by Tamara Lebron

Phil likes to spend time jotting down notes in a small, worn-out yellow notepad that he carries around all day, every day. He keeps it in his pant back pocket, folded and crumbled up. I often see him standing by the automatic doors scribbling like a maniac, not paying attention to anything else. Bernice, the cashier who works the early morning shift with me, thinks he’s taking notes on the staff and reporting back to upper management. She wholeheartedly believes they are trying to fire us all to replace us with self-checkout machines.

I like Phil. He’s funny, and he talks smart. And when he smiles the lines of his face crease a little, but his skin remains smooth and creamy.

I watch Max keeping busy stocking shelves with Metamucil.

The muzak is always on for customers. On any given day, it plays various renditions of “Send in the Clowns” and other tunes my mother listened to all the time. “Close to You” is now playing. I can’t tell you how happy, sad, and disheveled Karen’s voice makes me feel. Although I wasn’t alive when The Carpenters were around, I feel for her. I really do.

And as I am swimming in her voice, we are all interrupted by a loud rumble, followed by an eerie stillness. “What was that? Bernice’s brown eyes are wide open.

Phil refolds his notes and inserts them in his pocket. “I don’t know.” He walks out the door, and we follow him. The streets are quiet, as usual at this early hour. A truck down the block is making a delivery, but the men have stopped working. Max points south of us. We could see billows of gray smoke against the powder blue sky, right where the Towers should be. I am not sure what is happening. None of us know.

Bernice pulls out a cigarette from her the pocket of her red smock and begins to take long drags of nicotine.

Max has both hands on the top of his head. “Wholly shit!” he murmurs.

Phil moves close to me and wraps his warm arms around my shoulders. I have never been this close to him, and he smells like ginger ale. His thin frame against mine. My chest is pumping; I feel the thud pulsing in my ears. A volcanic rumble. A dark fear of the unknown. I wrap my arm around Phil’s waist, hesitantly. He moves closer to me, and now my heart is in his hands.


About the poet:

Tamara Lebron earned her MFA at Long Island University under the tutelage of Lewis Warsh, to whom she is forever grateful for his support and encouraging words. She has work published in Ellipsis Zine and on Medium.


Homage to Lewis Warsh, who was a poet, a prose writer, and one of the founding professors of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus. Professor Warsh passed away on November 15, 2020. His students and friends honored his memory…writing.