..I’d heard that Francis was ailing, and he looked thin sliding into a booth with his buddy Bob. But he’d been thin to begin with. Wiry. Two years ago he’d cut, split, and hauled six or eight full cords of firewood off the back lot. Stacked it at his son’s house, then his son sold the house, and Francis could not come to terms with the buyer over the worth of the wood. He loaded it all up again and took it home.
..They switched booths once:
..“Cold as a barn over there”
.. Bob was gazing out one of the the big diner windows and through the maze of wires and signage. Far to the west, over the river, he spotted a flock of geese. His vague vowel sound and gesture turned Francis toward the birds:
..“Bunch of ’em….Hell of a bunch of ’em….Headed south….That’s a hell of a bunch of ’em”
..Both men seemed lost in the sight, Bob murmuring his agreements. Then a stake rack truck rolled past hunched low:
..“Jesus, look at that. That’s a hell of a load o’ wood.”
..The distinctive clenched delivery, though the pipe was in his pocket. An acquaintance entered and questioned Francis:
..“It was a bigger operation than I thought. Hiatal hernia. My stomach looks like I got hit with buckshot.”
..Laparoscopic surgery, I thought:
..“Two and a half weeks ago. Tired all the time, but I guess it’s comin’ along. Should have had it done sooner, it probably wouldn’t a been so bad.”
..Standing over their booth on my way out was more a salute than an inquiry, but there was a quick tale of the mourning doves under Francis’ feeder:
..“Why the hell they knock the seeds down and feed in the driveway? I don’t know.”
..In the lot I noticed his truck, and realized he’d driven his younger friend to the diner.
..Belly surgery at ninety, I wondered. Emergency style.