The Rat’s Mouth: A Boca Raton Noir
The door to my room at the Whitehall Nursing Home opens making the same death-is-coming-creak it always does as Solemnberg walks in and says, “Hey, Sy. You, me, and The Jets.”
“Yup. Have a seat, Randy.” I say as he sits by my bedside while the TV plays.
“Thanks for inviting me; it’s good to watch the game with someone from the old neighborhood.”
“Yeah, I’m sick of these damnn Dolphins…it stinks, two Bronx boys, stuck here in Boca Raton.” I say as we watch The Jets run onto the field.
“The ‘Rat’s Mouth’, the Spanish should have called this ‘puertas de la muerte’.”
“Hey, none of that crap in here, English or Yiddish, these Spanish…too many of them down here.”
“Yeah but the women, oy vay.”
“What women? You got Samantha Kleinman, the tukus on her…she was she beautiful, you were the envy of the neighborhood.”
“Eh, after five years of marriage I met a Spanish girl from Harlem, she made Samantha look like Kugel.”
“You schmuck, you went and got tacos on the side.”
“Don’t judge me. No matter how good the Matzo Ball Soup is you get sick of the same thing.”
I shake my head and say, “Here eat some pudding; God, rest your wife’s soul. She was a good woman.”
The game starts as he takes the opened pudding from me and I hand him a spoon.
“Yeah, I know…I hope she can’t look down and hear us; she never knew about the girls on the side, the kids either.” He looks away from the game and stares down at the pudding and asks, “What did you put in here, extra fiber?”
“Yeah, but it’s better than prunes.”
“I can’t eat that crap, it looks like Oompa Loompa Balls.”
“Ha, Solemnberg you’re still the damn class clown.”
“I have moments; but my girls don’t like my jokes.”
“You got two pretty daughters, pretty girls don’t have to laugh at bad jokes.”
“True, how are your girls?”
“Ever since Evelyn died they just grieve and eat; the two of them are still with the same schmucks.”
“Too bad. Evelyn was nice; a big girl but she had a big heart to go with it.”
“My wife ate herself to death. Your wife, dying so soon, now that’s tragic; she had the biggest heart.”
He laughs and says, “oy, when you’re old you can say whatever you want. No one cares, your story is written.”
I smile and look at the letter I wrote earlier on my nightstand and respond, “True, eat up.”
He takes a bite and the years of bitterness I swallow with him watching it go down into his stomach as he says, “Fiber, huh? It really tastes like shit; better make me take a good one.”
“You don’t know anything about eating shit.”
He gives me a funny look and says, “Why you say that? I’m a Jet fan all I know is how to eat shit.”
I snarl at him, “Shut up! No you don’t! All my life I ate shit, while I watched you nibble on the best things and sit at the best tables.”
He puts the pudding down and says with a drop of sweat falling to his shoe, “What are you talking about?”
I grit my teeth and tell him, “Do you know what its like to see someone for seventy-something years who you know you are better than, end up having the life you wished for?”
His sweats more and gives me a nervous smile, “Stop this, it’s not funny…what cause I got Samantha?”
“You got everything, the better wife, the better school, the better kids, the better life and you don’t even appreciate it.”
“Saying it like it is; I loved Samantha but instead got that fat cow of a wife and lousy daughters, lousy jobs. Your life should have been mine. And I can’t have it now, but I can take it away.”
“What hell are you saying?”
I take the letter I wrote from the nightstand and put it on my bed.
I pick up the same poisoned pudding, take a bite, and tell him, “In this letter is your suicide and murder note: how you poisoned yourself and me because I was a better man than you and it drove you mad with guilt. That you screwed me over, lied, cheated, to get where you are today and why I didn’t get to the same place.”
“No, I’m fed up with it all and ready to go. I’m ready to die with the respect and pity I deserve and take away the life that should have been mine.”
The poison starts to work as I watch him try to scream but it’s too late; I changed his story, made his last moments as bad as my whole life.