Old Friend

Today was no different than any of the other Saturdays that I had gone to Ricardo’s house. I had been doing it monthly, now, for twenty years, just checking on my pal. Actually, this was his mother’s house, the place where Mrs. Sanchez continued to indulge her fifty-year old son’s dependence upon her. I met her late one night when I returned Ricardo home safely after “quaffing brewskis.” Ricardo always used this term for drinking beer to punctuate his penchant for alcohol.

“Thank you for bringing him home; his father and I worry about him. Gracias a Dios he has a friend,” Mrs. Sanchez said.

It had been many years since I last joined my long-time pal for a few brewskis. These forays had always begun with “let’s go quaff a few,” but they usually turned into hours of serious beer drinking and “blah-blahing,” Ricardo’s term for meaningful conversation. With Ricardo, everything had a specific term, almost as if his whole life was something other than what it should be—a humble reality.

Alcohol finally took its toll on Ricardo. His unregulated quaffing brought out a meanness in him which sometimes led to physical violence. In fact, his antagonistic ways fueled more than one barroom brawl. I stopped going to bars with Ricardo when the blah-blahs became insults, now aimed at me. He threatened once too often to “kick my butt.” Yet, when Ricardo was sober, one could not find a better friend. Those times, however, became rare.

On this particular Saturday morning I timed my arrival for a little before noon, allowing Ricardo enough time to sleep late, knowing well that last night’s thirst had been quenched only after “last call.” I entered unannounced through the unlocked door at the rear of the house. Ricardo’s mother always left it unlocked so that her son would have no hassle with it when he came home drunk on Friday nights.

I walked into the kitchen, knowing full well that I would find Ricardo’s eighty-year-old mother, a widow for ten years, standing next to the stove. The acrid aroma of reheated coffee dispersed about the room, as if to mark the boundaries of Mrs. Sanchez’ sanctuary.

“¡Buenos días, Señora Sanchez!” I greeted her as I gave her a hug.

“Ay, mi hijo. ¿Cómo estás? How are you my son? she asked, each word dry and deliberate and barely audible. “¡Siéntate! ¡Siéntaté! Sit down,” Mrs. Sanchez offered, clearly fluent in both English and Spanish.

As I turned to sit down at the table, I was stunned—Mrs. Sanchez had replaced the old table and chairs with a new set. I noticed for the first time the close, cramped quarters, jam-packed with bric-a-brac, revealing the corazon of the woman now placing a steaming hot cup of coffee before me. Where was the nicked, time-worn, wooden table and chairs I remembered? I felt strange, so I didn’t say anything as I slowly sat down in one of the new chairs.

Mrs. Sanchez retraced her steps to the stove to pour herself a companionable cup, returned to the table in her slow, cautious way and smoothed her faded-pink apron as she sat down in the chair next to me. Finding a topic to talk about was never a problem, but somehow we always began with the weather. Today, we both just sat in silence.

“Well, what do you think of the new table?” Mrs. Sanchez whispered, breaking my stare at the faded velvet Last Supper on the wall above the table.

“I think it’s beautiful!” I hoped she hadn’t detected the disappointment in my voice.
I remembered Mrs. Sanchez’ telling me once during one of our many conversations, that her husband had bought the old table and chairs a few months after they were married. Prior to this, she and her husband ate their meals on a tablecloth spread out on the floor. Neither minded, since she was only fifteen, and he, eighteen.

“Yes, I think it’s beautiful,” I said once more to emphasize my approval. Mrs. Sanchez’ face lit up with a big smile. “But what about your old set? It was just as beautiful, and it seemed to be in great condition!” I knew after asking that question that I had struck a nerve. Mrs. Sanchez’ smile disappeared.

“It broke, mi hijo. It broke last Friday night.” She sighed.

“Oh, Mrs. Sanchez, I’m so sorry,” I replied, knowing well there was nothing I could have added to make her feel any better. She got up from her chair and walked back toward the stove for more coffee. The silence was loud as I feigned a struggle with the hot coffee in my mouth.

Mrs. Sanchez turned around and whispered, “Many conversations ended last Friday night, el viernes pasado.” She returned to her chair, sat down and stared at me for a few minutes. “You know, I’ve been thinking about the old chairs. Since you are the only one who still comes to see me, I want to give you two of them—one for you and one to remember me by, old friend.”

Ricardo staggered into the kitchen.






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