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4:59 becomes 5:00 – Donuts & Leftovers –

4:59 with a clack flops over to become 5:00 and the radio pops and crackles and hacks up a reedy synthesizer, an electric harpsichord, a programmed handclap, a woman cooing was it the kind of records that you played that made me think, was it just the way that you kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kissed me, that showed me, but he’s sitting up in the sleeping bag, he’s rolling over, he’s found the off button. A croak, a burble, wings fluttering, settling, a droning, a chirruping, a ringing chime, a crackle of weight shifting on straw, on seed, a twisting creak as Frankie Reichart bundled in a heavy sweatshirt that says Sheep Rock Trails hunkers down to make his careful way through the dark room under cages heavy with drowsy birds.

Rattling down a flight of stairs bolted to the back of the old brick building, stumping across an empty, tuffeted lot high fences to either side, steaming breath lit up by the bloated moon glowering just over the roof behind him. The gate at the back of the lot hangs drunkenly from a single hinge and he steps over and through it into a narrow unpaved alley lined with tall dry grass that crunches underfoot. Across the alley a small garage, light leaking under its big main door. He opens a smaller door to the side and slips through.

Inside the walls are tiled with old album jackets, duotones in blues or greens of agonized men blowing horns, women in fanciful hats cupping enormous microphones to their lips, whole bands in matching dinner jackets against featureless backdrops of beige or pink or powder blue. There’s a big round table covered in green felt out in the middle of the room, a deck of cards stacked neatly, a plastic tub that says Aunt Ruby’s Peanuts in faded letters, filled with hex nuts and square nuts and round grey washers. He pushes through a herd of mismatched armchairs and recliners about the table toward one off to the side laid almost flat where a man lies sleeping in a rumpled brown suit much too big for him. Frankie fishes something, a penny up out of the pocket of his sweatpants and lays it with a dozen others and a couple of nickels in a blue glass ashtray on the arm of the recliner, then heads for a blank white door in the corner. A tiny room just big enough for a toilet and a sink. Shaking his head his long lank hair, pushing down the sweatpants, smacking his lips, working something loose from his teeth, he takes a long piss leaning one hand against the yellowed wall.

On his way out he stops by the sleeping man’s recliner, looks down at that still and shriveled face. His hand hovering over the ashtray. An eyelid blotched with pale pink spots twitches and there’s the ripping snort of a snore and Frankie’s hand leaps up and back, he shudders, he hurries away.

Back across the alley and the harshly moonlit lot but not up the stairs, instead, he opens a back door on a kitchen, scarred linoleum, darkly looming cabinets, a yellow electric stove with only two eyes. Sitting at a small table topped with glittery teal formica a pale woman, her hair a close-cropped cap of gunmetal grey, a polished silver torc clamped about her neck. She doesn’t look up as Frankie washes his hands in the red plastic tub of the sink, splashes his face. A bell rings somewhere further in past the kitchen. He’s filling a cloudy glass with water and drinking it down. Her hands are folded in her lap.

A rattle of a beaded curtain and an old man steps into the kitchen, rubbing his shoulders, stamping his feet. “Nippy out,” he says. He’s wearing a black and red plaid barn coat. His hair a crisp circle of white curls almost yellow against the reddish darkness of his skin. He tosses a ring of keys on the counter. “Coffee in the front seat,” he says. “Donuts in the back.” Frankie scoops up the keys, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. The woman stands, holds out a hand to the old man, and he takes it and says, “We got a little while. He’ll be fine up front by himself a bit.”

She shakes her head. “No roof over my head,” she says, softly. “No floor beneath my feet.”

“At least you stayed to say good morning,” he says. Stroking the back of her hand with his thumb. She pulls him to her, pushes herself inside his coat and kisses him, and his arms about her hands splayed over the small of her back, cupping a pale bare buttock. “Hollow and hearth, woman,” he says, breath smoking over her lips. “You’re cold.”

Out of the kitchen down a tight hall through the beaded curtain into the main room of the shop, past shelves partitioned into regular cubbyholes stuffed here and there with mismatched pairs of shoes, past the worktable mounded high with more shoes of every shape and color, at the counter Frankie’s opening a couple of pink boxes of donuts, unwrapping a sleeve of styrofoam cups. Something spiky, electric guitars playing the same phrase over and over chiming in and out of synch, pokes out of the clock radio by the pile of shoes. The bell over the door to the shop rings and a widely compact man steps in, worn jeans over longjohns and a bulky blue cardigan, his bald head ruddy. “Hey, Dogstongue,” says Frankie, and the bald man nods, jerks a thumb at the music in the air. “Frasca?” he says.

“Beats me,” says Frankie around a mouthful of cruller.

The bell rings again, and again, a woman in a long puffy coat over a taupe dress, a white apron, a nameplate that says Iemanya, a man in worn blue coveralls and grey leather work gloves and a long red toolbox that he sets down with a clank. Frankie’s pouring coffee, offering donuts, saying hello. Three men and a woman come in together, heavy coats over trim black jackets unbuttoned, formal white shirts open at the throat, black pants with glossy black ribbons down the leg. Two of them wrangle a wide flat tray with a roundly crusted loaf under plastic wrap. They heft it up on the counter, “Whoa, hey,” says Frankie, and the wrap comes off. A wedge has been cut from the loaf to reveal layers of cheese and twirly pasta with tomato sauce and pesto and olives and slices of egg and more besides. “Timpano!” cries the woman with a flourish, and the bell rings again, a fifth of them in that trim black uniform working her way through the door, a dingy red cooler in her arms, “A little help please?”

“Dang,” says Dogstongue, picking at the filling of the loaf. “Compliments of the Queen,” says one of the men, and “Dinner interruptus!” cries the first woman, taking one handle of the cooler.

“They fell to blows over the soup,” says the second woman, opening the cooler on a jumble of bottles of soda and wine.

“Well not because of the soup,” says one of the men, and “During the soup,” says another.

“So,” says the first woman, repeating her flourish, “leftovers!”

“There’s a big old roll of tin foil in one of the cabinets back there,” says the old man from the back of the room by the beaded curtain.

“Okay,” says Frankie, handing off another cup of coffee. “Hey, where’s Batswool? Isn’t he usually,” but the laughter dies, they’re looking away, the three men, the two women, the trim black uniforms. “Hey, what,” says Frankie, frowning.

“Go on, boy,” says the old man, gently. “Fetch the foil.”

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“Another Version of Pop Song,” written by Rose Elinor Dougall, copyright holder unknown. “Electric Guitar Phase,” written by Steve Reich, © Hendon Music, Inc.

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