Cheque placed his dress shoes on the kitchen floor, and reached under the kitchen table for his shoe shining kit. In a small handwoven basket, traditionally used for keeping tortillas warm, he found a tired yet trusted horsehair brush, an old sock, and a half-used tin of black wax polish. He would need a new tin of polish soon. Mañana voy por más cera para mis zapatos después de mi trabajo, he thought, as he positioned a recent El Diario newspaper under his shoes and settled into one of the old wooden kitchen chairs.
Leaning over a middle-aged paunch, he heaved out a gargley groan and picked up his left shoe and his brush. He brushed a thin layer of New York City grime off his shoe, and then dipped his old sock into the wax. And while whistling a long-ago tune that his mother used to hum, Cheque polished and buffed his left shoe, then his right—minding most carefully the toes and the heels.
“And while whistling a long-ago tune that his mother used to hum…”
Occasionally his whistling tapered off and a small pink tongue poked out and rested on the corner of his mouth. When he noticed the silence in the room, he took a deep breath and began whistling again.
Cheque finished his shoes and left them on the El Diario to dry. He hoisted himself up from his kitchen chair, paused for a stretch, and walked across the kitchen floor into a small living area that also served as a bedroom. Tucked behind a loveseat that rested at the foot of his bed, Cheque found his ironing board and gently nudged it out onto the floor. The metal legs of the ironing board let out a squeal as he pried them into standing position. He reached under his bed for his iron and returned to the kitchen to fill it with water. Whistling a new tune, one that he used to hum to his son, he walked back into the living area, set the iron on his nightstand, and plugged it in.
On his bed, he had laid out a freshly starched, white, button-down dress shirt and a black pair of suit pants. He placed the left sleeve of his shirt onto the ironing board and glided the iron slowly over the fabric. His new tune soared from his lips, opposite the wispy steam sputters from the iron. He finished his left sleeve, then his right, then the bodice of the shirt—minding most carefully the creases and the buttons. He ironed his suit pants with the same care; packed away his shoe shining kit, iron, and ironing board; and settled into bed for a few hours of sleep.
In the morning, Cheque showered and shaved. He splashed on his best cologne—slapping his cheeks and patting his neck. He slipped on his dress shirt, buttoned each button, and tucked it into his suit pants. He rubbed a little styling gel between his hands and gently worked it into his thick black hair. With his comb, he parted his hair slightly to the right, and carefully smoothed out every stray strand. He pulled on a pair of black dress socks, retrieved his dress shoes from the kitchen, and buckled them on. He returned to the bathroom and studied himself in the mirror.
“He splashed on his best cologne—slapping his cheeks and patting his neck.”
A few tiny wrinkles sat under his eyes and on his forehead. He smiled, straightened his collar and fiddled with his cuffs. He slipped his comb into his back pocket; and then made his way out into the kitchen towards the front door.
He arrived at work ten minutes early. In the basement of Café Atlantic, a posh Upper East Side French café, Cheque removed his dress shoes and placed them in his locker. He slid off his dress pants, folded them neatly, and placed them on top of his shoes. He browsed through a rack of black and white checkered pants, and selected a pair closest to his size. They were a little snug, and slightly frayed at the hem, but they would do. He unbuttoned and removed his dress shirt, folded it, and placed it in his locker as well. To the left of the checkered pants rack, there was a garbage bin full of laundered white t-shirts. He sifted through the bin for a shirt his size; the best fit boasted a small mustard stain on the breast pocket. He licked his thumb, rubbed at the stain briefly—to no avail—and shook his head. Beside the basement door, there was a pile of galoshes. He picked out a matching pair, quickly slid them on over his checkered pants, and started up the basement stairs. He reached the top of the stairs just in time to punch in for six o’clock AM.
There was a mountain of dirty dishes stacked the kitchen sink from the night before, so Cheque got right to work. He needed to wash and sort them all before the dirty plates from breakfast service began making their way into the dish room. He lifted a mound of dishes out of the sink; and a cold, gray slime of food and water spilled down his arms and onto his shirt. He loaded the dishes into the large industrial dishwasher; the steam from the machine burned his eyes and they teared.
The breakfast plates started coming back into the kitchen, then the lunch plates, then the dinner plates. There were cups half-full with coffee, bowls half-full with soup. There were forks, knives, and spoons. There were plates drenched in condiments and metal baskets full with half-eaten baguettes. Everything was hurled into the sink by frenzied servers who were rushing to return to the dining room. The dishes splashed onto Cheque as they landed in the sink, and occasionally a glass would break. By the end of the day, Cheque found himself wading in a shallow pool of goopy old food, broken glass, and gray liquid.
“He studied the old man in the mirror, and smiled.”
After he had finished mopping the floor, Cheque punched out for the day, and returned to the basement. He rang out his shirt and shook out his checkered pants. He tossed them into the garbage bin reserved for dirty laundry. He splashed some cool, clean water from the bathroom sink onto his face and under his arms. He put his dress shirt back on and tucked it back into his suit pants. He put his dress shoes back on and buckled them. He wet his hair with a little water from the sink and took out his comb. He re-parted his hair and gently smoothed it out. He studied the old man in the mirror, and smiled. Then gathering his wallet and keys, he left. Tomorrow he would do it all again. On his way home, he stopped at the corner store and bought a new tin of black wax shoe polish and the latest edition of El Diario.
Featured Photo Credit: photo by Diana Angelo