JJ rinsed the last seeds from the bagel planks. Sesame, poppy, garlic, onion, salt. Everything. The garlic pebbles were stubborn and stuck to aprons and lodged in corners, determined to stay behind. Carl mopped the floor. Everywhere you work, JJ thought, always a floor to mop. The oven was off, the kettle drained and rinsed, the cornmeal sludge at the bottom loosened with a prolonged hose blast and drained away. The bagels were packed for wholesale delivery, the smells (garlic, onion, etc.) separated from the sweets (cinnamon raisin, chocolate chip, etc.). Ever get a little piece of garlic on your nice blueberry bagel? A curious mix but not so good in the end. Garlic is really determined to linger.
JJ left one cranberry bagel near the invoices for Nico, the tall dread-locked delivery driver. Or Nikko. JJ forgets which, but knows he’s basically Nick from Long Island, gone Rasta. JJ had a parmesan and a cinnamon raisin in a bag for himself and Carl had a chocolate chip and a pumpernickel. Breakfast for later. They threw their aprons in the dirty linen and closed the door behind them. A different world out here. No fluorescent lights or pumping techno music to keep you moving. Quiet and expansive. It was 3:00 AM and there was mist along the ground shrouding the little skateboard park, eerie and jaundiced from a yellow street light. In the car Carl reached under the seat for a pint of Jim Beam, took a slug and passed it to JJ. “That’s better,” he said.
JJ sipped and felt the burn and a settling, a letting go, as he sat back and Carl started the car. They drove the half mile to JJ’s apartment. JJ said, “So what’re the lottery numbers?”
“I don’t just know them. What do you think I am? Check the internet.”
“You’re not coming in?”
“Nah. Kristen. I’ve been trying to get home earlier so I’m not shot later today.”
“Was it a quick pick?”
JJ was looking at the little duplex he called home. One story, one bedroom that JJ shared with his books and camping gear. “No, I picked the numbers.”
“Really?” Carl was looking at JJ for signs of kidding. “Well, explain, I guess.”
“I was just gonna do 3,6,9,12,15,18 but I thought, what’re the chances of that? So I tried to come up with a random to throw on the end but it’s impossible to actually think of a number without attaching some meaning, right? So, ok, I’ll tack on a number with meaning.” JJ opened the car door.
“What does 49 mean?”
“What does 49 mean?”
JJ got out of the car and leaned in with hands on the roof above the door. “I dunno. Hemingway, the first 49 stories. Ron Guidry’s number. The Forty-Niners. Forty nine red balloons.”
“I think that’s 99 red balloons, dude. Or luft ballons or something like that.”
“Yeah,” said JJ. “That’s right. Oh well, see you tonight. If I don’t win.” JJ shut the car door and stood still for a moment, listening to Carl’s car recede into the night and trying to remember. Then he went up the walkway, singing to himself, “You and I and a little toy shop, bought a bag of balloons with the money we got, set them free at the break of dawn, til one by one they were gone…”