Michael Anthony is a writer and artist living in New Jersey. He has published fiction, poetry and illustrations in multiple literary journals and commercial magazines. Most recently these include The Opiate, The Birch Gang Review, Jonah Magazine, the Indiana Voice Journal and The Copperfield Review. The American Labor Museum exhibited Michael’s photojournalism essay on the waning of the textile industry.
I was forty-five minutes early and figured a cup of coffee would be good while I gathered my thoughts about Jerry Tamburello. Though the chain of coffee shops seemed ubiquitous, trying to get a simple black with one sugar was a challenge where every concoction had an Italian name and more ingredients than jambalaya. After a quick jaunt across Forty-Second Street to Bryant Park, I found an empty chair from which I watched the morning parade of weekday commuters. Some hurried west from Grand Central, others east from Sixth Avenue.
A tall young man in uniform strolled up the walkway and settled on a chair near mine. He was lanky, but his squared posture was the obvious result of basic training. A tight knot of black curls crowned his angular face. “Wow!” he said to no one in particular. “Look at that blonde.”
I turned and spotted a woman standing on the corner. Her shoulder length golden hair cascaded onto the jacket of a fitted charcoal gray business suit.
“She’s something, huh?” the young man directed at me. I nodded my acknowledgement and sipped more coffee. “My kind of gal,” he grinned.
‘My kind of gal?’ Who talked like that anymore? Apparently, he did.
The soldier stood and made his way to the same corner where he introduced himself, then tapped out and lit a cigarette. When the light changed he crossed the street alongside the woman who laughed at something he said before they blended into the crowd on the opposite corner.
A youthful family walking east obstructed my last glimpse of the soldier. The raven-haired woman pushed a baby in a stroller, while the man next to her carried a briefcase in one hand and clutched the chubby paw of a toddler in the other. Dressed in a blue jacket, the boy took three steps to his father’s one. They were likely walking him to work while pumping fresh air into the kids to fuel their naps. The cheerful quartet soon vanished beneath the leafy canopy of the London planes in full bloom.
Two boys, looking just shy of twelve, emerged from the shade, laughing their way west on Forty-Second. They bounced a basketball between them, often in front of people rushing in the opposite direction. Those who had to quickly adjust their gait were not amused, but the boys seemed oblivious to the silent scorn aimed at them. They bounded across Sixth, disappearing behind a sea of buses, taxis and trucks.
I enjoyed another mouthful of coffee as I studied two couples that met just beyond the hedges between my chair and the sidewalk. They smiled, touched each other’s arms, and talked animatedly as their children, one boy and two girls, pulled leaves from the ivy and floated them to the ground like verdant helicopters. When the conversation waned, the women kissed cheeks; the men shook hands; and then, the families went their separate ways.
With only twenty minutes before I had to be on West 38th, I noticed an elderly woman with her arm coiled through that of an equally old man wearing a wide brimmed hat and despite the warm weather, a topcoat that looked several sizes too big. She carried a scuffed handbag that bulged with contents unknown as they shuffled in slow motion. Harried commuters snaked around them.
The whoop-whoop of an ambulance rose above the hum of crosstown traffic as it threaded through the tangle of vehicles at the intersection of Forty-Second and Sixth. When the red and white van finally escaped the maze, a solitary man stood stone-like on the curb; only his head turned to follow the flashing lights. It was as though he knew who was in the ambulance, which in this city of eight million was not only unlikely; it was impossible. Yet, there was anguish in his clouded eyes.
It was time to go.
I climbed the stone steps of the small church whose doors were now open.
Once inside, I stood in a pew near the apse while six men black suits wheeled a flag-draped mahogany coffin up the narrow center aisle to a priest in gold vestments who greeted it solemnly. After the usual welcoming prayers, readings, and a nod from the cleric, I mounted the pulpit.
“What to say about this decorated member of the Greatest Generation, Jerome Tamburello? I did have something prepared, but on my way here, I stopped in the park to reflect on Uncle Jerry’s life. I recall him saying how he first met Aunt Ruth when he was in the Army Air Corps. He saw a blonde waiting on a corner and told his buddy, ‘My kind of gal. I’m gonna marry her.’ Sure enough he did. They went on to see the world while he served in the military; raised two sons who were always playing ball, and when they married, brought three grandchildren into his life. Aunt Ruth’s passing took a heavy toll on Jerry. Sometimes he would simply stand outside the home they had built and watch cars approach, silently hoping one would bring her back, which of course, none ever did.”
As I stepped from the pulpit and into a warm pool of red and blue and amber light that poured from the clerestory window, I wondered if, in another small church in some distant city, a similar gathering was coming to a close.