Photo Copy of Hearts

by on March 3rd, 2011
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What is love? A beautiful melody of Haddaway’s drifted across the Manhattan city blocks. A gentle breeze weaved in-between each word, swaying to the beat, a haunting fragrance of love found and love lost. What is love when we batter and break it? Where does it go, and will time return it to the heart that pours its soul out across the page? What if we apologize? What price would we pay for our mistakes in the end, and would she come back home?

It was Monday morning. The black limousines quietly strolled across the city streets. Nobody dared honk, and pedestrians waited for them to pass. The skies held back their tears, not wanting to cry against the black. Hearts were heavy as footsteps fell across the stone pavement and slowly moved into a place once loved, still warm from the one that was now gone. His legacy remained, folded paper hearts with writing that told of the love he found and the love he lost.

Antonio, Jr. wore a dirty white t-shirt over his black dress pants and polished black shoes. He swung dough around his hand and smiled, but his eyes were still wet from tears. The men behind him fired up the brick ovens of Ole Antonio, but he could still feel that bitter chill of death. His gaze now moved to the sea of mourners in front of him, those he knew and loved, and those that waited patiently for their food, their pizza. “What it be, boys?”

Jimmy and Alex had spent the morning going to job agency after job agency. If they were to find a job, then Manhattan would be the place. They filled out tons of applications, took various computer tests, and met with many individuals that promised to help them, but their promises fell short. And now, they were tired, hungry, and staring eagerly at the pizza trays before them.

“Two regulars.” Jimmy looked around the place, noticing men in dark suits and women in black dresses.

“Nah. Make mine a veggie slice.”

“A veggie slice? Seriously?” Jimmy stared at his friend, Alex.

“Coming right up.” Antonio, Jr. pulled a regular and veggie slice out of their already made trays and gently placed them in the oven.

“Jesus, who died,” Jimmy muttered.

“My father,” Antonio, Jr. snapped.

“I’m sorry,” Alex said.

“No problem.”

“I’m sorry,” Jimmy said. “Hey, we just walked in. We were hungry.” Antonio, Jr. pushed a plate with a regular slice into his hands. “Next time, put a sign up or something.”

“Didn’t you see the black limousines outside,” Antonio, Jr. snarled.

“What’s with all the paper hearts?” Alex stared at the folded paper hearts that covered every inch of the pizzeria’s two windows. The lettering didn’t resemble any handwriting that he knew. It looked more like it was photocopied or something.

“How about you two pay for your early lunch and get the hell out of here!”

“Now, now, Ant,” a heavyset man with black, slick hair said as he sat back in his seat. “That is no way to be treating customers.”

Riggolio wiggled around in his plastic seat. He kicked two chairs out from underneath his table. “Come on, boys. Have a seat.” He finished a slice of pizza and began to eat another. “Sit down. Relax. Eat.” He paused to take a sip of soda and then wiped his mouth.

“Whatever.” Antonio, Jr. stormed away from them.

Jimmy and Alex now held paper plates with their pizza slices in their hands. Grease oozed off the cheese. The crust was slightly burnt. The aroma of the veggie slice lifted up into the air, driving hunger home. They reluctantly moved toward those two vacant chairs, placing their plates on the table before them, and moving closer to the strange man, who had invited them into his company.

“Don’t mind, Ant,” he said. “He just lost his father, so he’s very upset. Why’d you two walk in here today?”

“We were just in the neighborhood.” Alex slowly ate his pizza.

“We’re checking out job agencies. The economy sucks right now.” Jimmy poked at the cheese on his slice.

“I hear that,” Riggolio said. “A horrible state of affairs.”

Leaning back once more in his chair, he took a look around the pizzeria. The place was packed, mostly with mourners. It was a dismal atmosphere despite some laughs and smiles. He admired Antonio, Jr. for holding it together, but before, he was ready to crack. Sadly, he finally noticed a woman crying hysterically by the front door, touching one of the paper hearts. “I know what we need.” He slammed his hand down on the table, hard, making the two young men jump. “A story. That’s what we need. A story.”

“A story,” Jimmy said. “What are we? Three?”

“Don’t get wise, kid.” Riggolio pointed a sharp finger at him, and Jimmy swallowed hard, almost choking on his pizza. “It’s a good story.” He clapped his hands together, loudly. “You see him there?” He pointed at Antonio, Jr., and Alex and Jimmy nodded in response. “Well, about ten years ago, his mother walked out on them. She just got up and left with no warning, no letter. Nothing.” He wiped his hands together.


“What’s the matter with you,” Riggolio asked Jimmy. “I said no warning, no letter, nothing. Notta. Capisce?”

“Capisce.” Alex took another bite of his pizza, but all he wanted to do was to run outside.

“Now, do you see that?” Riggolio pointed to a copy machine that was in the corner of the pizzeria near one of the windows.

“Why is there a copy machine in a pizzeria?”

“Dude, shut up.” Alex elbowed Jimmy.

“Thank you,” Riggolio said. “The day after Ant’s mother leaves them, his father starts to write these letters. After writing these letters, he would photocopy them and send them out as well as tape them to his pizzeria windows in hopes of her seeing them, hoping that she would return home.”

“And she never did.”

“No.” Riggolio stared at Alex. He liked him, but he didn’t care much for his friend. “For ten years, he wrote these love letters, these beautiful letters that would break a mother’s heart. Then, a week ago, he writes a very different letter.” He glanced over at Antonio, Jr., who was still busy serving other customers.

“Well, what did he write,” Jimmy asked.

“The real reason why she left. He cheated on her, and she caught him in the act. That was like a knife to my own heart, and I repaid that favor.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Dude,” Alex snapped at Jimmy, shaking his head.

“It was good sitting with you boys.” Riggolio rose from his seat and slapped Jimmy hard on his shoulder.

“Dude, what the hell,” Jimmy exclaimed.

“Jim, let’s go.”

“What’s with you,” Jimmy asked. “I didn’t even finish my slice yet.”

“Well, hurry up and eat.” Alex nervously watched Riggolio leave the pizzeria, and the man turned, giving him a knowing look.

A woman wearing black and in her mid to late forties approached the copy machine. Alex pulled his gaze away from Riggolio and now noticed her standing beside it. He watched her lift up the lid and pick up the last letter that the man, who died, had written. She pressed it tightly to her chest, and then she kissed the paper. Slowly, she placed it back where she had taken it and closed the lid. With one last look around the place, she turned toward Antonio, Jr., who didn’t notice her, and she blew him a kiss. She paused for a moment, knowing that Alex was still watching her, but then she walked out the door.

“I’m done,” Jimmy announced. “We can go now.”

“What?” Alex now focused on his friend. “What do you think would happen, if I cheated on your sister?”

“I kill you,” Jimmy said without hesitation.

“But would she forgive me? If it took ten years, would she forgive me?”

“Maybe.” Jimmy scratched the back of his head. “If she really loved you.”

“I think she does.” Alex smiled. “I think she does.”

Alex slowly stood up from his seat and walked with his friend over to the front door. They dropped their trash in one of the waiting bins, and then Jimmy disappeared outside. But Alex remained. For a moment, he watched Antonio, Jr. tell jokes to those in front of him as he flipped more dough up into the air. The men in dark suits and women in black dresses looked sad and happy at the same time that they ate their food. His gaze moved over to the photo copy machine, and he slowly lifted the lid to catch a glance of the man’s final letter.

“Dude, you coming?” Jimmy stuck his head back inside, wondering what had happened to his friend. “We’re going.” He met Antonio, Jr.’s gaze and smiled. “Alex, come on. We have to catch the bus soon.”

“I’m coming.” Alex turned and gingerly touched one of the paper hearts on the window. “She still loves you,” he whispered before stepping outside, and the bell on the front door chased his footsteps away.

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