Acuity

There are three saucepans on the stove, but only two are boiling. Bryant hears the hiss of gas burners and the restlessness of hot water, but waits until he can hear the bubbling of all three pans before adding a bouillon cube to each. As the dense cubes dissolve, the kitchen fills with the mingling smells of chicken, beef, and various vegetables.

On the dining room table, three bank envelops are stacked – one sealed by tongue, one with the flap tucked in, and one closed with scotch tape. He retrieves them, bumping the doorframe with his shoulder along the way and stinging a bruise that never seems to improve. Extinguishing the stove, he opens them one by one and empties the cash into the hot broths. He likes the smell of beef the most, so he soaks the fives in it, stirring them in with a wooden spoon. The tens go into the chicken broth, and depending on his take home pay, either a handful of twenties or a few fifties fall into the vegetable mix. He will let them sit over night, absorbing as much flavor as they can before he fishes them out and lays them to dry on the cookie sheets he keeps atop the refrigerator.

His work done for the evening, he finds a beer in the refrigerator and switches on the radio in the living room. It takes a few minutes of fiddling with the tuning, but eventually the ball game rattles through the static – St. Louis is up a run on Milwaukee in the eighth inning. He sinks into the couch and rubs the cold bottle of beer on his bruised shoulder for a few minutes before twisting it open. The cap falls somewhere on the floor, where he is sure to step on its sharp edges before the week is out. On the air, the announcer is lamenting Ramirez’s awful season, wondering aloud why he can’t seem to see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand like he had earlier in his career. This makes Bryant laugh.

The beer is stout – a dark brew that goes down like coffee. He swishes it back and forth through his teeth and lets it foam while he listens to the game. It’s not one of his favorites, but the taste is complex, and he’s entertained by the way it changes from sip to sip. He hadn’t always appreciated the flavor of beer or the hum of an anxious crowd – eager for action as the pitcher rubs down a new baseball and waits for his sign. When he was younger, Bryant took for granted the sting of a bottle cap on his bare heel, and the way it quickly faded into dull, enjoyable warmth if you stopped cussing long enough to notice.

Soon, his stomach begins to rumble. He finds the phone and calls information, looking for the number of a Chinese restaurant uptown. The young woman on the line asks him to wait on hold a moment while she finds his listing. While she searches, he wonders how much he has spent calling information, rather than memorizing numbers like his sister tells him to each time she opens his bills and reads his outstanding balances aloud. The line goes live again just as his math is getting out of hand, and she rattles off the number to Sapphire Dragon. For only twenty five cents more, she says she would be pleased to connect the call automatically. Bryant can hardly argue with such a bargain.

The game ends uneventfully with Milwaukee’s batters going down in order in the ninth. The beer has gotten noticeably warmer in his hand, and his hunger is beginning to get the best of him. Finally, he hears a car pull up and a door slam while it idles in the street outside his apartment.

Bryant makes his way to the door as footsteps pound up the stairs and down his hallway. He opens the door just a heartbeat after the delivery driver knocks. He carefully selects two chicken-scented tens from his wallet and hands them over, declining any change.

The hot, sweet smell of pork twice-cooked pork fills the room and makes his stomach growl fiercely as he carefully feels around inside his cupboard for a clean plate before dishing himself out a generous portion of meat and fried rice. Bryant empties his plate, barely taking time to breath between savory bites. Then he does it again, and once more for good measure.

Full and content, he cracks open his fortune cookie and balls up the slip of paper inside without a thought.

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