“Aqui?” Malito said. It sounded like a sneer but then I don’t speak Spanish.
“Si,” Duke said.
“Pero, es la oficina central? Otro chiste, no?”
“He wonders if it’s a joke. That this is the main office.”
“Damn Duke, it’s my house. I loved this place.”
The patch of raspberries beside the garage. The July mornings when I waded into the prickly branches, swatting mosquitoes as I filled a cup with fruit for Doris’s breakfast.
My bird feeders, where the fat little sparrows and chickadees bellied up on the cold winter mornings.
Inside, the bright red linoleum on the kitchen floor.
Everything that I had painted, scraped, patched, polished. Okay, not expertly, but if you didn’t look too hard the overall sense was, here was a home that was loved.
We liked to think that we had made a decision. Wit instead of wealth. Sufficient, not bombastic. But we were rats off the ship as soon as we had the keys to Duke’s Summit Avenue mansion.
Malito stepped into the kitchen behind me. He turned on the lights and said, “Que lastima!”
“You got that right,” said Duke. “It is a shame. You remember, Fatman, right after I died? We sat at at your breakfast nook. Watched the snow fall. Cozy. Too bad about all this.”
All this. The dirty dishes piled up in the sink. The scampering roaches. A pot filled with brown goo on the greasy stove.
Florito opened the refrigerator and quickly shut it again. “Ay, basura,” he declared. And not the only garbage. A five-gallon bucket overflowed with dirty diapers.
“Couple days,” said Duke, “the boys will have this cleaned up. First thing in the morning, call for a thirty-yard dumpster.”
“Hay un radio?” El Raton wondered.
“There you have it, Fatman,” Duke said. “Just keep the music coming. That’s all these gents require. You got a radio?”
“There must be one here. They left everything else.”
I wandered through my old home. It wasn’t much, not when you looked hard. A parlor. The pee-wee dining room. The bath with its demolished toilet. The bedroom.
The dead were in the kitchen but the ghosts were everywhere. Me, Doris, sleeping in our bed, eating at our table, reading beside our gas fireplace. Humble. Small. It used to seem fine.
Duke called to me. “The minute you turn on the tunes these hombres will get to work.”
I grabbed a boom box abandoned in the bedroom. Malito plugged it in and found a station.
A minute later they were all singing like my kitchen was the opera.
“No queda nada porque todo se derrumbo…”
“What’s that, Duke?” I asked.
“Roughly? There is nothing because everything has collapsed.”
It’s only a song, I said to myself.
Tomorrow: Enter Roscoe