“Long Time No See,” by Alex Z. Salinas

Aug 20th, 2019 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

I sip morning coffee at a Starbucks I’m at every Saturday and pretend to read The New York Times. I skim headlines, wonder how wonderful it’d be if I actually read the articles.

I look up and see Bob. I haven’t seen Bob in three years, not since I left my last job. I’m not thrilled to see him, but not unhappy either. He told corny jokes and had a fittingly vanilla, somewhat unlikable face. You could say once upon a time, I invested a few stock-shares in Bob’s life.

I wave at Bob. Bob, in line, sees me and squints, then smiles and waves back. After he gets his drink, he walks over to me and shakes my hand, then sits down at my table. Real formal.

“Bobby boy,” I say. “Long time no see.”

“What’s going on with you, Porridge Breath? Never see you around here.”

“I’m always here,” I counter. “Bob, you look exactly the same. As handsome and dickless as a G.I. Joe.”

“Correction,” Bob says, “they still call me Stretch Armstrong.”

Bob flits his eyes down south and waggles his near-invisible eyebrows. Nobody ever called him Stretch Armstrong.

“Your mother would know more about that,” I say.

We laugh. I sip my coffee and Bob slurps his light green sludge.

“What’re you having?” I ask.

“Oh, you know, just a … … … …”

Bob strings together a series of words the sum of which loses me entirely. I don’t know why I even asked him the question. I couldn’t care less.

“Cool,” I say coolly.

“And you? What’re you having?” Bob asks.

“Coffee,” I answer. “Plain black coffee. See, Bob, I keep it simple. Only takes me three words.”

My tone comes off strong, but luckily for me, Bob hasn’t a clue about social cues.

“You always were a routine guy,” Bob says, a twinkle in his lazy gray eye. “Does your mom still make you tamales? Man, I never forget the time she brought some in. They were muy delicious!”

“Nope,” I say to Bob. “No more tamales.” I have no idea why I lie.

Bored, I change the subject.

“So how’s Joanie?” I ask.

“Joanie,” Bob says, taking a quick breath. “Well, her and I divorced three years ago.”

“Jesus,” I say. “I’m sorry. I—I didn’t know.”

“Of course you didn’t know,” Bob says. “How would you?”

“You’re right,” I say.

I sip my coffee and Bob slurps his green stew.

“And Mitchell?” I ask. “How’s that rascal doing?”

“Mitchell,” Bob says, taking a deeper breath. “Well, the thing about Mitchell is Joanie took him. I haven’t seen him in a while. I miss him. I do miss him a lot.”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” I say. “I’m sorry, Bob. I’m firing blanks, aren’t I?”

“It’s OK,” Bob says. “You didn’t know.”

“You’re right, I didn’t,” I say.

I sip my coffee and Bob slurps his booger mush. Watching and hearing him do so is nauseating. Exhausting.

“And Clara and Abe?” I ask. “Did they end up getting hitched after all?”

Bob wipes his lips, sighs, and then says, “They did, but they’re dead now.”

I almost spit out my coffee in Bob’s face.

“Christ!” I say. “They’re dead?

“Yes,” Bob says plainly. “They died in a car accident in Vermont. Abe smashed into a bus head-on. He was going eighty. Him and Clara died instantly. Happened in broad daylight. They guessed Abe was texting and driving. He wasn’t much of a drinker.”

“Good God,” I say. “Vermont? How does something like that happen in Vermont?”

“The lesson here,” Bob says as though he’s a preacher, “is that death isn’t restricted to any one geographic location. It happens anywhere, even in Vermont.”

I feel something heavy inside roll around. It wasn’t there when I first got to Starbucks.

“And Nate?” I venture to ask, hopeful I’ll receive some good news for a change. “Please tell me your brother’s doing alright?”

Bob stares at me for a few seconds, silent, then smiles. Phew! I think. I finally hit a shot.

Bob shakes his head side to side.

“Dead,” he answers. “We lost Nate last Christmas. After his gastric-bypass surgery, he stopped eating. He lost almost two hundred pounds and got real sick. My mom went into depression.”

All I manage to do is to sip a long, slow sip of coffee, now lukewarm.

Bob slurps his liquid diarrhea, in turn churning my stomach.

“Can you please stop doing that?” I snap.

Bob looks at me with his vanilla face—a face so stupid and garish I wonder why I even decided to engage with him.

I glance at his hand and notice a silver wedding ring. Was his old one gold? He’d mentioned his divorce with Joanie, but I desperately need to hear something positive—who his new wife is.

“Bobby boy,” I say, nodding toward his ring, “at least you caught another one. To tell you the truth, I never really liked Joanie. She was argumentative and full of herself. She thought she looked like Joan Crawford, but really, she looked like a retarded wallaby. So what’s the new one’s name?”

Bob looks at his ring and smiles.

“I’m not remarried,” he answers. “I just couldn’t bring myself to take this off.”

I’m off the reservation now. Going eighty, ninety, a hundred. Looking for something, anything, to smash into.

“You insufferable buffoon!” I shout. “You’re fucking relentless, Bob, as fucking relentless as King Harod in a children’s hospital!”

Bob stares at me for a moment, silent, then giggles. He giggles loud, his eyes closed like he’s a gigantic baby. Other patrons stare at us.

Suddenly, something inside me softens, and I laugh too. I can’t help it. I laugh along with Bob. Bob giggles and I laugh.

After a while, Bob finally says, “Good one, Pete. Good one. Man, I haven’t heard King Harod’s name in a long time. You’re a riot, Pete, a real riot!”

Bob giggles again, and this time the patrons join him. They all lose their minds.

I sip my coffee and feel the cold joe bubble in my guts. I feel the weight of death lift off my shoulders. Aliveness, I think, what a tremendous thing while it lasts.

Amidst Bob and the roaring audience, I stand and raise my arms to the roof, to heaven and hell beyond it.

“Bob,” I proclaim, my hands clenched into fists, “I’m going to stab your stupid fucking body until your stupid fucking intestines fall out, then I’m going to feast on them and shit on your stupid fucking mother’s stupid fucking grave!”

Bob and the crowd explode as though I just said the greatest joke in the world. They laugh so hard they fall out of their chairs and writhe in pain on the dirty floor, all the while pointing at me. Everyone pointing.

I’m standing, the only one upright, the only one quiet. I try to hear myself think, but can’t. I’m drowned out.

When the laughter dies down soon—hopefully soon, I pray—I’ll ask the barista for a plastic knife.


Alex Z. Salinas lives in San Antonio, Texas. His short fiction has been published in Every Day Fiction, Mystery Tribune, Red Fez, Points in Case, Me First Magazine, 101 Words, Schlock! Webzine, 121 Words, 365tomorrows, and The Fusty Nut Review. His poetry has appeared in the San Antonio Express-News, Shot Glass Journal, As It Ought To Be Magazine, Duane’s PoeTree, The Dope Fiend Daily, Brave New Word, Yellow Mama Webzine, Black Coffee Review, and in the San Antonio Review, where he serves as poetry editor.

Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.