Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Hyde's Diner, Homer Avenue, Cortland, N. Y.
I Think I am Going To Die.

     They met at Hyde’s Diner in Cortland as usual. Sam got there first. It was 8 o’clock in the morning. The place wasn’t crowed and Sam savored the sweet smell of toast and bacon. Dressed in jeans, long-sleeve shirt and decorated blue and gold baseball hat, he sat at a table and opened a menu although he didn’t need the menu for his habitual breakfast order.
     George showed up at the entrance before the waitress started for Sam’s table. He entered Hyde’s Diner in his customary way, unobtrusively, quietly, like a hunter walking in the woods. He was also dressed in jeans, long-sleeve shirt and baseball cap, but the green baseball cap was not decorated. He cast a wide glance at the tables and walked over to Sam’s table. Sam spotted him right away. 
     "Have a seat," Sam said.
     "We haven't met in a coon's age--over a year," said George. What is it that keeps you so busy?"
     "It's true. I have been tied up with added responsibilities. How are you feeling?" 
     "Still breathing," George answered.
     Then George sat down. He searched in his long-sleeved plaid shirt pockets for his reading glasses, found them and put them on, opened a menu, looked at Sam and said, "How ‘bout you?"
     "I think I am going to die," Sam said with a deadpan expression.
     George lowered the menu and looked intently at Sam. "Are you serious?"
     "Yes, I am serious. I’m going to die. I feel it, I know it."
     "Is it cancer? Heart trouble? Prostate?"
     "No, none of those. I have this weird feeling that I can't rightly explain." 
     "You look healthy to me. You don’t look like you have lost any weight. What does your doctor say?"
     "I haven't seen my doctor. But there is this peculiar sense of death lurking about me."
     "Are you depressed? Did something unusual happen?"
     "No, not at all." Sam appeared normal and did not show any emotion in his face.
     "When are you going to die? Tomorrow? Next week? Next year?"
     "I don’t know. But I feel certain I am going to die. Gut instinct."
     "We are all going to die someday, Sam. Let’s put it off as far as possible and think about positive stuff like family and friends and good times."
     "I certainly hope I die later than sooner," said Sam. "Besides, I want to keep a hot date with sweet S. W. Martha tonight. She says she has a surprise for me."
     "Martha? Is that the same lovely lady I introduced you to at the Ladies’ Auxiliary dance last year?"
     “Yes, we hit it off right away at the dance and we became close friends since then.”
     “I never expected that. No wonder you are busy. Why the devil do you call her S. W. Martha? What do the initials mean?”
     "Spider widow," said Sam with a sigh. "I don’t say that to her face but she spun a web of contentment and confinement around me. She spoils me. She even does my laundry once a week--would you believe that? And she scolds me for the piss stains on my underpants. I tell her it happens because I am getting old. She tells me to use a patch, whatever that means."
     "Are you complaining?"
     "Not complaining, just explaining how I feel about her."
     By now a waitress was standing at their table, hesitant to interrupt two old men in conversation. The men stopped talking to each other and stared at her.
    "You must be a new waitress. You're pretty. I haven’t seen you here before. What’s your name?" said George.
     "Sue," she answered, "and I have been working here for half a year. If you gentlemen are ready, I’ll take your order."
     "Black coffee. Two eggs over easy, sausage, home fries, sourdough bread toasted lightly with no butter, jelly on the side," said George.
     "Ditto," said Sam.
     "Thanks, boys." Sue left to place the orders with the cook.
     George looked over at Sam and asked, "How long have you and Martha been friends? You never mentioned her name to me before today. Is there more to this than meets the eye?"
     "Could be," answered Sam with an unusual twinkle in his eyes. "She sure is a lively one."
     "Lively? I have always considered her refined, too business-like, energetic and very smart. She is a retired teacher as I recall. How old is she? She’s younger than you, Casanova, isn't she?"
     "She’s sixty plus six years in age, and I don't think you know her very well."
     "Is that so—how old are you?"
     "You know how old I am. I’ll be eighty-one in December."
     "A child in diapers. If you don’t mind saying, what is it that I don’t know about her?"
     "Everything that’s important, that’s what you don’t know. Her husband died of a heart attack ten years ago. My wife died of a heart attack two years ago. I was chaste as a priest until I met the Spider Widow. She has fireworks inside her. Light the fuse and you get the Fourth of July."
     "I’ll be damned," exclaimed George. But George was slightly puzzled. Knowing the conniving nature of his breakfast mate and his history of story-telling, George decided to challenge him. "How do I know that’s true? Are you pulling my leg?"
     "I’m just saying that you don’t know her very well and I don’t care if you believe me or not. I’m going to die anyway."
     "You don’t have the appearance of a dying man. Get over it. I'd like to know, Sam, are you really getting it on with Martha?"
     "Could be," smiled Sam. "But I won't answer yes or no. That's a confidential matter between a man and a woman."  
     Sue brought their food and coffee to the table, asked if there was anything else they wanted, but not receiving an immediate answer left for another table. The two old men started to eat like two young men. They did not talk much while they were eating, just a few words now and then about the breakfast and the taste and smell of it and when the price of breakfast would increase again. It did not take long before they were finished.
     "You don’t eat like a man who is dying," said George. 
     "Neither do you," Sam shot back.
     They gave Sue a perfunctory bachelor’s tip of fifteen percent, adjusted their baseball caps, paid the bill in Dutch style at the counter, and left the diner, each going his separate way.
     A week later, George read Sam’s obituary in the local newspaper. Sam had died of a heart attack. Adding to his astonishment, George noticed the date of Sam’s death. It was the day after they had had breakfast together. George was shocked and saddened. Emotions churned. He lost his best friend. He did a few chores around the house, trying to keep his mind off his recent discovery. He recalled in detail the prophetic words Sam uttered: “I think I am going to die.” He repeated it to himself several times, wondering, speculating. It was hard to bear.
     George decided to phone Martha. His first attempt got a busy signal. He waited nervously several minutes, and tried again. Martha answered the phone. 
     "Hi, Martha. It’s George." 
     They talked for several minutes, exchanging sympathy, condolence and memories about Sam. Martha told George that Sam had designated her the administrator of his estate, and that Sam had actually planned for his death and burial quite some time ago. All was pre-arranged, she said. She added that his sudden death was a complete surprise to her, that she thought he was in good health. He never experienced chest pain before the event, she said. He will be buried in Cortland Rural Cemetery next to his wife and only child, she added. She said George was mentioned in the will, that Sam designated George as the bell-ringer at the grave site. Yes, she thought it was Sam’s last rascally joke. He gave George his favorite T-shirt, the one with the slogan, "Don't steal--The government hates competition," she said. As to the distribution of his investments, he gave everything to the Libertarian Party. He was always foolish with his money, she added. 
     "Where did he die?" George asked.
     "He died in bed in my apartment," Martha replied without further explanation on the possibilities of the subject. "I called 911 and the Fire Rescue Squad got here before the ambulance. By the way, George, would you like to go to the Ladies’ Auxiliary dance with me Friday night?"
     A strong survival instinct suddenly gripped George. His heart beat faster.
     "No, thanks, Martha. My dating days are over."
     "I will see you at the wake. If you change your mind, let me know or phone earlier. Goodbye, George."
     "Goodbye, Martha."

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