Jeff W. Bens’s story, Golden Day, appeared in NER 19.1 (1998).
Mrs. Cashman needed eighty-seven dollars and I was determined to help her get it.
“But you mustn’t give it to me, I won’t take it,” Mrs. Cashman said, her oversized, pearl-like necklace clanking against the edge of her third refill of coffee in our hotel’s delicatessen. “You mustn’t.” Mrs. Cashman was seventy-three. She hadn’t touched the third cup, but she would, as it was free, and coffee, though she’d never say this, killed the need for food.
“I don’t have it,” I said. Her gaze dropped from mine, into the coffee and the swirl of cream she’d poured in, the coffee white, and she brought the cup to her lips.
“It’s not for me,” she sipped, “but for Mr. Newcomb. He’s eighty-four years old.”
Mr. Newcomb lived on the eleventh floor, two above mine, beside Mrs. Cashman, though to hear her tell it he would soon have to move, “to a lower floor on account of his legs, what with the eleveators always busted; or maybe straight to the funeral parlor, cut out the middle men.” The one time I’d spoken with Mr. Newcomb, or rather he to me, he was sitting alone with a cigar in the Carlson’s lobby, staring into the wallpaper. He’d startled me, turning and meeting my eyes. “Cubano,” is all he’d said. And then he’d smiled and turned his attention back to the wall.