Arnold Dallow sat outside on the back patio, waiting. His family was inside, making dinner for his birthday party. They arrived uninvited at his house, as they did every year, not only for his birthday but every Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. He admired his friends’ families whose policies were to not bother each other and he wished his family could follow suit.
His mother, Jean, had knocked loudly on his door, with a lit cigarette in her mouth. He never smoked and his rule was no smoking at his place. However, she either never remembered or chose to ignore it. She was the only member of the family, other than he, not morbidly obese.
Also present was Darwin, Jean’s brother, and his daughter, Caitlin. They both weighed three hundred and fifty pounds each, though Darwin looked slightly less large because he was taller. Caitlin was a nice person and the only member of the family who did not irritate Arnold. Darwin was making a spitting sound with his mouth, causing driblets of spit to land by Arnold’s direction.
The other relative who showed up was Vanessa, Jean’s sister. She was the only one of the bunch who made decent food but she could never stop complaining the whole time she visited anyone. Also, Jean insisted on making the whole dinner and that made Vanessa’s presence completely pointless.
Arnold looked occasionally behind him to see what was going on in the house. He shut the patio door so he could not hear them but their gestures and mouth movements indicated they were still arguing. Earlier, the issue was how to cook the ham. Vanessa said, “I don’t want to bone the ham.”
Arnold responded, “It’s very difficult to cut into the ham when it has that large bone in the middle.”
Darwin said, “You shouldn’t bitch, Arnold. Your mother paid her hard earned money to buy you something wonderful. Four dollars for a large piece of meat is an excellent price.”
Vanessa said, “You use half the can and the ham is already loaded with salt and then you salt the food again when you serve it. If salt was a prostitute, you’d be the pimp or, more likely, the pimple. You’re a raggedy old ugly tramp who can’t even put on a decent dress on your son’s birthday. At least Darwin found clothes without holes or stains in them, even though not even a gay man on drugs would be attracted to the tub of lard.”
Darwin shook his head. “This is coming from the woman who is ten pounds heavier than me.”
Vanessa said, “You know I have a gland condition that makes me this way.”
Darwin laughed. “You’re not grand.”
Vanessa yelled, “I didn’t say grand! I said gland! Stupid moron! Get a hearing aid for your brain!”
Jean looked at Caitlin who was sitting in the living room, watching television. She was purposefully staying out of the conversation but not because she had nothing to say. If she said what she thought, she would not be able to stop. Watching television was more productive. However, Jean was annoyed and said, “Caitlin! I’d like you to come in here and help me baste this ham!”
Caitlin sighed and entered the kitchen. “What are you talking about? You don’t need to baste that type of ham. It’s forty percent water.”
Jean said, “I’m not using water. I’m using pureed asparagus.”
“That makes even less sense. Are you trying to make a meal that nobody can eat?”
“I’m trying to satisfy everybody! Seemingly, nobody wants salt on their food. They’ve all turned into hippies. So, they get asparagus.”
Arnold said, “Mom, I don’t really like the flavor of asparagus unless it has mayonnaise.”
Jean said, “Okay. I’ll add mayonnaise to the basting liquid.”
Arnold shrugged. “Why not just leave the ham alone and serve the mayonnaise on the side as a dip?”
Jean said, “I’m the one cooking dinner, not you. As it is, I have a wild rice and radish casserole with lemon meringue frosting to take care of. If you have nothing good to say than don’t say anything. How about you play that CD you brought, Caitlin?”
Caitlin said, “That would be great. I have Morris Albert or Patrick Hernandez.”
Arnold said, “I’m going outside. I need some time alone as my birthday present to myself.”
Darwin said, “Well, thanks a lot! Your family means nothing to you.”
Arnold smiled. “You mean a lot to me but you wouldn’t want to know how. Anyway, I’m going outside to get some fresh air. I’ll be back after a while.”
He was glad he made that choice. If everything happened how he hoped, he would see a treat. Across from him, with her patio facing his, was a neighbor who was very good looking. She lived on Hyacinth, the next street up from Bradford. Once or twice a week, he walked a half block up Bradford, turned on Harris and down Hyacinth one or two blocks so he could look at the houses which he thought looked slightly better than those on Bradford. He picked a time when perhaps the woman, who lived across from him, might be outside.
Her name was Angela Taylor, which he found out when they met. She had been talking to a man, presumably her next door neighbor. She asked, “Would you know where it’s located? I only know the one a couple of blocks away.”
The neighbor answered, “I hadn’t even known there was another close by. Maybe the gentleman would know.” He pointed at Arnold.
Arnold smiled. “I might. What are you looking to find out?”
Angela said, “I’ve heard there were two Lakeside Markets around here. One is supposed to have a section which sells fresh fish. I know that the one right around here doesn’t sell fresh fish. They only have canned sardines or pickled herring.”
Arnold said, “Oh, I know what you’re talking about. The store that sells fresh fish is Lakeside Groceries. The names are similar but they’re two totally different types of stores. Lakeside Market, is like a small corporate store that just sells regular stuff you can find in any supermarket but they raise their prices because it’s conveniet for people to go there instead of a regular chain market. Lakeside Groceries is run by a family who lives in town and it’s still consistent with their goal of selling some organic produce and better quality meats and fish. It’s on Parker Street, the same street Lakeside Market is on, but it’s up about ten blocks away.”
The neighbor waved and walked in his housel
Angela smiled. “Wow. You know a lot about this town, don’t you?”
Arnold said, “Not that much but I did know that.”
“Well, my name is Angela Taylor.”
“I’m Arnold Darrow.”
“Nice to meet you.”
She shrugged. “Well, I have to go inside. I’m making a pot roast and I like to check on it from time to time so it doesn’t get overcooked. Maybe we’ll talk again sometime.”
She went in her house. He walked back to his place. That little bit of conversation was worthwhile to him, not because of the information but because of what the experience meant to him. She had worn a long-sleeved polo shirt, with her sleeves pushed up and the shirt tucked into belted jeans. She was dressed attractively with attention to detail, unlike most of his other friends and acquaintances, especially family members. Not one member of the Darrow family, other than he, tucked in a shirt ever, nor did they wear clothes that matched and only on rare occasions were the clothes clean. Angela represented the type of woman he pictures as his ideal in the same way people watched situation comedies on television and imagined being a part of a fictional family.
The next day, as he was sitting outside on his patio, he noticed she walked out to her patio which was located directly facing his. She was wearing a white button work shirt tucked into belted slacks and her sleeves were rolled up. She noticed him ad waved. He waved back and she went inside her house. She must have gone out there to water a plant or do something else specific. However, that little bit of interaction with her made him feel there was something to appreciate when it happened and it would take his mind off of his problems.
Now, he noticed she was outside on her patio again. She must have been there a while and had either sat in a chair or had bent down but was not initially visible. When she got up, she glanced behind her and saw Arnold. She smiled and said, “Hi.” She was wearing a plain T-shirt tucked into running shorts.
Arnold thought she looked sexy and he appreciated what he saw, especially on his birthday. He said, “Hi. How are you?”
She shrugged. “Busy. There’s a lot of stuff I have to do. I have to rearrange some things in my house and it’ll take a while since I don’t have anyone to help me.”
He nodded. “I would help you but my family is here and we’re having a birthday party for me. But otherwise I’d be glad to help.”
“Oh, it’s your birthday? Happy birthday! If you’re serious about helping me, I could use you tomorrow. Does that sound good?”
She clapped her hands. “Yay! Okay, shall we say you’ll come over about eleven o’clock tomorrow morning?”
“Great! I’ll see you then.”
He laughed. “Believe me, it’ll seem more like a birthday party compared to what I have to deal with now.”
“Really? What’s going on?”
“Let’s just say family bickering, bad food and generally complete stupidity.”
She nodded. “Hmm. Sorry to hear that. Well, I tell you what. If you help me tomorrow, I might have a present for you. It’ll be something I think you’ll love.”
“I can’t wait.”
“Alright. Well, I have to go in and do some things. See you tomorrow.”
She and he waved. She walked back in her house. He continued to sit outside a while. Work was not his favorite activity, other than working on writing a story or a musical composition, but helping a woman neighbor like her would be more than work. It would be an opportunity to get to know her and see what she was wearing. Of the times he saw her, either on her patio or in her front yard as he walked down Hyacinth Street, she always wore her shirts tucked in, with no exceptions. He could not know for sure if she ever wore any shirt not tucked in but something in his consciousness, perhaps a metaphysical feeling, told him she did not. The way she wore her shirts seemed like her tucking them in was as important to the outfits as the clothes. So, when he went to her house tomorrow, he would see what specific outfit she would wear for his arrival. That was the real reason he wanted to help her. As shallow as surface appearances were, they could be interpreted as a sign of something else. In that instance, an appearance would represent how one person communicated feelings to another person. Of course, those ideas came to him because he was excited she would let him visit her. Yes, the idea was for him to do some work but, to one extent, his birthday party seemed like work to him because he was making an effort by not leaving altogether.
Twenty minutes later, he went back inside. Jean took the ham out of the stove. It looked actually okay. He asked, “What did you do right this time?”
Vanessa said, “I slapped her on the face and told her to stop being a space cadet and let me make this ham. She freaked out because her cigarette fell out of her mouth and she said it was her last cigarette. She was going to pick it up again but I scrunched it with my foot so there’s no way she could continue smoking it.”
Arnold smiled. “Thanks, Aunt Vanessa.”
“You’re welcome, sweetie. At least you have one smart person at your party. My brother is completely a loony who only thinks through his stomach and my sister is not sure where she put her brains. I think she threw them in the garbage. Caitlin, I don’t know if she ever had any brains. I think that, when she was born, out came both her and a television set and the set got the brains and she got the fat.”
Darwin said, “I do not have my brains in my stomach!”
Vanessa smiled. “I rest my case.”
Jean went in the living room and layed on the couch. “I think I’m having a heart attack.”
Darwin said, “I’ll call the ambulance.”
Vanessa grabbed the phone from him. “You will do no such thig. If the ambulance arrives, they’ll just make her feel better and she won’t drop dead soon enough. The stupid woman is only acting. She just wants Caitlin to buy her cigarettes.”
Caitlin said, “I’m not going to walk to the store just for cigarettes. Somebody will have to buy me a soda.”
Jean said, “You lazy bitch! After all that I’ve done for you, the least you can do is buy me some smokes.”
Caitlin shook her head. “After all the dirty lungs you gave me, the least I can do is let you give me more? I say no.”
Darwin said, “I’ll go and buy her cigarettes. Don’t eat my portion of the food!”
Vanessa said, “Don’t worry about that, Mr. Behemoth. You like to spice up your food to the point where not even a fire breather could put it in his mouth. I’m surprised you won’t have a heart attack. I’ve been wishing it on you for some years now.”
Caitlin said, “I think we should just eat. You’ve been using your mouths on words. It’s time to use your mouths on food.”
Darwin walked out of the house. Everyone else sat at the table and ate. During dinner, the conversation became less about each person’s stupidity or weight size and focused more on pet grooming and flower arranging. Caitlin insisted on playing another Patrick Hernandez CD. Arnold stayed quiet, hoping they would leave before too late in the evening. After everyone else ate, Darwin returned with candy cigarettes. Jean screamed at him and Arnold waved to everyone and went in his bedroom. An hour later, the noise stopped and he assumed they took the hint and left. However, he was not going to look, in case they were quietly waiting for him to return. Instead, he rested peacefully, thinking about the next day.