as things become so
in the circle behind the realm
we go along with food
insisting on tambourines and juice
as things become so
as things become so
in the circle behind the realm
we go along with food
insisting on tambourines and juice
Cover image courtesy of Sanna
Benny Ferguson was looking forward to the visit. His old neighborhood friend, Mort Takis, who used to live next door to Benny on Buchanan Road before moving to Somersville Street, had suddenly called him last Sunday, indicating he received a large inheritance from his grandfather’s will which left all surviving family members a portion of the money, and Mort used his share on buying a house on Prospect Avenue. Mort had said, “If you could get out of Buchanan and find someplace like where I’m living now, Benny, your life will be a lot happier.”
Benny responded, “I understand.” He wanted to tell Mort to mind his own business but realized there would be no point in his doing so. Some people would always act in certain ways.
Prospect Avenue was on a hill. Benny would have walked to the place but Peter, his brother, insisted on driving him. Benny understood why. He might have been able to make it up to Mort’s house but he would have been exhausted. However, when they finally reached the top where the road became level, Benny thought about how Mort was right. The neighborhood on Prospect was ten times better than on Buchanan, at least from the view.
When Mort’s house was reached, Peter stopped the car. Benny got out and waved to him. The car drove off and Benny heard people talking. Benny rang the doorbell.
Mort opened the door. “Just in time. You’re late.”
Benny frowned. “How do you mean?”
Mort laughed. “We haven’t seen each other for five years. I’d call that pretty late.”
Benny laughed. “Okay.”
He walked in. There were two other people in the house. One was a man who wore a black business suit with a white shirt. He stood in the kitchen, drinking from a bottle of beer. However, Benny noticed the man poured vodka into the beer bottle before sipping from it. He looked at Benny and smiled. He said, “I only drink the hard stuff but I want to look trendy. Nobody notices or cares. I’m John Baker.”
Benny waved. “I’m Benny Ferguson.”
John pointed to the living room. “Sophie’s on the phone, ordering pizza. I told her I wanted German food. There is a German restaurant two blocks from here. Hard to believe that, up on a hill, right? But they do great business. Well, it’s mostly people from the neighborhood but a lot of them are retired and don’t like to cook. Anyway, Sophie just likes to be argumentative. She says we can’t have a house party without pizza. I asked her who’s paying for it and she says Mort is. Can you get a load of that?”
Mort shook his head. “Don’t listen to him. I was the one who asked for pizza… and, no… there’s no German restaurant here. John’s just drunk.”
John said, “Hey, I’m a lawyer. I’m allowed to get drunk… and yes there is a German restaurant here. It’s called Oberfelder’s.”
Mort nodded. “Oh… that’s a restaurant? I thought it was a neighbor named Oberfelder.”
“They could live in a back room there for all that I know but it’s a small restaurant open four nights a week from five o’clock p.m. to nine. Mort just moved in here a couple of days ago. I’ve lived here ten years. I told him the place was for sale. He’s living here thanks to me.”
Mort pointed at Benny. “You could be living here thanks to me if you decided to move out of your mom’s house. Does she still smoke cigarettes like I remember?”
Benny said, “Yes.”
“I’m sure you don’t like that too much. I think your dad divorced her because of that, right?”
Benny shrugged. “It wasn’t just that but it’s true he couldn’t take it anymore.”
“Okay. Where is he living now?”
“That’s right. I remember. I knew he didn’t stay in California. You live in the most mundane part of Buchanan Street. You ought to move here on Prospect Avenue. There’s at least some culture here. When I moved from Buchanan to Somersville, it was not much of an improvement. There was a movie theater close by and that was about it. Where you live, there’s only dollar stores and not very good ones. There’s a Mexican restaurant that serves the most bland food I’ve ever eaten. What else is there?”
“There’s a check cashing center and a smoke shop where my mom buys her cigarettes.”
“Oh, yes. Very cultural, ha ha. You know, that isn’t much of anything. When Sophie gets off the phone, she can tell you more about what goes on here. She works at the library. I think she just shelves books but she hears about interesting things going on in town.”
Benny thought that Mort was too critical but had a point. On Buchanan, there used to be a large grocery store where one female cashier was slim and wore her shirts tucked in. Otherwise, the other cashiers, both men and women, were overweight and wore their shirts over their pants like some members of his family had dressed.
His uncle, Steve, was four hundred pounds and rode everywhere in a wheelchair. Steve could walk but chose not to do so, in case he suffered a heart attack. He lived next door to where Benny lived with his mother, Tabitha.
Benny’s father, Robert, called them on all holidays but never visited. Benny’s brother, Peter, lived two blocks away in an apartment that was not any better than where Benny and Tabitha lived, but at least Peter had privacy and smoke free living quarters. Benny had air fresheners in his room, turned on his fan and left his window open so he could stand living there. However, his mother, who was fifty years old but looked ninety on account of her facial wrinkles, stayed in bed most every day, smoked cigarettes every minute and tended to cook food from cans only. She was not as fat as Steve but she looked heavy enough at two hundred and seventy pounds. Even Peter was two hundred and forty pounds and not tall, looking heavier than Tabitha.
Benny, at two hundred and ten pounds, was concerned he would gain more weight if he continued living with his mother. For him to move to Prospect Avenue would be a step up for him, if it ever became possible.
Sophie hung up the phone. “I ordered Hawaiian pizza but told them to add mushrooms, bell peppers and artichokes.”
Mort said, “You know what I like. There’s someone I want you to meet.” He motioned for Benny to follow him in the living room. “Benny Ferguson, this is Sophie Marsh.”
Sophie extended her hand. “How do you do?” They shook hands.
Benny said, “I do well.”
She said, “I heard a lot about you from Mort. I live next door to him but I’ve known him for a long time. I used to live on Buchanan, also, close by Delta Fair Boulevard. I moved into my parents’ old house here when they retired to Florida and wanted me to have their place. You’ll be so glad you moved off of Buchanan.”
Mort cleared his throat.
She laughed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. There’s a few things going on at the library here, where I work. It’s six blocks away. For a neighborhood on a hill, Prospect has a lot going for it. The library is small but we have poetry readings and occasionally a folk rock guitarist does a small performance. Personally, I’d love to get to know you better.”
Benny was surprised to hear that. Sophie was good looking, with long blonde hair, dressed in a multicolored plaid shirt tucked into her black pants and her sleeves rolled up. He never thought he would meet someone like her, let alone hear her say she wanted to get to know him better. He also noticed she was still shaking his hand, something else he would not have imagined possible. On Buchanan, he was lucky to receive a hand touch from a cashier at the dollar store when handed change and the cashier was not always female and never slim.
From the kitchen, John asked, “Did you get the turkey pizza?”
Sophie stopped the shaking motion but still held on to Benny’s hand. She frowned. “What do you mean, John?”
“Thanksgiving is next week. Are we going to celebrate the holiday early by getting a pizza with turkey meat and mashed potatoes with gravy and some buttermilk biscuits on top?”
To Benny, she said, “Never mind him. He’s just drunk and joking around.” To John, she said, “That’s very funny, ha ha. Where would we get a pizza like that unless we made it from scratch? There’s no pizza place that would sell such a thing.”
John said, “Well, then, we make our own pizza. Screw the capitalist system, even though I work for the capitalists and I’m proud of it. We should have ordered a liverwurst hamburger at the German restaurant. It’s not too late to change up the curriculum.”
Sophie sighed. “If you want a liverwurst hamburger at Oberfelder’s, you can get it yourself. I can’t imagine it being anything I’d want to eat.”
“That’s because you sit in a library and answer phone calls. That’s all you do. You’re not cultured.”
Sophie shook her head and walked in the kitchen, pulling Benny with her. She said, “I shelve books. I’m not a librarian. I’m a clerical aid… and you’re not even a partner in your firm. You work for Patchett, Carey and Greene. Your boss is Richard Greene and he hired you because he’s usually too drunk to come into the office so you handle his cases for him.”
John patted himself on the shoulder. “Someone has to impersonate him and drink his booze on the job.”
“You know, I could report you to the Better Business Bureau and you’d get fired and you couldn’t afford your fancy place anymore.” She stuck out her tongue.
He grinned. “I’ll have you know that the law isn’t about what’s right or wrong but about what’s legal or illegal. It’s also about proving it. Is it illegal for me to drink on the job? Only if I’m caught, which I never am.”
From the living room, Mort asked, “Benny, could you come here for a moment?”
Benny said, “Excuse me” and started to walk.
Sophie gripped his hand tighter and said, “Wait.”
Mort said, “It’s okay, Benny. I don’t need your help now.”
Sophie said, “John Baker, I bet you haven’t even read a novel in your life. You’re the type of person who gets magazines about pet care even though you don’t own a pet and you read it from cover to cover because you think you’re expanding your horizons.”
John patted his stomach. “If I wanted to expand my horizons, I’d eat more portions like Steve Ferguson.”
Sophie said,. “Shhh.”
John nodded. “Sorry.”
Mort asked, “Are you all having a fun conversation?”
Sophie, Benny and John went in the living room. Sophie said, “We’re just trying to show Benny how neighbors converse with each other.”
Mort nodded. “I remember a conversation Benny’s brother, Peter, had with me. It mostly was about action films and chili cheese flavored corn chips but there was a small part about him wishing he could escape to a better world. He said his apartment wasn’t what he meant but it was a start and he hoped Benny could move somewhere else, also. That was all he said, then. I talked with him again last Sunday and the conversation was a bit more interesting. I won’t repeat most of it but he said his mother and uncle needed help and he was concerned about Benny.”
John smiled. “Hey, this is meant to be a kickback afternoon… everybody getting sloshed… no rules. Seriousness can be for another day.”
Mort nodded. “That is correct. I’m sorry we hadn’t gotten together earlier, Benny. We should have met up for coffee, at least. I just had a large work schedule and I was tired when I got home. I did write to you a few times, correct?”
Benny said, “You sent me some gifts for my birthday. Those were really great progressive rock CDs. Thank you so much.”
“Sure thing. It’s the least I could do… but I should have come over. You were my best friend all during high school.”
“I know… but I understand. Situations change. I never was one who thought things had to stay exactly how they are without differences occurring.”
“Thank you for saying that. It makes me feel better.”
Sophie nodded. “Especially since you’re helping him now.”
Benny asked, “What’s going on?”
Sophie shook her head. “It doesn’t matter right now. Just stay with me and enjoy the party.”
Benny was concerned. Sophie was still holding his hand and the mood seemed a bit mysterious as if, behind the facade, there was something serious going on. First, Mort mentioned Benny’s moving in the neighborhood and then Sophie, the next door neighbor, was keeping him with her. What was the conversation Mort had with Peter? Benny felt uneasy. He said, “I’d like to go outside for a minute or two and look at the houses. I liked what I saw before knocking on your door. Is that okay?”
Sophie shrugged. “Sure. Let’s do that.”
“Can I go out there alone?”
“I want to come with you.”
“I’ll only be a minute but I just want to walk a block or two by myself.”
“I understand but I can explain things to you about the houses. I’ve lived here a long time.”
He tried pulling his hand free but was not able to do so. She continued holding firmly. He said, “Please let go.”
“It’s better if I accompany you outside.”
He pulled harder. “Why are you doing this?”
Her eyes widened. “Mort, I think we have a problem…”
John said, “Benny, old buddy, what you need is a drink. Would you like some Vodka?”
Benny thought for a moment. He wanted to avoid becoming too overwhelmed by whatever was happening. Perhaps a drink would allow him to interpret the situation with a calmer perspective. “Okay. Can I have more than one shot?”
John did a thumbs up. “For you, my man, the sky is limitless. I have some of the best imported stuff from Russia. Don’t ask me how I got it. Let’s just say I know people. Anyway, I brought the supply so don’t worry about using up any of Mort’s liquor because that won’t be the case.” He poured him a glass, half with Vodka and half water.
Benny took the drink and guzzled half of it. “Thanks. Whenever I drink alcohol, I either sip straight from the bottle and then have a chaser, usually water, or I have a mixed drink like this. Very good. Have you ever been a bartender?”
John shrugged. “Only at parties… and I wouldn’t call it bartending as much as just guarding the booze.”
Benny laughed. “That’s cool.”
Sophie smiled. “Thanks, John. He’ll be nice and relaxed for when we get back to my place.”
Benny asked, “Is he your boyfriend?”
Sophie shook her head. “No. I was saying you’re coming home with me.”
John said, “You’ll like it better than where you’re staying.”
Benny was nervous. “Huh?”
Mort said, “Give him another drink. This time, make it just a straight shot and a chaser of orange juice. That’s what I use when I get surprising news.”
Benny asked, “Are you keeping me here?” He tried pulling his hand free again but Sophie’s grip was too tight.
John laughed. “This is all just fun and games. We are having a party. Nobody’s trying to do anything. Here, have another drink. I knew Mort wanted me to serve these separate but I mixed them because it tastes better.”
Benny finished what was in the first glass, gave it to John and took the second drink and swallowed it in one gulp. He said, “I thought you all were serious for a moment.”
Mort nodded. “Everything will be okay.”
“That means I’m going home tonight, correct?”
Sophie said, “You’ll be in your new home.” She kissed his hand.
Benny shook his head. “Peter’s coming for me tonight, correct?”
Mort sighed. “Do you want to talk to him?”
John said, “I think we should put on some dance music. How about Mariachi? Maybe some polka. Everybody rhumba! Maybe the Watusi.”
Mort nodded. “Give Benny another drink.”
Benny said, “I know I’m quite drunk now and I’m probably reading this wrong but it seems like Sophie’s planning on holding my hand forever.”
Sophie sighed. “If anything happens to you, I’m responsible.”
The phone rang. Mort answered it. “Hello? Okay, one moment. Bring Benny here.”
Sophie pulled Benny in the living room with her.
Mort handed the phone to him and said, “It’s Peter.”
Benny said, “Hello.”
Peter asked, “How are things?”
“There’s a woman named Sophie who shook my hand but has been holding on since and refuses to let go. She says I’m coming home with her.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Peter cleared his throat. “I didn’t know how to explain it to you. Uncle Steve was responsible for paying the rent both for his place and our mother’s. He’s skipped payment for a few months so they’re being forced to leave tonight. I wanted to get you out of there. I’m going to arrange for them to be put in a facility. I could have done that to you because you’re somewhat incompetent and need help with basic survival skills but I’m glad I don’t have to do that now.”
“Are you telling me you planned everything that’s happening to me?”
“Mort agreed to help. I didn’t know Sophie would be involved but I’ve met her and I think everything is all for the best.”
Benny was shocked. He could not handle hearing more. He handed the phone to Mort. “Here you go.”
To Peter, Mort said, “We’ll talk later.” He hung up.
Sophie patted Benny’s hand with her other hand. “Cheer up.”
From the kitchen, John said, “I think he needs another drink.”
Marcus Shaw was understanding what his parents meant when they mentioned feelings of newness when arriving in another country. His real name, Marek Stawski, appeared on his checks. Otherwise, he used the Americanized moniker for work purposes. As a lawyer for the firm of Mills, Devare, and Lane, his boss, Patrick Mills, was more concerned with appearance than conduct. After all, they were in the law business. Morals could be manipulated with the right amount of money from a wealthy client. Mr. Mills presented Marcus Shaw as a substitute because Mills was not as handsome. Frank Robinson, whom Marcus was to meet, need not know anything other than that Patrick Mills was unable to attend the session.
Though California was in the same country, Marcus felt a difference between Minneapolis, Minnesota and what he observed so far at the Oakland Airport. The weather was warmer now. He preferred usually cooler temperatures but the sun was not completely overwhelming. He could handle it for one or two days. Mr. Robinson was standing in the lobby, holding up a sign with the name Marcus Shaw on it. Marcus approached him. Robinson nodded. “Good afternoon, Mr Shaw. I am slightly puzzled why Mr. Mills couldn’t make it, especially since he’s the person working with me.”
Marcus said, “You can meet him when you come into Minneapolis. He was not able to show up for this meeting.”
They walked towards a car. Robinson said, “I understand that. Why couldn’t he?”
Marcus shrugged. “He just couldn’t.”
“That sort of response irritates me. You people in the law business are so smug. You act like a client needs to dust off his suit coat before talking to you and then he has to salute you because your soul is made of gold. But, I won’t argue. Let’s get this over with.”
Marcus laughed. “Actually, it’s platinum and that’s not my soul, it’s my esophagus.”
Robinson nodded. “Okay, that was funny. I like you.” They walked in the car.
On the drive towards 15th and Madison where they were headed, they listened to a jazz station. Neither said anything. The music took Marcus out of work mode and put him in the frame of mind of someone relaxing on a sofa, with a cup of hot tea, while outside the rain stormed heavily. Robinson had the heater on in the car but Marcus did not mind. He did not like the hot sun baking on him but the air flow of warmth generated by a heater was refreshing to him. He appreciated the type of energy it produced.
When they arrived at 1522 Madison Street, he realized they were at an apartment complex. He asked, “Is this where we will do business?”
Robinson answered, “The time is four o’clock in the afternoon. You must be tired from the plane ride. I’m not inhuman like some of your clients and I’m sure a few coworkers are. Patrick Mills, whom I’ve only had the pleasure to speak with on the phone, is probably wondering if you’ve already signed the papers. This is where you’ll sleep tonight. I don’t know how things are where you live but here, in Oakland, you notice this is a residential neighborhood. There is a corner cafe and a convenience store a couple of blocks down the street. About six blocks further, there’s a lot of restaurants in case you’re in the mood to eat something. The library is open for another hour and a half. You may want to go there and read a book. We can discuss business tomorrow.”
They got out of the car. Robinson handed him some keys. “The key with the green tip is for the front door. The other key is for the mailbox but I’m sure you won’t need to use that unless you want to pick your teeth. I worked once with someone who did that. Nothing surprises me. You have my phone number. I’m leaving. I’ll come back tomorrow and bring you in my office. Don’t worry, though, if you somehow think I’m going far far away. I live three blocks away on 15th and Harrison and the office is five blocks away on 12th and Alice Street. Good day, Mr. Shaw.” He went in his car and drove away.
Marcus saw the apartment, B6, was right next to where he was standing. He unlocked the door, opened it and went inside. Several minutes after he took off his coat and put his suitcase on the table in the living room, he heard a knock on the door. He opened the door and noticed a young woman standing outside. He said, “Hello.”
She waved and said, “You must be Patrick Mills. My name is Amita Khatri. I am a personal friend of Frank Robinson. He asked me to come and look to see if the place was clean and to your liking. I am not a maid. You can think of me more like an inspector. I am just here to report whatever you say to me so Frank is happy. He said you preferred women who wear dresses but I am sorry. I cannot accommodate that way of thinking.”
Marcus noticed Amita was wearing a sweatshirt tucked into belted jeans with her sleeves pushed up, a look he did not see anyone wear in his hometown but that was intriguing and more attractive than the typical buttoned blazers and skirts most female clients adorned during their encounters with him, partly because his boss preferred that look on women. However, Marcus agreed very little with anything his boss liked, except for winning cases. They shared the same amount of enthusiasm for that. He said, “You’re in luck. I’m not Patrick Mills.”
She walked in the apartment and Marcus shut the door. Amita looked at him for a whole minute, standing still and nodding slowly. Finally, she smiled and said, “This changes everything. You simply do not know how differently everything will be.”
He was nervous. “Is that good or bad?”
“I cannot answer that. What have your impressions been about our introductory remarks?”
“They were fine. I must tell you, I like your outfit. I am glad you did not take advice from my boss.”
She nodded. “My answer to you, then, is that the afternoon will go by most pleasantly. Are you in the mood for Malaysian cuisine? I know a place that serves an excellent Tom Yum soup.”
“That might be good. Can I see the bedroom first, though? Whenever I stay in an apartment other than my own or a hotel, I like to see where I’ll sleep. It’s how I psychologically put myself in the right mental place.”
“That is fine. I am accompanying you.”
They entered the bedroom. The bed looked pleasant with green sheets. Amita shut the door and approached Marcus. “Do not worry. We aren’t going to stay in here. I just want your aesthetic sense of the room to be complete. I assume you will be shutting the door tonight?”
She extended her hand. “Very good. What is your name?”
“Marcus Shaw.” He gave her his hand.
They shook. “This is an important moment for us, Marcus.”
He noticed she kept shaking his hand for five seconds, then ten and twenty and then close to a whole minute. Marcus wondered if she was waiting for him to let go first. However, when he tried to do so, she continued gripping tight. She stopped the shaking motion but still held on.
She shook her head. “There is no need for you to try to remove this union. It does not come off.” She walked towards the door, opened it, and went in the living room, pulling him with her.
Marcus frowned. “I don’t understand what’s happening.”
“You don’t have to understand it. I am in control of the flow. Your boss, whom I think of as Mr. Nothing, is a flavorless chip. You have a good way about you and I want to preserve what we share between us because it is special.”
He laughed nervously. “It almost sounds like you want us to stay like this always.”
“It is beautiful. Fate will guide you in our travels and good luck will abound. It will never stop.”
He tried pulling his hand free but could not do so. “I can’t believe you’re serious.”
She sighed. “If we are to get Tom Yum soup, we can do so. The restaurant closes in two hours. There’s plenty of time for us to eat and then be on our way.”
“What if I don’t want soup?”
“There are many restaurants. You can choose.”
He shrugged. “Whatever.”
“Come on.” She opened the front door and walked, pulling him outside. ්
In Antioch, where John Sigel lived, there was only one place a person could go in which to get excitement. At the mall, located at the corner of Sommersville and Buchanan, homeless drunks sat outside the front of where FoodMaxx used to be. They would stay there for hours, occasionally throwing beer bottles as far as they would go until they landed with a crash on the parking lot. The gestures were both defiant and symbolic, demonstrating that almost no cars drove through there, especially since most of the businesses shut down except for the corner liquor store and a laundromat. The drunks were also bored, feeling insignificant in the town where most of the population was middle aged families who spent their leisure hours watching television infomercials on how to get government grants.
If such was not technically true about everyone in town, it seemed true enough for John who lived with his mother, Sheila. She never married and John never knew or met any of the eleven possible men who could have been his father, only four of whom did he know names. He grew up for sixteen years with a foster family in San Anselmo, a place without a lot of action but at least with some book stores and cultural events in the auditorium at Sir Francis Drake high school, several blocks away from Sleepy Hollow Drive where he lived with the Bakers, Norman Baker, a longshoreman with a teacher’s credential and Phoebe Baker, a secretary at the Lutheran church. John received word from his estranged mother after her parents died. Noah and Naomi Siegel had been ashamed that their daughter had gotten pregnant and they told her she could either give the child up for adoption or live on the street. After enough arguing ensued, a compromise resulted. She could still be the legal mother while John lived in foster care. She was allowed to visit him four times a year but otherwise was told to keep her distance, which John did not understand until he moved in with her on his sixteenth birthday.
At that time, grandfather and grandmother Siegel were very old and dying. They put money in Sheila’s bank account, as opposed to leaving her money, after they deceased, in a will, because they regretted not knowing their grandson, John, and wanted her to have enough money to finish raising him. He knew his grandfather for one month until he died. Grandmother Naomi died two weeks later. She was shocked to hear John was raised a Lutheran and refused to see him unless he went through a ritual to be Jewish. Grandfather Noah was not too serious about religion and did not care. He would meet John at Sheila’s apartment.
Sheila lived with six cats and chain smoked. She got emphysema and had to use oxygen, breathing from a tube, when she was not lighting up a cigarette. She lived in an apartment complex next to her brother, uncle Asher and his wife, aunt Antonietta. They subsisted on canned raviolis and ramen noodle soup. Uncle Asher finally needed to go to dialysis three days a week to clean his blood because his kidneys failed. Aunt Antonietta lived for several years after John moved in with his mother but then his aunt died. Natural causes was the official reason given bur John figured the family was embarrassed to admit poor diet intake was the cause.
Now, ten years after first moving in with his mother, John finally felt a sense of accomplishment. He moved into his own apartment last month and he finally knew how independence felt after thirty days of coming down from Siegel family detoxification. Well, he lived six doors away from his mother so it was the same building and he did so because his mother agreed to pay his rent if he did not move far from her but he still appreciated any distance from his family. Uncle Asher, riding in a wheelchair for the last year though he could still walk but chose to be lazy, would visit Sheila and John, constantly asking for glasses of water, which John gave him every five or ten seconds. Asher also made an odd popping sound with his mouth, causing droplets of spit to land on John”s arm. Sheila would ask John to go to the store and buy cigarettes. After he would return from the store, she would ask him to get cat litter. He wondered why he had to make two trips instead of one and she said she forgot about the cat litter at first. Since he moved to his apartment, Sheila and Asher did not bother him. However, he was always on guard alert-wise in case that changed.
He remembered San Anselmo with fondness, knowing he could visit it if he chose to do so but figured the commute was too long and inconvenient on bus. The Bakers had died, Norman three years ago and Phoebe two. He visited them once a year on Labor Day, Norman’s favorite holiday because he liked the history behind the day whatever it was, until he died. He had driven John to and from their house so John had not needed to take public transportation but Phoebe did not know how to drive so John settled for calling her that last labor day. Now, he wished they were still alive so he could revisit the area for a certain reason. He liked how the women dressed in San Anselmo.
Winn John was in grammar, junior high and two years of high school, the girls would sometimes wear their shirts tucked in, either with jeans or skirts. They did not do so all the time but, when they did, John was aroused at how the shirts would tighten and crease when the girls stretched their arms to yawn or bent down to pick up pennies. If one waved at him as he passed by, he felt a special thrill like he was of high quality. After moving to Antioch, the whole scene changed.
He graduated from Antioch High School but, for the two years he went there, he could not remember one female student wearing any top tucked in. He saw Antioch as the opposite of San Anselmo, almost as an us versus them war. However, on the day he moved into his new apartment, another incident happened that he had not thought seriously about until right now. He realized that, even in a town like Antioch where nothing exciting happened, there were exceptions to the rule.
While he had lived with his mother, he had stayed home more often than he would have preferred because she could need him during any moment to do an errand for her. However, his Independence allowed him to leave on his own schedule, whether he wanted to go to the mall and watch the bums throw bottles or just to his mailbox so he could pretend he received an important letter. At five o’clock pm, on his first excursion after moving in, he noticed a young woman and she passed him by. He looked at her because she was wearing her shirt tucked in. She was heavy set and, in his experience, a woman like her was usually afraid of wearing a top tucked in unless she was bold and smart, realizing that anyone could look sexy if dressed appropriately. When she walked by, she said hello to him. He felt suddenly aroused. She was wearing a long sleeved polo shirt tucked into belted blue jeans with the sleeves pushed up. According to John, a woman who pushed up her sleeves while wearing a tucked in shirt was focused specifically on looking that way. He wondered if her outfit was a one-time scenario or perhaps something she did a few times now and again.
The next day, just in case things happened in synchronicity, he walked down the street again at five o’clock. She passed by once more, wearing another tucked in top, a long sleeved T-shirt, with belted jeans and the sleeves pushed up. She said hello again to him.
Every day since, he left his apartment at five o’clock, passing her by. Every day she wore a long sleeved top tucked in and, depending on whether or not it was a button shirt, the sleeves either rolled up or pushed up. She also always wore belted jeans. One day, the top was a sweatshirt. That was exciting. He had no idea if her tucking in everything, weather regular shirts or sweatshirts, was purposeful or a coincidence but he knew the situation was a metaphysical mystery, not necessarily important in the grand scheme of life, but he knew damn well he could not miss a day of seeing what she would be wearing. After all, she had said hi to him every day. What if she expected him to be there? He would let her down if he did not show up one day. She might decide not to wear her shirt tucked in anymore. He did not want to be responsible for that happening.
However, now that the time was fifteen minutes to five, he was on his way to mosey on down the street accidentally on purpose. He figured that enough time had passed between them so he was not a stranger. He could initiate more conversation. He owed that much to her. She always said hello first and that had taken initiative on her part. After a month with nothing more than hello between them, he did not want her to think there would be nothing beyond that. She might one day decide not to say hello first to see if he would start. Since part of the fun had been how she always started, he would wait. Then, she would continue walking and the consistency would be ruined. He needed to ask her something today. She needed to know he appreciated her acknowledgement. Of course, such a thing depended on if she again said hello first. If today was an exception, the day would have no meaning. He became extremely nervous. However, he knew she would say hello just like he knew she would wear her shirt tucked in. Yet, what if she did not? Uh oh.
Wait. Do not panic. The time was one minute to five and he walked outside. Yes, like clockwork, she was walking towards him. She was wearing a navy blue and white argyle sweater, tucked into her dark blue jeans with a brown belt. Her sleeves were pushed up. She looked at him with a smile hinting that she figured something was going to happen. Her hello even indicated as such. Instead of his usual one word response, he said, “Hello, I just thought I’d say that I like your outfit.”
She stopped. Her eyes got wide. “Really, now!”
He said, “My name is John. My last name is Siegel. I’m John Siegel. I just thought I would mention it. Not that you needed to know on this particular day. I’ll shut up now.” He became embarrassed.
She laughed. “I understand awkwardness. My name is Denise Harlow. I was wondering when you would be introducing yourself.”
He felt relieved. “Oh, wow. Well, I’m glad because I’ve been walking here every day by this time to see you and… Shut up, me!” He was angry with himself.
She shrugged. “It’s cool. I knew it. Would you want to go out sometime?”
He was excited. “Oh, absolutely! That would be great! When is a good time?”
“I’m not busy now. I mean, I just have to go home and put away my books but then I’m yours from that moment on.”
“Okay. Do you want me to wait here or something? How far is it from where you live?”
“I live in the Buchanan Apartments. It’s right here, a half block away.”
“That’s so cool! I live there, also.”
“How nice. Maybe I can see your place after I put away my books.”
Neither said anything as they walked back to Buchanan Apartments, as if the anticipation and magic would be dispelled by small talk. Now was the time to just let the experience come.
Her apartment was next door to his. She opened her door, put her books on the table close by, and shut it again. She said, “Let’s see your place.”
He pointed next door.
She nodded. “That is definitely convenient. I have everything set already.”
He was not sure what she meant but he did not care. He opened his door and pointed inside. “There it is.”
“It looks so empty. Where is everything?”
“I left most of my things at my mom’s apartment. I haven’t gone there to get them. I’m afraid I’ll be bringing a part of her in here if I put my stuff in.”
“That’s pretty strange but in a way that I like. Can I come in? I’ll make your place feel less empty.”
They went inside. He said, “You’re right. It does look better with you here.”
She stood by a wall. “How about now? Does it look better with me standing here?”
He said, “If you were a book, I’d wonder what you say.”
She held out her hand. “Connect with me.”
He walked towards her and gave his hand.
She held tight. “Officially, our date has begun.”