EMPTY CHAIRS AT EMPTY TABLES













A lone man entered Tibby's restaurant. One look at his haggard pale features and dull, dead eyes told the waiter all he needed to know. The dark haired man was a solider. Just returned home from the war to end all wars.

He nodded to the owner who spied the young man, and hurried over. The owner recognized the man instantly. After all, his picture hung on the wall, had hung there for years.

"Welcome home, Mr. Higgins." He said, offering the man a seat. He removed his hat and slipped into the booth.

"Can I get you something?" the man glanced up around him as if he hadn't heard him.

"Sarsaparilla." He whispered. The owner nodded and left. Racetrack stared around him, finally letting the feelings engulf him.



There's a grief that can't be spoken.

There's a pain goes on and on.

Empty chairs at empty tables

Now my friends are dead and gone.



He was the only one left. Out of all the old group, all of them who had joined up at the first call, still seeking adventure even at thirty, he was the only one to come home.

And this place, so full of memories. Jack used to sit in that corner, Mush on that stool, Blink always took his dates to that corner booth. This place, always bursting full with newsies, now empty. There was a time when every chair was filled and sometimes they even sat on the floor or the table.

Now every table was deserted, cleared, every chair empty.



Here they talked of revolution.

Here it was they lit the flame.

Here they sang about `tomorrow'

And tomorrow never came.



It was in this room that they had become friends that they had come together, back in '99. They had put the strike together in this place. And on the anniversary of that very event not two years ago, they had decided to enter the war and fight for others, for the very thing they had fought for back in the days of their youth.

They had fought for something that they believed in, something true and pure. They had died for a lie.



From the table in the corner

They could see a world reborn

And they rose with voices ringing

I can hear them now!

The very words that they had sung

Became their last communion

On the lonely barricade at dawn.



The voices echoed in the room. If he closed his eyes and dreamed hard enough, he could hear the voices of the past drifting through like the sunlight, Jack's loud orders, Mush's dreamy voice talking about some girl, Blink's teasing, Davy's calm patient insistence, Spot's bragging, Boots and Snipes and Les arguing over something.

Then the words Jack had said, climbing on the table and telling them to follow their men and give those in Europe the same rights they had fought for as children. Funny, Race thought, he was the first to fall. Shot down by a German machine gun. Shot down, pulling little Les to safety.





Oh my friends, my friends forgive me

That I live and you are gone.

There's a grief that can't be spoken.

There's a pain goes on and on.



Race buried his head in his hands. Why? Why couldn't he have been shot down like Jack and Mush and Spot? Or captured like Blink, or Snipes? He knew he'd never see them again. Or like Les, and Boots, and Specs, fall victim to illness? There were so many ways to die, and yet he had to live.

As he returned, people told him how lucky he was to have survived. Race only laughed, a cold hard sound, and asked how he was so lucky to have lost his entire family? Only Crutchy had remained behind and he'd returned home to find Crutchy had been killed by a runaway carriage not a week after they had left. And he was truly alone.

Race dropped his head onto the table, fighting to make his shoulders stop shaking. Why? Why was he the only one? How dare he outlive the little ones? How dare he live at all when his friends were dead?

No words could speak the pain, no one could know the grief, the guilt that consumed him. He had committed a horrible sin, he had lived. How could he ever be forgiven for that?





Phantom faces at the window.

Phantom shadows on the floor.

Empty chairs at empty tables

Where my friends will meet no more.





The memories were mounting more and more. But there was not a place in New York that did not remind him of something, or someone.

He hardly needed to look to see a shadow on the floor, the outline of a boy on a chair, in a booth. To listen to hear the laughter and jokes and rumble of young boys putting their feet up. The shadows moved across the floor, dancing in the sunlight. Dancing as they had once before.

But no more. They were only shadows and their owners were long gone. Never again would the newsies gather in this room, to discuss their lives and the day's adventures. Never again.





Oh my friends, my friends, don't ask me

What your sacrifice was for

Empty chairs at empty tables

Where my friends will sing no more.





And all for nothing. All for nothing had they died. What had they died for? What had they given their lives to save, to preserve? He did not have the energy nor the ideas to answer that question. He doubted he ever would.

Race sighed, taking one last look around. Then, he slowly got to his feet. Ignoring the waiter who brought his drink, he pulled open the door.

Then slowly, he turned around and looked around one last time. The shadows seemed clearer than ever, the whispers echoing in his head. But they faded, becoming only shadows and wind again.

Still he would never be free of them. The last thing he saw as the door closed was a booth in the corner, empty. The last thing he saw was an empty chair, placed next to an empty table, waiting for someone who would never come home.

The bell above the door jingled as the man pulled it closed behind him. The owner watched him, then shook his head. Just as he turned to go into the back, he heard something.

Turning around, he caught sight of a shadow in the corner, a whisper on the wind. For an instant, the restaurant was filled with children again, all laughing and talking. The images were clear and transparent, but so so there.

The experience lasted only a minute, the sounds and sights fading into the dusty darkness of the setting sun, setting perhaps on the life of one young man, a man turned old before his time, a man alone in the world.

The owner sighed and hurried back to the storeroom. The restaurant was once again silent, filled with dust and memories. And filled with empty chairs, seated at empty tables.