Lemons (Tales from the Miracle Season 1.5)

          The lights were off, as they always were at this hour of the morning.  Gedrik found he preferred it that way, when the coffeehouse was drenched in layered shadows that flitted into different formations as cars passed.  It wasn’t dark, thanks to the ever-humming gas street lamps that grew out of the cement sidewalks at haphazard distances throughout the Warren, but it was dim—easy to hide in—and Gedrik very much liked to hide.

          What he didn’t like, however, was what he found atop the bar.  Some sort of glazed pastry on a plate.  It looked flaky, almost delicate.  Were those poppy seeds sprinkled evenly across the icing? If he picked it up, Gedrik was sure it would feel light in his hand.  He would not, however.  The affront was almost too much.  Instead, he wandered about the Scarlet Letter, examining the floor and table tops, the not quite gleaming white and blue tile of the kitchen and its pots and pans.  Not tidy, not to his liking, but that could be remedied.  It was clean, though.  Cleaner than it had been.  He appreciated they had made an effort.  Still, there was work to be done.

          He moved the tables and chairs so that the round and square tables alternated, the corners at angles that pointed to the others, the tablecloths rebalanced so they were perfect, the crumbs and dust revealed when he moved them dealt with.  Try as he might, his gaze kept returning to that cursed plate.  There was a time, he muttered under his breath, when they would’ve known better.  He’d have been better suited settling in at the bookshop down the way.  Nobody moving tables every day, leaving spots on the silverware, hanging crooked pictures every month.  Honestly, it was amazing the place even functioned. 

          That was mean-spirited, he supposed.  He liked Jessye, and appreciated what she was trying to do here.  She’d been the first to see the opportunity to build a community out of the ramshackle shops and bars of the Warren.  In the few years she’d owned the Scarlet Letter, Jessye had barely slept, turning what could’ve been just another student ghetto into a Bohemian quilt of shops, galleries, and eateries that all respected and collaborated with each other.  Well, on their best days, they did.  With a lot of cajoling and arm-twisting.  He even approved of her lack of sleep.  He didn’t like what he saw in her dreams.  Or whom.

          That was no excuse, though.  He approached the bar and its diabolical plate as if it were a hissing viper.  His face drew up somewhere between a frown and a snarl, his large nose flaring as the scent of lemon and something that smelled almost like curry wafted from the landmine.

          He shouldn’t.  He couldn’t.  They should’ve definitely known better.

          And yet here it sat. 

          If he picked it up, what would that mean?  If he ate it, he’d have to leave, of course.  Rules were rules.  But he could surely just check the balance, the aroma?  Wasn’t that within his purview? Of course.  Of course it was. 

          As he was talking himself into this blasphemy, there came a light rapping on the glass pane of the front door.  Squinting amidst the gloom, he made out a bent huddled form that he recognized.  With a sigh, he approached the door plate in hand.  He unlatched the lock and the man stepped shivering onto the Letter’s wood floor.

          “Howard.”

          “Gedrik” said a garrulous voice buried under layers of scarf he was in the process of unwinding.  After finally closing the door behind him and thus blocking the bluster that had driven him to seek shelter, the man sniffed the air as if a bloodhound.  “What is that incredible smell?”

          “Something Dmitri crafted before he left, it seems.”  Gedrik’s displeasure saturated every word.

          “Oh!  He mentioned he was going to try something new.”

          “He…did?”

          “Oh yes,” the man continued, “something for the breakfast crowd.  Said he’d leave it for me to grab in the morning before they opened officia—what’s wrong, my friend?”

          “I thought.  I mean—,” Gedrik was unaccustomed to feeling flustered.  It made him surly.  He cleared his throat loudly, unsure of how to continue. 

          “Back before I, well, my father used to own a restaurant downtown,” Howard rejoined, saving the day.  “Since Jessye’s been nice enough about letting me hang around, I offered them a few of the recipes of his I could remember.”

          “So this is your father’s?” Gedrik kept eying the untrustworthy breakfast food.

          “No, no, but obviously Dmitri was inspired.  It smells just familiar enough.” Howard picked up the pastry from the plate Gedrik was holding, inspecting the bottom crust as well as the aroma.  He broke off a piece in his calloused fingers, leaving a small smear of dirt on what remained of the pastry, and put it in his mouth.

          Gedrik just watched as the man swirled the bite around his mouth like it was a sip of wine he was trying to identify.  Patience wasn’t one of the virtues of his kind.  “Well?”, he snapped.

          After a moment Howard swallowed, a pleased smile on his face. “He’s no pastry chef, of course, but not bad.  Not bad.  I’ll bet Jessye’ll put it on the menu by the end of the day tomorrow.  It’s Dmitri’s first real creative work here,” the man noted.  “That should please you.”

          “It’s fine.  If you say it’s good, I’ll trust you,” Gedrik sulked.  When did he start sulking? These people were a bad influence.  He definitely should’ve chosen the bookshop. 

           Howard’s face softened, the lines that aged it far beyond his years looped and whirled into kindness.  “They know better, Gedrik,” he said softly, reaching down to place a hand gently on his smaller friend’s shoulder.  “If they even suspected, they wouldn’t.”

          Gedrik shrugged off the hand of his friend. “Of course they don’t suspect.  Of course not.  I’m a professional.”  He pulled himself up to his full diminutive height.

          Howard’s smile didn’t leave his face, “You’re the most hard-working person that I know.”

          “Yes, well.”  Gedrik fidgeted.  It bothered him how much hearing Howard call him a person so casually meant to him.  The homeless man had been the first—and maybe his only—friend since he’d come to this city.  To this place he’d begun to think of as his home, refugee as he was.

          “I’ll leave you be.  I’m sure you have a lot to do before they get here in the morning.”  Howard placed the pastry back on the plate that Gedrik was surprised to discover was still outstretched in his hand.  He closed the ill-fitted grey woolen coat and wrapped the scarf that was more holes than wool around his neck until his mouth was covered as well, and turned towards the door.

          “Finish it.”

          “What?”

          “Finish it.  You can stay and finish the cursed thing.”

           Howard asked gently, “Are you certain?”

          “Yes, yes,” Gedrik motioned towards the front of the coffee shop dismissively as Howard took the plate out of his hand.  Gedrik turned his back on the man and began fussing with the tablewares on the table now in front of him.  “Just sit on the bench seat over there by the window.  You’ll be out of the way there.”

          Howard sat at the designated spot and slipped another bite of the pastry into his mouth.  He grinned at the back of his friend as he felt the heat vent by his feet start to blow warm air up and around him.  There were no coincidences when it came to Gedrik, Howard had long learned.

          “I’m in your debt,” Howard said softly, though loud enough for the other to hear.  He knew better than to say the words proscribed. 

          Aligning the underlying napkin along the lines of the wide gingham table runner on the table before him, Gedrik snorted.

          Humans. 

admin

Leave a Reply Text

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *