Cover image courtesy of Nina
As John was accompanying Janet while walking down Prospect Avenue, a memory came to him. He was not sure if it was the result of his imagination or if it really happened. The memory was related to the last half hour so it was probably valid.
He remembered looking at the building where Janet’s office was located and seeing her walk out of it. He was observing whoever happened to go in and out of there. That was when he had the thought of wanting to be a part of their world. Since they all looked well dressed, he was thinking about them as a group. He had not focused on a specific person. However, since his favorite fashion style to see on a woman was a tucked in shirt, he made special notice of Janet who was the only woman wearing that style.
Another memory was coming to him. As the thoughts of wow crossed his mind when he noticed her, she looked at him. From a distance, he sensed she looked into his eyes with an intense gaze that locked her and him together. Then, he had quickly looked away. The reason was he felt self-conscious, thinking he was a nobody. He was John Goldman, a member of a family that experimented heavily with drugs when they were teenagers and now tried to make up for their careless mistakes by making worse blunders.
His mother, Rose, never married. She had a vague idea of whom, among the many men she dated, could be John’s father. Supposedly, they all were told about him shortly after he was born but none ever made an effort to see him. Occasionally, he wondered if his father was a person of higher quality than the relatives on John’s maternal side. John resolved that his father was probably worse than his mother. Regardless of her many faults, she was around to raise him. He did appreciate that about her.
Uncle Harold met Aunt Thelma in a mental institution. He was working as a janitor there and, when he took out the trash from the kitchen during the patients’ dinner time, he saw her and fell in love. Finally, after a few months when she was being released, he had the courage to ask her on a date. From then, they went from dating to going steady and then marriage. Their relationship, from John’s observation, was not a happy one. However, lack of happiness never stopped the Goldmans from doing anything. They thrived more on misery than contentment. Harold and Thelma had often screamed at each other, sometimes swearing or throwing plates and utensils. Their daughter, cousin Christine, would join in the fighting if she was home anyway and had nothing better to do.
The fighting was one thing but their behavior with other people was another. Harold could walk but he preferred strolling through town in his wheelchair and he bruised many people’s legs when his wheelchair bumped into them. He also crashed into cars, some parked and some driving. He was hospitalized twice for broken bones because he would not watch out for people or cars or obstructions of any kind.
Aunt Thelma spent most of her time watching television and screaming at the actors and actresses on a series or a movie. Christine spend most of her time on the Internet, chatting with gay men who thought she was also a man because her hair was short. She would cry when someone would say she was very handsome and masculine but then she would forget about it and continue chatting with the person.
Twice a week, they all got together for dinner parties. Rose usually cooked the meals, consisting of some meat and vegetables without any seasoning. However, they decided today to go to the Elegant Nibble, a place recommended by a few of the cashiers at the supermarket where she bought her groceries. John would accompany her on grocery day and she always picked the most overweight cashier to serve her. Once, she tried introducing John to one of those cashiers, with the idea of him having a girlfriend, but he would rip up the telephone number given to him.
Once in a rare while, the Goldmans would get invited to a party where there were some slim people. Otherwise, they associated only with others who were their weight or more. When John saw Janet a half hour ago, he quickly dismissed the idea she would be someone he would meet.
However, now that he thought about it, he should have given himself more credit. He managed to stay slim and he dressed in clean clothes. He wore his white polo shirt tucked into his jeans. The jeans had no belt but they fit him well and he figured that he made the best effort he could for an early afternoon lunch where his family would probably never enter again. They went strictly as an incentive for Harold to agree to keep his doctor appointment which was several blocks away from the restaurant. John should have realized his family would make no effort to allow the experience to be fun. He knew he made the right decision when he walked out of there.
After Janet had stared at him, she immediately crossed the street and walked towards him. There was a fence separating a half block of length in the middle of the road but she walked around it and then specifically approached John with her hand extended, not so much as a request for a handshake but an order. She gazed at him with a smile of contentment is if she finally found something in which she was looking. Her pants were a blue and black checkered plaid pattern, reminding him of a professional work place. Her brown belt and her black shoes helped complete the image. John realized that the reason he forgot seeing her across the street at that time was because she looked too much like his ideal woman and such a thing, especially considering his past experience, must have seemed unlikely to be real.
Because Janet continued gripping his hand, while approaching the corner of Prospect Avenue and Pine Street which was one of the most upscale areas in town, John felt a connection as though it was no longer about a handshake but the bridging of energy between them. Though she looked like she was focused on heading towards Mr. Tilden’s residence, she smiled at John as if answering a question he had not asked. He felt more confident in his part. For her to keep him, she must have had some feelings of awkwardness and loneliness. He was curious how she would act if he tried something.
Her grip was comfortably firm. Her fingers were aligned on his in such a way as to seem almost like a fashion statement. Suddenly, he yanked as hard as possible, wondering if he could get free. Her hand stayed firm, gripping tight as if nothing else mattered but to keep holding on. He kept pulling, harder and harder as if trying to pull a potato out of the ground. He was not able to do so.
He wiggled his hand in hers, in case a specific combination of twists and turns would help the dislodging process. Janet was straight faced, not necessarily angry but perhaps slightly impatient. John was anxiously really hoping he could get loose so he could find out if she would grab on again or stop completely. However, there was a certain metaphysical glue preventing him from doing so.
Finally, after an approximate five or ten minutes, he stopped trying to let go. Janet’s expression did not change composure but John sensed she was relieved. He would allow her to feel settled again so she could concentrate on what she had to do. John would behave while they visited Mr. Tilden. The man would notice how unusual the handshake looked. John would observe Mr. Tilden’s reactions. Mr. Bentley had been uptight. John was looking forward to seeing someone else get uptight. He would also observe Janet’s reaction to Mr. Tilden’s concern.
Suddenly, he heard someone yell, “John!” They looked back and saw Harold, riding fast in his wheelchair. His forehead was cut and a few drops of blood appeared. He stopped his wheelchair close to them. His facial expression was as if he had amnesia.
John asked, “Are you going to your appointment?”
Harold said, “Yes. That’s why I need to talk to you. I need you to come with me.”
John frowned. “I’m busy now.”
“It won’t take very long. All we have to do is go to the bus towards West Heron. My appointment’s for nine o’clock at night. I want to get there early in case they take me right away.”
“The place is just a couple of blocks from the restaurant.”
Harold nodded. “I thought so, too, but I apparently got it wrong. I need to go to the emergency room. My stomach ripped open and they need to operate.”
John was not sure whether or not he should feel concern or impatience. His uncle made mistakes like that in the past, thinking he needed an operation. John said, “If you get on the bus now, you’ll make it.”
“I need you to come with me.”
“I’m with someone, right now!”
“She can come too.”
John said, “If we go there with you, I can make sure you make it in the building and then me and her will go.”
Harold pouted. “Please, John. I need you to stay overnight with me. I’m horribly frightened of hospitals and I can’t do it unless you’re there in the operating room.”
John thought enough was enough. “There’s no way that will happen. I’ve decided I’m not going at all.”
Harold cried. “Please, John! Please! Please! Please, John! Please! Please!”
To Janet, John said, “We’re going to have to ignore him.”
Janet nodded. “I didn’t know your uncle was this ridiculous. He looked like he fell in a large pile of soft dirt.”
Harold wiped the front of his shirt with his hand. “You don’t have to be so rude! I ate a cupcake and a crumb or two of chocolate landed on my shirt! What do you want from me? Do you want me to die?”
John said, “I’m not going to answer that, right now.”
Harold kicked his feet and wiggled around in the wheelchair like a jellyfish in a straightjacket. “That’s just great! This is the way you treat me? Remember when I bought you that can of soda last week? That was a symbol of love. You said thank you but I don’t think you really appreciated it.”
“You bought it at a place where it was fifty cents and they gave it to you for half price because you said you were a senior and needed a discount.”
“Money is money! That’s something you wouldn’t understand. Have you ever needed to stretch five dollars to last the whole week?”
John laughed. “Okay. You can make five dollars last a week but, the last time you did that, it was because you spent three hundred dollars on a fruit juicer that didn’t have a plug.”
“Do I tell you how to spend your money? No. That was out of my accessories fund. I never confuse my foolish money with my food money.”
“That’s why you have a lot of gadgets taking up a lot of room in your house and you need to borrow money from my mother so you can eat.”
“You sound like you think I’m an idiot.”
“You’re very knowledgeable when it comes to using ill judgement.”
Harold moved up and down in the wheelchair. “The bus will be here, soon! I need you to come with me to the hospital.”
John nodded to Janet, indicating they ought to walk away immediately. They did so and Harold followed. John said, “Don’t pay any attention to him.”
Harold asked, “Where are we going?”
Janet said, “That’s none of your concern.”
Harold said, “It is my concern. If I’m going with you, I’d like to know where we’re headed.”
John yelled, “Please leave us alone!”
Harold cried. “I can’t go to the hospital alone! It scares me! If you’re not going, I need to accompany you. I hate feeling alone.”
Neither John nor Janet said anything else at the moment. They tried forgetting Harold was behind them but, then, he made a popping sound in his mouth like he was making popcorn. John and Janet hid their irritation and kept walking. If Harold insisted on following them to Mr. Tilden’s house, perhaps some good could come from that.
Suddenly, Rose, Thelma and Christine appeared. They crossed the street and headed towards them. John was glad they showed up.
Rose asked, “Where have you been, Harold?”
Harold shook his head. “I don’t know. You called me Harold, right? Is that my name?”
Thelma rolled her eyes. “My word, he has amnesia again!”
Harold said, “I wish I could get amnesia! It would be a change of pace from having to see the doctor.”
Thelma nodded. “It’s only a checkup to monitor your blood pressure.”
“No! My name is Walter Benton and I have an operation scheduled for nine o’clock!”
Christine said, “He’s become that Walter character again.”
John said, “Please take care of this. We have something to do.”
Rose frowned and pointed at Janet. “Who is she? Is she why you didn’t stay for lunch?”
Janet shrugged. “I don’t know. Is it?”
John said, “I’d go over it all but I feel more like we ought to leave.”
Thelma chuckled. “She looks decent. That’s a good sign.”
Rose said, “She’s gripping my son’s hand really tight!”
Thelma shrugged. “It doesn’t bother me.”
Rose shook her head. “Well, it bothers me. He doesn’t know any women who work. I’m trying to fix him up with Gloria Steinbloom at Penny Palace, the supermarket where everything is two dollars or less.”
John said, “I’m glad it didn’t work out.”
Rose yelled, “The reason it didn’t work out was because you threw away her number!”
“Mom, I’m spending time with someone who’s more interesting than anyone else I have so far known. The best you can do is give me credit for hanging around high quality people.”
“Oh, so you think we’re beneath you? If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have been born. You are one of us. Like it or lump it. But you can’t deny it.”
“Mother, you’ll see me later. I hope you had a good time at lunch. We have to leave.” He and Janet continued walking.
From a distance, Rose was heard saying, “Don’t wiggle around, Harold! We’ll come with you to your doctor’s appointment.”
Harold said, “The name is Walter!”
A few more screams emanated from various Goldman personnel until John and Janet were far enough away for no more screams to be audible.
After walking a few more blocks, Janet pointed to a small cottage that looked like the sort of place John would like to live in if he ever had the chance. Janet said, “This is Spencer Tilden’s house.”
John asked, “What kind of personality does he have compared to Oliver Bentley?”
“It’s hard for me to tell because I only talked to him once and he acted like he preferred speaking with men.”
“Well, I’m a man. Maybe he’ll open up since I’m here.”
She shrugged. “It seemed more like he didn’t believe I was a partner in the firm. I have the suspicion either Luke or his brother Peter said something about me and Mr. Tilden wouldn’t tell me what it was.”
They approached Spencer’s house and rang the bell. A young man, approximately at least five years younger than John, opened the door. He smiled mischievously but did not say anything.
Janet said, “Mr. Tilden, I need to ask you a few things about the lawsuit between you and Mr. Bentley.”
Spencer shrugged. “I don’t know what you mean about a lawsuit.”
To John, Janet said, “That’s what I mean. He won’t admit to anything in front of me.”
Spencer still grinned. “If you’re talking about the money Luke Marvin wants to embezzle from Oliver, I know something about that but it wasn’t my idea. Would you like to come in?” He stepped back and motioned for them to enter.
Janet and John walked in. John said, “Thank you.”
Janet said, “For someone who wasn’t involved in it, your smile makes you look guilty.”
Spencer laughed. “Whatever you say. I think the whole thing is rather funny and I’m sure when you find out what I’m talking about, you’ll think so, too.”
Janet and John sat on the couch in the living room. Spencer sat on a recliner facing them. Janet said, “Please explain.”
Spencer continued to grin. “Before I do so, I have to ask you something. What are your feelings about Peter and Luke?”
“I consider Luke to be like a friend who I’m starting to mistrust. I don’t know Peter too well but I don’t necessarily like him better.”
Spencer said, “They act that way because they’re catching on to something but they don’t know what. I planned the whole ten dollars lawsuit charade with Oliver. We arranged for Luke and Peter to think Oliver has ten thousand dollars to lose. Peter suggested to Luke that they embezzle
ten grand from Oliver. Luke thinks it’s a ridiculous idea but he says that if they really do get the money he’ll take his share. When they fall for our trap, we’ll sue them for a lot more than ten grand.”
John said, “I think it’s an interesting idea.”
Spencer nodded. “It beats watching soap operas.”
Janet said, “I don’t know what I think about this but I’ll trust John. I need him.”
Spencer said, “I can tell by the way you’re clutching him. He might be the one who’ll solve your dilemma.”
To Janet, John asked, “What does he mean?”
She shrugged and stood up. So did John. Janet said, “That’s not something you need to know now. Right, Spencer?”
Janet walked outside, pulling John with her. She said, “I need to see your family in their true environment.”
John asked, “Why?”
“After I find out more about them, I can clue you in more on why I’m doing this.”
“Okay.” They continued walking down the street. They would reach the Goldmans’ apartments in four more blocks.