Brothers and Sisters

“Hey, can I get that coffee?”

“Coming right up, sweetie,” Selma reassured the customer in the corner. “I’ll be right back, Vlad,” she said to me.

I was flipping burgers on the giant skillet, sweat dripping down my back. I had gotten used to it. I could cool down chopping onions, or getting something from the walk-in fridge.

Selma was back sooner than I expected.

“Where was I? Oh yeah,” she said, “So anyway, Trevor was a travelling salesman and his route was from New York to Maine. I was still living in Vermont. He would stop by sometimes, tell me all sorts of stories. And then that one time he came over, telling me he was getting married. My little brother was getting married. I was surprised, couldn’t you have called, I said. No, he wanted to tell me in person. So asked him who was the girl and he told me her name was Sarah and that she was Jewish. And I’m like, that’s okay, ’cause I’m no anti-seemite. And anyway, my friend was Jewish, her name was Debbie. I don’t know if it’s a Jewish name. Is it?”

“It is,” I said. “It’s Deborah. A typically Jewish name.”

“Yeah, you’re a smart one. What’s your business flipping burgers anyway, huh?”

“It’s a good job, isn’t it.”

“I guess it is. Hey, what kind of a name is Vlad? Are you from Transylvania? Is Poland in Transylvania?” hard to say whether she was joking. A little smile never left her face.

“Nah,” I smiled back, “My name is Vladek, Vlad for short.”

“You got any brothers or sisters, Vlad?”

“I do.” I made her wait a second, “Eight in all. Three brothers and five sisters.”

“Well, you’re something else. Is it common in Poland?”

“Oh yeah, most men have many wives. My father has three.”

“Huh, look at that. Are you a Muslim?”

“No, we’re Buddhist. A lot of people in Poland are.”

She looked down a second, then up at me again. She was probably about fifty, but her eyes looked sharp. They were bright blue and extremely intelligent. She winked at me and smiled.

“You wouldn’t be trying to make a fool out of old Selma, would you.”

I felt my cheeks were getting hot. I looked down, could not bear to look at her.

“Sorry, Selma. I was just having some fun.”

“Thought so, kid. Thought so.”

And she walked away to greet a customer. I planned what I was going to say when she came back. Something to serve as a peace offering. And also to find out whether she was mad.

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