2 That’s where the money was

A five warmed in my right hand and a heavy bottle of Gatorade chilled my left. It was almost as warm inside as out because the shuddering refrigerators that lined the back wall pumped out heat through their dusty grills and across the concrete floor. The fluorescent lights zinged, but didn’t compete with the harsh brightness out on the parking lot.

It was a blissful day with a heat that seemed to start on the inside and seep out.

“I’ve been at this four years and I’m just about where I started. Company’s stopped even trying to sell gas on this corner and that used to be what carried the business.” He was not talking to anyone in particular, though a twelve-year-old in a Hawkeyes T-shirt had placed his coins on the counter and was doing his change arithmetic on the price of a Popsicle and gum.

“I figure I’ll get back into catering.” The clerk did not look like a man who would be at ease in a white shirt. “There’s money out there, but you gotta know where to look.”

I stepped forward with my Gatorade as the twelve-year-old collected his coins. The door bell jangled and the growl of a lawnmower slipped through.

“The way they’re aging now says the money’s there.” He had big, black glasses, a big nose and big ponytail and now that I was next, he was talking to me. “They’re too old to do all the sandwich making they used to do because you see, they’re going later and later these days. That’s a recorded fact. Some of ‘em aren’t going ‘til ninety-seven or a hundred.” He held on to my five loosely, his wrist on the counter. “This is the time to get back in. There’s no problem with money for that generation, and I can prove that too.”

The bell jangled again. The lawnmower growl swelled and a mother and daughter in matching jeans and T-shirts went straight to the ice cream freezer. His left hand wasn’t yet near the cash register keys, but gesturing. “Four or five of them every week in seven-eight parishes. And you see they all drive, so not only do they all show up, but they have a shitload of ...”

I followed his eye over my shoulder. The mother was glaring at the clerk while she held daughter’s belt. The daughter seemed to have been spared the crude language; she was digging for the right flavor near the bottom of the icebox. The mother continued to glare.

“Sorry Nicole.” He turned to me sincerely. “They have a whole lotta friends and that’s the thing: they don’t want to miss it. They show up for every single funeral. Like if they don’t show up, maybe nobody will come to theirs.” I waited for his right hand to drift down to the keys. I was thirsty.. “That can be sixty people say four times, you got two forty and maybe five-six sandwiches each. They’re old, but they know how to eat.”

The daughter had chosen a flavor and she stepped in beside me, placing her left flip-flop on her right toe and leaning on the counter. Nicole, the mother, joined her. Then Nicole said, in a flat tone, with a smile in my direction, “That’s where it is and it’s time to get back into the catering business because they’re too old to make the sandwiches themselves,” she parotted. “Figure that out. Four-five a week.”

The clerk looked at Nicole with no recognition of what she meant and he continued for her, “Funerals. That’s where the money is.”

Nicole said to me, “That’s new.”