Two Questions: Name and Date of Birth, Not Hard, Never a Wrong Answer
Shouldering the revolving door to avoid surface-touching I do a Fred Astaire soft-shoe shuffle, bypassing the tasty dark chocolate rack on my way to the pharmacy counter.
Still sober: clean-shaven, well dressed, and don’t smell like a brewery anymore. It’s my day to shine.
The lady technician is always friendly and I hope to see her face. She makes me smile. I wouldn’t have shaved if I knew beforehand she wasn’t here. Love the techs. They're nice.
A new boy is on duty. I’m his first customer. He resembles my brother, a twenty-year US Army veteran, when he was younger. The resemblance is uncanny. I can’t help thinking about my recently deceased brother. The technician pushes his blond hair backwards with both hands, the same way my brother used to do it. ‘Come on bro, we’ll be late for school.’ We were close in those days. He was my hero. Miss you so much. We need to talk. I reach for the MacArthurs in my blazer top pocket. Don’t let that kid see ya cry, Mal.
After serving one tour, I became an anti-war vet. Service in the Peace Corps came later. We never made up before he died. I wanted one last chance to say, ‘I love ya, bro.’
The technician: white shirt, red tie, and blond hair can’t see the cheerful smile behind my N95. Masks are optional, even for the staff.
This kid has never met me. I say, “Pickup for—.”
The tech says, “Wait until I request that information.”
Who speaks to grownups this way? “Sorry.” Is he gloating?
He tilts his head. ”Can you spell it?”
“Of course. Des-ros-iers and Mal-col—.”
“I didn’t ask for your first name.”
I shrug my shoulders. “Call me, Mal.”
The tech asks, “Date of birth?” Before I can answer, he adds, “Work with me.”
He’s chock-full of corporate speak. I grit my teeth. Wanted you to be proud of me. You were duty first. I was more of a thinker. Please rest in peace, bro. Am I talking to my brother or myself?
I can’t help but stare at the young man.
For crying out loud, I’ve been answering the same questions for years. Is this kid a graduate of the corporation’s new assertiveness program, or here clandestinely to retrain senior patrons? What if I fail? Is there another line? What number will they sew into my shirt or tattoo on my wrist? Stay calm, bro.
Same paranoid thinking after I got discharged, so long ago. I thought VA counselors and therapists helped get rid of that shit. Hope the flashbacks don’t return.
The tech asks, “Your birthday?”
“2-29-44.” I slap my forehead. Hold on Mal. Enough is enough, bro. I spell out February for him.
Staring, he cups a hand to the side of his mouth and whispers-out-loud to the tech who always makes me smile as she passes by, “This guy knew Lindbergh.” A wise-ass, like my brother.
She does not whisper, “That’s not funny, Adam.”
He says to me, “Do you require a social worker?”
“No! May I call you Adam?”
“It’s my name.” I shake my head. He’s too much like brother.
I say, “Do you think I’m senile?”
“Here’s a different question? I want you to list—.”
A blast of air burst from my nostrils. “Whoa! Now, you listen. You’re rude. Young man don’t talk to me that way. What games are you playing?” Dis me and I’ll react.
Cardiologists remind me not to take stress lightly. Two heart attacks, Mal. Sweat beads build upon my bald head as I press on my palpitating chest.
“Adam, were you entertained today?” Hold on. Stay calm, Mal.
“Be back in a minute.” He returns and tosses a white paper sack on the counter. “Wait in the blue line, next time.”
I grab and dash to the rear of the store. The door is open. I jump into the Red Baron, my new Candy Apple Corvette, grip the gear shift and speed away.
Nobody home, not even the adopted German Shepherd with the black eye patch. I enter the bedroom and stare. “Mirror mirror on the wall, who was that big jerk?”
I take one last look: war, lost years, interesting work and travel, tenure, five well-educated adult children, and a magnificent wife. We were quite a pair. Rest in peace, love.
My time went so quickly. Took that kid less than two minutes to make me think my life was worthless. I hang my head, fall back on the bed. Flat out.
~ ~ ~
Through it all, made some excellent investments, though.
Seniors at the free breakfast remind me ageism is real. They blame Generation Z. As a former board member I’m asked to make a short evocation before we eat. I remind them that they don’t need to tolerate disrespectful people now that they’re seniors. I close by saying, “Dis me, and I’ll always react!” First time I ever got a standing ovation.
“That won’t be a problem sir. I’ll speak to accounting,” Says the CEO of a chain of pharmacies, as she serves up home fries next to me.
I’m on scrambled egg duty. “Thank you, Katherine. One condition.”
“Don’t fire Adam?”
“A deal. Thank you again for the matching donations at our walk-a-thon this summer, Mr. Desrosiers.”
“Call me Mal.”
Twenty-nine of thirty technicians who helped me over the years find ten thousand dollars deposited in their checking account. Merry Christmas!
Don Robishaw’s collection of five FF tales found in, ‘Bad Road Ahead’ was the Grand Winner in Defenestrationism, 2020 Flash Fiction Suite Contest.
Don’s short story entitled,’Bad Paper Odyssey’ was a semi-finalist in Digging Through the Fat 2018 Chapbook Contest.
His work has also recently appeared in The Rye Whiskey Review, Drunk Monkeys, Literary Orphans, Crack-the-Spine, FFM, O’ Dark Thirty, among other venues.
Many of the characters he developed have been homeless, served for periods of time in the military, or are based upon archetypes or stereotypes he's met while on the road. He likes to write poetry, satire, tragedies, and gritty fictional tales — of men and women from various backgrounds — that may have sprouted from a seed, from his past.
Before he stopped working to write he ran educational programs for homeless shelters. Don's also well-traveled, using various ways and means: Sailor, Peace Corps Volunteer, bartender, hitchhiker, world traveler, college professor, and circus roustabout.