Listening To 20 Random Songs

One of the pleasures of having Spotify is that I can make a playlist of random songs from artists that I either have heard of or are totally new to me. I went to James Iha’s channel and then picked one of his songs and then selections from similar artists. The following are my opinions on those particular songs I picked. Some of the artists I’ve heard of and some I have not but my judgments are only going to be on the specific songs.

1) James Iha “Waves”: Another slow sleepy-time ballad that picks up later. Sort of catchy as long as I don’t need to hear a whole album of this type of stuff. C+

2) The Lemonheads “Uhhh”: Emo Ramones? Not really my thing but the raspy annoying vocals at least give the song humor. D+

3) Tinted Windows “Take Me Back”: I like the instrumentation but the music is too Gossip Girl style for me. C-

4) The Smashing Pumpkins “Daydream”: This has a sufficient amount of strangeness to intrigue me. B

5) Teenage Fanclub “Metal Baby”: Nothing particularly good or bad about this. Pretty faceless. C-

6) Matthew Sweet “The Alcohol Talking”: At least he knows how to play well, but he needs to hire another singer and another songwriter. C

7) Sunny Day Service “Ben Watt Wo Kiiteta”: This is kind of interesting as a change of pace of what I usually hear. It’s actually pretty good. B+

8) Cornelius “Nowhere”: A very good idea but not done perfectly for my taste. I’m glad I heard it but I’m not going to rush desperately to hear it again. C+

9) Dinosaur Jr. “Does It Float”: Just messy and not very well performed and then it gets worse. D-

10) The Posies “Under Easy”: Compent but faceless. C-

11) D.A.N. “Pool”: I don’t like the vocals at all but I love the music. I have to judge it by everything together. Because of the vocals it goes from being A- to C-.

12) Superdrag “Really Thru”: This is at least strange. But, ultimately, it has more minuses them pluses. D+

13) Thurston Moore “Hang Out”: After a totally pointless introduction, it became a really cool and great grungy song. The best thing on here so far. A

14) Velvet Crush “Speedway”: I never thought I’d call noisy garage grunge music faceless but it applies here. Nothing great. D

15) Juliana Hatfield “No Outlet”: This is an equal mix of pretty good and very annoying. C-

16) The Rentals “Naive”: More faceless noise. D

17) My Bloody Valentine “All I Need”: This is so different but it’s a sort of gorgeous noise. I actually like it. B

18) J Mascis “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side”: I’d like him better if he sobered up. C-

19) Darcy “I Gave Up”: Wow! This is cool, like Billy Swan. A

20) The Frogs “Richard Dick Richards”: This is a humorous song and a cool parody of sixties psychedelic pop. It’s okay. I can dig it. B

So, my overall consensus is that one never knows whether or not an artist or a song will be very good or merely okay or just plain downright awful. However, I have discovered a few really good songs and that makes the discovery all the more worthwhile.

The Big Surprise chapter six

As Charles, Connie and I entered my mother’s place, mother stood up for a second, as her way of greeting us, then sat down again. She said, “Thank you for bringing him, Charles… I think.” He sai, “You’re still top on my list of people who waste their lives.” 

She frowned. “I want to at least say thank you! Can I do that, you wise ass?” 

“Yes.”

Mother said, “Connie, thank you.” 

Connie said, “No need to thank me. I need to thank you for understanding.” 

I felt like I was told something I should have known previously but it was held back from me. “What are you all talking about?”

Connie pointed to the sofa in the living room. We sat down. She said, “Your mother, Gertrude, is smart.”

I said, “We don’t refer to her by name.” 

Charles said, “To us, she is known as dumb clod.”

Mother said, “Stop that!” 

Connie asked, “Why don’t you tell them what you know?”

Mother said, “I know that Peter, my late husband, was ill and I would have to take care of Philip. I needed him to get my cigarettes but I felt betrayed by his loyalty to Charles. We gave Charles to another family. You know the story. When he came back, Philip wanted to be like him. We could not raise Philip even closely like how Charles was raised. We were jealous. I needed my younger son to stay loyal. When Peter died, I knew I still had Philip. Charles moved out. That was fine. When money came after Peter’s death, I needed Philip even more as an assistant but the government… it’s a long story. I could control the money as Phillip’s payee. He needed a sense of independence but I knew it could not last. I looked you up, Connie. You had talked to me back in the fourth grade. You mentioned how you wanted to be around Philip all minutes of the day. I thought it was sweet.”

I asked, “Did Connie tell you she wanted to shake my hand forever?” 

“It could have been that she wanted to hold your hand. She might not have said she wanted to shake it. But it was beautiful.”

Connie said, “This is my gift to you. The big surprise.” 

I was nervous. “What exactly is happening? The reason I came here was to have you think of a way to free me from Connie.”

“My darling son, there is no real way one can be totally free. You owe me. I’m getting paid through Connie’s actions.” 

Connie said, “I’m not doing it for you. This is for me.”

“I know but I’m grateful, anyway.” 

Charles said, “You should have listened to me, Philip. I hinted that mother would not make you feel better. I’m not taking sides, by the way.” 

Mother got up at went to the refrigerator. She poured some soda in a glass, came back in the living room and handed it to me. You must be thirsty.” 

I took it and drink some. “Thanks. it tastes a little odd.” 

“It’s been in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. That’s why.” 

I finished the whole glass full because I wanted to figure out why the soda tasted unusual. Mother smiled.

Charles walked outside, saying, “You’re on your own. I did my part.”

Connie said, “We’re going to have our hands sewn together.”  

Mother said, “Take good care of him. Bring him over for Thanksgiving. 

I understood the strangeness of what they said but I became suddenly sleepy. The words just flowed above me like subtitles for a movie. I did not care what was happening. I was too tired to listen.

The Big Surprise chapter five

I noticed Bobby standing still, across the street. He looked at us as if he had been our director and observing our performance. Teddy nodded at him and Bobby nodded, also. I felt there was something hidden in the situation. I had no time to think strategically. I said, “Charles, you’re going to drive me to mother’s.”He shrugged. “What if I never take you there again?”

Teddy laughed. “I can move some of the tools around in the shed and make room for him. He won’t need to pay rent.”

Charles said, “He’ll have to go all the way down the hill and buy you liquor. Put him to use.”

“There’s a liquor store up here. Not very big but it has the major brands.” 

“He needs to do more than loaf around. Make him sweat.” 

I said, “I’m not staying with you! You’re taking me to my mom’s!”

Connie said, “You’re staying with me, Philip.”

I yelled, “Charles!”

He sighed. “Did you call me?” 

“You’re taking me to mom’s!”

“Is that a line from a pop song? You need to work on your phrasing.”

“I’m serious. I need to see her.”

“She won’t solve your problems.” 

“That may be so but I need to at least see her. I grew up with her and, regardless of what she did to my living situation, I feel I can have some sort of balance if we go there and I can discuss things with her.” 

He got up. “Okay. That’s fine. Come on.”

We walked to his car. There was no backseat. I tried again letting go of Connie and Mona. They stayed eerily quiet and calm, continuing to grip tight. I said, “Stop this! I’m leaving!” 

Connie said, “You’re not going without me.” 

Mona said, “You’re not going, period.”

Bobby walked to our side of the street. He approached us. “The reason I’m not having a panic attack is I feel warm and good knowing you are in a bind. If you were resolved in everything, I would have to put in some trouble. I don’t need to physically hold your hand, Philip. I’m not gay. Well, when it comes to you, I am but otherwise I like women even though I would never want to be with any because they repulse me. But my best friend, Mona, is holding on for both of us. I can get my thrill from seeing her entrap you. If it were not for her, I’d need to see you in a straight jacket or jail so I would be happy.” 

Mona said, “You had no idea I would do this. All these years, all you did was say how much you admired Philip. Why are you on his case, now?” 

“I’m not really on his case. I’m telling him what excites me so he knows how much I adore him.” 

Connie said, “I’m tired of both of you. I need you to let go, Mona.” 

She shook her head. “That will never happen.” 

Connie walked close to her and reached for her sweater by the beltline. Mona let go of my hand and stepped back. Connie laughed.

Mona said, “You almost ruined my life!” 

Bobby said, “I guess I need to hold his hand.” 

Mona grabbed him from behind in a hug. “You are through imitating me! You just want to touch him because I did!” She walked backwards, dragging him with her. Their faces changed expression, as if they were now fully feeling the effects of whatever drugs they had used earlier. Mona kept walking, holding Bobby in a bear hug across and up the street.

Charles smiled. “So, we are ready to see mommy?” 

I went in the passenger seat. Connie stuffed herself in with me, squeezing the pressure of her grip. She said, “I want to see mommy also.” 

Charles went in the driver’s seat. He smiled. “Are you comfy cozy?” 

I said, “No.”

He nodded. “That makes me feel good.”

Connie looked at me with love eyes. Either she had strong feelings for me or enjoying making the trip uncomfortable. 

Charles asked, “Would you like me to turn on the radio so this trip is more bearable?” 

I said, “Yes, please.” 

“Okay, I won’t.” He winked. 

As he drove, he had a smug expression on his face. I chose not to say anything. I would lose my temper altogether if I let the full extent of it get to me. The road was becoming less nice looking. The trees were getting fewer, replaced by dollar stores and gas stations. I was worried I might become ill. The town of Buchanan made me feel like it was a greasy plate of cheap food as opposed to Waterville which was organic produce. Now, since we were returning to the area I considered home, I could understand the possibility I made a mistake by returning. The full effect of something did not always show itself in advance.

When we arrived at mother’s house, I was still unsure if we were doing the right thing but I was ready for the wrong thing if that was all I could get. Connie got out of the car and pulled me out with her, almost yanking me as a way of using control. There would be conflict as to whether mother or Connie controlled me. Perhaps Charles was the real controller. Before we entered the house, I asked, “Did Charles really tell you to do this?” 

Connie sighed. “Damn it. No, he didn’t. I wanted to do this ever since Mona had talked about it in the fourth grade.” 

I was nervous. “You went to my school?” 

“I went by Patrice back then. Patrice is my middle name. My mom’s name is Connie, too. I was called Patrice to distinguish myself from her.” 

I thought for a moment and then remembered suddenly Patrice, a quiet but pretty girl who was among the shirt tucking kids back then. She might not have worn her sweater or sweat shirts tucked in like Mona but she frequently, if not always, tucked in her shirt. I remembered seeing her during recess. She was not in my class so I could not pay attention to her like I could with Mona, but I remembered thinking of her as my ideal. One day, back then, I glanced at her and she looked at me with eyes that penetrated me in the most strange way, as if she shook my hand through eye gazes. I turned my head away because I could not handle the intensity of her stare. Somehow, my nervousness made me stop looking at her, even though I wanted to do so. I assumed she would glue herself to me with her gaze if we continued looking at each other. I asked, “Did you and Mona talk about me?” 

“No. She told Sally Bennings. Sally said she was crazy so Mona didn’t do it. I was eating lunch at a bench close by and overheard them. I kept it to myself. I was finally able to make it happen, thanks to everything. I’m sure you’ll soon find out.”

“What do you mean?” 

Charles smiled. “Let’s see mommy.”

260 Grant Avenue (a work in progress)

Chapter One:
Richard Davis was not looking forward to visiting his mother, Anne. The whole Davis crew, Anne, her brother Michael and his wife Elizabeth and their daughter Paula, lived in an area of town with rows of dilapidated houses and no trees or shade. If Richard’s problem was geographic only, he would have visited them more often than four times a year but his family’s lifestyle was not pleasant for him to see. They weighed more than three hundred and fifty pounds each, ate the cheapest canned tamales and raviolis with an occasional splurge on macaroni salad, and drank soda by the liter. Their video movie selection was limited to whatever Uncle Michael or Aunt Elizabeth found for fifty cents at the thrift store. The one actual movie they managed to obtain was Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which they would watch two or three times a day. Otherwise, there were instructional videos on how to get government grants, how to properly administer medication for Hepatitis-C and a recording someone made of a home shopping network selling dishware.
When Richard got a job as a general merchandising clerk at a well-known paint store, when he was just out of high school, his goal was to save enough money so he could move out of his mother’s apartment. She had never married and he never knew his father. Richard never smoked but Anne did and the whole place was a stinking mess. His job allowed him to get away from the smoke and see how people who were sane had conducted themselves. He was not thrilled with scrubbing toilets, sealing floor grout and breaking down cardboard boxes, and the pay was not enough for him to achieve his goal of eventually moving, but the job was part time and occasionally a good looking woman customer asked him for a certain color of paint. He was not authorized to suggest a color to anybody but he could direct them to a specific color asked for and he was happy to say anything, regardless of the context, to someone not obese but looked like she put some thought into what she wore that morning.
He was thinking about asking his boss for a full-time position and a promotion to salesman, though when he was originally hired there were no sales positions available or full time slots open. However, an odd sense of circumstances came about that helped him improve his situation and allowed him to quit his job. His grandfather, Martin Davis whom Richard never met, had died and left the family a lot of money. Martin had apparently invested in a stock a long time ago and never touched his earnings except to put one hundred thousand dollars on a bank bond. He continued to live modestly as a barber, though he was technically a millionaire. The money from the stock and the bank bond accumulated since Nineteen Fifty Five and, when Martin made out his will, he left an equal share to Michael, Elizabeth and Anne. Martin figured they could decide how much to give to Paula and Richard. Michael and Anne were afraid of losing their social supplementary incomes if they accepted their inheritances. Elizabeth would have accepted her share if not for caution against someone coming in and robbing them because of karma. Paula did not care one way or the other. She was happy with her soda and the cute guy in the video explaining how to apply for grant money. They gave it all to Richard.
He thought that their lack of understanding about finances was pathetic and he almost felt like insisting he give them some cash but then he realized they had no idea how to improve themselves and the money would only go to extra cans of tamales and raviolis, extra tubs of macaroni salad and a whole truckload full of a year’s supply of soda. They would not even upgrade to better brands. So, he kept the whole amount and spent some on buying a condominium.
That was two years ago and he still had money left over to use on little perks, like eating at a fancy Vietnamese Asian Fusion restaurant a block away from his place and shelling out thirty dollars for an excellent Venison dish, but he also wanted to learn from his grandfather’s example. Martin had purposefully stayed away from his family for many years so the fellow must have had intelligence. If Martin could make a decent living as a barber, Richard could work part-time at a print store that was a half-block away from his place and where he did not have to scrub toilets.
Today was his day off. The weather was on the pleasantly cool side and he would have wanted to sit in the German style café, just across the street, where he could get an apple strudel and a cinnamon cappuccino and do some writing while soaking up the ambience and listening to the electronic music, but his mother asked him to come over for her birthday party. Her birthday was a week ago but she had a doctor’s appointment scheduled on that day so the party was canceled. Richard was hoping he would not hear any more about it but, sure enough, she called him yesterday and told him she was hoping he would see her.
He said, “Can it wait until next week? I worked hard yesterday and I’m due at my job in a half hour. I’ll be exhausted tomorrow.”
She explained, “Tomorrow is the only day I can do it. Michael has to go to the hospital for dialysis and he can’t make it. Elizabeth is not feeling well. She has food poisoning. She might not show up.”
“How about Paula…? She’ll be there.”
“I guess, but she’s not my child. I want to see my son. I’m making a special dinner and I’m sure you’ll like it. I’m making it for you. I’m not asking for any presents. Just let me cook a dinner for you. Let me be a mother. That’s the present I want.”
“What are you making?”
“Tamales and macaroni…”
“How is that special? That’s what you eat every night.”
“It’s special because you’ll be there. I’m also going to show a movie. We can sit down, relax, eat dinner, watch a movie and drink some soda. It’ll be fun.”
“What movie?”
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
“We see that every time I come over.”
Her voice got louder. “You only come on my birthday, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. You act like you see us every day and we subject you to punishment. The money your grandfather left us and we gave you has made you think you’re better than us. We’re still your family. I expect you to come see me on my birthday. It’s a week later but it’s still my party. You can talk to Paula about getting a writing grant so you can publish your stories. She likes seeing you.”
“That video only talks about housing grants. Paula doesn’t know anything about writing or publishing.”
“I’m not asking you to spend all day. Just make an appearance. A few hours of eating and talking… We don’t have to watch the movie.”
“Will you at least not smoke in the house while I’m there?”
“Maybe…”
“How about emptying that cat litter box that’s been sitting there for eight months?”
“I can’t promise that.”
“At least can you put some cumin on the tamales so they taste a tiny bit more like home cooking?”
“Cumin…? That’s insane.”
“Well, then how about a few shakes of black pepper?”
“Paula won’t eat it with black pepper.”
He sighed. “I’ll go because I said I would visit on your birthday. I’ll spend a few hours with you and get it over with.”
“Thank you, honey.”
Now, he would have felt more irritated about visiting her if not for the positive change in weather. The last few days were hotter and he was afraid of entering a toaster oven of an apartment but, if it stayed cool all day, there was a possibility that her neighborhood, on Buchanan Road, would not be scorching even without shade. He debated putting on attractive clothes, because her place was a mess and her cats shed hair all over him, but he finally decided to wear a nice blue short-sleeved polo shirt and dark blue jeans. He could have put on a black belt but decided not to look too fancy. He was visiting his mother, not a date. He did tuck in the shirt, though, to distinguish himself from the rest of the family who never wore tucked in shirts, ever. His thinking about that reminded him of how Uncle Michael never wore clean clothes and sometimes his pants had holes where holes should not be. Richard thought about other times when he visited his family, including Michael’s constantly asking for more soda, Paula’s accidentally spilling her plate of food on Richard’s lap when she walked by, Elizabeth’s insisting on watching the Hepatitis-C video because she liked the narrator’s voice, and Anne’s blowing cigarette smoke in Richard’s direction. If he did not stop thinking about those incidents, which happened every time he visited them, he would change his mind about coming over.
Right before he grabbed his keys to leave, his cell phone rang. The number was his co-worker, Henry, at the print store. Richard said, “Hello, Henry. What’s happening?”
Henry answered, “I’m in kind of a bind and I hope you can maybe come down here and help me with something.”
Richard was relieved not to hear his mother’s voice. Henry was a good guy who made a few mixed CDs of obscure psychedelic rock groups from Europe. Richard would not mind doing him a favor. “I’ll be right there. How long will it take? I’m on my way to my mom’s, as much as I really don’t want to be.”
“I just need you to deliver something to someone. Where does your mom live?”
“On Buchanan…”
“Oh. Well, the delivery is for a woman on Grant. That’s about a ten minute walk from Buchanan. The whole thing will take about twenty extra minutes out of your time. If you can’t do it, I can ask Gary but I thought of you first.”
“I’ll do it. Grant’s a nice area. I’d live there if I could. This will give me an excuse to see it.”
“Great.”
“See you soon.”
Richard walked to Penfield Printing, a place that usually specialized in personal greeting cards, diplomas and the occasional billboard, but also handled book bindings and photograph scans. His boss, Quentin Penfield, had a few big-name clients who sent a lot of business his way and those clients allowed him to stay open in spite of competition from corporate chain copy centers. Other than Quentin, the other employees besides Richard were Henry Parker and Gary Baker. Quentin spent a lot of time talking to his clients. Richard only met Gary once. Gary worked a different shift. Henry was Richard’s friend. When Richard entered the store, Henry smiled and said, “Thank you so much. This won’t take long.”
Richard said, “Any excuse to avoid seeing my mother is fine with me. What’s the plan?”
Henry handed him an envelope. “Someone Quentin knows left an envelope here by mistake. It was a personal letter to someone. The fellow didn’t have time to come back and give it to her so Quentin asked me to deliver it to her in person but there’s a couple of orders I have to fill out and I’m on a deadline. So, I just need you to go to the woman’s place and let her know whom you work for and you’re just delivering a message. That’s it.”
“Oh, sure… No problem. If she lives on Grant, she’s got to be upscale, at least more than me. Well, off I go.”
“Great. If you want, you can tell your mom I said hi.” Henry laughed.
“Sure.” Richard waved and walked off.
Richard noticed the name on the envelope was Kathryn Ludlow and the address was 260 Grant Avenue. Grant was six blocks away from Buchanan and his family lived on the 20th block of Buchanan. There were twelve blocks separating Kathryn Ludlow’s place and Anne Davis’ apartment. He had walked once or twice on the 30th and 31st blocks of Grant, and the higher the block the higher of quality, according to his observation. Perhaps where he was headed, on 260 Grant, the area was on the border of just getting nice. He could not imagine what Kathryn Ludlow looked like and had no memory of if she even entered the print store but all of the customers at Penfield Printing were mild-mannered and decent.
As he came to the 26th block of Grant Street, he noticed all the buildings were lofts and very good looking. He had a momentary thought that the difference between Kathryn Ludlow’s living quarters and her physical person could be vast. When he used to live with his mother, Anne would send him to the store for cat litter but with the agenda of his meeting the female cashiers who she said were friendly and single. Every cashier was Anne’s size and dressed just as carelessly. He was hoping not to see Kathryn Ludlow and think of his mother as better looking. That would ruin his whole day.
He saw 260 Grant and it was the best looking loft on the block. The color was a warm brown and the vibe he felt standing close to it was like he saw a glimpse of a different reality than any he would ever know on his own. He would never naturally fit in the area aside from an artificial situation like the one presented today.
He rang the doorbell. A voice from inside said, “I’ll be right there.” Her voice sounded like only an attractive woman would have it. Ten seconds later, she opened the door. He was right. She asked, “How may I help you?”
He said, “Hello. My name is Richard Davis. I work at Penfield Printing. My boss, Quentin Penfield, asked me to give this to you.”
She smiled and took the envelope. She pulled out the letter. “Oh. This is from my dad, William Ludlow. He’s a client and personal friend of Quentin’s. I wonder why my dad didn’t drop this off himself.”
Richard looked at her outfit while she read the letter. She wore a dark blue button up blouse, tucked-in, with long sleeves rolled to the elbow, and blue and black checkered plaid pants with a brown belt, and black high heels. Her blonde hair was pinned back. She resembled no one in his social scale. He figured these several minutes spent giving a letter to her was a treat he could cherish and remember when smelling his mother’s cigarette smoke and eating those awful tamales. He said, “I heard that your dad left the letter at the store by mistake so I’m just delivering it as a convenience.” The weather was getting colder and he felt rain.
“That’s probably it. My dad knows Quentin well. It’s really nice of you to bring this. Did it inconvenience you in any way?”
“No. My co-worker, Henry Parker, was supposed to bring it but he’s busy. He asked me if I could. It’s my day off. I’m actually supposed to visit someone not too far from here. Your place was on the way. It gave me a chance to see a nice area.”
“Oh. Who are you visiting, if I may ask?”
“My mother… She lives on 206 Buchanan. Not the best area, and she’s not the best person, but she wants me to see her.” The rain poured harder.
Kathryn frowned. “Hmm… Do you have to go or would you like to come inside for a cup of tea?”
“Tea sounds good. Thank you.” The chance to spend time with a good looking young woman who wore a tucked-in blouse and tightly-belted jeans, as opposed to an obese older chain-smoker who wore only faded loose sweatshirts and running pants and talked mostly about sales on cat food; there was no contest which one he would pick. His mother could wait a while.
They went inside. The walls were partly gray brick and partly silver-colored wood. They walked up a gray metal staircase. The upstairs room was huge, with a giant window on the back wall, and there were two white sofas facing each other in the middle of the room and two small white tables, one by each sofa. She said, “Feel free to sit down. What sort of tea would you like?”
“What kind do you recommend?”
“I’m partial to Darjeeling. It’s good for a rainy morning like this. I’ll be right back. The water’s already heated. I was just making myself a cup when you arrived.”
He looked at the back window. “This is a great view. I could imagine writing stories based on people who live in lofts. I live in a condominium. It’s also nice but it’s become familiar so I need to see other places to influence my writing.”
She returned with two cups, placing them on one table, and sat next to him on the sofa. “I’m glad you’re here. I haven’t had many visitors. I’m originally from Minnesota, a small town named East Gull Lake. My father still owns a home there for when he visits old friends who do business with him. His company is E.G. Advertising. The E.G. stands for East Gull… The original branch is in Minnesota but there are locations in other places; here in California, and Oregon, Arizona and Kentucky. He handles advertising for a lot of small businesses. He and my mom, Isabel, moved to California because she wanted to live somewhere less extreme climate-wise and she heard about the excitement of San Francisco. That’s where they live. I prefer where I am in Oakland. My dad bought this place for me. I used to live on Adams, a block away from Buchanan, on the 2nd block, because it was cheap but my dad wanted me in a better place. So, I’m not rich if that’s what you thought. You live on Shelton, right? That’s pretty nice.”
He nodded. “I finally was able to do so. My grandfather died and left my family some money. They gave it to me because they didn’t want to lose their monthly checks. So, I’m not rich, either. Well, I was before I bought the condo. Now I’m just comfortable but it’s a fluke that it happened. I’m not ordinarily the kind of guy who would live how I do.”
She shrugged. “I used to think that. I thought, ‘This type of stuff doesn’t happen to me.’ But then I realized, ‘Yes, it does happen to me because it happened.’ So, you just need to tell yourself, ‘I am the kind of guy who would live how I do because this is how I live.’”
“Wow! I wouldn’t have thought of that. My family; they all have a lot of problems and I grew up experiencing what they went through and feeling like I would become like them. No one, except for me, is less than three hundred and fifty pounds. I don’t know how I was able to stay at a healthy two hundred at my heaviest because I ate the same things they did until I had a job in my early twenties and spent the money on better foods for myself. The only times I regress are four times a year when I see my mother or my uncle’s family. They live next door to each other and they’re at each other’s houses all the time. Well, now I only see them four times a year so I don’t know if that’s changed. But they eat canned pasta and macaroni salad and drink soda. Not good brands but the cheapest and most unhealthy versions possible. When I visit them, I feel like I’ve sunk down a few notches on life’s elevator and have become what I used to be instead of what I am.”
She sighed. “My father thinks mostly about business but once a year he does go to the accordion festival in Cotati. He loves polka music. That’s his one eccentric indulgence. My mom is a voracious reader but she reads mostly romances. I’m more like her because I like photography and music and I’ve written a few stories. What are your stories about?”
He was surprised to feel as though she could have been a friend of his growing up, as if he could have had a different lifestyle, different living situation and different relatives. She was pulling him into a different consciousness. He said, “I like to write stories about philosophy but with a dark sense of humor. They are usually dialogues between two men who meet and then get in an argument. For instance, in one story, one man says it’s best to know all one can about a person in order to judge him fairly and the other man says it is better to not know anything about a person because information distorts pure observation. They challenge each other’s stance and, at the end, switch opinions. It’s easier to understand if you see it. If I had it with me, I would show it to you.”
“I would like that. It would make me feel more connected to you. I’m glad it’s raining. It’s the perfect scene for the beginning of a movie. If I directed a movie, I could write the score music and the first five minutes could just be the image of rain in the neighborhood. How do you like the tea?”
“It’s great. Maybe I ought to sometime bring Darjeeling tea to my family. I’ll steep it and put it in a soda bottle and tell them to try it.”
She laughed. “They’ll think you poisoned them. You won’t change them. They’re who they are. If they’ve all been overweight their whole lives, they use each other’s obesity as incentive to stay that way. Do they resent you not visiting them often?”
“They haven’t complained much about it but they would if I stopped seeing them altogether.”
“They think you’re the deserter so they won’t look to your example to help themselves. But your reality is different from theirs. Do you like our conversation?”
“Yes.”
“Do you like me? What do you think of me? Be honest.”
“I feel like I’ve been transported to a place I’ve never seen before but it feels good. If it weren’t for delivering that letter, I would never have had this conversation. So, it’s like a really awesome diversion.”
“Does that mean you don’t think of me as a real part of your experience?”
He shook his head. “That’s not my point. Of course you are real and this afternoon is a very real thing I will remember. It’s just that, I don’t usually meet women like you. This might sound shallow but you tucked in your blouse and you look really good and no one I know in my everyday world comes close to your way.”
She pointed at him. “You tucked in your shirt. You know yourself.”
He laughed. “What I’m saying is, my mom wears long un-tucked sweatshirts and so do my aunt and my cousin. My uncle wears T-shirts that end right at the waistline and I won’t even get into the condition of his pants.”
She smiled. “Here’s my point. We are having a good time talking. To me, this is the perfect moment. Does it seem that way to you?”
“Like a dream.”
“Okay. Remember what I said. This type of stuff does happen to people like us because it’s happening to us.”
“Since you said it, I now believe it.”
“We’re connected.” She stood up. “Please wait a moment. I want to go upstairs and put away the letter.” She walked up a staircase that was located in the middle of the large living room. Two minutes later, she walked down halfway. “Why don’t you come up here?”

He stood up. “Sure.” As he walked up the steps, he noticed she had her hand extended. He felt like he was entering a new world.
“Hello, I’m Kathryn Ludlow. How do you do…?”
He gave her his hand. “I’m Richard Davis. I do well.”
They shook hands. She said, “It’s as easy as that. It’s done.” She kept holding on.
“So now we’re officially people who are in each other’s social circles.”
“Yes, absolutely…”
He looked at the clock. “Would you like to talk some more later?”
“I’d love to talk more, later.”
“Okay. Well, it’s been great meeting you. I feel like things have changed.”
“They certainly have.”
“Well, I’d better visit my mother and get it over with. I hate to have to go now but I think I should.”
She stood there, not saying anything.
He tried pulling his hand free. She gripped tighter. He said, “I have to be on my way.”
She sighed and shook her head. “You cannot leave.”
He was not sure if she was serious. He tried pulling free again but could not do so. The moment was surreal. He said, “It’s now close to one o’clock. I want to get there early so maybe I’ll miss dinner by telling her I could only stay an hour. Please let me go.”
She shook her head and shrugged. “No. I won’t.”
“I can stay another hour if you really need to talk longer with me but eventually I have to leave.”
She sighed. “You’re staying with me.”
“Why?”
“I can’t let you get away.”
“So, I can’t even walk out of here.”
“You can walk out of here but I’ll be coming with you.”
He felt relieved when she said he could walk out until he realized that what she proposed was even stranger. He remembered her saying she had few visitors so she could be lonely and acting out of desperation for company. Since the rain was pouring heavily and he had no umbrella, he would be soaking wet if he visited his mother now. She would be smoking indoors and her cats would shed hair all over his wet clothes. Though Kathryn was stretching the situation to its utmost bizarre extremes, she had a point. Her place was gorgeous and so was she. Their conversation had been on a high level of intelligence. Maybe they could go from there. He asked, “Do you have any of your musical compositions recorded? What type of music do you write?”
She smiled. “I’ll show you.” She walked down the staircase, back to the living room, pulling him with her, to a shelf with a stack of paper. She picked up a piece and handed it to him. “That’s an avant-garde classical sonata I wrote last year. My main compositional interest is film music but I also like to dabble a little in innovative realms. In this piece, I’m experimenting with the treble clef in the key of G and the bass clef in the key of E. Hindemith sometimes transposed two different keys in his scores. With mine, the purpose is to have a bluesy E7 chord structure without the need to add a lot sharps and naturals. It was really just to see if I could do it. I don’t have any of my music recorded yet but I imagined this piece to sound like Stravinsky.”
“I don’t know about the technical side of music but I guess it would sound good.”
She put the paper back on the shelf. They walked towards her kitchen. “I like to eat healthy. Later, I can fix you some of a soup I’ve made. It has chicken with navy beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, avocadoes, carrots, lemon, garlic, onion, ginger and a certain combination of spices that make everything come together. You won’t be having canned stuff tonight. I don’t drink soda either so you won’t be confusing what I serve with what your family gives you. Would you like to hear some music now?”
“Okay.”
They returned to the living room and her stereo system where she pushed the on button and a CD played what sounded, to Richard, like electronic music from the nineteen seventies. Kathryn said, “This is Klaus Schulze. He’s one of my favorites. His soundscapes transport me to another world.” She moved her body in a dancing motion, securing her grip on his hand. He moved with her. He felt like what they were doing was a precursor to sex. The energy from her touch, combined with sounds that were not melodies but not noise either, was not a familiar experience but was exciting. The view of rain in the background made the triptych complete. He was in a movie, perhaps one she wanted to direct. She may have written about it before acting in a real-life version. He did not sense she was dangerous. He sensed she was edgy and an extremist. She was showing him how to rebel. Forget about responsibility and live in the moment.
Suddenly, his cell phone rang. They stopped dancing. The mood was broken. He answered. “Hello?”
Anne said, “Hello, honey. When will you be here? As soon as you arrive, I’ll make dinner.”
“You don’t have to wait for me. You can make dinner now.”
“I’ll wait. If I cook now and you’re not here, Paula will eat everything. She loves my tamale recipe.”
“I know she does. It’s so classic-like… You open a can and heat it. More recipes should be so simple.”
“Your tone concerns me. Are you coming over?”
“I’m thinking about it.”
“What the hell is there to think about? You put one foot in front of the other and you walk until you show up at my place. Thinking doesn’t help any.”
“True. Thinking is what chefs do when they make chicken soup instead of tamales. Thinking is what someone does to determine more than soda to drink in the world.”
“You sound like you don’t want to come over and that scares me.”
He laughed. “It’s no big deal if I don’t come over. But don’t worry. I said I would show up. I guess I’m just waiting until dinner is over before I arrive so I can be sure I have a pleasant evening.”
“That’s rude. What’s the music in the background? You didn’t even leave your house yet. Correct?”
“I’ll talk to you later. If I show up, it’ll be in a few hours.”
“If you show up…? You are going to show up!”
“Okay. Goodbye.” He shut the phone.
Kathryn pulled him back to the sofa. They sat down. She said, “The letter my dad gave me was a formal invitation to attend my parents’ renewal of their wedding vows.”
Richard nodded. “Okay. I wasn’t going to ask. That was personal between you two.”
“It wasn’t that personal. Everyone’s getting one. I assume Quentin has an invitation also.”
“Have you ever gone in the print store? I don’t remember seeing you there.”
“I’ve seen it. I haven’t been inside.”
“How well do you know Quentin? He’s always in his office with a customer. I’ve only seen his business side. He’s easy enough to get along with but he never gets personal with me.”
“My dad knows him more than I do. I’ve met him a few times but our conversation lasted only two or three minutes each, if that. But he was nice to me. I think his favorite sport is bowling. That’s all I know.”
“Well, it’s more than I know. Do you like to hang out at cafes?”
“I like drinking Americanos with almond milk. I go to Spicer’s Café two blocks from here to get them. So, I go to cafes but I don’t hang out at them. Why?”
“I was wondering if you think of ideas for writing in cafes.”
“No. I usually write at home.”
“Maybe I could see one of your stories sometime.”
“Sure. I can show you one now.”

The Big Surprise chapter 4

As we continued walking, I noticed Mona was following us. I figured my best option was to stay calm and let things happen however they would. I was curious to see if she would suddenly decide to pull us apart so she could keep me for herself. That would perhaps be a better bet. I did not want to acknowledge her behind me but I would not stop any progress she made to get me free.If my mother had quit smoking and doing such a poor job of seasoning food, I would consider moving back in with her. A part of me chose independence but the other part knew I was clueless on how to live by myself other than getting my own meals. If Connie continued shaking my hand forever, she would at least need to meet my mother and deal with her. If Charles was still visiting Teddy, I would ask him about driving us over there.

Connie said, “It’s such a great day today. I could walk with you everywhere. Let’s go down the hill and roam around a while.”

I said, “Instead, let’s stay up here and talk with Charles and Teddy.”

“That is not at all what I want to do. In fact, I’ll do everything I can to avoid that.”

“Okay. In that case, you avoid it and I pursue it. You can turn your head and ignore us when we talk.” 

Behind us, Mona said, “That’s a good idea.” 

Since I was pretending Mona was not behind me, I refrained from giving a reply, even though I had one ready. Instead, I said, “We could walk all the way to my mother’s place. That will take only a few hours if we walk quickly and don’t pay attention to stoplights.” 

Mona said, “It’s better to pay attention to the stoplights.”

Connie said, “I would prefer to avoid seeing her. She made you a wimp and I don’t want to see you turn into complete jelly in her presence.” 

I said, “But if we’re staying together, it’s inevitable.”

“The part about you turning to jelly?”

“No. The part about meeting her.”

Mona said, “I’ve seen his mother. She picked him up from school.”

Connie turned and faced her. “Why are you talking?”

Mona stood stiff as if ready for a fight. “I’m giving my opinion.” 

“You’re not invited in this conversation.” 

“Well, you seem as obsessed with him as me. You’re doing one better. You’re holding him tight. I wanted to do that in fourth grade. I knew he was looking at me and he was the only boy who did. He looked at me nonstop. I wish I had a picture for every time he looked at me. I would paste them up on my wall.” 

Connie frowned. “Did you like her back in high school?”

I said, “We weren’t in high school together. This was fourth grade.” 

“I know that. But did you think of her in high school?” 

Mona’s eyes widened. “Yes. Did you think of me during high school?” 

I would need to use my best powers of evasion. “It wouldn’t matter whether I did or not. You went to a different school.”

“Yeah, it wouldn’t matter because we wouldn’t have seen each other. So, did you think of me back in high school?”

“I already said it wouldn’t matter.”

“That’s true. You said that. So, if it didn’t matter, you’d be able to answer the question.”

“Maybe not. Maybe I’m not answering because it doesn’t matter if I do or not.” 

“Maybe you’re not answering the question because there’s something in your answer that you’re afraid to tell me.” 

“It’s not so much that I’m afraid to tell you. It’s more that it doesn’t matter as far as how I feel right now.”

“Hmm. So, you no longer feel for me the way you did back in high school?” 

With that line of questioning, she would sneak the answer out of me. If I said I did not feel the same way about her now, she would think my feelings were strong back then. I said, “That’s not true. I still feel about you the way I did back then.”

Connie frowned. “Why don’t you just answer her damn question and we can get past this?” 

Mona smiled. “I’m having fun trying to figure this out. So, let’s forget about back then. How do you feel about me now?” 

I said, “I’m not going to be tricked into telling you.”

“Wow. So that must mean you really don’t like me and you never did.”

“That’s not true.” 

“Okay. So you do like me.”

“It doesn’t matter.” 

“It seems like you say it doesn’t matter as a substitute for saying yes. Is that right?”

“It doesn’t matter.” 

“Oh my God! You liked me back then and you still do! That’s so great.” 

I was angry. “I didn’t admit to it!”

“No. But I figured it out.” 

“You shouldn’t have done that!”

She pointed to me. “You just admitted it!”

“Okay. Whatever. I didn’t want to admit it! But you wouldn’t stop! At least I didn’t mention why I liked you.” Uh oh. 

“The mystery continues. There’s a reason why you liked me. Let’s put it in the present tense. You still like me and there’s a reason for it.”

“I would rather not talk about it because it’s something special that I don’t want ruined.”

“On the contrary, I need to know what you mean.” 

“Let’s just say there was something about you that made me like you and what makes me still like you. Now that I said it, will you please go away and forget it?” 

“That’s not going to work.”

“If you really want to know, you did something that intrigued me and made me think about you every day. That’s as far as I’ll go with that.”

“You’ve been thinking about me every day since fourth grade?” 

“No. After you moved away, I forgot about you but when I saw you now, I see that I still like you.”

“So, you’re saying there’s something about me now that reminds you of what you liked about me back then. What is it?”

“I’m not going to tell you.” 

She ran towards me and grabbed my other hand but not handshake style. Handhold style. “I’m not going to let go until you tell me.”

I asked, “What if I said I want you to hold my hand?” 

“Then I won’t let go after you tell me.”

“Okay. Then I won’t tell you.” 

“Oh, you’ll tell me.” She squeezed my hand harder and harder until I could not stand the pressure. 

“Okay! You always tucked in your shirt!”

She stopped squeezing and released the pressure but still held on. “You mean you like that? Why didn’t you tell me?” 

“I was nine years old. I didn’t know that what I felt was a sense of liking you. I was intrigued at the consistency of what only you did.”

“That’s interesting because the reason I did it was for my own benefit. There were other girls who were more fashion conscious and tucked in their shirts all the time too.”

“Yes but they didn’t tuck in their sweaters or sweatshirts. You did.”

“That’s right. I figured the only way to feel totally confident in a style was to do it completely without exception. Sally Bennings, my good friend, told me at the Christmas party not to pull out my sweater. She said it looked good the way I had it. She was the girl all the others thought was the coolest so I was grateful she was considerate enough to help me like that. I continued tucking in everything as a favor to her. That was until around the first year of high school when it didn’t matter what she thought anymore. She hadn’t been around in a few years, anyway. But I continued tucking things in because it was part of my identity. I never stopped.” 

“Okay. That was interesting. You can let go of my hand now.” 

She frowned. “You smug little creep! I confess something meaningful to you and all you can say is I can let go of your hand? I said I wasn’t going to let go after you told me why you liked me.” 

“At first you said you would.” 

“Sorry. I’m holding on.” 

Connie said, “I should be bothered by this but I’d be a hypocrite if I told you not to do something I’m doing. Plus, he sometimes likes using his other hand to try to pry himself loose from me. You can prevent him from doing that.” 

We all continued walking. I was very frustrated and tried wiggling my arms and hands around hoping to annoy them so they would let go but that did not work.

Since we were returning in the direction of Teddy’s home anyway, I figured we could go there so he and Charles could see the predicament I was in. I could care less if Connie objected.

When I saw them, I lifted my arms so they could see both of my hands were held. They looked at me with very little expression as if nothing was unusual. I said, “I’d like your help.”

Charles nodded. “Hi, Mona.” 

She said, “Hi, Charles.” 

Teddy said, “I’d asked Mona out on a date many times but she always turns me down. She says she only has eyes for you, Stephen. You’re lucky.” 

I said, “She won’t let go of my hand. Neither of them will.” 

“I dig that. It makes it easier. You don’t have to hold on as tight”

“But I want to be free. It’s like they don’t trust me to stay put.” 

Charles shrugged. “I’ve never trusted you to stay put. If it wasn’t for my bringing you here, you would be dealing with your landlord right now, maybe walking the streets like a tumbling tumbleweed or going to mommy and breathing her smoke.”

“Are you telling me you knew about this in advance and that’s why you brought me here?”

Teddy shrugged. “Connie’s holding on to you because you need guidance.” 

I asked, “So, Connie, you’re not so crazy after all? You’re just doing this because someone told you to do it?” 

“That’s part of it but I was also curious to see how someone would react to being held. I admit it’s fun.”

“So, you’re not going to hold on forever?” 

“I didn’t say I was letting go, did I?” 

“No. Charles, can I please call mom?” 

Charles shrugged. “Sure.” He held his cell phone to me but I could not take it.

“Very funny. Can you call her for me?”

“Okay. Can I speak for you?” 

“I’d rather speak to her.” 

He shook his head. “It’s not a good idea to talk to her.” 

“Why not? Maybe she can clue me in on what’s going on.” 

“Yes, she can. She will be weird. You’ll be clued in on that.”

“For Pete’s sake, call her!” 

“Let me ask Mona. Should I call the mom?”

Mona said, “Yes. I want Steven to be happy.”

I asked, “Why are you holding on, Mona?”

“Because I love you.” 

“Did you put her up to this, Charles?” 

He shrugged. “No. Connie’s my doing.”

“Then who put her up to it?”

Teddy said, “I didn’t. I want her for myself.”

Mona said, “I love you.” 

“So you did this on your own?” 

“I would have done it sooner but I didn’t know where you were. Bobby and I were trying to find you. I have to say I sure hope you’re not going because I can’t quit until you’re mine but Bobby won’t quit either so that’s what we have in common but we’re both rivals.”

“This is too weird. Why doesn’t everybody leave me alone? I never had a chance to live on my own without outside help. Maybe I’ll sleep in the bushes tonight.”

Charles held up the phone again. “Here’s mommy.” 

I spoke into it. “Hello. Mom?”

Mother responded, “Hello, Stephen. When are you coming home? I need more cigarettes.” 

“I’d like to see you so we can talk about something that happened.”

“Did Charles call me mommy? He’s rather rude.”

“He’s making it hard for me to visit you. I’m detained at the moment.” I felt odd giving details to my mother.

“He’s always been a shit. I should have thrown him in the Cabbage Patch.”

“Mom, I guess we have to talk this way. He won’t drive me to see you.”

“Why can’t you walk it? Where are you?” 

“Waterville.”

“That’s a long way from here, honey.” 

“I know. Charles told me you never paid my rent. He said the manager evicted me so I have no place to stay.” 

“That’s so great, Stephen. You can stay with me.” 

“I asked you each month if you paid the rent and you said you did and everything would work out for the best.” 

“It did work out for the best. You get to live with me and shop for my cigarettes.” 

“I’m tired of hearing about those cigarettes. They’re the reason I left. I couldn’t stand the smoke. You lied to me on purpose so I could not stay in my own place. I lived just a one minute walk away. You could have told me the truth about everything so I could figure out a way to handle my own living situation.”

“That’s beautiful, Steven. Now we get to live together.” 

“I’m not staying with you mother.”

“How dare you say that when I paid your rent and let you live on your own?” 

I sighed. “The thing is, you did not pay my rent. You said you did but you didn’t.”

“That’s right. I said I did. That’s because I wanted you to have a nice place to stay so you could be on your own even though you’d be spending all of your time with me,”

“I want to be in charge of the money from dad’s survivor’s benefits.” 

“Oh, Stephen. You cannot handle the money on your own. I never taught you anything about living. You need to stay with me.”

“So, you’re not going to give me control over the money? It belongs to me.”

“I know it belongs to you, sweetie, and I’m not going to let you have control over it. I’m not giving you any money to feed yourself or take care of necessities. You need me.”

Charles asked, “Is mommy talking nice to you?”

Mother asked, “Is that snot-nosed Charles in the background I hear?”

I said, “Yes.”

“He should have known better than to have me pregnant with him.” 

“I think you were responsible for it happening mom, not him.” 

“I met your father in a mental institution.”

“Oh. Was he a patient?” 

“No. I was. He worked there as a cook for a little while and, when I met him, he said that when I got out he would ask me out on a date.”

“Was he desperate?” 

She yelled. “What the hell kind of thing is that to ask me?” 

“I’m just saying that he might have had trouble getting dates with sane women.” 

“You’re a fucking stupid asshole! You sound like Charles. Maybe you should have been thrown in the Cabbage Patch with Charles.” 

“He wasn’t in a cabbage patch.”

“Please come home to see me. I need you.” 

To Charles, I said, “You can hang up now.” 

He nodded and put his cell phone away. “Okay.”

Teddy said, “I’d like you to hold my hand, Mona.”

She said, “I can’t. I’m holding Stephen.” 

Connie said, “We’re going to have to figure something out.”

I yelled, “You can all leave me alone!”

Connie shook her head. “I can’t. I’m afraid you’ll run off in the woods like a giant bug.”

Mona smiled. “I’ll be your giant bug, Stephen.”

I knew that my knowledge of living on my own was minimal but, regardless of allowing my mother to handle a living situation in which I should have been in control, I had an inkling that the chaos I was experiencing now was nowhere near sane. I did not know how to free myself physically from the hand shackles of two women whose common sense was questionable but I figured that, if I stood still for about five or ten minutes, I could figure out some mental plan to disengage myself from everything. Perhaps I was the only sane one and everyone needed me around so each could achieve his or her own sense of balance. Regardless, I had to think of an option.

The Big Surprise chapter 3

The rest of yesterday was a blur. Perhaps we went to the delicatessen and ordered a yam and cheese sandwich instead of the turkey meatloaf but I would not be able to confirm it as reality or dream. The news of how my mother wronged me was the one vivid incident in my thoughts. Nothing, not even Connie’s handshake, bothered me.

When I woke up around seven o’clock, the light outside was just forming and I had not yet noticed clearly how the room appeared. Connie was sleeping on her back, still wearing the shirt tucked in. It seemed firmly rooted as if it would need pliers to pull on it before it worked loose. I might not have thought of that if not for our spending so much time together.

I got up to go to the bathroom and then realized we were still connected. I tried letting go but, even in sleep, her grip remained firm. I wiggled our hands around like a clownish handshake and then remembered what happened. I said, “Sorry.”

She did not respond. She was either asleep or pretending to be so. I figured I could wait until she was ready to present herself as awake. In the meantime, I would think about the events leading up to what happened. Maybe I could see an overall design.

Before we lived in Buchanan, we were in Summersville. In no way did it compare to an area like San Francisco. Summersville was like a ghost town compared to any big city but people went to the movies and ate out occasionally. There were things a normal family could do.

I remember once, at the movie theater, some kids my age were sitting one row down from me, to my right. A boy said he hurt his finger and the girl next to him said she wanted to see it. He tried pulling it out but she laughed and kept holding on until an adult, probably a mother to one or all of the kids, sat down. The girl let go. I was intrigued and thought to myself, “What if the mother did not show up?”

For a while, maybe a whole year, I observed people, kids or otherwise, when one held another’s finger or engaged in thumb wrestling. I would observe if one grabbed the other’s finger and not let go. Maybe once that happened for approximately ten seconds but otherwise no. Eventually, I stopped caring.

Then, I remembered a girl named Mona White. We were in kindergarten, all the way to fourth grade, together. She was not really memorable but not anonymous either. She hung around the other girls and acted like the rest of them. Somehow, by fourth-grade, girls experimented with 

ways to wear clothes. Some girls always wore loose shirts. Others would do the same thing except once every two weeks would wear tucked in shirts as if it was a special treat. Others tucked in their T-shirts but not their sweaters. Mona tucked in everything. Maybe not during the first week of fourth grade but, after noticing other girls tucking in their T-shirts, she followed suit. One day, the kids were all supposed to wear a special Christmas sweatshirt to celebrate something I do not remember. Mona was the only kid who wore it tucked in.

I remember seeing her look embarrassed and about to pull it out but a friend of hers, another girl, shook her head. I assumed she said Mona looked fine. Mona nodded with confidence, kept the sweatshirt tucked in and then never wore anything untucked after that. I did not think I was attracted to her per se but I was intrigued. She became the most memorable girl to me because I knew in advance how she would wear her clothes and I wanted to see what particular shirt or sweater or sweatshirt she would tuck in next.

After fourth grade she went to another school and I only saw her twice, a few years later, walking with friends. She still wore her shirt tucked in, at least from what I noticed those two random days. Without my having any evidence whatsoever, I assumed she continued that style still.

Until now, I had totally forgotten those incidents from my boyhood. They were important to me then but later disappeared from significance. I wondered why that happened.

I could imagine the move to Buchanan caused incidents to change as well as my priorities. I became used to people who were not interesting. My parents had friends who were dumb as dirt and eventually mother and father were not far behind. 

Suddenly, Connie opened her eyes and said, “Good morning.” 

I asked, “Did you just wake up?” 

She said, “I think I was awake for a while.”

“Alright. Well, I wanted to go to the bathroom.”

“Sure. Come on.” She got up and I followed her in the bathroom. I unfastened and pulled down my pants and sat down. After I was finished, she helped me with her free hand to button my pants. She said, “I don’t need to use it yet.” 

I could have said, “Thank goodness.” I refrained from doing so because then I would have to explain why I said it.

She would ask, “What do you mean?”

I would say, “I would see parts of your body unclothed.”

She could say, “Yes. Isn’t that exciting?” Instead, she could say, “Of course. Is there something about my body that bothers you?”

I would not tell her what I meant. I would not say, “There’s something magical seeing you in a tucked in shirt. When your pants are down, the magic is ruined.” I would not say that because she might feel self-conscious about how she dressed if she knew I was paying attention to something she may have been aware of but not to the extent I had been. I would not mention how I felt about her clothes at all, partly because I did not want her to change her natural style and partly because I did not want to encourage any reason she may have for wanting to hold on to me.

She smiled. “You look nice.”

I nodded. “Thank you. Likewise.”

“I have an idea of something we could do today.”

“Yes?”

“There’s a park about eight blocks away. It’s called Reconnaissance Park. Don’t ask me why it’s called that. It’s a nice place to sit and look at nature. Sometimes, there’s loudmouth drunks as well but don’t worry. I know most of them.”

“I didn’t think those kind of people went here. It’s a steep road. Most bums wouldn’t attempt it.”

“They’re not bums. They’re neighbors. They might look hungover but they will be wearing designer outfits.”

“Hmm. I never knew anyone in that category.”

She laughed. “It’s good to get out of your rut and do something unexpected. You say you want material for your next novel.” 

“Charles said that.” 

“Fine. But you’ll get more interesting characters if you meet some.”

I wanted to ask how could I write if she would not let go of my writing hand but I did not want to start an argument.

She pulled me outside and said, “Come on.” When we walked towards the sidewalk, I heard Charles say, “Good morning.” He and Teddy were sitting outside on the same chairs as yesterday, as if they never moved.

Teddy said, “Here’s something funny, Stephen. Your mother calls me and asks where you are. How did she know you were helping us? I didn’t tell her.” 

Charles said, “Actually, you did.” 

Teddy laughed. “Shame on me. Anyway, how are you this morning, Stephen?” 

I said, “I guess I’m alright.”

“That’s better than guessing you’re not. So, your mom calls me and tells me about how she wants you home with her. I asked her why. She said you could buy her cigarettes.”

“I’m afraid I’m not going to do that for her ever again. If she wants to die from ill health, she’ll get no help from me.”

Charles said, “The difference between us is that I was raised differently for ten years. I wasn’t around incompetency. I had decency. That doesn’t mean I chose what happened. I did not. It was brought to me but I had decent people around me and it did the trick. Your parents – our parents, actually – didn’t teach you anything. It’s a wonder you can walk and talk.”

“I’m not that bad off.”

“Yes you are. You need mommy’s help getting a place but you don’t even have any furniture except for a table I gave you and a bed.”

“It’s just a hotel room.” 

“Yes but even a cabinet with drawers would be good for your clothes. Do you still keep everything piled on the floor?”

“Only my clean clothes are on the floor.” 

“Oh. Does that mean you fold and put away your dirty stuff?”

“I don’t have any dirty stuff.” 

“That might be not true.” 

To Teddy, I asked, “How was the conversation with my mom? Was it pleasant or upsetting?” 

Teddy nodded. “It was revealing. She talked more about her cigarettes than you. She said she had a crush on the guy at the smoke shop and she was hoping you would come home soon so you could get to know the guy.”

“I’m not interested in him.” 

“She could have been thinking you could put in a good word for her.” 

“He likes her enough. She pays for everything with her credit card and the payment goes through. He’s overweight, has a funny shaped nose and never smiles. I think I once saw him kissing another man.”

Teddy shrugged, “I’m just telling you what she told me. Maybe she likes fat men. She married a fat man, right?” 

“Father wasn’t four hundred pounds until later in life.”

“Hmm. Was he three hundred back then?” 

“He was but he worked hard and provided for the family.”

Charles said, “He provided his family with coming home fat. He bought his own food which your mother and you didn’t share.”

To Connie, I asked, “Would you like to go to the park now?”

She said, “Those bums, as you referred to them, are sounding better now, I take it.”

“Anything is better than when Charles criticizes the family.”

She shrugged. “It’s entertaining in a weird way.”

If what Charles said was entertaining, it was because some people had not heard him talk about his adoptive parents before. His adoptive father worked as a longshoreman but he also had a teacher’s credential. Charles’ adoptive mother worked as a switchboard operator. She was apparently overweight but not at all close to how large my father was. She taught Charles how to play piano and the adoptive father exposed him to a lot of literary books. Charles said he was not a great composer like Teddy but he appreciated music and literature. I understood that Charles had a better first ten years than mine and that was why I was tired of his criticisms.

Teddy was not a member of our family by last name anymore. He formed conclusions about us based on what he observed. If my mother talked to him weirdly, he would say so. I would have preferred him saying my mother was acting normal but then I also wanted her to do that.

I pointed and said, “Let’s go.” Connie and I walked up a nice looking street where all the houses were like cottages. Whenever I saw a cottage, I thought of cottage cheese, not only eating it but looking at the picture of the farm and a cow on the container. Those houses reminded me of that part of my childhood.

The road finally became a dead end where the park was located. There were a few rows of benches where people could sit. Two people were sitting already. One was a guy who wore a denim jacket and loose dirty white T-shirt and jeans with holes in the knees. He would have resembled a few of the homeless people in Buchanan except he seemed to be looking that way on purpose. The tears on his clothing were too stereotypically employed to be random. The holes in the jeans looked cut in place with scissors. 

He was with a woman who wore a white thick turtleneck sweater tucked tightly into black jeans with a brown belt. She did not look like anyone I knew but seemed familiar anyway. Her white hair looked bleached and frizzed out like a punk rocker.

They were sitting there as if they had been smoking cigarettes but there were no cigarettes around and no smell either.

Connie said, “Let’s sit down.” We chose a seat two places away from the couple. 

Even though the time was morning, something about the park seemed to belong always to the afternoon or night. The breeze reminded me of late afternoons and the trees seemed to be a part of a mid afternoon winter scene before winter approached.

The woman looked at me and would not stop. The man did not notice. He seemed to be in deep philosophical thought. I did my best not to look directly at the woman but I could not help but notice her.

Connie pointed at the sky. “Isn’t it great here?”

I said, “Yes.” My voice was quiet. I was too aware of the woman’s stare. 

The woman said, “Hello.” Her voice was gentle but her stare was unsubtle.

I looked at her as my response but did not speak.

She said, “Excuse me. Hello.” 

I nodded. “Hi.”

She nodded also. “Okay. Steven Jacobs. Am I right?”

Her knowing who I was made me less nervous, even though I still did not recognize her. I said, “That’s me.” 

She approached us and nodded. “We went to school together. My name was Mona White. It still is but my street name is Mona Doodle Doo.”

Connie asked, “Are you a hooker?” 

“No. Not that meaning of street. In the hippie sense like street performer.”

I said, “I remember the name Mona White.” I did not want to say that I thought about her that morning and I could tell she was her because of the tucked in sweater.

She said, “Do you remember me other than the name?” 

“I remember you were in my class up to the fourth grade.”

She nodded. “Okay. Did you know I had a major crush on you?”

“That I didn’t know.” 

“When I went to sleep at night, I would imagine I was hiding under your bed and hearing you snore. Otherwise, I couldn’t fall asleep.”

I was getting nervous. She sounded a bit crazy. The strange hairdo did not help any. But, when I looked closely, I could recognize her facial features. I said, “Well, we were kids then. Kids do strange things.”

She said, “I still do it.”

“Hmm. Does it help?” I would have preferred having this conversation if Connie were not around.

She folded her arms. “It’s a placebo. Having you near me would be the real help.”

The man got up. “Would you be quiet?” 

She said, “Stop it, Zebra!”

He walked towards us. “Do you remember me, Stephen?” 

I said, “Not offhand. What’s your name?” 

“My real name is Bobby Davis. My street name is Zebra Peanut Butter.”

“Okay. What do I call you?”

“For you, I’ll go by Bobby Z.” 

“I remember now. We were good friends during second and third grade.” 

He nodded. “I had a crush on you too. I still do.”

I thought I was joking when I asked, “Do you know each other on account of your mutual love for me?” 

Bobby said, “That’s right.” He looked at me serious. 

I got up. “Connie, we’re leaving.”

She shrugged. “I guess so.”

We walked away. I did not care where else we went as long as it was away from there.

The Big Surprise chapter 2

Before I moved out on my own six months ago, I had lived with my parents a little bit longer than I needed to do so. They were fine with me staying with them. I would go to the smoke shop to buy my mother’s cigarettes. She could walk but preferred staying mostly in bed, watching television. My father had worked as a carpenter but his eating habits were bad and he finally got ill and had to retire. When he spent his last year at home, he went everywhere in an electric wheelchair. He could also walk but preferred not exerting himself too much when outside. He would go to the dollar store, ten blocks away, just to get one can of soda. When he returned home, he decided he needed another can so he went back to the store. He would go back and forth at least twice an hour, sometimes looking to the side and bumping people with his wheelchair. A few times, his wheelchair ran out of gas in the middle of the street. An ambulance had to come and bring him and his wheelchair back home. When he did eat real food, he chose frozen dinners, canned raviolis and macaroni and cheese. For a rare treat, he would get a pizza or lasagna. He eventually weighed four hundred pounds. 

I would not eat the type of food he ate. My mother cooked meals for her and me. Baked ham, potatoes and cauliflower, loaded with salt and butter. Often, I felt ill after eating her cooking. Occasionally, I noticed the expiration date on some things were long past. 

I was not totally aware of the business end of what happened after my father died except I understood the amount I would get and how that would provide me with the incentive to live on my own. To say I was totally independent when I moved into the residential hotel would be avoiding a few details. The hotel was one building away from the apartment complex where my mother lived and she asked me for help doing her grocery shopping. My parents had not taught me much about domestic skills and I had not wanted to be on my own until the smoke from my mother’s cigarettes became too much for me to handle. Even if I wanted to go out and socialize with young single people my age, they did not hang out in Buchanan. They must have gone to Summersville, not a big town by any means but at least it had a movie theater, a few restaurants and a bar. Compared to Buchanan, Summersville was a big city. Buchanan had the one café, where the one attractive woman in town worked, and the rest of it was gas stations, convenience stores and places where everything was a dollar.

Charles, my brother, had been given up for adoption because my parents had not been married yet and did not know whether they wanted to spend their lives together or go their separate ways. The people who adopted him were friends of my parents. What happened was complicated and I forgot many of the details but his adoptive parents died when he was ten years old and lived again with our parents. He kept some emotional distance from them, but they were relieved he would talk to them at all. 

Learning some domestic skills when he was a young boy, he was more competent than me. Now, he had a lifestyle that pleased him. He had a girlfriend named Stacy who I met only once and forgot what she looked like but he thought she was great. I had no girlfriend and settled for going into the café where Emma worked so I could be in the same building with someone friendly, professional and pleasant looking. It was not much but it was better than nothing. 

Now, standing in the living room with a woman who was like the improved version of Emma was scary and surreal, for certain reasons. Connie’s shirt was tucked in, something Emma never did and, now that I thought about it, Emma was good looking by default. She was not overweight and her clothes were clean but, like most of the women in Buchanan, she put no effort into her appearance. Other than choosing plaid shirts, she put them on over her jeans as if her clothes were an afterthought. Connie looked more put-together and professional, wearing her sleeves rolled up which, oddly enough, looked like something she did to prepare for our handshake. That was the scary thing. Not that we were shaking anymore, because that part had finished, but her hand kept holding mine, like a new guardian. Even stranger was the conversation we were having.

She asked, “What should we get for dinner tonight?”

I said, “I’ll let you pick.”

“There’s a great delicatessen a few blocks away that makes a great turkey meatloaf. We can do that or we can get barbecued beef brisket and garlic noodles at the Burmese restaurant. They deliver.”

“I didn’t know there was a delicatessen up here. This is high up on the hill.”

“I know. It’s strange, isn’t it? But they do good business. We could walk there.”

“What about Teddy and Charles? What will they have?”

“They’re not a part of this. They can order for themselves.”

“What do you mean they’re not a part of this?”

“They’re not attached like we are.”

“You’re forgetting that I don’t live with you. I have my own home.”

“Will your bed hold both of us?”

“I’m not bringing you to my place.”

She smiled. “That’s good. I can call the movers tomorrow and they can deliver your stuff then.”

I was not pulling my hand away now because her group was strong and when I tried to pry myself loose it became crushingly tight. But I also could not merely give up my whole will over to her. I had to present some sort of stance of independence. I walked around the circumference of her living room like we were promenading in a square dance. As I continued walking a little bit faster each round, she gazed fondly at me like we were a typical southern married couple out for a Saturday night stroll before going back home to the farm. I knew that my brother and his friend would come for me eventually so I mimicked having fun as best I could so she would not change her mood again and give my hand another squeeze.

She asked, “Is this one of your hobbies, walking in circles?”

I said, “I’m moving towards a certain direction in our relationship.” Logic was escaping me. I would just say whatever fit at the twisted moment.

She nodded. “Okay, so you understand the sequence.”

“Yes. Up one notch, down two and then stir until smooth.”

“How do you mean?”

“Mix everything in a milkshake and quack like a rubber ducky.”

“Wait a minute!” She stopped walking. So did I. “You’re not making fun of this, are you?”

“What’s fun about it? It’s horror.”

“No it isn’t. Shut up! You don’t know all the rules and regulations. You’re new at this.”

“New at what?”

She sighed. “It’s easy once you understand. I wish you would just get it without me needing to tell you every little thing. I’m not going to waste my time going over it all.”

Was she just crazy now or was she always like that? I was almost too nervous to continue the conversation but, since there was nothing else to do, I ventured forth. “Okay, don’t tell me every little thing but can you tell me something like what you’re referring to?”

“Us. I’m talking about us. I knew it was you. I can’t trust any deceptive signs. Now you get it?”

“I’m afraid the more you tell me the less I know.”

“It’s a completion. You filled everything. We are now complete.”

“Oh! You’re saying we’re married!”

“Yes, except I don’t trust the piece of paper. You could run away from the piece of paper. I made you physically a part of me. We are now one person.”

“I beg to differ. You’re one person entrapping me, another person.”

“You can argue all you want. The mind can cause conflict where conflict should not exist. If it’s not broken, don’t break it.”

“This conversation is freaking me out. Let’s discuss something else.”

“Okay. I’m thinking of getting new covers for the couch. Which would you prefer? I’m leaning toward beige or purple.” 

“How about paisley or tartan?”

“That’s an idea.”

“What time is it?”

“Eternity o’clock.”

“I mean, on Earth.”

She sighed. “If you mean what does the big hand and the little hand point to on the useless little contraption that winds us towards its monotony, six o’clock.”

“Thank you. I think it’s time I check in with Charles and Teddy so they know what’s going on.”

“Why would they need to know what’s going on if it doesn’t concern them?”

“I came here with them. They’re probably waiting for me.”

“If it will help you to quit talking about them by going there, fine. But the old ways are just that, the old ways. Your new life doesn’t involve them.”

“Are you the master of my new life?”

“I am your partner in your life now.”

“Are you saying I’ll never be able to see them again after today?”

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t be silly. You’ll have relationships with people just like you always have except the stuff that trapped you and made you stuck has no more value. You’re now free.”

“Free to be stuck with you.” 

“Now you get it.” 

“Okay. Let’s see what Teddy and Charles have to say.”

She shrugged. “As you wish, but I’m telling you they won’t be saying the kinds of things you expect them to say.” 

“Let’s just go!” I walked towards the door. She accompanied me without hesitance. Her expression was amusement is if she thought my getting aggressive was humorous. Well, wait until I received help from her next-door neighbor and my brother. Then, she would understand what was what.

Teddy and Charles were drinking alcohol. They each had a glass filled with ice. Teddy had a bottle of whiskey by his side and Teddy had vodka on his. They both waved when they saw us.

I said, “I thought you told me it wasn’t a good idea for me to drink whiskey.” 

Teddy nodded. “I meant that it wasn’t a good idea for you to drink my whiskey. Nobody but me drinks my whiskey.”

“But you gave some to Charles.” 

“Charles is drinking vodka. I won’t let him near the whiskey.” 

“But it’s still alcohol.” 

He laughed. “You can have peppermint schnapps for all I care. Just don’t touch the whiskey.” 

Connie said, “Steven is acting up right now. Alcohol wouldn’t be good for him.”

Teddy shrugged. “Great. Charles, have some whiskey.” He handed the bottle to him.

Charles poured some in his glass. “Thanks.”

I could have said something about the contradiction I witnessed but I chose instead to focus on Connie and my concluding our moments together. I asked, “What time are we going back home?” 

Charles asked, “Whose home do you mean?”

“Mine. When will you drive me home?” 

“I could drive you now.”

“Thank you.” 

“But I’m not driving now. I’m drinking.”

“How do I get home, then?”

“Whose home?”

I was annoyed. “My home!”

He frowned. “Where would that home be?”

I yelled. “Come on! You’re not that drunk!” 

He laughed. “Yes I am but my question still stands. What home do you want to get back to?”

As patiently as possible, I said, “I want to go to my hotel in Buchanan.” 

Teddy asked, “Should I explain or you?” 

Charles said, “As long as he understands, I don’t care.” 

Teddy nodded. “My drink is stronger than yours but I had less of it. I’ll explain. Stephen, you love your mother. Am I correct?”

“Yes.” I figured that if I just answered whatever he asked me, he would eventually tell me something apparently important.

“I take it you trust your mother to do the right thing for you with no problems whatsoever?”

I was going to say I knew everything she did was problematic but I decided to say, “Yes.”

He held up a finger. “Okay, now one more question, maybe two. It depends on how you answer this one but at least one more question. Have you noticed your mother in a happier state of mind these last six months like her mouth has an endless cigarette giving her puffs of happiness?” 

I felt less comfortable saying “Yes” to that but I did so anyway. 

“Okay, here’s the last question. Do you think about where that happiness was coming from?”

“No.”

“That is the issue here. You allowed your mother to do what she could to help you and, by doing so, you allowed her to help herself, all with you in mind, I imagine, but in no way to your benefit.”

“Okay. I don’t mean to sound like I want you to just come out and tell me whatever it is you’re going to tell me but please do that.”

Teddy sighed. “You know, I don’t have the heart to tell him. You tell him, Charles.” 

I was nervous. “Did she die?” 

Charles said, “Worse.”

“How could it be worse?” 

He shrugged. “She didn’t die.” 

I was irritated. They were giving me a bunch of nonsense. I said, “That’s a strange thing to tell me.” 

He nodded. “Not as strange as taking the money she was going to use to pay your rent and use it on more food and cigarettes.”

“What the hell! She had to sign the lease agreement because I didn’t have enough income to qualify on my own behalf. I was there when the papers were signed and she handed the check to the manager.” 

“That was the last check she sent him.”

“How do you know this?” 

“The manager told me.”

“He told you? Why would he tell you? I’m the one who lives there. Why wouldn’t he tell me?”

“I guess he wanted to talk to someone competent.”

“Thanks a lot!”

“You know what I mean. Legally competent. He asked if I could settle the matter before he had to evict you.” 

“What did you do?” 

“I’m a bit drunk and can’t remember every single word but mother said she was very happy with her food and cigarettes and if her not paying your rent meant you would move back in with her she would be a happy camper.” 

Somehow, I was not all that concerned Connie was still gripping my hand. That seemed more of an anomaly compared to such a big problem. I wanted to ask Charles why the manager waited five months before taking action and if he would give me thirty days notice before I had to leave indefinitely but those details would not change what was already happening. I did not know what else to ask. 

Teddy smiled. “Connie will take care of you, right?”

She smiled and nodded. 

I said, “Were you aware she’s been holding my hand the whole time?” 

Teddy shrugged. “Love is love.”

I yelled, “Insanity is insanity!” 

Charles sang, “And bluebirds are bluebirds.”

I asked, “Will you help me escape from her?”

Teddy said, “I’m not getting involved in what happens between two consenting adults.”

“I’m not consenting to it!”

He looked puzzled like he did not understand. He said, “I’m not getting involved.”

Charles said, “I reckon you either want to be homeless or stay with mama. You’ve got a third option.”

Connie asked, “Remember when I told you about the old ways no longer in effect?”

Like it or not, she would be my best option. I said, “Okay.”