The Last Supper
Mel stood in the doorway of the diner and glanced around until he spotted Rube at a table in the corner. Damn long way for an old man to have to walk. But then, maybe Rube had picked it on purpose. They both kept saying
how much they needed to get more exercise.
“So how’s it hanging?” Mel asked when he’d crossed the room. He folded his walker and leaned
it against the end of the table, then eased his stiff body to the seat.
Rube made a so-so gesture, “It’s just a pisser now.”
Mel laughed at his friend’s joke, made more amusing to him by the fact that he
didn’t have an enlarged prostate. The only good news he’d gotten this year from Doc Nelson. So if he was to meet
the right woman and she was willing, he could possibly even get it up without the aid of a pill.
Maybe Sally’d oblige an old man, he thought as she approached the table. God knows they’d joked about it
“The usual for you gentlemen today?” Sally cocked one hip and held her order pad ready. It had been the
same pose and the same question for all the years he and Rube had been meeting here for lunch twice a week. Was it ten now
since Addie had died? Mel did the math best he could. It wasn’t as easy as it used to be. Hell, nothing was as easy
as it used to be.
And used to be his mind didn’t go off on strange paths when he’d been asked a simple question.
Mel looked up at Sally. “How’s the meatloaf?”
“The cook outdone himself.” Her reply included a wink that was as much a part of the routine as everything
“Then I guess it’s meatloaf today.”
She turned to Rube. “And the same for you?”
“No. I was thinking about the porterhouse.”
Mel damn near dropped his teeth on the table and Sally looked like she was shell-shocked. Rube was supposed to say,
“Yes.” He always said “yes.”
While the waitress recovered her professionalism and asked about sides and how did Rube want his steak cooked, Mel
watched his friend. He tried to penetrate an expression that included a smile that was just a bit too broad to see beyond.
Whatever was driving this strange behavior, Rube was keeping it well hidden.
“What?” Rube asked after Sally plodded back toward the kitchen to put the order in. “Can’t
a man break routine once in a while?”
Mel took a small swallow of his ice water. “We always have meatloaf on Wednesday.”
“So, sue me I want to be different.”
“You haven’t been different since you thought you were queer in junior high.”
“I never did.”
“Of course you did. We both wondered.”
Rube laughed. An action that caused his whole round little body to shake and ended in a harsh coughing jag that drew
looks from the other tables. He pulled a rumpled handkerchief out of the back pocket of his polyester slacks and carefully
contained the product of his cough.
“You okay?” Mel hoped the bright flush would leave his friend’s face as quickly as it had come.
“I never said I thought I was queer.”
“Hell, we figured if we said the words out loud they’d be true.”
“You better take it easy with the jokes, Mel,” Sally said, setting their coffee down. “Wouldn’t
do to have Rube here drop dead from laughing.”
“No worries.” Rube shoved the handkerchief back in his pocket. “I wouldn’t upset your routine
When Sally left, Rube sipped his coffee, glancing at everything except Mel. If his intent was to steer his friend’s
curiosity to some other subject, the effort failed miserably. Mel studied the other man, really seeing him for the eighty-plus
years instead of automatically superimposing the twenty-something image over the wrinkles and liver spots. Christ. They were
both getting old. Did he look that bad?
“You okay, Rube?”
“Sure.” He still avoided eye-contact.
“Ain’t holding back on me, are you?”
“Why would I do that?”
Mel was graced with the same guileless expression Rube used to wear when he took Mel’s lunch money out of the
locker, then swore he didn’t know what happened to it. He used to forgive him that. It couldn’t have been easy
to grow up poor and hungry, but the friendship had grown beyond circumspection these past thirty or so years. He couldn’t
remember the last time he’d suspected Rube of lying.
“You hear from Billy lately?” Billy was Rube’s misbegotten son. Someone who always created havoc
in his father’s life and Mel was certain that if anything had happened recently to upset his friend, Billy would be
Further conversation was delayed by the arrival of salad and the effort it took to spear the lettuce without the pile
of croutons cascading across the table. From the first time Mel had said how much he liked them, Sally had piled them on like
she was building a freakin’ mountain.
When Mel glanced up from his efforts it was to see Rube pushing greenery around his plate with little enthusiasm.
“Not going to eat that?”
“I’m saving myself for the steak.”
“Since when did you save yourself for anything?”
“Since when did you become my keeper?” There was just enough of an edge to Rube’s voice that Mel
knew to back off. That had been the beauty of their friendship from the beginning. It lasted as long as Mel knew when to stop
pushing. He’d resented it at first; a normal adolescent attitude. ‘I don’t back down from anybody.’
But the need for acceptance and the security of at least one true friend had kept the bluster to a minimum; just enough to
Then Mel had finally reached a point where he didn’t feel that deep need to save face. He just had a deep need
to hang on to what had become as comfortable in his life as his favorite old chair. On the surface it wasn’t much. But
he didn’t know what he’d do without it.
Sally brought steaming plates to the table and Rube abandoned the salad for his steak. Mel watched his friend methodically
cut pieces and put them in his mouth. When he chewed, he closed his eyes.
“You having an orgasm over there?” Mel asked.
Rube chuckled and opened his eyes. “Jealous?”
Mel smiled, then concentrated on his food. For just a moment, he wished he had the guts to be different, too. He could
afford the two bucks extra for the steak.
After mopping the juice from his plate with a hunk of bread, Rube leaned back, patted his stomach and reached for the
check. “My treat.”
Mel dropped his fork with a clatter. “This is October. Last time I checked, my birthday was in April.”
“Who says I can only buy your lunch on your birthday?”
“You going senile on me, Rube? We agreed. Remember? Didn’t want to be like a couple of old biddies fussing
over who paid last.”
He paused, hoping... Not even sure what he was hoping for. That Rube would just laugh and throw the check back down.
Tell him it was all a joke. That he’d just decided to rattle his cage a bit. And not to worry. Everything would go back
to normal. Next week he’d even order the meatloaf.
But Rube didn’t say anything. He looked at the check in his hand and kept his mouth shut.
“What’s with you?” Mel asked.
“Already told you. Ain’t nothin’ wrong.” Rube dug in his back pocket and pulled out a scuffed
leather wallet. “And if you don’t stop with the questions, I’m not gonna let you win at poker Friday night.”
“Let me win? You never let me win at anything.”
“Little do you know, Buddy-Boy.” Rube grinned. “I took it easy on you ‘cause I know your estate
is smaller than mine.”
Mel had to laugh. Estate? They wouldn’t know what an estate was if it bit them in the ass.
“So I’m to believe you just want to buy my lunch because of the poor condition of my finances.”
“Believe what you want. I gotta get out of here. Getting’ about time for my nap.”
At home, Mel putzed around the kitchen, washing up the bowl and spoon from breakfast. He didn’t know why he did
this. Hell, he had enough dishes to throw them away if he wanted to and never use them up before he died. So why couldn’t
he let them pile up at least a couple of days?
He knew the answer to that even before the question finished forming. Because
Addie would come back down here and bust your chops.
Mel smiled. People used to think she was the worst bitch for harping on him all the time. But he knew better. If she
was passionate about cleanliness, she was doubly passionate about other things, and those folks would’ve changed their
opinion if they’d seen her in action.
The memory was pleasant and created a stir he didn’t think his body capable of. “Well, I’ll be damned,”
he said, contemplating going to the bathroom to see if there was anything there to finish. But he didn’t want to set
himself up for disappointment.
Plus, he recognized what he’d been doing since he’d come home. Anything to avoid thinking about Rube and
his odd behavior. Even the moments he’d been trying to be just Rube, always with the wise-ass remarks, it hadn’t
felt right. Something was just a little off about the whole thing.
So what are you gonna do? Sit around and worry it like a dog with an old bone?
Mel sighed, then walked into the living room where the old secretary stood in the corner. Papers bulged out of the
cubbyholes and spilled across the open flap. Addie would really be pissed about this. But Mel knew where things were. Digging
in one horizontal slot, he pulled out the paper that had the emergency contact numbers for Rube. They both had papers with
the numbers of next of kin. Never knew when one of them might need to be making phone calls.
The place for Billy’s number had been written over so many times, Mel had finally started putting the newest
number on a sticky note and pasting it to the page.
He took the paper and went back to the kitchen where the phone rested on the side of the table where Addie used to
sit. He pulled it close and dialed.
The voice on the other end sounded garbled and Mel wasn’t sure if he’d woken the man or if he was merely
“This is Mel. Mel Haverwitz.”
“Your father’s friend.”
“I know. Whadda ya want?”
“I’m worried about your dad.”
“What has the old fool done now?”
“Nothing. It’s just, uh...” Suddenly words failed him. How could he voice to Billy what he’d
not even said out loud to himself?
“You still there?”
“Yeah.” Mel cleared his throat. “The deal is. I’m concerned. He’s acting kinda down in
“So you called me?”
“Yeah. Thought maybe you could visit. Mend a fence. Cheer him up. Despite all the trouble, he does love you.”
“Coulda fooled me.”
A vivid picture of the last time Rube and his son had spoken flashed into Mel’s mind. Rube had asked him to be
there when he told Billy he had to quit drinking or get out. It hadn’t been pretty.
“He only did what he had to.”
“Yeah. Like always.”
Mel sighed. “Forget it. Sorry I bothered you.”
He said the last few words to a dead line.
Mel stood, hearing the familiar pop in his left knee and eased the stiffness in his back. Seemed to take a lot longer
to get upright these days. But now that he was up, he might as well dump those old newspapers and haul the trash out to the
The chores provided adequate diversion for about ten minutes, and then he came head up on the worry again. If he thought
Doc Nelson would tell him, he’d call to see if he’d given Rube any bad news recently. But that would never happen.
Doc had more ethics than the Pope.
Mel went to the phone and dialed Rube’s number. It rang several times and Mel was about to hang up when he heard
a click, then a muffled hello.
“You were expecting someone else?”
“No. I, uh...” Mel couldn’t figure out what to say. He suddenly felt so stupid. What if he’d
just wasted an hour worrying over something that was just in his imagination?
“You need something? Or did you just call to wake me up.”
“Geeze, I’m sorry. I forgot. You want I should let you go back to sleep?”
“Nah. I’m awake now.”
“Want to come over and play cards?”
“Poker night’s Friday. This is Wednesday.”
“So. You’re the one that started being different today.”
Rube came over that night and again on Friday. The routine was so normal and so comfortable, that Mel told his mind
to let go of that little niggle of concern. Rube was just fine. He even showed up at Temple Saturday night and took his usual
spot. So there was nothing to worry about, right? Monday they’d meet for lunch, have the chicken like always, and everything
would be just fine.
Mel believed that all day Sunday as he alternated between watching the Dallas Cowboys get their butts kicked and snoozing
in his recliner.
Then on Monday, he headed over to the Leavenworth Grill.
He stood in the doorway to let his eyes adjust to the dimness inside and had a weird sense of déjà vu. Then he remembered
the dream from last night. He’d been standing in this same spot, looking for Rube. Only he wasn’t at their usual
table. Billy had been there, disturbing the customers with loud, lewd talk and trying to cop a feel from Sally. The only good
part of the dream had been when Mel punched Billy’s lights out.
He turned to the source of the question. Sally gave him a smile that just barely lifted one corner of her mouth.
“This came for you by special courier.” She handed Mel an envelope. His name was printed neatly in the
“Where’s Rube?” Did he think by asking his friend might magically appear?
“I was going to ask you the same thing.”
Mel looked again at the envelope he clutched in a trembling hand.
Rube always did have the best penmanship.
He felt his knees go weak and reached for the edge of a nearby chair. Sally grabbed him. “Here,” she said.
You sit a minute. You’re white as a ghost. I’ll get you some juice.
Not wanting to, but needing to so he could convince himself that he wasn’t just having another bout of overactive
imagination, Mel opened the envelope. Fingers shaking, he drew out a single sheet of paper that was filled with words made
from familiar, precise letters.
Well, old-buddy. You were right. But
don’t be too pissed at me. After all,
you did get a lunch on me. And I really
didn’t want you to do a damn thing to
stop me. Nice try with Billy, though.
He called, but the decision wasn’t about
him, or you, or anybody else. It was about
me and getting too damn old to be good for
So I hope you will forgive me this last
little transgression And I hope it won’t
keep you from sitting Shiva for me.
Your Friend, Rube.
Mel carefully folded the paper and slid it back into the envelope just as Sally returned with a glass of orange juice.
She motioned to the letter. “Is that from Rube?”
“Is he coming for lunch?”
Mel drank the juice. He couldn’t be rude and not. But then he stood. “I need to go.”
“You don’t look so hot, Mel. Should I call someone?”
“I’m okay.” He patted her hand as if that would convince her. “I just need to go.”
He walked to door and stepped out into the bright sunshine.
It was a ten-minute drive to Rube’s little frame house. One of the reasons they’d settled on the Leavenworth
for their lunches. It was close.
Mel pulled his Buick into the drive and stilled the engine. Then he sat for a moment, not sure if he was up for this.
Should he just call the cops? The Rabbi? Billy?
No. If Rube had wanted any of them to find him, he’d have sent them the goddam letter.
Mel pushed the door open and eased out of his car. When they wanted to stop, he willed his feet to keep moving until
they carried him to the front door. He tried the knob. Locked. Of course, Rube wouldn’t have wanted some thief to find
Mel used his key to unlock the door, then stepped over the little metal rise in the threshold.
He didn’t know what to expect. Perhaps some odor of death; some sign of distress or struggle. But everything
was as tidy as usual.
Except for Rube lying dead on the sofa.
Still looking at Rube, Mel sank to the lumpy seat of a Queen Anne chair, careful to avoid the hole left where the spring
had come loose. They always talked about fixing that one of these days.
One of these days.
No fair. He wanted to scream at his friend. No fair that you got to go before me.
Respect for the dead kept him quiet, and he stared at Rube for a long time. The lines that were usually tight around
his eyes were relaxed and the position of his mouth could almost be a grin. Weird. He looked more peaceful than Mel could
He rubbed a hand across his face, surprised to find wetness on his cheek. Hell. It wasn’t the way he figured
Rube would go. But maybe it was better than wasting away a little more each day.
Mel wondered if it had hurt.