Morris sat up in bed, his heart pounding. He’d been having a nightmare and might’ve yelled out, he didn’t know. He still had the images in his head: a river, black water flowing, something enormous and hungry underneath rippling the water, trying to pull him under, wanting to devour him. There were children that had turned to stone lying on the river bank, chalky white against the deep green grass, unable to help him. He looked around his bedroom, trying to get oriented. Sunday—he remembered it was Sunday, 5:30 AM. He took a deep breath, then got out of bed, put on his sweats.
Downstairs, out the door, he went for a run. Up and down the streets of South Philly, east side of Broad Street, over to Delaware Avenue, from Oregon up to Washington, some blocks better than others, some black, some Asian, some Italian, some Irish. Most of it working class, some just poor, some drug and crime infested and filthy, others safe and clean. It looked different this early in the morning; it was quiet and peaceful. He saw Easter decorations in front windows. Here and there people dressed up, leaving for early Mass. The neighborhood reminded him of where he grew up in the northeast, his own block where his mother still lived filled with row homes and no trees, similar to where he lived in Brooklyn when he was going to cooking school in New York. There was just something about all that concrete, and the people, rough around the edges, some torn, that seemed to draw him, made him feel comfortable, at home. But as comforting as it was, the place held you down, kept you, ate away at you as long as you stayed there. If you stayed, you were one of them: found a girl from the neighborhood, got married, moved a few blocks from your parents, got a local job, went to flab, and got old there, died there. If you left, you cut any real ties and had to find or create a new world to live in, you became a different person. Holidays you came back to see the family, but it was never the same. You heard what they all said about the others who’d left before you, and you knew they said the same thing about you. Morris realized at some point that moving to Brooklyn, then South Philly, was his way of leaving but not really leaving, making a change, trying to get away but staying put. He figured it was probably something everybody wanted: for things to change and yet to stay the same. It was a contradiction, and that’s one of the reasons why people were always so unhappy. But it was the desire itself, whether or not it could be fulfilled, that made us human.
Running, pounding the pavement, working up a good sweat, he thought about Vince. His attitude, his demeanor hadn’t changed since he got out of the joint on Wednesday. Maybe it was too soon to expect him to adjust, to start getting on with his life, but Jesus Christ the guy was a real pain in the ass, a real bastard sometimes. You try to help him out, cut him a break, and all he does is complain, walk around with that scowl on his face. Not only that, but anybody could see he was planning something, cooking something up. Remember the day he got out of prison? He said he had to take care of some problem. He said some things stay with you, some things you never forget. He was going to do something, and no doubt it was something illegal and maybe dangerous.
Morris kept telling himself it wasn’t his responsibility, it just wasn’t his goddamned problem, but he really didn’t want to see anything bad happen to Vince. It was the damnedest thing: he couldn’t stand being around him the way he was, and sure as hell couldn’t wait for him to leave, move back into his own place, and at the same time he was concerned about him, wanted to help him if he could.
Okay, so what do you do to help the guy? Maybe get him to open up, talk about things, you know, talk about what went on in prison, he’ll feel better, let go of some of that anger, not get himself into trouble. So feed him a decent meal—make him an omelet this morning. Let him spill his guts about what happened.
Morris stopped running, wiped off the sweat, took a few deep breaths, standing where he was, the corner of 13th and Mifflin, and headed for the Italian Market.
The place was packed, Sunday morning, a beautiful day, people already jamming the sidewalks. Checking out the stands, the fresh produce, walking up and down the market, Morris found what he wanted. He’d make two omelets: one with smoked salmon, sour cream, Dijon mustard, chives and tarragon. The other, shitake mushrooms, shallots, and Gruyere cheese. He found the best produce at two or three of the vendors, and the cheese at DiBruno’s. He walked home and took a shower, then got the ingredients together, put on the coffee, toasted some bagels, and woke up Vince. It was 10:30.
Setting the table, waiting for Vince to come down, his thoughts turned to Vicky, how hungry he was for her. He’d worked every night, so they’d only managed to share a few stolen moments in the office at the restaurant this week, pawing at each other. Somebody’d knock at the office door, or they’d have to put the brakes on before it went too far, and afterwards he’d walk back to the kitchen, glassy-eyed, wiping off lipstick stains with his apron, sporting a huge erection, and have to try to make boeuf bourguignon that way. He grinned, thinking about her. She was different, no doubt about it, different from any of the other girls he’d ever gone out with. He reminded himself not to get too worked up over her, just play it cool, take it easy, things’ll work out.
Vince came down in a few minutes, yawning and scratching, sat at the table. Morris poured a cup of coffee, walked into the dining room, handed it to him. “Black, no sugar, right?”
Morris said: “Get in late?”
“You hungry? You want me to start the omelets?”
“Whatever you want.”
Morris walked back into the kitchen, turned on the burners, started heating the pans, added the butter.
Looking over at the blank TV, Vince said: “Why don’t you get cable?”
From the kitchen, Morris said: “Been meaning to. Just haven’t gotten around to it,” then listened to that sentence back in his head, asking himself if it sounded different, if it sounded like when they were kids in the northeast, if he was using his old accent. He couldn’t tell.
“Oughtta get a VCR.”
“Had one,” Morris said. “It broke.”
Vince took a sip of coffee. “So you don’t watch TV, don’t rent movies. What d’you do?”
Morris was sautéing the mushrooms and shallots. “I cook,” he said.
“Yeah, that’s work. What d’you do for fun?”
“I cook,” said Morris, grinning to himself. He poured the eggs, chives, and tarragon into one of the skillets for the salmon omelet.
“You like it that much?”
“Yeah, I like it that much. Plus I’m good at it.” Screw modesty. He knew it was true. He may have done a lot of stupid shit when he was younger—drugs, crime, all that stuff—and he may not have been any good at anything else, but he sure as hell knew how to cook, and he knew what good food tasted like.
In another minute, the mushrooms and shallots were done. He poured the eggs for the second omelet into the skillet, put the salmon and the mustard and sour cream in the first, folded it. Another few seconds, and the salmon omelet was done. He put it on a serving plate. “This’s almost ready,” he said. He put the mushrooms and cheese in the second one, folded it, let it cook a few more seconds, then slid it onto another plate.
Carrying the plates out to the table, he said: “You want some more coffee?”
“No, I’m good.”
“This one’s salmon, mustard, and sour cream; this one’s mushrooms, shallots, and cheese,” pointing to the two plates.
“That’s cool,” Vince said, taking a big spoonful of the mushroom omelet.
Morris buttered half a bagel, watching Vince take a bite of the omelet. The fork coming away from his mouth, he seemed to freeze a second, his mouth stopped moving, and a slight frown showed on his forehead. Then he started chewing again, speared a mushroom, put it in his mouth. Morris grinned to himself. Vince’d never say so, but that was the best goddamned omelet he’d ever eaten.
Morris said: “You remember when we were teenagers, living at home, after I started doing the cooking? One night I made omelets for dinner. Dad wasn’t there. It was just you, me, and mom. Remember? You got out the ketchup. Remember that?”
Vince looked over, shook his head.
“I told you ketchup didn’t go on omelets, it wouldn’t taste right.”
“Yeah. Remember what you did?”
Vince shook his head. “No, what?”
“You threw the food on the floor—all the food, not just yours, all of it, and said, ‘Now it won’t taste like anything,’ and you got up and left.”
Vince looked back down at his plate. He’d stopped eating.
Morris said: “I was afraid you were gonna ask for some ketchup just now.”
Vince looked back over at him. “Yeah?”
Morris grinned. “Yeah. I don’t have any.”
Vince grinned back at him, started chewing again. Morris noticed his face seemed lighter. He wasn’t scowling. They ate in silence a few minutes, and then, eyes downcast, Vince said: “This don’t need any ketchup.”
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