Persistence chapter two

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Last night took its toll on him. He never felt more like not getting up then at the moment. He had only drank milk with dinner but the conversation with his family, combined with the bland taste of food and the confrontation of a pretty neighbor intent to glue herself to him, felt like several intoxicants working at once. He did not know what the time was and he did not care. He could stay in bed all day.

Suddenly, his cell phone rang. He waited a few rings before answering because he knew who was calling him and he did not want to leave the impression she could take advantage of him merely because she bought his house.

“Hello?”

“Hello, honey. I was wondering if you could go to the store again and get me some soda.”

“Mom, I didn’t go last time. You’re sounding like Charles.”

“Haha. I guess I am. But I do have a sweet tooth once in a while and I’d like some soda to help me quench my thirst. Last night’s dinner wore me out.”

“It wore me out too. I don’t want to get up yet.”

“I know why you don’t want to get up yet, son. You’re thinking of that woman. I’d be careful about her.”

“What do you mean? Do you know her? Does she act like that with other people?”

“Never. She’s always been reserved and polite. In fact, I’ve seen her shake hands with other men before and she’s always let go right away. She looked possessed like another part of her was doing what she did.”

Lewis was intrigued. What could have made Julie pick him? Was her behavior something she did once a year? He wondered about other things also like her clothes. Was she usually more prone to wear dresses? Were jeans a one time deal?

“Mom, I’m wondering something. How often does Julie look the way she did last night?”

“Why are you asking? Are you saying you’re interested in going out with her? I would advise you to find someone else. Why didn’t you have a girlfriend back in your old neighborhood?”

“It’s not easy to find anyone nowadays. Plus, none of the women there would talk to me. Even if they did, they didn’t look like Julie.”

“There’s more to a woman than just looks, honey.”

“Okay, but I’d like to know how often does Julie wear jeans?”

“There’s other women around who wear jeans.”

“Please answer the question.”

“She always dresses like that. She always wears belted jeans and her shirts are always tucked in. It’s like that’s a part of her routine. Women have routines. My routine is cleaning my teeth with mint dental floss.”

“Okay. Since you answered my question, I’ll get your soda.”

“Thanks honey. Now, if you see her again, walk away quick. You have to discourage her. What if I’m not around with a pot of hot water?”

“Well, there’s always Uncle Charles with a potbelly of hot air.”

“Very funny. Get going. My soda awaits.”

He hung up the phone without saying goodbye. He wanted her to know that she was not going to do to him what Uncle Charles did to her. He got out of bed, slipped on a T-shirt and jeans, put on a pair of moccasins and went outside.

As soon as he was out the door, Julie approached him. Her hand reached out and she said, “Come on. We’ll talk.”

He made sure not to get too close. He said, “We can talk.”

She approached faster. “You know how it has to be.”

He noticed she was wearing another tucked in top, green-blue shirt with stripes and rolled-up sleeves, and belted blue jeans. If she succeeded in catching him, he would probably enjoy it. However, their relationship, if that was what it was, needed less surrealism and more conventional conversation. So far, that seemed extremely unlikely but something about her intrigued him and he was not quite willing to dismiss the idea she and he were compatible. Maybe after he went to the store and did the errand for Daphne, he would let Julie hold his hand. He had not found out if she would have let go, after enough time had passed yesterday. If she could wait about ten or fifteen minutes, he might accommodate her.

She walked faster, clearly intending to snatch his hand as soon as possible. She said, “Don’t delay this.”

He said, “If you can wait ten minutes, that would be great.”

“There can’t be any waiting. I need energy. Slow down.”

“I’ll slow down if we don’t have a repeat of yesterday.”

“Time is a continuum. There are no repeats. Everything moves forward.” She walked faster and her hand reached further.

He decided to not pay attention, at the moment. His pace was quick enough so she would remain a few steps behind. He preferred to think he was just on a casual walk to the store, even if he looked like he was almost running, and a woman happened to go in the same direction. If she wanted to hold out her hand, that was her business.

Suddenly, she was right next to him. She grabbed his hand and held tight. Her composure became calmer. She smiled and said, “Okay.”

He pulled as hard as he could but her grip was firm. “This is completely crazy.”

She shrugged and laughed. “Sorry, but it has to be this way.”

“I guess I have to forget my mom’s soda.”

“You could buy her vegetable juice.”

“That’s not my point. I’m supposed to do an errand for her and now I can’t.”

“You can.”

“Okay, I can… but I want to forget it right now.” At that moment, his phone rang.

Julie smiled. “I bet I know who it is.”

He answered the phone. “Yes?”

“Hi, honey. I just thought of something. Could you also get me a tub of cottage cheese?”

“What size?”

“Small curd.”

“I mean, what size container?”

“Large.”

“Okay. Well, it’s going to be quite a while before I can go to the store.”

“But you asked me what size of cottage cheese I wanted. Why would you ask that if you didn’t plan to buy it?”

“I’m doing something.”

“What are you doing?”

“I don’t know.”

“If you don’t know what you’re doing, it sounds like you’re not doing anything and you can get my cottage cheese.”

“I told you I’d get it later.”

“You’ll get it later after you finish doing whatever it is you’re doing, which is nothing because you don’t know what you’re doing.”

He hung up the phone. “You were right. That was her.”

Julie nodded. “I didn’t even say who I thought it was and you already knew who I meant. That’s why we need to stay connected. We are like one person.”

Her statement overwhelmed him. What was she talking about? They just met yesterday. Attractive women like her could go out with anybody. However, maybe her situation was like his in the old neighborhood. Perhaps they had both been snubbed by others. Her momentary behavior could be a reaction against loneliness. Her strategy was far-fetched but, somehow, Lewis did not feel threatened. He figured she needed to trust him to stick around before she could assume he would stay on his own. He figured he might as well spend the day with her.

He asked, “What would you like to do?”

“We could go somewhere for tea or we could hang out at my place.”

“Maybe your place sounds good. People won’t think something’s weird if they don’t see us.”

“I don’t care what anyone thinks.” She squeezed tighter.

He shrugged. “Can you tell me more about Feng Shui? It sounds like a food dish.”

“It means you place things in your life that you want.”

“Is that how you think of me, as something you want?”

She squeezed even tighter. “I had no purpose until you came along. I saw you and I knew. It was automatic. I must keep in physical contact with you every single moment of every single day.”

“That’s not true. You let go when my mom almost poured hot water on us.”

“That was a freak exception. If I didn’t let go then, I might not have had a hand to hold yours later. But she’s not here. She’s bad for you.”

“How do you mean?”

“Remember when you were younger and she wanted to buy you a tooth brush and you wanted a toy racing car? She said she didn’t have the money and you cried because you thought she was lying. She slapped you on the face and said that if she heard you ever asking anyone for anything ever again, she would slap your face.”

“That never happened to me.”

“Yes, it did happen. It’s in my cosmological memory bank.”

He was nervous. “Maybe we shouldn’t go to your house.” He tried letting go.

She squeezed so tight her grip was hurting him. “Don’t think you’ll regress. We’re going.”

They reached her house. They went inside. He decided to try his best not to upset her even more. He asked, “Should we sit down and relax?”

She shrugged. “Sure.”

They sat on a sofa in the living room. He studied her appearance. He imagined how, every day, she tucked in her shirt, tight, making sure it never came out of her jeans until she got undressed. He looked at her waistline and saw how the shirt was smooth, perhaps meticulous, showing the signs of her perfection. Since her thoughts were a bit unconventional and maybe scattered, she made sure one thing in her life worked as the constant element of control and order. He then looked at her hand, the one joining his, and how persistently firm it fit on his hand, like a statement in itself. Maybe she did not trust herself to be functional without him. If that was the case, it was apparently something new. Daphne said Julie was always composed before. Perhaps Julie could no longer keep up the composure. Lewis could have been her last glimmer of hope to maintain a type of behavior close to, if not exactly, normal. Without him, she could go completely beserk.

He asked, “What’s your favorite type of music?”

She answered, “I like the metaphysical types of sound generators like Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Edgard Varese, Bela Bartok. Once in a while I like to take my mind off of metaphysics and listen to a Walt Disney soundtrack.”

“Okay. I’m more into jazz like Miles Davis, Stanley Turrentine, Oliver Lake, Eric Dolphy… When jazz was cool and there wasn’t a fake category called cool jazz.”

“They call it, and anything, cool to advertise and exploit the freezing of communication. Human beings are warm and generate heat and they need the polarity of the cold in order to function correctly but too much cold can cause a distancing of interrelated communication between humans and other species and life forms. Big business knows this and takes advantage of the marketing potential. We have misunderstandings and wars because of this. The media loves it because it means big profits.”

“Is this all because something is called cool?”

“Everything starts with just one thing and then becomes multiplied and expands until that one little thing affects everything. The solution, though, is to not pretend it’s bad. The solution is to invite the consequences and the crosscurrents of pollination. Media makes it happen but urges people to fear it. Media and commercialism have concepts of repression. We need to embrace the elements of mixing everything together. That’s how marriage is like. Two people accept the union as one.”

“Is that why we’re like this?”

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Are we accepting some combination of something?”

She sighed. “The media has conditioned you too. That’s not a bad thing if you embrace it.”

“I didn’t mean to offend you.”

She shook her head. “If you offended me, we wouldn’t be holding hands.”

He shrugged. “It’s just that I’m trying to understand where you’re coming from. Forgive me but it’s difficult.”

“There’s nothing to forgive. If you find it difficult, that’s the situation. I accept it, just like you except me.”

“Okay.”

She closed her eyes. “I’m going to relax right now. You might want to, also. We have every day to think about this. There’s no rush.”

He closed his eyes also. He figured he might as well try whatever it was she wanted from him. Perhaps she was speaking of a certain logic he would understand later. Maybe her education level was higher than his and he would know what she meant when his vocabulary got bigger.

She said, “Tomorrow, we can explain it all to your family and maybe mine. I’m not as concerned with my family getting it as you are about yours. Don’t worry though. I’ll relate it in a way so everyone will know what I mean.”

He decided not to respond. If she said more, he would merely listen. However, she did not do so. Hopefully, if he was correct, his plan would work.

First a few minutes and then a few more and so on… He was patient. If she kept her eyes closed, chances were, she would fall asleep. He waited approximately ten minutes longer then he figured he needed to wait and then he lifted their joined hands. He turned his hand, slowly but surely, in hers, as if examining details of the sculpture. So far, so good. She showed no apparent reaction.

With his other hand, he slowly tried lifting up one finger of the hand of hers that was holding his. Her finger moved. He was nervous. If she woke up before he got free, there could be major trouble. However, progress was successful.

He lifted up the next finger. He felt like his hand was in a corset and he was untying it. He wondered if she really was asleep or if she was playing a role hoping he would understand his part in the play. If she was playing the captor, he played the escape artist.

The third finger also moved. He knew he could go home soon. Maybe the explanations she gave him were purposeful nonsense. She looked too attractive and well dressed to be crazy.

The fourth finger could be lifted also. She shifted a little bit in her sleep so, instead of lifting her thumb, he worked his hand out of the thumb hold. For a split second, he thought he saw her open and close her eyes, as if she really was not asleep. However, he did not want to screw up the momentum. If this was a play, he needed to fully embrace the role. He could not be a magician who revealed his tricks or a director who explained the movie’s special effects. He just needed to leave.

As he left her house, he felt strange. He was glad his plan worked but a part of him wondered whether or not he interfered in the momentum in the same way his mother did. He was not sure of anything. He would just see what else the day brought.

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Persistence chapter one

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In the late afternoon on his first day in the new neighborhood, Lewis was unsure if he made the right choice. Really, there was no choice. His family – mother, uncle, aunt and cousin – needed his help. Uncle Charles – a man who long ago was the fitness freak prone to spending hours walking anywhere and everywhere – now relied on his electric wheelchair for his every move. He used his four hundred pound weight gain as his excuse. He was constantly asking his wife, Aunt Victoria, and his daughter, cousin Sylvia, for glasses of water, the television remote control and anything else that took up his family’s every moments. They were not in great physical shape either and they felt his constant requests were his way of controlling them. Finally, they were fed up.
    

Daphne, Lewis’ mother, lived next door to Charles’ family’s house. She was suspicious when, several years ago, Charles left his original apartment and moved his family close to her. At first, he had seemingly did so because he disliked his old neighborhood. However, when she had phone calls from him, asking her to come over and find his glasses or give him cups of water, she realized he wanted a back-up servant on days his wife and daughter refused to help him. She became frustrated and made Lewis an offer.
    

The other next door house by Daphne’s place was foreclosed and on sale. She asked Lewis if he would consider living there if she bought it for him. 
    

Lewis said, “I thought you were fed up being so close to family.”
    

Daphne said, “That’s different. You’re my son. Plus, you can help Charles occasionally when he needs something. I’m getting older and I don’t want to spend all hours catering to him. You’ll be helping me. What do you say honey?”
  

Lewis heard himself saying “Yes” before he could backtrack. He had problems in his old neighborhood. He lived in a somewhat pleasant area in Burgundy, in a combination Art Center and residential hotel, but his neighbors were not always friendly and they made complaints to each other about him. One neighbor had actually put a bar of soap on his door with a note saying only “Please use it.” Plus, people were constantly asking him for spare change, sometimes while smoking cigarettes and making him cough, and they would follow him for a few blocks if they thought he was lying when he said he was broke. Ridgefield, the town where his family lived, was a better place. There were not as many cheap stores or restaurants where he could save money on food but, in the long run, he would have more to spend because rent would no longer be an issue.
    

When he moved everything in the new place, he felt like a man who walked up a steep hill but was refreshed when looking at the gorgeous view. Then, an hour later, when Daphne called him and asked him for help, he felt like the man who realized that getting down from the hill would be difficult.
    

“What favor do you need, mom?”
  

“I shouldn’t really say it’s a favor. That’s the wrong choice of words. I really mean that I would like for you to come home and have dinner with us. Charles wants to give you a welcome meal. He’s happy you’ve decided to be close to us. Victoria and Sylvia are also looking forward to seeing you.”
    

Lewis noticed how different the neighborhood felt to him, compared to his old place, and he almost decided to ditch dinner and walk around. When he entered his mom’s house, he wished he had acted on impulse.
    

Charles was sitting in the living room, sprawled like a beached whale on the sofa. He made strange spitting sounds with small drops of saliva barely missing Lewis’  arm. Victoria was laying in Daphne’s bedroom, on the bed. Lewis heard her yell hello.
    

Sylvia was sitting in the kitchen, playing a video game on her cell phone. She saw Lewis and smiled.      

Daphne said, “We’re having corned beef and cabbage. Also, mashed potatoes and homemade gravy. I wanted to make baked chicken but I’ve been under stress and I bought the wrong thing.”
    

Charles spit some more and said, “Victoria! I need you to go to the store for me! Victoria! Victoria!” He repeated her name, louder and louder, until he was screaming.
    

From the bedroom, Victoria yelled, “I’m not getting up! You’ve been asking me to do stuff all day! Ask someone else!”
    

“Please, honey! I need you to buy me some soda! I haven’t had my soda all day! It’s only one favor!”
    

“You’ve been asking me stuff all day! I’m tired! Ask someone else!”
    

Charles yelled, “Sylvia! Sylvia!”
    

From the kitchen, Sylvia said, “I can’t hear you! And, no I’m not getting up from this chair!”
.   

He spit again. “Where’s Lewis?”
    

Daphne said, “He’s in the living room, right next to you.”
    

“Oh, sorry. Lewis? Hello and welcome. Your mom is making baked chicken.”
    

Daphne yelled, “I already told you corned beef and cabbage, mashed potatoes and homemade gravy! This is the twentieth time!”
    

“I forgot!”
    

“I told you five minutes ago!”
    

“Whatever! Anyway, your mother’s making dinner and she shouldn’t be away from the stove. Can you go to the store for me? Actually, for all of us. We need soda. I need two of the three liter bottles, the cheapest stuff. I’m on a budget.”
    

Lewis said, “Okay.”
    

Charles gave him his debit card. “Thanks. Make it cola.”
    

As Lewis walked outside, he figured he would use the opportunity to see a few of the streets. The weather was pleasantly cool and he thought about the possibility of good luck coming to him. As he thought that, he noticed a young good looking woman, from a distance, walking towards him. She was wearing a blue and white unicorn shirt with three quarter length sleeves, tucked tightly into belted dark blue jeans and seemed to be looking right at him as if she was expecting him. He figured that, if she was a neighbor, and they got to know each other, there was something in his favor, counterbalancing the moments he would be spending with family.
    

When the woman was close enough, she extended her hand and said, “Hi. I’m Julie Howard. I live close to you. I thought we could talk.” Lewis gave her his hand. She gripped it tight.
    

He said, “I’m Lewis Stevens. Is something wrong?”
    

Julie laughed. “Oh, no. What I meant to say was I would like to talk. I saw you move in and I was really excited about it. So, what brings you over here?”
    

“I lived in Burgundy and my mom, Daphne Stevens, bought a place for me.” 
    

“It’s nice for a parent to do that for her son. Are you on your way to see her now?”
.   

“No. I’m going to get soda for my uncle Charles. He lives next door to her and they’re making me a dinner to celebrate my moving.”
    

She nodded. “That sounds sweet but soda’s bad for you.  Charles… Is he the large guy?”
    

He laughed. “I guess you know him.”  
    

“Oh, I’ve seen him. That’s about it. It figures he’d want soda. They’re probably giving you fast food right now. I don’t want to think about it.”
    

“I’ll be having corned beef and cabbage.”
    

“That’s an improvement. Are you in a hurry to go to the store? Your uncle’s not going to die if you don’t get his soda now. I’d like to walk with you and stay connected. We could go somewhere and have tea.”
    

“That sounds more like what I’d like to do. How about if I get his soda, so he doesn’t keep calling me like he’s prone to do if he’s worried, and then we can do that.”
    

“Okay. Sounds good.” She squeezed his hand tighter.
    

“I’ll be back in around ten minutes.” He tried letting go of her hand but her grip remained firm.
    

“I’m coming with you. I’m not letting you go.”
    

He was nervous. He did not mind a hot looking woman flirting with him, especially since that had not happened in his old neighborhood, but her tone was more insistent than playful. He pulled harder.
    

She said, “I’d rather you not do that.”
    

“This is very awkward timing. I might like it more when I’m not so busy. Let’s get together later but not now.”
    

She shook her head. “I’m sorry but I can’t stop. We must stay in physical contact. It’s a part of my belief system. I follow Feng Shui. It’s the art of placement. Your life is better when you are connected with what you want.”
    

“I hope you’re not saying you have to keep me like a lucky rabbit’s foot.”  
    

“I do need you with me all the time, yes.”
    

He tried a different strategy, moving his hands around like a safecracker trying to open a lock. How their hands looked together made him feel strangely fixed in place with her, as if the reason he moved was not because of his family but because of Julie. He was mostly concerned about how the logic of what she said seemed correct. However, as the minutes kept ticking, he knew he would get a phone call from either his mother or his uncle if he did not return with the soda. With his other hand, he tried prying himself loose.
    

Her eyes widened. “If we break contact, I’ll freak out. Please let me hold on!”
    

“We can do this another time. But right now it has to end.”
    

She yelled, “You don’t get it! It won’t end! I’ve attached myself.” She squeezed very tight.
    

“I guess, then, we should just go back to my mom’s house and forget the soda. You can just shake my hand all night and tell them you’re a glove that doesn’t come off.”
    

She shrugged. “Sure. Let’s do that.”
    

“I didn’t really mean it.”
    

“That’s good because I don’t really want to go there anyway. I’ve heard about Charles and he gives me the creeps.”
    

“Let’s go.” He walked back to Daphne’s house with Julie. The way everything was happening, he might as well play it all out and witness the results.
    

Julie smiled, as if to say she was glad he showed initiative.
    

As they walked in the house, Charles looked puzzled. “I didn’t say to bring home a woman. I said to bring soda.”
    

Lewis said, “This is Julie. I met her outside.”
    

Charles extended his hand. “Nice to meet you, Julie. I’m Charles.”
    

She shrugged and pointed to her and Lewis’ connection.
    

Charles frowned. “That’s his hand, not mine.”
    

Lewis said, “She shook my hand and now she never wants to let go.”
    

“Well, that’s not good. Somebody forgot to teach her manners. It’s customary to let go after you shake. Maybe you can tell her that.”
    

Julie said, “This is different.”
    

Daphne said, “To be honest, I’m glad you didn’t get the soda. I have milk. That goes better with corned beef and cabbage.”
    

Charles yelled, “You should have told me you had milk! I’ve been drinking water all day!”
    

“No! You’ve been drinking milk! Didn’t you notice the white coloring?” 
    

“I thought it was extra clean water, that fancy stuff.”
    

Julie said, “I think I need to drag you back to my place. I have tea.”
    

Charles sighed. “What the hell will tea do for me if it’s served at your place? I’m over here.”
.   

Lewis said, “She means me.”
    

“Well, then how can the tea do me any good if she serves it to you at her place?”
    

“It’s not for you. It’s for me.”
    

Charles grabbed Lewis’ and Julie’s joined grip and pulled. “This is really starting to bug me.” He strained and was not able to separate them.
    

Julie pulled them away from him. “Don’t get near me. You’ve probably never washed your hands.”
    

Sylvia walked in the living room. “What’s going on?”
    

Daphne shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Your cousin brought home a girlfriend who, it seems, has welded herself to him.”
    

Sylvia nodded. “That’s interesting. Seems like, with our new technological age, people are resorting more and more to permanent ways of sticking together. They realized that the free love movement of the seventies didn’t work.”
.   

Charles said, “Of course it worked. I mean, sometimes you had to pay for free love if it came with a prostitute. So, nothing’s really free. But, it was free in the sense that there wasn’t any marriage or commitment papers that needed signing. The spirit was free.”
    

Sylvia asked, “The spirit of the times or the spirit of the person?”
.   

“The spirit of the person. Time is never free. It keeps moving on, on its robot pace.”
    

Daphne frowned. “How are you going to eat corned beef and cabbage, son, when only one hand is free? Is she going to hold one of the utensils for you while you use the other? It’ll be hard.”
    

Julie said, “He’s not eating here. I’m bringing him to my place.”
    

“No, you’re not! I made the dinner for him. There’s not enough for you so you’ll have to leave.”
    

“Okay. Come on, Lewis.”
    

Daphne grabbed the grip and pulled. She was unable to separate them. “I know how to get you loose, son.” She walked into the kitchen.
    

Julie started walking, dragging Lewis. “Come on, Lewis.”
.   

Daphne returned to the living room with a large pot of hot water. She walked towards them and was about to pour it on the grip but Julie screamed, let go and ran out of the house.
    

Lewis looked at his hand. He felt odd. Even though he was glad the situation ended, he was also annoyed that the conclusion did not come naturally. He was certain Julie would have let go eventually. She was the sexiest person he had communicated with in a long time. Was she going to ignore him when they saw each other again?
    

Charles said, “You should thank your mother for helping you. Now you can enjoy the baked chicken and the cola you got at the store.”
    

Daphne yelled, “Corned beef and cabbage! Mashed potatoes and gravy! He didn’t get soda! We’re drinking milk!”
    

“Oh, for Pete’s sake. You should have said something sooner! Here, all this time, I thought we were having chicken and soda.”
    

“I already told you the menu changed. I’ve been telling you all day!”
    

As Lewis waited for dinner, while listening to his family argue, he was not sure whether they should be praised or blamed.