Do This in Remembrance

Phil Lofton
Porch Light Collective
10 min readMar 15, 2020

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Part of the 2020 Liturgical Calendar Storywriting Project.

A Lent Story.

Photo by Phil

Joe took a deep breath, opened the door and stepped inside the tiny air-trap of a vestibule that kept the frigid drafts out of the restaurant.

The place was nothing special. Standard issue sports bar paraphernalia covered the walls, filled in here and there with promotional posters for specials for drinks he didn’t want on days he wouldn’t be here.

They had met at better places, and they had met at worse.

In his pocket, Joe felt the buzz of the four notifications he had set for the meeting, and, idly, he plucked his phone out to swipe them away. Pain shot through his thumb, and he muffled a curse at himself for forgetting again to buy a screen protector and seal over the cracks in the glass.

“You ok, sir?” The hostess asked, with a fleeting look of concern on her face. She was beautiful enough to make Joe blush for a moment.

“Yeah, just cut myself on my phone.” Joe said. “Do you have a band-aid?”

“Of course.” She said with a smile. “Let me get you seated and I’ll go grab one.” She reached over to a wooden sleeve on the wall and grabbed at the menus, asking “how many tonight?”

“Just two.” Joe said.

She led him to a corner table, sat him down, and left for the kitchen to grab the bandage.

Slowly, Joe pulled out his phone again and, pulling up the message from three days ago that was still at the top of his list, sent a text to Gabe. “Sitting in the back, see you soon.”

He flipped the massive laminated slab that the hostess had given him a few times. He didn’t really need to, he noticed after a cursory glance. Nothing here was special. Burgers, wings and beer. Same as any sports bar anywhere.

He ran through his talking points in his head. The names. The updates.

“Hey, brother.” A voice said, interrupting his thoughts.

Joe looked up into a pair of bespectacled eyes.

“Hey Gabe.” Joe said, standing to shake his friend’s hand with his palm faced towards the floor.. “How you been, man?”

“Blessed.” Gabe said, slicking back some of the short grey hair on top of his head. “And yourself?”

“Not bad.”

Gabe fidgeted with an arm of his glasses and gave Joe a wide, photogenic smile. “So I need to hear about the foundation. What’s the latest? What are you folks doing?”

Joe beamed and said “I can’t wait — seriously — but once I get talking, I’m probably not going to be able to stop, so maybe we should get the food ordered first.”

“Fair enough.” Gabe said.

As if on cue, the waitress arrived. She greeted Gabe with a friendly tap of the pen on the shoulder, “Hey, Mr. Brown! Who’s your friend?”

Joe’s palms began to sweat, and he fidgeted with his phone in his pocket.

“Marissa, this is my good friend, Joe.” Gabe said, “He works in homeless housing over at the Eisenbart Foundation, and he likes old movies.”.

“It’s nice to meet you, Joe.” Marissa said. “So what’ll you gentlemen be having tonight?”

“I’d like a large cup of the soup of the day-“

“It’s cream of broccoli, is that ok?” Marissa interrupted.

“That is fine.” Gabe continued, stressing each word. “And I’d like a side salad with no dressing, please.”

“And how about you, Joe?” Marissa asked, flashing a smile a degree or two more genuine than the placid grin servers usually gave him.

“I’ll take a bacon burger please, medium, and some fries.”

“Anything other than water?”

Gabe shook his head. “None for me, but I’m sure Joe would like a beer, right?”

Joe looked at his companion with eyebrows raised, shrugged, and said, “I’ll take a Workingman’s Pilsner, please.”

“Sure.” Marissa said. “So how do you fellas know each other?”

“Long story.” Joe said.

“Susan helped him out of a bind a while back, and we’ve kept in touch ever since.” Gabe said.

The rush of the crash came back to Joe, then. The feeling of that beautiful, horrible uncontrol as the car spun and the airbags deployed. He stifled the thought and nodded, running a hand over his stomach.

Marissa was looking at him solemnly. “Right. Well, I’ll put this in for you guys, then. I’ll be right back with your beer.”

“Did you see the Colts on Sunday?” Joe asked enthusiastically.

“Y’know, I didn’t.” Gabe said. “I’ve just never really been much for sports. But tell me all about what you’ve been up to since the last time we spoke — I can’t believe it’s already been a year.”

“Yeah, me either.” Joe said, painting on a grin. “Time flies, huh?”

“That it does, my friend.” Gabe said. “So this time last year, you were feeling pretty much 100%, you had just started dating…” he trailed off as he searched his memory for a name.

“Casey.” Joe said.

“And how’s that going?” Gabe asked. “You should’ve brought her, I would’ve loved to meet her.”

Marissa returned, and without a word dropped off Joe’s beer for him. It barely made its way to the table before Joe took it up and reared it back in a deep swig.

“Cheers!” Gabe said, raising his glass from across the table. “I’m glad your wreck took your kidneys and not your liver!”

There was no judgment in the statement, Joe knew. No hidden barb. Gabe knew that Joe loved a drink with his meal, the enthusiasm was — as was always the case with Gabe on this day of the year — abundant and genuine.

“Cheers.” Joe said back quietly. “She doesn’t know about…”

“Susan?”

“Susan. You. Today.” Joe said.

“Gotcha.” Gabe said. “But you’re doing well? One year, that’s pretty serious.”

“She’s pretty great. I’m hers as long as she wants me.”

Gabe nodded and patted the notebook he brought with him to all of their annual dinners. “Good. I’m happy for you.”

The food arrived.

“Let me pray really quick.” Gabe said, before Joe could lift the burger up. He reached across the table and laid a hand on Joe’s wrist as he began. “Father Almighty we thank you for this day. We thank you for Joe and the work he does in your name. We thank you for Susan, Father, and the life that her death allowed to continue.” Joe knew that the squeeze on his wrist was coming at this part. The prayer was the same every year. It didn’t matter, he cried every time. It seemed like it got him a little harder each year. “Please watch over us, and please give Susan my love. In your holy name, Amen.”

Gabe took a bite of his salad and nodded in appreciation, letting out a loud “mm”. He noticed Joe’s red eyes and tear-slicked cheeks and reached back across the table to place a hand over Joe’s in that strange, reassuring grandfatherly way.

“Amen.” Joe said.

Gabe smiled. “So.” He said, “Tell me everything about what the foundation’s been doing this year.”

Joe took a bite of his burger, looking embarrassed and pointing to his full mouth as an apology for the conversational delay. He swallowed his food, thinking for a moment and said, “So much. So. Much. Did you hear about the housing-first stuff over on Post?”

“No.” Gabe said, leaning in with interest. “But I want to hear about it. Tell me everything.”

“So you know about housing first?” Joe asked, eliciting a shake of Gabe’s head. “It’s this idea that — no, this pretty solid theory that the best way to help the homeless is to give them a home first. Housing first.”

Gabe opened his notebook and began scribbling down notes, looking up here and there.

“It’s just putting Maslow into practice, right?” Joe continued, “How are you going to help someone with their psychological stuff if their biggest concern in life is whether or not they’re gonna freeze to death.”

“So what did you all decide to do on Post?”

“100 units. We had a really big fundraiser, got buy-in from the city, it was awesome.”

“And you didn’t ask me about this because…?” Gabe asked.

“I will never ask you for a cent.” Joe said flatly. “Not a penny.”

Gabe shook his head and laughed. “That is absolutely ridiculous, I-“

“You’ve got your code, I’ve got mine.” Joe said. “You ever want to give to the foundation, I’m sure they’d be happy to get a check, but keep my name out of it.”

“Fair enough.” Gabe said. “So what’re you doing with this project?”

“Same as always.” Joe said. “I’m out there just talking to people, trying to let folks under the bridge or out in Legion Park know about it, helping them navigate the paperwork, all that good stuff. We’re hoping for another 150 by the end of the year, though.”

“Brother, that is fantastic.” Gabe said. “Just fantastic.”

It could’ve been the light or Gabe’s glasses, but Joe thought he could see his eyes begin to dew up. Joe hadn’t ever seen this, not in the six years that these dinners had been happening. Joe imagined that Gabe must’ve cried at Susan’s funeral. He must’ve clung to the coffin, or stepped out to let himself sob in the darkened lobby. Joe had no idea, though. He had been in the ICU, his body torn and invaded by the flesh and blood of his savior who he’d never meet.

“How about you, though?” Joe asked. “You ok? You seeing anybody?”

Gabe laughed and shook his head. “No, I’m fine on my own.”

He sat for a moment, finishing the last of his soup and salad. People began to fill in the empty tables at the bar. They were loud college kids from the apartments above, piling in for drinks to begin a long, raucous night. It was exactly the sort of night that he’d had the night his body broke. The night he had been lucky enough to get hit by someone somehow drunker than he.

Gabe leaned back in his chair, looking sagely under the shadows of the cheap light fixture. He was so peaceful, Joe thought, always so peaceful.

“I’ve got my girls whenever they come back from college. And I’ve got you and Sophie, Greg, Marcus, and anyone else that Susan might’ve saved. That’s enough for me.”

Joe looked at him. He took in the grace, took in the unconditional, unearned love that Gabe gave him just for continuing to pump his wife’s blood through his wife’s kidney.

“What was she like?” Joe asked.

“Six years and you’ve never asked that.” Gabe said. “You’ve asked about the girls, my job, my home, but never her.”

“It’s not easy.” Joe said.

“I know,” Gabe replied. “I’m not mad, it’s just different.” He thought for a moment and pulled out a picture of a woman. She was beautiful in a motherly sort of way, and years of wisdom gleamed in her eyes. She, smiling warmly, had her arms wrapped around Gabe and their girls. Somehow, Gabe’s smile was even bigger, even more earnest in this picture. “She was wonderful. She was kind. She loved deeply and fought for the things she believed in, no matter what it cost her.”

“I want to tell you something, Joe.” Gabe said. “Susan would’ve loved you. She would’ve made you cookies on your birthday and yelled at you for not asking for money for your work. She would’ve tried to set you up with every single one of the girls, even Keirsey.” He looked straight into Joe’s eyes with a fearsome clarity. “No matter what you did, she would’ve been so incredibly, endlessly proud of you for living and breathing and doing something.”

Forcing out a cough and wrapping a hand tightly into a fist before his mouth, Joe pulled out his phone quickly and stood up. “I’m sorry, I have to take this real quick, I’ll be right outside.”

“Are you ok? I’m sorry if-“ Gabe began.

“I’m fine, just gimme a second-“

Gabe nodded kindly and motioned somewhere else in the bar for the check.

Outside the bar, the cold seized Joe immediately, stealing any sensation from his fingers and lips. Sobs stole out from under Joe’s fist, and he leaned his back against the bricks of the bar, letting the tears fall freely for a few moments.

The check would be fine. Gabe always took it. Joe coughed out the rest of his tears and took off towards home.

The sidewalks along Indiana Avenue were unsalted flats of ice, almost taking Joe’s legs out from under him more than once.

Headlights cast his shadow far ahead of him, then dashed off towards the traffic light ahead, showing their red tails as they passed.

More than once, Joe heard a loud skid behind himself, and imagined the motion of the car — fishtailing, popping the curb, pinning him to some fence or barreling over his body altogether. He wondered which would hurt less, then ruefully tabled the thought as the wheels all found their way again, renegotiating their hold on the road and carrying their drivers off.

He kept on toward home and pried his shoes off, sticking them onto a mat by the door.

From another room his mother called to him “How were drinks with your friend?”.

“Fine.” Joe said, forcing a smile. If his eyes were tearstained, his mother made no note of it.

“Good.” She said warmly, “Did you call Mrs. Corrigan about the dishwasher job at her restaurant?”

“No.”

“Call her tomorrow, baby boy.” She said. “We just need to get you out of the house while we find you the right job, ok? And send Mrs. Neiderman’s niece a text or something — follow up on that date you two went on the other day.”

“Going to bed.” Joe said, avoiding a hug. “Love you.”

“Love you too.” His mother replied.

He spent the rest of the night flipping through threads and feeds, and taking notes trying to recall the details he had told Gabe.

When he closed his eyes to sleep he imagined the face of Susan, her face all full of that terrible, messianic grace. He felt his scars, letting fingers linger on the crags and crevices of every inch of scar tissue. He felt her blood running through his wasted veins.

He thought of the handshake. He remembered the flash of anger he felt, the same anger he always felt when Gabe swung his hand towards him in that awful, feudal way of reestablishing his dominance. It wasn’t necessary — there was nothing Joe could ever do that would erase the debt between them.

In the morning, Joe would take his pills. He would think of all the things he could become, all the jobs he could take, all the work he could do. He would put on his pants around noon. He would look for a job half-heartedly for an hour and let the sludge of inertia carry him back to some mindless site and endless, meaningless scrolling. Nothing would change.

In a year, there would be another dinner. Another lie.

© Phil Lofton, 2020, all rights reserved. Republished with permission from injoythebleak.wordpress.com

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Phil Lofton
Porch Light Collective

Storyteller, Podcaster, Percussionist. Proud member of the Porch Light Collective.