The Boys at the Corner Table
They've come for breakfast for as long as Gladys has been working here. They came in for the first time on her first day of work at the Cloverleaf, and they've been coming ever since. They never fail to brighten her day, and besides, they've taught her everything she knows about baseball. After all these years, she considers them her good luck charms.
They meet every morning at 7AM, always taking the table in the corner by the window. They used to sit in a booth but now that they’re older, their creaky knees make sliding in too hard.
Gladys looks up from the counter she’s wiping down, and calls out, “Mornin,’ fellas. Be right wid-ja.” She grabs four of the thick white mugs on the shelf behind the counter and pours their coffees, except for Herb, who gets agita from coffee now and reluctantly takes weak tea.
They met at the ball field out by the Community Center, where their sons played Little League. Talking about baseball and that bum Dick Williams, they became fast friends and have been coming to the Cloverleaf for 40 years. In the beginning it was only on Saturday mornings, a little treat before mowing the lawn or doing the other chores their wives had lined up for them. Then about 15 years ago, they began retiring, one by one, and they could meet two or three mornings a week, as long as the wives didn’t object. Harry thought his wife was actually glad to get him out of the house.
Now, they are all widowers, and there is no one left at home to complain. So every morning, here they are, eating breakfast with the only family they have left.
Gladys walks over to their table, the support stockings beneath the pink uniform she’s been wearing since forever announcing her approach (swish, swish, swish). She sets down the coffee (and tea; sorry, Herb) and asks, “So, what’ll it be?“ She takes their breakfast order and writes it down for the check they’ll split later, but she doesn’t need to. They’ve been eating the same thing for the last forty years, too.
Everyday, as regular as clockwork: the same time, same guys, same table, same meal, and pretty much the same conversation. Same old, same older. Except today.
As they are digging into their eggs and toast and griping about those Red Sox, who can‘t seem to take the division lead away from the damn Yankees to save them, a boy comes into the Cloverleaf. Dressed in pants that are too long for him and a faded blue T-shirt, he is all angles and elbows. He hesitates inside the door and looks around. His eyes light on the food on the table in the corner, and he swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his thin neck. He’s probably about twelve, but he is so skinny, he seems much younger. Except for his eyes. He has old eyes, which look as though they have seen far too much for their young age. He hesitantly approaches the counter, where Gladys is filling the salt and pepper shakers.
“What can I get ya, son?”
Looking down at the counter, the boy swallows, setting his Adam’s apple aflutter again. He answers, his voice jumping from that of a boy to a young man and back again, “Um, I can’t afford to buy nothin', ma’am. I ain’t got no money. But my ma’s sick, and I need to get some food for her. I was wonderin,’ um, if I could sweep up or somethin’ for you in return for some food to take home. It don’t have to be nothin' fancy. Leftovers'll do just fine.”
As he speaks, the boys at the corner table stop speaking. They glance meaningfully at one another, and then Joe calls out, “Gladys, I believe we’ll buy this young man here some breakfast, maybe a big old stack of blueberry pancakes and eggs, with a side of bacon. And fix one up to go for his mama too. Just put it on our tab.”
Astonished, the boy turns to look at the old guys.
“Come on over, young fella, and pull up a chair. You can’t eat standing up, now can you?”
The boy walks timidly over to the table and drags a chair over into the space they clear for him. “Gee, thanks! I dunno what to say,” he says as he sits down.
“Think nothing of it,” Mike answers. “Everybody needs a hand now and then. We'll talk about how we can help you and you mama in a minute. But this is breakfast! We gotta start the day with the important stuff. So, you like baseball? How ‘bout those Red Sox?”