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 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.