Sip and Wince

[Write a scene in which someone is fired after only a week on the job. Just a week earlier, the same person who is now firing this employee was very persuasive in convincing them to take the job.}


“Uncle Lorenzo,” I’d said, “You’re exactly what my little restaurant needs. You’ve lived here your whole life, you’re the best story-teller I know, and you’ve got the perfect amount of…” I waved my hands in front of me as I tried to think of the right words.  

“Pizzazz?” Uncle Lorenzo had helped me out.  

“Exactly!”  

“Leo, I’m an old man. I don’t have the energy I used to.”  

“Uncle Lorenzo! You have just as much energy as I do, or more. You would only have a few tables, a couple days a week. Please! Please?”  

He had looked at me with a fiery eyebrow raised.  

Thank you,” I had breathed, raising my hands in exhilaration. He had stood up to leave. “You can start the day after tomorrow,” I’d called after him.  

“Tomorrow,” he’d muttered.  

“What?”  

“I’ll start tomorrow.” The screen door whacked closed on his words.  

A smile on my face, I’d turned back to the quiet bustle of the little restaurant that I had opened several weeks ago. Uncle Lorenzo had been restless lately, although he would never admit it. He was exactly the “something special” that this small place needed. We’d both benefit from this.  

That happened a week ago.  

This morning I sit at a table on the patio of the restaurant with my morning coffee and a newspaper. My coffee is too dark, and the headlines are even darker. I sip and wince, sip and wince.  

I see Uncle Lorenzo in my mind, small and sturdy- pouring wine, delivering plates of bread and pasta- plates and wine always seeming dangerously close to spilling, but somehow hanging in there. That was the magnetism of Uncle Lorenzo. He loved being there, surrounded by strangers and friends and listening ears, although he glowered at me whenever I hinted at how well he was doing.  

Sip and wince, sip and wince.  

 Corona.  

Things are serious.  

The statistics and predictions startle me.  

This isn’t going to be something that submissively slinks away.  

And Uncle Lorenzo won’t either.  

He can’t keep working at the restaurant though.  

It’s not safe for him, and for all I know, we’ll need to shut down soon anyways.  

Sip and wince, sip and wince.  

I sit with my face to the sun, eyes closed, waiting.  

Uncle Lorenzo shows up far sooner than I’m ready for him. He sits down across from me.  

I squint and push the newspaper to him.  

“You been reading the papers?” I ask.  

He’s silent, but I know he’s soft inside.  

“Uncle Lorenzo, the safest place for you right now is your own house.”  

“You need me here. You said it yourself, Leo.”  

“I know. I know I do. And you’ll be back again, Uncle Lorenzo. But right now… you need to stay home. This is serious.”  

He snorts. “I’m stronger than you are, boy. That’s another thing that you said.”  

“I know. It’s probably true. But I’m not taking any risks. I’m just not.”  

No response, but I know he understands what I’m saying. He stands up to leave.  

“Uncle Lorenzo, the second that this is all over, I need you to be back here again. You hear me?”  

He waves my words aside as he walks away.  

Sip and wince.  

I finally dump the coffee out. Can’t take it anymore. 

That night, I lock the door and head towards home, hurting all the way. I carry paper bag with a container of soup with me, the restaurant’s logo cheerfully stamped on the container. It’s for Uncle Lorenzo.  

I set it on his step and knock. I walk away, guessing that he doesn’t want to talk to me right now. I’m surprised when I hear his voice.  

“I’m strong, Leo. I am.”  

“I know you are, Uncle Lorenzo,” I say as I turn.  

“I’m strong but I’m old.”  

I nod.  

“This might be the way I live the rest of my life. In these walls.” He sits on the step and motions to his house. “It’s not what I wanted. I just… I just can’t believe that my living might be over.”  

I don’t know what to say. He might be right. Who knows how long this will go on?  

How very disappointing for all of us.  

“I know. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for you. Sorry for all of us.”  

He opens the soup and digs in with a plastic spoon.  

He stares vacantly as he takes a few bites. I feel like there’s no more to be said and begin to walk away, heavy with the world’s disappointment.  

“Boy!” he calls after me. “This soup… it needs more salt. Next time put more salt in it.”  

I smile toward the empty street. “I’ll make a note of it, Uncle Lorenzo.” 

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