Hot town. Sizzling town. Manhattan in the summer. Mr. Rosetta takes the key out of his breast pocket and slips it into the lock. The sun is coming up and the air has the feel of Miami in the winter. We used to go there on vacations before my dad lost his job. In New York it would be real cold and then weíd be off to Florida, with the atmosphere just glowing with light and warmth. Anyway, today I watched Mr. Rosetta enter his restaurant and flip the Marlboro sign to the OPEN side, as I have done every morning for seventeen days. It is 10:26 AM.
Three weeks ago Mr. Rosetta bought up the empty space that is now his lunch corner. A crew laden with paintbrushes and ladders came to fix it up. The place looked real nice in only a couple of days, with a yellow and white awning above the door and shiny new windows. The old owner used to lease it out to a guy who sold fish before he sold it to Rosetta.
I walk past here every day I go to work. Except I this is where I work now. I write for a living. Dime novels usually. Stuff that doesnít make much sense, but people eat it right up because itís what they want to hear. I live just down the street from Rosettaís and, although I could work in my apartment, I like to write in the park where itís quiet and peaceful.
I write on a yellow legal pad with a fountain pen. My handwriting has gotten so messy that Iím the only one who can read it anymore. Good copyright, I guess. When I submit pieces for publication I usually go to my buddy Carloís house to type them up. Heís got a typewriter and itís often quiet there after he goes to work. In my apartment thereís always some kid crying, or some guy yelling at his wife.
Twenty-three days ago Rosetta came to Manhattan. Eighteen days ago he opened up his restaurant. Seventeen days ago I started coming here to write instead of going to the park. Iíve got a folding lawn chair that I stole from the empty lot next to my apartment, my legal pad, and my fountain pen with me, and thatís all I need.
I started sitting here because of the restaurant. I like watching it because no one ever goes in. The fish store used to be real popular, and restaurants usually do pretty well in this part of town, but no one ever goes into this one. Sure, people pass it. Some even have their hands on the door before they decide to leave. Usually the tourists think Rosettaís place is a joke, and they donít even bother.
The guy who sold the fish hired a kid to pace the street in front of the shop. The kid advertised for him, yelling ďfresh fish!Ē and things like that. Rosetta never comes out though. He just watches everyone from his window. Even if he hired a kid, I still donít think he could get anyone to go in.
Rosettaís restaurant is free. Thatís how he advertises it anyway. Painted on the window in baby blue letters is ROSETTAíS LUNCH CORNER Ė ALL FOOD FREE. The ďfreeĒ part is even bigger than the name. This is what made me stop eighteen days ago and stare at the building. This is what made me come back the next day to begin my watch. I just want to figure out whatís going on.
Maybe Rosetta is rich or something. Maybe heís just a generous old man.
I give myself an hour lunch break in the middle of my work day, and though I could walk right across the street and get some free food I always walk to the 7-11 a block away. Every day I buy a sandwich, a banana, a Snickers, and a Coke. Every day I walk past Rosettaís and almost go in. Every day I see him standing there, confused.
Maybe tomorrow, on Rosettaís eighteenth day of living here, Iíll go into the lunch corner. Maybe Iíll insist that I pay. But I have this feeling that if I were to eat the food in there Iíd get sick. When something holds value itís safe. When itís free itís worthless, maybe even dangerous.
Itís 10:52 now. Almost time for my break. When I was younger I used to run home every day in the middle of school and my mother would have some great dish prepared for my brother and I. Now kids stay in school and eat cafeteria food. Itís too bad. Maybe today Iíll have an egg salad sandwich. Yesterday it was turkey. Iím rambling, but I promised myself to write until 11:00. I have to get another novel turned in to my publisher by the end of this month.
Wait. A man is coming out of Rosettaís. I didn't see him go in. He looks pleased. Full. Seventeen days. Almost three weeks to get someone in there. And thereís Rosetta, smiling from the window. His first customer.
10:58. I wonder if the man will come back tomorrow. I wonder if heís chuckling now, surprised at the treasure heís found. I wonder if Rosetta will feed the man again if he comes back. I wonder if the man was Rosettaís first victim. I wonder if the man, who has just rounded the corner, is dead now.
Itís 11:00. Iíll take an alternate route to the 7-11 today. I donít want to encounter any dead bodies along the way.