“Suppity sup, granbro,” a meathead named Chad said to an old man named Rolston who sat outside the Caffé Dello Sport in the North End and drank espresso on Sundays.
“What’s up yourself, you dumb meathead,” Rolston said back.
Rolston was super old and he looked like a grape that had been dried in the sun so Chad called him Old Grapey.
He saw him every Sunday when he put on his Patriots shorts and his Celtics sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off to show the world his mighty guns regardless of if the sun was out or not.
Sometimes Old Grapey had an oxygen tank. But he literally always had an espresso and Chad ordered five at once in a single cup and they talked and Chad imagined he was Luke Skywalker and Old Grapey was Yoda.
“Grapey, why you be like always talking about olden days? Like when people cared about baseball and telling me about Mickey Mantle. Shit, bro. He wasn’t even on the right team.”
Old Grapey asked Chad what he was supposed to talk to a dumbass like him about but Chad always knew he was joking even when Old Grapey wasn’t joking that much.
“Actually, Yodes, I can tell you a little something about love on this AM of ours this morning, yo yo yo. Nah, for realz. My baby girl Alysha. I call her Leesh. ‘Cause her name is such a mouthful. Yeah, you feeling me. You on the ball. Ha ta ha ha ta. Now you double feeling me.”
Chad felt sublimely witty. He didn’t usually have it rolling like this.
“First when we met at the community center when I was balling, working on my reverse lay-lays, she comes over and says, ‘I bet I can hand your ass to you if we go one on one’”—by which he meant she asked if he was up for a game—“’and I’ll even let you take the ball in first.’ So I’m thinking she’s never gonna touch it, and I start talking a little trash. ‘Prepare to get penetrated, baby girl,’ I says.”
Old Grapey asked Chad what the hell was wrong with him.
“I don’t know, O Wise One. Because when I took it to the hole—ta ha ha ta ha ta—she knocked the ball out, went straight up, laid it in—ta ha—and then she beat me bad, bro. So I was thinking like, ‘maybe she’s not actually a girl,’ but she was like really smoking, dude, and she teaches music so it ain’t just sports and she said, ‘do you want to get a coffee,’ and we came here and now she’s my baby girl.”
Chad and his Leesh did not talk music very much. He tried to get her into his “pump me up like a mofo” jams that featured in his sonic retinue—he did not use that phrase—at the gym, “but no dicey dice” as he told Old Grapey. He was a big boy. He could agree to disagree, not everyone has to love Whitesnake, they had enough fans.
She asked him when he left her place early Sunday mornings why he always had to go so early, and he said it wasn’t because of another baby girl, which seemed to be more or less okay with her so he didn’t say anything else.
“I want you to come with me,” Old Grapey said one morning.
Chad had never gone anywhere with Old Grapey and he had just gotten his five espressos but he said, “sure deal, boss,” which meant great solidarity.
They walked to the church around the corner. Old Grapey didn’t have his oxygen tank that day.
“Come into the basement with me, you meathead,” he said, and Chad laughed, but he was getting nervous.
In the basement there was a casket with an old woman in it.
“That’s my wife, Chad,” he said.
Old Grapey had never called Chad Chad before. Chad had forgotten Rolston’s real name which he thought would be good to use here so he just said “bro” and touched his back but not in a way that Old Grapey would think was gay. It wasn’t like that. It really wasn’t.
After that Chad minded it less when Leesh kicked his ass at basketball on the reg. He didn’t see Old Grapey for a while so one day he went by his apartment.
“Big Chad checking in Big Chief. Hut huff huff.”
Chad was not the knocking type. Doors were meant to be opened. Old Grapey neither stirred nor blinked. He was sitting at his kitchen table with a mug of tea in front of him and listening to music.
“What’cha playin’, Pops? Hanging in?”
Rolston told Chad that he was listening to Beethoven’s late string quartets, and each time he did so he heard his wife’s voice.
“Like, it talks to you?”
“Yes, it is like that,” Old Grapey said, still neither blinking nor stirring.
Chad found this pretty concerning. Nay, scary. Nay, nay—super scary.
Maybe his old friend had the Alzheimer’s and it would be a kindness to smother him and that was what Old Grapey was trying to say to Chad but did not know how to request this outright.
Chad was going to ask for clarification on this point, but then he listened hard to the music to see if he could hear the voice of Old Grapey’s dead wife.
It didn’t even sound like music.
It sounded like the air talking in all of the voices there had ever been, but clear, so clear, clearer than Chad thought even he could ever be, or anyone super smart, or Leesh who knew about music shit.
The next time Leesh and Chad played basketball and she said she was going to take him to the hole and make him her bitch, Chad said, yo, wait, hold up, and asked her if she had ever heard Beethoven and his string quartets.
Old Grapey had had to say the name “Beethoven” and the term “late string quartets” like ten times each before he finally just grabbed Chad’s phone from him at the Caffé Dello Sport, pulled out his credit card, and downloaded the music for him.
Meanwhile Leesh asked him why he was listening to Beethoven.
“I’m listening to you another way bigger than you or even me while we have each other,” Chad replied.
That was the wisest thing she had ever heard anyone say.
“How did you come up with that?” she asked.
“Depends how you’re spelling ‘come’ ha ha ha ta ha.”
And so the mystery remained.
The mystery of Beethoven.
Or, “B Bro,” depending on how you spell it.