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“Do you ever look in the mirror and think, ‘My god, I used to be much more attractive’?” Jack asked.
“No,” Perry said, wiping his lips on his napkin. “I was always this ugly.”
“No you weren’t,” Jack said reassuringly.
“Yes I was,” insisted Perry, waving his hand in the air over the table as if he could wave away the idea that he had ever been handsome like it was a plume of smoke drifting aimlessly from the cherry-scented candle in the center of the tablecloth.
“No, there was a time,” Jack repeated, nodding stupidly as he tried desperately to remember a specific time when Perry had been handsome. Nothing came to mind.
“Maybe slightly less trollish,” Perry admitted, “but never handsome. Women would always walk into the room and come up to us and say, ‘Hello Jack. Oh, this must be your father.’”
Jack chuckled bashfully and said, “That happened one time.”
“Well, it was very memorable.”
The two men stared at their laps for a moment without speaking. Cherry scent wafted from the candle into the air between them, causing each man to lose focus for a second and recall some random occurrence that involved cherries. For Perry, it was a time when he was seven, picking cherries with his mother. For Jack, it was eating a slice of cherry pie with his mother one Sunday afternoon when he was six. Both men thought about their mothers for a second, and then quickly remembered where they were and returned to the conversation.
“Herb called me last night,” Jack said.
“Oh really? What did he say?”
“He asked if I wanted to help him with a job.”
“What kind of job?” Perry asked as he lifted his wine glass to his mouth.
“Something in Latvia,” Jack’s brow furrowed as he thought about the conversation. “There’s a duchess there who’s on the verge on death and is willing to give away her fortune to a man whom she feels…deserves it.”
Perry audibly swished the wine around in his mouth, in and out through his teeth. He swallowed and said, “So what’s the job?”
“Kiss a** with the duchess until she dies, then inherit the fortune,” Jack said. “She’s worth something around ten million.”
“Are you going to do it?” Perry asked. He was staring solemnly into the pit of his wine glass.
“No, I told him I couldn’t,” Jack answered. “I can’t bear the thought of bedding with some old toad for weeks on end, no matter the price.” Perry grunted. Suddenly he tossed the wine glass onto the floor.
“Waiter!” he screamed. An old, withered man of about seventy appeared at the side of the table. “Waiter, this wine tastes like urine. Bring a different bottle, and make sure it isn’t the same year or vineyard, or even the same godd***ed country as that last bottle.”
The waiter made some sound, a guttural noise that was almost inaudible, and vanished into the kitchen. Perry turned to face Jack again.
“I have a very specific taste for wine,” he explained. “It has to be just right.” Jack simply nodded and chewed his lip. The waiter returned with a new bottle and a new glass. Perry waited as the old man poured him a glass. When he has finished pouring, the old man placed the bottle carefully on the table and asked Perry, “Did you take your medication yet?”
Perry looked stunned. “What medication?”
The bright fluorescent lights gave Perry’s face a ghostly look, as if he had been dead for several days. He looked up at the old man in the white coat and shook his head.
“I’ma no medicrashoons,” he said.
“Everyone needs to take them, Perry,” the old man said gently. He looked down at the broken mug on the floor and sighed. “You’re going to have to clean this up after you’re done eating.”
Perry shook his head again, almost violently. The old man pawed the glass shards on the floor around with his shoe.
“You’ve gotten grape juice all over the floor tiles, too,” he said accusingly. “It’s probably going to stain. Don’t you feel bad?”
Perry said nothing. He looked across the table. An empty chair looked back at him.
“I’ll be right back with your medications,” the old man said.
“Ho come Jack doen take no medicrashoons?” Perry asked. The old man paused and looked at the empty chair across the table from Perry. He shrugged, muttered a response, then turned and left Perry alone at the table.
“Ring ring,” someone behind Perry was saying. “Ring ring.” Perry turned around in his chair to see who it was. Herb was sitting at the table behind him, nursing a toy phone against his shoulder. “Ring ring. Pick up the phone.” Perry stared at him. A thin line of saliva escaped from his open mouth and slid down the front of his shirt. Herb kept staring at him.
“Ring ring,” he repeated. “I’m calling, you Mr. Perry. Why don’t you pick up?”
Perry was still drooling and staring at Herb when the old man returned with the medication. He was being accosted by an elderly woman who kept saying, “I’m a duchess, don’t you know? You can’t treat European royalty this way.” The old man ignored her, presenting a small plastic cup to Perry. Perry gazed into the cup at the small red pills. He looked up at the old man.
“Go ahead, take them,” the old man said. “They’re cherry-flavored.”