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.”