Jubilee (End)
Ruby slid into the booth across from Maxie, heaving a sigh. Laying her hands palm down on the table, she said :
- Now you gotta listen to me, Maxie. King doesn't want to admit this to you, but he's a real bind. Things are tight all over, you know what I'm talking about ? Money. Just last year we still had four girls on every shift, and now we're down to three, and only two in the evening.
Maxie kept silent, for once, and his eyes were narrow and focused on Ruby, who was blushing as she spoke.
- I get a look at King's books, sometimes. He's behind on his payments to more than a few of the distributors. We girls haven't had a raise in two years, but we get by on our tips. But I've noticed King has you on a salary. He's really struggling to give you that money. Now Maxie, you're still working for the post office, aren't you ?
Maxie mumbled :
- Buncha bastards. Never a sick day, and they complain when I take one lousy month off after 10 years.
- You got your pension there, right ? All the benefits, Ruby pressed on. They take care of their people at the post office. It's like the union, only better. No one's going to lay you off. It's good to have that kind of security, is what I'm saying. You don't get that at the Jubilee.
Maxie looked down at his hands, folded on the table. He said nothing.
- Maxie, we've all grown to like you here at the Jubilee. It's real fun having you around. But I want to ask you to give King a break. When your vacation is over, you should go back to the post office. It would be doing King a big favor. Please. Come back and visit us on another vacation.
Maxie continued to stare at his hands. He mumbled :
- There's nothin' here for me no more. What can I tell you ? Enough already.
- Didn't you save him once when you were together in the Navy ? Well, pull him out of the fire again. C' mon, Maxie, cheer up. Do that for your friend.
- Friend ? I have no friends. My pocketbook is my friend. They use me.
And so he left Chicago the next day. He didn't want to stick around for the last week of his vacation. "This is no vacation", he said.
Gloria, who rarely expressed an opinion, wondered out loud after his departure why "an old geezer like that" would have wanted to move to a new town in the first place.
Ruby shushed her and gave King a dirty look.
After Maxie walked out of their lives, the Jubilee settled back down to normal for the most part. The breakfast rush seemed quieter than everyone remembered it being before Maxie's arrival, though, and Ruby asked to work the afternoon shift. She said her husband liked having her around in the morning. But it didn't escape notice that King went home in the afternoons and a different short order cook came on before Ruby clocked in.
King reclaimed the title that Maxie had tried to usurp, and if anything, the girls noticed that his concern for their welfare had grown. He bought them all new aprons and moved a small armchair and stool into a corner of the kitchen, where any girl who had a free moment could put up her feet and keep him company.
The tormented young electrician opened up some, began to talk, and started to flirt with Gloria.
Maxie lived on in the queer stories and sayings he had repeated with numbing frequency. The regulars and the employees entertained one another with recitations of what they called "Maxie's Greatest Hits". "What are you waiting for ?" was one of their favorites. "Have you and your boyfriend set the date yet ? Get married, already. The novelty wears off. Two can live as cheap as one. Dearly beloved, we are gathered here..."
For some time, the Jubilee received no word from Maxie. Ruby finally tracked him down at the Ryder Station post office in Brooklyn. He had a little to say, she reported, and was in good health. He didn't ask after King, she said. Ruby remembered one line from their conversation. "There's no love in New York," he had said.
Several months later, a customer who had frequented the Jubilee while Maxie was there came into the shop. She had moved to Logan Square, she said, but she was in the neighborhood shopping and decided to drop in for a little visit. When she asked after Maxie, King told her that he had returned to Brooklyn.
- Oh, is he gone ? she said. That's so sad. I thought Maxie was sweet. He had some rough edges, but he was definitely a lot like you, King.
- Like me ? King guffawed. We ain't nothin' alike. Only thing Maxie Fisher and me have in common is the air we breathe. Now you just sit down there, girl, and let King bring you a slice of that nice pie you like so much.

The End
Back to Summary 10-1998
©1997-2000 by pisalou