Saturday, July 2, 2011

"The Dried Tomato"

Vaqueros in Brooklyn, NY
by Angela Pailevanian

Six in the morning, Ruben woke up for his shift at The Dried Tomato, a sandwich shop in the Lower East Side. Ate breakfast, brushed his teeth, put on the weird-looking hat, and off he went to ride the subway to work.

"Ruben, you're late!" Alice said. She was like the veteran of the place. Eighty years old and still working. With at least 20 grandchildren.

Ruben apologized and ran into the back to get his apron. Conversation continued amongst the workers.

"Hey Riley! Have you caught the kid that threw a baseball through your window?"

"No! I can't even fix it, I'm two months behind on rent. I swear that kid's gonna get a beating when I find out who it is!"

It was noon. People were pouring in. The orders were accumultaing quickly.

"I want a turkey bacon sandwich, hold the mayo."

"I want a chicken sandwich on wheat bread, and fries on the side."

"I want a large coke, with a bacon sandwich, no tomatoes though."

Around 2pm, a boy walked in. He had on a Led Zeppelin shirt. Green eyes. Dark skin. Looked like he was ready to kill somebody.

"Welcome, what do you want to eat?" Ruben asked.

"You want to know what I want? I want to know why my father left. But you can't tell me that, can you? Nobody can. Not even my momma. Now she's three months behind rent, he aint paying a dime and we're gonna get evicted."

"Oh. Well I'm--"

"You have any idea what it's like to grow up without a dad? Watchin' my momma struggle every day, not comign home. She's got five kids. Six including me. I'm the youngest."

"How long has he been gone?" Ruben asked.

"Oh, he was gone before I was even born. Momma said she met him at a bar out in Buswick years ago."

"What's your momma's name, son?"


Could it be? The Ayleen he met in Vaqueros 15 years ago? The boy had Ruben's eyes, Ruben's nose, Ruben's slick straight hair. But she never told him anything, never called him. They broke up just as soon as they had gotten together.

Ruben stayed silent for a moment. Then he said: "Man, if I found my father now, he gon' wish he never left my momma."

Ruben shook his head and tried to stay focused on the food: "What do you want to eat, son?"