Stories from my Travels #1

#1 – “Hamburgers Sizzle”

In Central Park I chose a bench and sat to eat my sandwich and mind my own business.  Soon, a man came and sat beside me.  He was down-at-heel, dressed in a crumpled grey suit and wearing his hair long and pony-tailed.  It wasn’t long before we struck up a conversation and he told me this:

“I guess I was around seven years old the day my dad walked out on us, a week after buying me my first guitar.  We lived in a small apartment in Harlem.  I remember my mom being stoical, unsurprised at what just happened and knowing she had to keep my brother and me occupied, shield us from the profundity of the moment.
“Time for your bath Harry,” she said to my older brother who was nine, “And how about I make us some fries for supper?  I’m sure we have some potatoes.”
“Sure mom,” we said.
So she went to the small kitchen there and set to work, then returned to the living room where I was now listening to the record player in the corner.
“What’re you listening to, darling?” she asked.
“My Chuck Berry record,” I said.
“Can I listen with you?” she said, sitting by my side.
Oh well oh well I feel so good today
We touched ground on an international runway
Jet-propelled back home from over the seas to the USA.
“One day you’ll play guitar like Chuck,” she said, over the lyric.
“You think so mom?” I said.
“I know so sweetheart.  One day I’ll buy you lessons.”
Looking hard for a drive-in searching for a corner cafe
Where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day
Yeah, and a jukebox jumping with records like in the USA.
“Hamburgers sizzle…” I sang.
“One day I’ll buy you a hamburger too,” she said, then suddenly remembered, “Oh my gosh the fries!”
And she leapt from the chair and raced to the kitchen, where sure enough the pan was on fire, flames reaching almost to the roof.
“Go get your brother!” she cried in panic.
“Harry!”  I yelled, so scared, “Fire! Fire!”
Within seconds my brother came in, naked and wet.
“In the kitchen!”
Cool as anything, he took the damp towel from around his waist and calmly placed it over the raging pan, then carried the sizzling thing from the kitchen into the yard.
“It’s OK mom,” he said when he returned just moments later, “It’s out.”
“Thank you Harry,” she said, struggling to calm down, fighting the stored emotion and swallowing the tears in her eyes.
And then we all returned to the living room, where Chuck was finishing the last song on the record before the needle scratched then lifted from the vinyl.
“I don’t know what I’d do without my boys,” said mom, almost crumbling from the exhaustion of it all.
“We don’t know what we’d do without you mom,” said Harry, nakedly curling his arm around her shoulder.
“And so,” she said, forcing a smile through the tears, “Were the fries ready?”
“They were ready mom,” he said, “Well fried.”
“Yeah,” I said, “And so is your ding-a-ling.”
And she laughed.  For the first time in months she laughed.”

First published on Simian Tales.

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