could expect the podium to be and the onslaught of chairs. The director explained that she thought it would be nice if the podium were right in front of the flagpole, the seats unfurled outside on the “porch,” as it were, of the senior center, giving attendees the view of the gorgeous park, the green oval stretching out away from the senior center, which was the diamond on the park’s ring. Red stood a little away and leaned against the wall of the senior center, in the shade. He wondered if Piggy was trying to flirt with the center director. She was overweight, but she had a clear assured voice. It was confirmed for Red when Piggy asked the director to follow him to their vans to inspect the material. He never did more than just what he needed to. He told Red to set the tables up outside the doors, where they would serve the food buffet style. Red watched while Piggy walked the director over to their vans, nodding considerately at everything she said.
Red began setting up the tables, kicking the fold-out legs down one by one. He had a few lined up side by side when a bent-over old man approached him.
Is there lunch today? the old man asked. It was 11:30.
I don’t know, Red said. We’re just getting ready for an event.
The old man gripped his hands on the fold-out table, bringing his head close to the edge. His button-down shirt was tucked into khakis, but his sneakers were dirty and worn. I thought so, he said. Politicians tomorrow?
I think so, Red said. I think it’s going to be the Speaker.
That dyke, the old man said. I suppose there’ll be no lunch tomorrow too. What ridiculousness. He looked to Red as if for confirmation.
For sure, Red said. They’re doing a barbecue though. It starts at 1. The old man acted as if he hadn’t heard.
Twelve years to build this thing, he said, mostly to himself. Then they rent it out half the weekends. And lunch is up to two dollars. He pulled a handkerchief out of his back pocket and wiped it over his whole face. Red wanted to move on to the next tables.
Politicians, he said, commiserating.
Yes, the old man said. Especially dykes.
I know what you mean, Red said, though he didn’t, and moved on to the next table.
To be entirely honest, there was a single girl whom Red spent most of his afternoons thinking about, even when he was at work, seemingly busy, even on beach trips with other friends and girls, even when following other fluttering hands into basements. Her name was Tonianne, and whenever he could he spent whatever he earned at Bassett’s on dinners or dates with Toni. She’d gone to college—real college—and now she was back but already had an apartment, shared with three girls in some other far-stretching finger of the borough, from where she commuted to the city for work at NOW, the National Organization for Women. She did communications for them, really social media, and even though she’d moved away she still harbored a soft spot for Red and Marine Park.
Politicians, Tonianne said. It’s hard to get excited about them.
So it’s a rally? she asked him that night, as they walked out of dinner at Salvi’s Restaurant, the nicest place that Red knew of in the neighborhood. It had a small skylight in the center decorated with plastic ferns.
Not exactly, said Red. It sounds just like a Fourth of July thing, I guess. They were walking down Quentin.
Politicians, Tonianne said. It’s hard to get excited about them. Even Quinn, being the first woman and all. I barely want to vote for her.
Hmm, Red said.
She’s so centrist, she barely counts as a Democrat. I want someone like de Blasio, but for some reason he rubs me the wrong way.
Sure does, said Red. They were silent.
I should get back, Tonianne said. I promised the girls we’d do a ladies’ night.
How about I walk you to Kings Highway, he said. Quietly, she said she thought that would be alright.
They walked down Quentin, past a new bar that had just opened up, “34th Street”—as if it were Manhattan, a different 34th street entirely, but still, thought Red, the numbers were the same. They walked fully side by side, and Red didn’t need to match his strides to Tonianne’s, they fit that perfectly together.
On the corner of Bedford, across the street from Madison, Red sent his hand toward hers, an exploratory mission. Their fingers brushed, the red light changed, they walked slowly across the street. It seemed to Red that he was encircled in the perfect night. At the train station, he kissed her cheek goodbye, lingering just too long, his breath on her face. He could see it in her eyes then, that she knew. Dinner was great, she said. What are you doing tomorrow? Red told her that once he finished at the senior center event, he wasn’t doing anything. Maybe I’ll come back, Tonianne said. Maybe we can go to Sheepshead Bay.
As Tonianne passed through the turnstiles, the Q train rumbling its approach overhead, she turned back, her thick hair trembling. Tell Quinn to be herself, she called to him, laughing. Tell her that we all want to root for her. And then she was gone, dashing up the concrete stairs, past a Hasidic man, who put his hand to his black hat as she flew by.
Red walked out of the train station. The man that was usually there selling boxes of stolen strawberries must have taken the day off, or else the cops had moved him. The lights down Quentin, as far as Red could see, were green. Instead of taking the bus back, he walked all the way home, never once digging in his pocket to check his cell phone. He felt that he had just been in the presence of perfection. He didn’t want to see any of his dead-end friends now, or the too-skinny underage girls who flocked to them. When he got home, he came in the back door, walked quietly through the living room where his father lay asleep. Red pulled the Daily News off his father’s chest and took it up to his childhood bedroom. He read the political pages for a while before he too closed his eyes.
I voted for Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani, Bloomberg. I always pick the winner, Piggy said.
He was up early the next morning. Jose, the business manager, had asked him and Piggy to step in as not just setup men, but full caterers—responsible for their own trays, wearing hairnets, standing at the ready with plastic spoons. Piggy was excited about the opportunity, and had found a chef’s hat for himself somewhere in the Bassett’s storage closets. No one had the heart to tell him to take it off.
Red sat behind his and Piggy’s station—linguini with clams, spaghetti with red sauce, and two trays of American food. There were other caterers down the line, and Jose walked up and down the row of trays, as if rallying his troops. He leaned in and conferred with pair after pair. When he got to Red and Piggy, he said: Looking sharp guys. Okay, moment they open the food up I want you on your feet, and kick the chairs back so you’re not tempted for the rest of the time. He showed them a picture of Quinn, torn from the pages of the News. I expect you know who she is, said Jose. If she comes up to your station, you address her as Madame Speaker. Red and Piggy agreed.
When Jose walked away, Piggy turned to Red.
Did you vote last election? he asked.
Red shook his head. I was too young, he said. He wasn’t sure if he had been, but regardless, he hadn’t done it.
Right, Piggy said. I was an election volunteer, you know. I worked at the polls.
Good for you, Piggy, Red said.
It’s the most important thing, voting, said Piggy. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t do it.
Okay, Red said.
I voted for Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani, Bloomberg. I always pick the winner, Piggy said.
So who you got this year? Red asked.
Piggy looked at him disdainfully. Obviously Quinn, he said.
They were stationed on the edge of the chairs, within sight of the speaker’s platform. Some seniors had already claimed spots, heads attentively upright and facing the empty podium, its blue and white Velcro patch on the front fraying at the edges. Red watched a woman decked out in “Ban Fracking” and “Save LICH” and “Stop Frisking” campaign pins drag a similarly aged man from the bocce courts behind the senior center to folding chairs in the front row. The man followed her quiescently, it seemed to Red. When they sat, the man promptly burrowed himself into his VFW jacket, unbuttoned to accommodate the season, and fell asleep.
An old Ford Taurus was the first car to arrive. It came screeching down Fillmore, from Ocean Parkway and all points north. It paused, briefly, in front of the “No Cars” sign at the entrance to the park, and then jammed through. It pulled to a stop next to the senior center, and a man in a fresh and tight black suit clipped quickly toward the flagpole. Even from there his shoes shined. Piggy jumped up. He pushed the hat up on his head, so that it was pointing ahead of him. He smoothed his apron. Red reluctantly pushed their chairs back.
The man in the suit was checking the podium, putting a portable microphone on top. He left an opened bottle of Poland Spring inside the podium’s depths—then he stepped back, took a picture of the whole setup on his phone, and walked back to the car. Piggy stayed standing until the man had disappeared into his Taurus, and then he pulled his chair toward him again, and sat down. The other caterers’ faces were fixed on their phones.
Can’t be too careful, said Piggy, rubbing his hands. Red patted him on the back.
The next car to arrive was a black sedan, an off-duty police car, with a siren on top and no decals on either side. Two bulkier men in suits came out. They looked at the podium, and the senior center, shook hands with the skinny, suited man, and then walked over to Piggy and Red.
Hey Piggy, said one of the cops.
Oh it’s you, said Piggy. The other cop leered at him.
This is Red, said Piggy, he’s my assistant.
O’Malley, said the first cop. Donato, said the other. Red waved hello but didn’t shake their hands because of the plastic gloves.
We’re not supposed to start serving until the VIPs get here, Piggy said indignantly. O’Malley had already found plates next to Red, and passed one to Donato. Just a little taste, Donato said. He eased the tinfoil lid up and took two chicken fingers from Piggy’s trays. O’Malley took three. Piggy moaned but let it happen.
Fidler stood in front of the podium and smiled, put his meaty hands in the air. Thank you, thank you, he mouthed. Next to Red, Piggy was standing and clapping furiously.
How’d they hook you up with this crazy, Donato said to Red. I didn’t know they let him outdoors anymore.
It’s just a summer job, said Red. This seemed to satisfy the cops.
When’s Quinn getting here, Piggy asked. The next mayor, he marveled. Donato sighed as he and O’Malley walked away. When O’Malley put the chicken fingers to his mouth, Red noticed, his suit jacket, a little too short, rode up above his belt. He didn’t have anything on the belt except for his gun, which was more thin and ladylike than Red would have thought.
You’ll know it when you see it, Donato said, and O’Malley seemed to agree. They took seats on opposite sides of the rows of folding chairs, and finished their chicken fingers.
In half an hour, Councilman Lew Fidler arrived. Red recognized him from the pictures on his campaign posters, a big jovial face, like John Goodman. He was always grinning in those pictures, and his jaw was a superhero’s jaw. Tonianne had told Red that he was a good supporter of education, and that he knew how to get funds for his community. Fidler had driven his own car, a nice-looking Saturn XL. He parked it next to the police officers’ sedan and walked over toward the podium. There was a gushing sound from the seniors dotting the folding chairs, and suddenly they broke into applause. The man in the VFW jacket put his fingers to his teeth and dog-whistled. Fidler stood in front of the podium and smiled, put his meaty hands in the air. Thank you, thank you, he mouthed. Next to Red, Piggy was standing and clapping furiously. From a distance, due to the chef’s hat, Red could imagine that to others he looked like the manager.
Fidler kept saying, Thank you, reaching forward to shake peoples’ hands. He had a loose tan suit on, pinstriped, it looked like, though it was hard to tell. Finally, he leaned back against the podium and said, Thank you, one final time, pointed glamorously at the senior center behind the seniors. It did, Red thought, look good, sort of out of place in a drab park like this. They’d even re-sodded the grass around it and put in brand new benches that Red had noticed people sitting on, even at nighttime, playing guitars or peering down at e-readers. Your senior center, Fidler finished grandly, but by this time the applause was getting tired and tepid. He switched tracks quickly. I know we’re all hungry, Fidler said, and we’re almost ready for the festivities. My sources tell me—here his eyes twinkled—that the Speaker is coming down Fillmore now, and she’ll just be a few minutes. Until then, as you were. He waved, and walked over to the cops who were playing with the Styrofoam plates they’d taken, chicken fingers long gone.
He’s a straight shooter, said Piggy. That’s a face I know I could trust. I look him in the eyes, and I know what he’s made of.
He’s a straight shooter, said Piggy. That’s a face I know I could trust. I look him in the eyes, and I know what he’s made of. Piggy reached a hand down into his platter, bent back the lid, and smoothed the layer of chicken fingers so it looked like none were missing. He’s a good one, Fidler, Piggy said. He licked the crumbs from his plastic gloves.
Piggy and Red sat in silence for a while. The seniors were beginning to get antsy. They kept turning around and looking at the row of trays, and the row of caterers behind them. Sometimes one or another of them would get up, turn around, shade their wrinkle-beaten faces from the afternoon sun, and look for any signs of activity on Fillmore. Then, inevitably, they would turn their gaze once more to the food. It was nearly one o’clock. Red wondered what Tonianne was doing. Even without his eyes closed he could imagine her. Nothing dirty, nothing overtly sexual, she was too perfect for that. All he could imagine, really, was sitting next to her quietly.
The murmuring began, echoing to the wide park in front of them. Red looked behind him. There were no sirens on the top of the car, but it was flanked by two hulking black SUVs, their own sirens rotating lethargically, the lights on, but no sound emanating. The three-car caravan continued slowly, inching onto the pathway, serene as boats. The police sedans peeled off, parking on either side protectively. For a moment nothing happened, and it was as if the crowd had forgotten about food, forgotten about speeches, forgotten about each other even. They watched the door, and slowly it opened.
First it was a long leg—pudgy really, but long, in the way that some people project height and power. In sensible black dress pants, first one and then the other of the Speaker’s legs emptied from the car. Her crisp business suit, her lopsided smile. The red hair that everyone recognized, could see so abundantly coiffed in their minds. One hand on the roof of the car, she launched herself toward the crowd. The skinny, suited advance man, after handing her some papers, sprinted to the podium and tacked up the New York City Council seal, Velcro on the back, as the Speaker made her way to the front row. Seniors waved, some took pictures. Many of them were clapping. She shook hands as she went. And it occurred to Red that it could have been that nobody noticed the sedan door, still open, where no driver had come out—that, in the back seat, from the hole where the Speaker had emerged, there was another person—a small, scrunched-up man, in what Red was sure was a dark blue pinstriped suit—a gnarled hand cradling an iPad, a finger waving toward the front to take him away. It could have been, Red thought to himself, that no one saw the mayor’s car leave, because as it sailed toward the park exit and Fillmore Avenue, and then Ocean and the Prospect Expressway and the other, more profitable parts of the city, the Speaker was at the podium, shouting, Thank you, thank you. Friends, thank you!
It was a good speech. Red had never heard a speech in person, though he’d seen movies with ones in them, and he’d always considered them slightly corny, a brief break from more regular dialogue. Red wasn’t one for rhetoric, but the Speaker was as plain as they come. She started by invoking her father—but had she started really? There hadn’t been a formal introduction, she was really only wandering around the podium. She had the portable microphone in her hand. She talked about her father, who traveled with her everywhere, who—hell—had his own office in her offices, in the basement of City Hall (because this city don’t run without dads! she kidded). She said that her father—who in fact was here today, there he was, on the edge of the platform supporting himself on a bit of a cane—the audience clapped—was 88 years old. More clapping. And nothing was more important to the Speaker in the world than her father having a good place to eat every day, a place to sit down and shoot the crap—did she really say that? Piggy asked. And we can’t all be home with our older parents, the Speaker said, as much as we’d like to, because we’re working men and women, working full-time, making our city great, and that’s why we need to help each other, have a place where we can gather with our friends in the neighborhood, where we can be a family bigger than our own.
You know, the Speaker said, leaning one arm on top of the podium, I saw a movie the other day, with my father, actually, when I was able to get out of work cutting a hard deal on the damn budget—15 firehouses saved, no teachers laid off!—an old lady in the back of the crowd gave a whoop—and I went to see a movie at Brooklyn College with my dad, and let me tell you it was a heartwarming movie, a documentary about a group of friends who themselves went to Brooklyn College years ago, and remained friends, and never left this great borough, and every Wednesday they have lunch together. Men who lunch, they call it. Some people laughed. And some days they go to Spumoni Gardens, and some days Grimaldi’s, and some days Junior’s, but every week they have something to look forward to, and that’s being together with their fellow New Yorkers, companionship, what we all need. At this the Speaker looked behind her. And I know my wife is gonna be kicking me out of the house on Wednesdays when I’m that age, just so she can get some peace and quiet! I know that’s what she wants! Because let’s be honest, we all know, me included, that one of the things I’ve been gifted with is a big mouth!
There was a general scraping of chairs as the seniors and dignitaries and cops rose—but as if it were church and this the end of Mass, the seniors waited while Quinn and her people walked down the middle aisle, toward the food.
The Speaker gathered her notes and stood properly behind the podium, beaming. I want to thank Councilperson Lew Fidler, without whom there would be no center behind us today. I want to thank Borough President Marty Markowitz for always being the cheerleader that he is for Brooklyn, best borough in the world after Queens, just kidding. I want to thank Councilperson Peter Vallone and Councilperson Jumaane Williams for supporting Lew’s spearheading of this effort, my whole staff, Lew’s whole staff, Steelworkers United Chapter 57, who raised this thing from the ground, literally from the ground, my friends. And Bassett’s catering, whose wonderful Brooklyn food we’re all about to eat! The speaker put her notes to the side. Now, as my father says, even though he’s a regular mick and I don’t know where in heavens he picked this up, mangia! Piggy jumped up, and so did Jose, sitting in one of the back folding chairs, gesturing for the rest of the caterers to take their places. They pulled the tin-foil lids back. There was a general scraping of chairs as the seniors and dignitaries and cops rose—but as if it were church, and this the end of Mass, the seniors waited while Quinn and her people walked down the middle aisle, toward the food.
Red was standing, and he saw the three men who had approached the edge of the tables from the basketball courts down Fillmore. No stop and frisk, one of them said, first low, but then the man and the other two said it louder. The Speaker, walking toward the trays, heard it and stiffened, the seniors turning around. She motioned to her advance man and gestured, and he started walking toward them, clipboard in hand, palm outstretched. But the men said it only one more time and walked away, toward the street. The pin lady, back in the front row, took the opportunity to chime in. And ban fracking, she grumbled, but almost no one heard her. She stood up, too, to make her way toward the food. The Speaker’s smile was already relaxed again, and she continued down the line shaking hands. She picked up a Styrofoam plate when she got to the trays, and looked around for silverware. Let’s get some food going here, she said.
The advance man was next to her. The police officers were behind. Lew Fidler was at the drinks table, laughing loudly and holding his cup for another caterer to pour soda into it. Red and Piggy had their arms folded behind their backs as the Speaker came up to their station. Hello Madame Speaker, Red said, and looked to Piggy, but Piggy didn’t say anything. His mouth was open, in a mix of wonderment, shock and delight. Everyone was looking at them. Now I would just love me some linguini, the Speaker said, and offered Piggy her plate. Slowly Piggy took it, and he filled it up to the brim with pasta, thin and dripping with olive oil, cheap clams. He piled it high onto her plate, so that only with his whole hand balancing underneath could he possibly support it. The Speaker watched in anticipation. Piggy looked at her. He put the plastic spoon back in his tray. He locked eyes with the Speaker and together their smiles began to falter. Red looked at Piggy, and the color in his face told Red already that something was wrong. Piggy’s hands trembled beneath the Styrofoam. Red started to move toward him. But it was too late, because Piggy gave a little cry, a mix between a shout and a yawn, and threw the plate of linguini in the Speaker’s face.
It was left to Red, of course, to face the music. Or, at least, the less serious half of the music, because the police officers had immediately pushed Piggy to the ground and gotten handcuffs on him, stuffed his head into the unmarked black sedan. People around Red were saying they were going to charge Piggy with a hate crime, that the advance man had thought he heard a homosexual slur as Piggy threw the plate. Some of the seniors had heard the Speaker fuming, as she walked through the crowd to the second, last-remaining police sedan, the advance man following after her, handing her napkins, one at a time—Why do I even come to Marine Park, the Speaker said. Bunch of morons. Fidler tried to get in the car with her but she shouted, Out! The cars sped away, and it was just the seniors left with the food.
After he’d done his share of the cleaning, with Jose doing much of the heavy lifting, what with Piggy gone, Red drove the van down Quentin and dropped everything off at the office. He was about to slink out when Jose saw him walking and gestured a finger in his direction. Here, he said. Mr. Bassett wants to speak with you.
Jose opened the door onto a long corridor, and the corridor’s floor was covered with carpet, and there were framed prints from museums on the walls. He motioned Red in. On his left Red passed a formal dining room, the cushions of the chairs covered in plastic. At the end of the corridor an old white hand waved at him, and gestured him inside. Mr. Bassett sat behind a desk, in a room lined floor to ceiling with books. Red remained standing.
How long have you been in my employ? Mr. Bassett asked Red.
About a month, Red said. Bassett was wearing khakis and a button-down shirt, and there was a cane leaning against the desk, its handle worn. I’ve enjoyed it, Red added, because Bassett hadn’t said anything.
What’s the idea? Bassett asked him finally. You and Lester. What were you thinking of? Was this some kind of political statement? Were you trying to get in the papers?
Red had his hands stuffed in his pockets. It’s nothing like that Mr. Bassett, he said. I guess Piggy just snapped.
Bassett leered at him, his wrinkled mouth widening. Red couldn’t tell what he was thinking. I’ll have to fire the two of you, you know, he said. But I do appreciate young people who have some sense of politics. It’s good for the community. Bassett picked up the phone and said, Jose?
Red walked out of the office on Quentin. He didn’t have anything to take with him. He took his cell phone out of his pocket and it was full of missed calls from strange numbers, in addition to messages from his parents and various friends. Without checking them, he dialed Tonianne’s number.
What happened? she said, her voice verging on excited. You’re all over the news. They’re having a field day. Someone got a picture, and you’re standing right next to the guy. Was he some kind of psycho? Red had only said hello.
Red? Tonianne asked. How’re you doing Red? What’s up?
I got fired, Red said finally.
Tonianne paused. I’m sorry. I’m sure you could get it back. She paused again. But also, it’s just catering.
Red sat down on a stoop, the house’s lights all off, no one to bother him. It was midsummer in Marine Park, but dusk felt almost like fall. In the open air, he was reminded of school starting, Halloween, trick or treating, becoming too old for that. He knew only one thing—none of that would happen again. It was the only thing he knew for sure. It was July now, the beginning of the summer, really. There was so much summer left.
It’s fine, Red said. Really. It’s nothing at all. There was a crack in the air from a few blocks away, and a small illegal firework exploded, some kids shrieking, souped-up car alarms going off. There was laughter and somebody yelled, America!
Happy Fourth, Red said to Tonianne, and he saw it all in front of him. He would make plans with her for that evening. They would go to a restaurant, perhaps near her apartment, with candles and heavy tablecloths. They would talk about her work, about things they’d shared in the past, neighborhood things, their short lives. There would be no rush to leave. The fireworks over the Hudson only came after dark. Waiters would bring their food on wide white plates, elegantly, preening, the food steaming and sizzling as it got closer and closer to them.
Mark Chiusano’s collection of stories, Marine Park: Stories, will be published by Penguin in August 2014. His stories and essays have appeared in Narrative, Harvard Review, and online at Tin House and The Paris Review Daily, among other places.
Photo by Charlotte Alter