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Paul Negri

... Pops working in Grandpa’s bar in Brooklyn and in the backroom of the bar a piano baby grand, old beat up, black keys faded white keys yellowed, sticky, lid closed covered with beer glass stains cigarette burns, so many the piano smells like cigarettes soaked in beer, Pops in the front behind the bar pouring shots of whiskey beer chasers cursing the Dodgers losing again on TV hung overhead on a bracket at the front, Tony the Plumber arguing with Dave the Jew over the fifth race at Belmont Jimmy the Bookie drinks his beer doesn’t saying anything everything in a fog of smoke whiskey loud-talking men, Pops laughing and singing Santa Lucia in his untrained tenor voice sounds as good as what you hear on TV, me in the back room that’s never used except for family parties on Christmas and New Year’s Eve Grandpa the aunts uncles cousins all together eat a ton sing Old Macdonald’s Farm for the kids do the Hokey Pokey put your right foot in and you shake it all about but Grandma stays upstairs in the apartment over the bar has TB and even though she’s not catchy anymore she’s too tired to do anything just sits up in bed reads the racing forms gives me a quarter a lot of money when I come to visit her don’t say much cause her English is no good and I don’t speak Italian except for a curse word all the kids on the block use I’d never say to Grandma just sit and look at her feel a little scared sometimes so thin and pale you can almost see through her, asked Pop once if she was going to die he said no our family doesn’t do that don’t worry about it gave me a bear hug and even though I know people die because I’ve seen it on TV when the cowboys shoot the Indians I kind of believe him like I still kind of believe in Santa Claus but not the Easter Bunny anymore, sit at the piano and play with one finger something I heard in a cartoon that I don’t know what it is Jimmy the Bookie usually doesn’t say anything to anyone except when he’s taking bets comes in the back room says it’s the Hungarian Rhapsody shouts to my father Joe you got to come in here the kid is playing the Hungarian Rhapsody my father comes says that’s a cartoon he was watching the other day Jimmy says yeah but it’s the Hungarian Rhapsody Pops says it’s Italian I think Jimmy laughs Pops says he’s a really smart boy just eight years old a good boy he kisses me on the top of my head, Jimmy the Bookie says he must be smart to play the Hungarian Rhapsody I start playing with both hands one finger each Pops says play Santa Lucia Jimmy says let him play what he’s playing my father starts singing Santa Lucia something clicks in my head I’m playing Santa Lucia like I knew how all along but didn’t know it Jesus says Jimmy the kid’s a natural you got a Liberace here, other men come in the back room Tony the Plumber Dave the Jew Uncle Tim who has a wooden arm cause he lost one in the War the Greek and Mr. Tucci who my father says is connected but I don’t know what he’s connected to everybody singing Santa Lucia and I’m banging away adding some notes I don’t know how and it feels so good I get to feeling bad with Pops and Uncle Tim and Jimmy and the bar so warm and noisy I feel like crying I’m so happy…

“Dad?” says Lucille.

​“He can’t hear you, Lucy.”

​“Dad?” she says again.

​The room’s crowded and the family starts gathering around the bed.

​“It’s okay, Lucy. He’s gone.”

​“Oh God,” she says. “He was crying.”

​“It’s okay. Look. Look at that smile. He’s somewhere good. Come on, hon.”

​Downstairs one of the boys is playing the Hungarian Rhapsody with one finger on the old piano.

Paul Negri is the editor of a dozen literary anthologies from Dover Publications, Inc. His stories have appeared in Reflex Fiction, Penny Shorts, Flash Fiction Magazine, Jellyfish Review and more than 50 other publications. He lives in Clifton, New Jersey.

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