The rest of yesterday was a blur. Perhaps we went to the delicatessen and ordered a yam and cheese sandwich instead of the turkey meatloaf but I would not be able to confirm it as reality or dream. The news of how my mother wronged me was the one vivid incident in my thoughts. Nothing, not even Connie’s handshake, bothered me.
When I woke up around seven o’clock, the light outside was just forming and I had not yet noticed clearly how the room appeared. Connie was sleeping on her back, still wearing the shirt tucked in. It seemed firmly rooted as if it would need pliers to pull on it before it worked loose. I might not have thought of that if not for our spending so much time together.
I got up to go to the bathroom and then realized we were still connected. I tried letting go but, even in sleep, her grip remained firm. I wiggled our hands around like a clownish handshake and then remembered what happened. I said, “Sorry.”
She did not respond. She was either asleep or pretending to be so. I figured I could wait until she was ready to present herself as awake. In the meantime, I would think about the events leading up to what happened. Maybe I could see an overall design.
Before we lived in Buchanan, we were in Summersville. In no way did it compare to an area like San Francisco. Summersville was like a ghost town compared to any big city but people went to the movies and ate out occasionally. There were things a normal family could do.
I remember once, at the movie theater, some kids my age were sitting one row down from me, to my right. A boy said he hurt his finger and the girl next to him said she wanted to see it. He tried pulling it out but she laughed and kept holding on until an adult, probably a mother to one or all of the kids, sat down. The girl let go. I was intrigued and thought to myself, “What if the mother did not show up?”
For a while, maybe a whole year, I observed people, kids or otherwise, when one held another’s finger or engaged in thumb wrestling. I would observe if one grabbed the other’s finger and not let go. Maybe once that happened for approximately ten seconds but otherwise no. Eventually, I stopped caring.
Then, I remembered a girl named Mona White. We were in kindergarten, all the way to fourth grade, together. She was not really memorable but not anonymous either. She hung around the other girls and acted like the rest of them. Somehow, by fourth-grade, girls experimented with
ways to wear clothes. Some girls always wore loose shirts. Others would do the same thing except once every two weeks would wear tucked in shirts as if it was a special treat. Others tucked in their T-shirts but not their sweaters. Mona tucked in everything. Maybe not during the first week of fourth grade but, after noticing other girls tucking in their T-shirts, she followed suit. One day, the kids were all supposed to wear a special Christmas sweatshirt to celebrate something I do not remember. Mona was the only kid who wore it tucked in.
I remember seeing her look embarrassed and about to pull it out but a friend of hers, another girl, shook her head. I assumed she said Mona looked fine. Mona nodded with confidence, kept the sweatshirt tucked in and then never wore anything untucked after that. I did not think I was attracted to her per se but I was intrigued. She became the most memorable girl to me because I knew in advance how she would wear her clothes and I wanted to see what particular shirt or sweater or sweatshirt she would tuck in next.
After fourth grade she went to another school and I only saw her twice, a few years later, walking with friends. She still wore her shirt tucked in, at least from what I noticed those two random days. Without my having any evidence whatsoever, I assumed she continued that style still.
Until now, I had totally forgotten those incidents from my boyhood. They were important to me then but later disappeared from significance. I wondered why that happened.
I could imagine the move to Buchanan caused incidents to change as well as my priorities. I became used to people who were not interesting. My parents had friends who were dumb as dirt and eventually mother and father were not far behind.
Suddenly, Connie opened her eyes and said, “Good morning.”
I asked, “Did you just wake up?”
She said, “I think I was awake for a while.”
“Alright. Well, I wanted to go to the bathroom.”
“Sure. Come on.” She got up and I followed her in the bathroom. I unfastened and pulled down my pants and sat down. After I was finished, she helped me with her free hand to button my pants. She said, “I don’t need to use it yet.”
I could have said, “Thank goodness.” I refrained from doing so because then I would have to explain why I said it.
She would ask, “What do you mean?”
I would say, “I would see parts of your body unclothed.”
She could say, “Yes. Isn’t that exciting?” Instead, she could say, “Of course. Is there something about my body that bothers you?”
I would not tell her what I meant. I would not say, “There’s something magical seeing you in a tucked in shirt. When your pants are down, the magic is ruined.” I would not say that because she might feel self-conscious about how she dressed if she knew I was paying attention to something she may have been aware of but not to the extent I had been. I would not mention how I felt about her clothes at all, partly because I did not want her to change her natural style and partly because I did not want to encourage any reason she may have for wanting to hold on to me.
She smiled. “You look nice.”
I nodded. “Thank you. Likewise.”
“I have an idea of something we could do today.”
“There’s a park about eight blocks away. It’s called Reconnaissance Park. Don’t ask me why it’s called that. It’s a nice place to sit and look at nature. Sometimes, there’s loudmouth drunks as well but don’t worry. I know most of them.”
“I didn’t think those kind of people went here. It’s a steep road. Most bums wouldn’t attempt it.”
“They’re not bums. They’re neighbors. They might look hungover but they will be wearing designer outfits.”
“Hmm. I never knew anyone in that category.”
She laughed. “It’s good to get out of your rut and do something unexpected. You say you want material for your next novel.”
“Charles said that.”
“Fine. But you’ll get more interesting characters if you meet some.”
I wanted to ask how could I write if she would not let go of my writing hand but I did not want to start an argument.
She pulled me outside and said, “Come on.” When we walked towards the sidewalk, I heard Charles say, “Good morning.” He and Teddy were sitting outside on the same chairs as yesterday, as if they never moved.
Teddy said, “Here’s something funny, Stephen. Your mother calls me and asks where you are. How did she know you were helping us? I didn’t tell her.”
Charles said, “Actually, you did.”
Teddy laughed. “Shame on me. Anyway, how are you this morning, Stephen?”
I said, “I guess I’m alright.”
“That’s better than guessing you’re not. So, your mom calls me and tells me about how she wants you home with her. I asked her why. She said you could buy her cigarettes.”
“I’m afraid I’m not going to do that for her ever again. If she wants to die from ill health, she’ll get no help from me.”
Charles said, “The difference between us is that I was raised differently for ten years. I wasn’t around incompetency. I had decency. That doesn’t mean I chose what happened. I did not. It was brought to me but I had decent people around me and it did the trick. Your parents – our parents, actually – didn’t teach you anything. It’s a wonder you can walk and talk.”
“I’m not that bad off.”
“Yes you are. You need mommy’s help getting a place but you don’t even have any furniture except for a table I gave you and a bed.”
“It’s just a hotel room.”
“Yes but even a cabinet with drawers would be good for your clothes. Do you still keep everything piled on the floor?”
“Only my clean clothes are on the floor.”
“Oh. Does that mean you fold and put away your dirty stuff?”
“I don’t have any dirty stuff.”
“That might be not true.”
To Teddy, I asked, “How was the conversation with my mom? Was it pleasant or upsetting?”
Teddy nodded. “It was revealing. She talked more about her cigarettes than you. She said she had a crush on the guy at the smoke shop and she was hoping you would come home soon so you could get to know the guy.”
“I’m not interested in him.”
“She could have been thinking you could put in a good word for her.”
“He likes her enough. She pays for everything with her credit card and the payment goes through. He’s overweight, has a funny shaped nose and never smiles. I think I once saw him kissing another man.”
Teddy shrugged, “I’m just telling you what she told me. Maybe she likes fat men. She married a fat man, right?”
“Father wasn’t four hundred pounds until later in life.”
“Hmm. Was he three hundred back then?”
“He was but he worked hard and provided for the family.”
Charles said, “He provided his family with coming home fat. He bought his own food which your mother and you didn’t share.”
To Connie, I asked, “Would you like to go to the park now?”
She said, “Those bums, as you referred to them, are sounding better now, I take it.”
“Anything is better than when Charles criticizes the family.”
She shrugged. “It’s entertaining in a weird way.”
If what Charles said was entertaining, it was because some people had not heard him talk about his adoptive parents before. His adoptive father worked as a longshoreman but he also had a teacher’s credential. Charles’ adoptive mother worked as a switchboard operator. She was apparently overweight but not at all close to how large my father was. She taught Charles how to play piano and the adoptive father exposed him to a lot of literary books. Charles said he was not a great composer like Teddy but he appreciated music and literature. I understood that Charles had a better first ten years than mine and that was why I was tired of his criticisms.
Teddy was not a member of our family by last name anymore. He formed conclusions about us based on what he observed. If my mother talked to him weirdly, he would say so. I would have preferred him saying my mother was acting normal but then I also wanted her to do that.
I pointed and said, “Let’s go.” Connie and I walked up a nice looking street where all the houses were like cottages. Whenever I saw a cottage, I thought of cottage cheese, not only eating it but looking at the picture of the farm and a cow on the container. Those houses reminded me of that part of my childhood.
The road finally became a dead end where the park was located. There were a few rows of benches where people could sit. Two people were sitting already. One was a guy who wore a denim jacket and loose dirty white T-shirt and jeans with holes in the knees. He would have resembled a few of the homeless people in Buchanan except he seemed to be looking that way on purpose. The tears on his clothing were too stereotypically employed to be random. The holes in the jeans looked cut in place with scissors.
He was with a woman who wore a white thick turtleneck sweater tucked tightly into black jeans with a brown belt. She did not look like anyone I knew but seemed familiar anyway. Her white hair looked bleached and frizzed out like a punk rocker.
They were sitting there as if they had been smoking cigarettes but there were no cigarettes around and no smell either.
Connie said, “Let’s sit down.” We chose a seat two places away from the couple.
Even though the time was morning, something about the park seemed to belong always to the afternoon or night. The breeze reminded me of late afternoons and the trees seemed to be a part of a mid afternoon winter scene before winter approached.
The woman looked at me and would not stop. The man did not notice. He seemed to be in deep philosophical thought. I did my best not to look directly at the woman but I could not help but notice her.
Connie pointed at the sky. “Isn’t it great here?”
I said, “Yes.” My voice was quiet. I was too aware of the woman’s stare.
The woman said, “Hello.” Her voice was gentle but her stare was unsubtle.
I looked at her as my response but did not speak.
She said, “Excuse me. Hello.”
I nodded. “Hi.”
She nodded also. “Okay. Steven Jacobs. Am I right?”
Her knowing who I was made me less nervous, even though I still did not recognize her. I said, “That’s me.”
She approached us and nodded. “We went to school together. My name was Mona White. It still is but my street name is Mona Doodle Doo.”
Connie asked, “Are you a hooker?”
“No. Not that meaning of street. In the hippie sense like street performer.”
I said, “I remember the name Mona White.” I did not want to say that I thought about her that morning and I could tell she was her because of the tucked in sweater.
She said, “Do you remember me other than the name?”
“I remember you were in my class up to the fourth grade.”
She nodded. “Okay. Did you know I had a major crush on you?”
“That I didn’t know.”
“When I went to sleep at night, I would imagine I was hiding under your bed and hearing you snore. Otherwise, I couldn’t fall asleep.”
I was getting nervous. She sounded a bit crazy. The strange hairdo did not help any. But, when I looked closely, I could recognize her facial features. I said, “Well, we were kids then. Kids do strange things.”
She said, “I still do it.”
“Hmm. Does it help?” I would have preferred having this conversation if Connie were not around.
She folded her arms. “It’s a placebo. Having you near me would be the real help.”
The man got up. “Would you be quiet?”
She said, “Stop it, Zebra!”
He walked towards us. “Do you remember me, Stephen?”
I said, “Not offhand. What’s your name?”
“My real name is Bobby Davis. My street name is Zebra Peanut Butter.”
“Okay. What do I call you?”
“For you, I’ll go by Bobby Z.”
“I remember now. We were good friends during second and third grade.”
He nodded. “I had a crush on you too. I still do.”
I thought I was joking when I asked, “Do you know each other on account of your mutual love for me?”
Bobby said, “That’s right.” He looked at me serious.
I got up. “Connie, we’re leaving.”
She shrugged. “I guess so.”
We walked away. I did not care where else we went as long as it was away from there.