Photo by Nathan Wright
by Michael Tilley
Mary had another coughing fit, this one so bad she needed to excuse herself.
She fled into the hall, the waitress wincing in sympathy as she passed, and a moment later the heavy front door of Heinrich’s whined open and thudded shut. Looking out the window, Finneran saw his sister hacking into her fist on the gusty sidewalk. He frowned and turned away.
It was early, not yet four-thirty, but a day so gray that all the lights were on, washing the half-timbered dining room with a dull yellow glow. Just a few other tables were occupied, in each case by ancients next to whom Mary and Finneran counted as young. One of them, a tiny man in a wheelchair sitting opposite his even more diminutive wife, had spent the last three minutes dissecting a slab of sauerbraten, the smell of which suffused the air around Finneran. Across the room, beneath a staring boar’s head, the waitress was mechanically folding tired cloth napkins that she stacked in a wicker picnic basket. The only noise was the sparse clink of silverware.
Just like their parents, Mary and Finneran ate an early dinner at Heinrich’s every Sunday.
Once again, the door whined and thudded, and a second after, Mary reappeared. Sitting back down, she immediately took a long drink of water. Her eyes were red and teary from all the coughing and from the cold.
“You all right?” Finneran muttered.
His sister waved brusquely and pretended to study the menu.
The waitress, bringing a fresh glass of water for Mary, ambled over to take their order. Her name was Kate, she was studying to be a nurse, and at work she wore a Bavarian milkmaid braid.
Finneran’s eye went to the small, shattered heart tattooed on her breast, which, being situated on her dirndl’s neckline, was peeking in and out of sight according to her movements.
They ordered the usual: jagershnitzel for Mary and the sandwich platter for Finneran.
“Extra liverwurst, right?”
“And two bowls of goulash,” Mary added.
Kate left, and Mary slipped on glasses to look at her phone while Finneran drank his beer and thought about nothing.
The idea of skipping a Sunday at Heinrich’s quite literally never occurred to Finneran; indeed, at fifty-five, he had lost the ability even to conceive of deviating from his routine. It’d been this way for some time now. Nothing remotely new or different—which might’ve kept alive his capacity to adjust by forcing adjustment upon him—had happened to him in ages.