Breakfast Down at Mickey's

Nick Vlcek

The leg moved up and down rapidly and continuously as Lance watched from the corner of his eye while eating his dry omelet. The leg, six inches from his own, bounced like a piston.

"Why do people do that?" he wondered. "It serves no purpose."

He moved his own leg up and down to see what it felt like. It felt stupid. The man next to him, reading the paper, took notice and abruptly stopped the twitching.

From his window seat Lance saw a Mustang clip a pigeon on West Seventh Street, sending it spinning awkwardly toward the curb. It hopped up on the sidewalk dragging a limp wing and steering clear of a bicyclist.

"That bird's got a long road ahead of it," he thought. "No one's going to come to its aid. Not today."

The wounded bird fit neatly into a dreary Sunday tableau with the homeless ambling past on their way to the Dorothy Day Center and a fry cook cussing out the waitress for crowding him behind the counter.

Earlier Lance had cussed a bit himself after being asked to vacate an area two blocks north. A No Loitering sign had been posted three weeks earlier, and a police officer driving past told Lance there had been complaints.

"When was the first 'No Loitering' sign made?" Lance asked the officer. "Man loitered for 200,000 years without anyone saying boo. Who was it who decided enough was enough?"

Lance dipped his toast in A1 sauce. Through the speaker near the exhaust fan he heard an unctuous, caffeinated DJ introduce a summer love song. The tune screamed for sunshine, but gray skies railed against it, and as the wind blew litter past the wounded pigeon, Lance winced at the dissonance.

Ten years ago he would have been on a Harley with a group of friends, hitting small towns, stopping by clapboard saloons or jumping in clear swimming holes. Now, it no longer interested him. There were no friends he cared to see. Or maybe there were, but only until he'd see them. That's when he'd no doubt feel out of place once more and long to slip away on his own.

"Being on your own is okay," Lance thought, "except for the thoughts. Too damn many thoughts, and nothing to turn 'em off."

The thoughts rolled: "How do people see me?... Do they see me?... Why is this town full of drugs capable of making me feel so alive and yet so in a hurry to do me in?... I have to leave this city and start over, wipe the slate clean. But then who'd visit the nursing home? It won't be long now and Mom won't know me anymore. I'll leave after that.... Would Sarah like me if I were smarter? Girls like witty guys.... I should get my shit together. I just need a job and the rest will take care of itself.... Sarah's not that great looking, but the way she carries herself; I mean, she moves like she's beautiful.... The waitress is going to be pissed when she learns I don't have enough for a tip.... I wish I could sleep all afternoon.... Why has that baby been crying so long? Don't parents know what to do?... I have to sell some plasma this week. "

Lance finished his coffee and set cash by his plate. He pulled a plastic Walgreens bag from his pocket and shook it open as he walked out the door. Rain was starting to fall, and the damp pigeon stood on a sewer grate with its eyes closed.

As Lance walked up to it the bird tried to flap its lone healthy wing and hop away, but Lance blocked it with his boot and scooped it into the bag. He tied a knot in the bag's opening, brought it to the side of the diner, and, below the window, out of sight of any customers, he felt the head through the plastic and ended its life with a twist of the neck.

The rain fell harder as Lance moved down St. Peter Street. He took off his shirt and allowed the summer shower to soak his tattooed skin. It focused his mind on the here and now. He felt a sudden release and a vague, foreign, fleeting joy. In a half-hour he'd be at his mom's bedside, and she'd be scolding him for not owning an umbrella. He'd promise to buy one. As he kissed her goodbye, she'd call him Larry.  

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