Sunday, November 25, 2012

She Is Where, Part 21

In the city where she lived, good street parking was terrible in some areas and easy in others.  If there were more apartment-type buildings on a block or in an area, the parking was pretty ghastly.  Some areas, like her own, featured multi-tenant dwellings on two of the four corners of every block and houses everywhere else.  She was confident that no matter what time she drove off, when she got home there would be parking within a half block of her house.

Her cousin's neighborhood had only single-family dwellings for blocks around and the lots were ample.  In other words, the parking was fantastic.  She always parked in front of the house next door to that of her cousin.  There were metal plates on each window, the hallmark of a house a bank owned that was now abandoned.  The bank had the lawn mowed, leaves all raked up, and the sidewalks kept clear.  The grinning face of a bald, bespectacled, middle-aged realtor smiled at anyone who cared to look at him.  He looked directly at the photographer and his eyes said, "I am a cool guy.  This is just how I make a living."

She parked, took up the cranberry relish, balancing it as she locked the car, and walked carefully to her cousin's house.  The last thing she needed as to trip on a sidewalk crack and have an incident.  Her aunt loved incidents and would share them for years to come.   Her aunt and cousin were unforgivably horrible humans but they were the part of her family and, well, dinner would soon be served.

Her cousin's husband answered the door which was very strange.  He was usually in the back of the house making preparations for those who wanted to watch the Detroit Lions football game.  The house was also eerily quiet.  As she thought about it, there were few cars on the street at all.

"Hi," he said, giving her a perfunctory hug.  "Bet you're wondering what's going on."

"Why so quiet?" she asked.

"Everyone's at K-Mart.  Can you believe it?  They found out K-Mart was open and they all piled into their cars and went to K-Mart for some sale or other.  They left me in charge," he answered.

"Isn't the closest K-Mart by me?" she asked.

"Nah, there's one about a mile closer," he responded.  "Crazy, right?  Well, never mind.  How about a martini?  I'm feeling damn festive and your cousin instructed me to touch nothing except to put your relish in the fridge."

He took the bowl and put it into the refrigerator and turned to look at her.

"A martini sounds good?  I can make you anything.  Bellini?  The champagne can be opened!  I recall you like Cosmos.  What's your poison?" he asked.

"Actually," she said.  "Check this out."

It could not have been better.  K-Mart had saved her from trying to get him alone to ask for his help.  She laid it all out, including how she saw the Fiat on her block that morning -- then reached into her pocket and showed him the piece of paper with the license plate number.

"You know this sounds like nothing good, right?" asked the cousin.

"But it could be perfectly innocent, too, like I am maybe over-reacting and he just wants to meet me, yeah?" she said.

Her cousin paused.  When he spoke again, it was very slowly.

"You know," he stated.  "This sounds like nothing good.  Right?"

He stared into her eyes and she shivered.

"I am trying to think I am over-reacting," she said.

"Well, you keep thinking that and I will look this up when I go back to work on Monday.  I have vacation until then.  Can you stand it until Monday?"

"Yes," she said, shivering again.  "I've waited this long."

"And look at me all rude," he said.  "Give me your coat. I'll put it in the closet while there's room.  When they get back from K-Mart there will be a zillion coats on the bed and you'd need to hire a crew to excavate it.  That's a sharp coat!  Let's keep it nice."

He took her coat and hung it on a solid wooden hangar in the front closet.

"Thanks," she said.  "Really, thanks.  For doing that thing for me.  For keeping my coat nice."  She looked down at her feet, suddenly shy and touched by his caring.  She looked at his face.  "Thanks."

"You're welcome," he said, reaching out and touching her arm lightly.  "Now let's have some beverages and chat about something other weirdness."

"You know I love work stories," she said.

"Hey, how's your job going?  I know you moved to a new location.  How's that going?" he asked.

She told him it was better and he told her about the large cast of characters that come through their office.  Everyone needs identification and eventually, everyone comes to the Secretary of State.  He had been in another traffic accident this week, keeping his record of at least one accident per week while administering driving tests.

"It was a short week and I hoped I wasn't going to have an incident.  Nope, the gentleman sideswiped a car in another lane, removing the mirror on the driver side.  He didn't consider stopping until I made him.  'Why must I stop?  I am not yet licensed.'  Poor dope," he said.

"He's still not licensed, is he?" she inquired.

"No, no, he's not," he answered.  "His uncle taught him to drive.  Spent thirty minutes with him in mall parking lot on a Sunday morning then made him drive on the freeway.  Gave him a book of the rules of the road and told him to read it before the test."

"Do you think he did?  Read it, I mean."

"No, as he doesn't seem to read English.  Poor dope," he said, shaking his head.  "At least he didn't try to bribe me.  Sometimes they try to bribe me.  Poor dope."

Then he changed the subject completely.

"K-Mart!  You should have seen everyone race out of the house and get into their cars.  What the hell is on sale?" he asked.

"I know they had 32-inch hi-def TVs for $88," she offered.

"Those will go to people who were in line for hours before they opened," he said.

"I think pajamas were five bucks.  There were toys and games that had huge discounts," she said.

"That's it," he said.  "You know they love to donate to Toys For Tots.  Now that we solved that mystery, let's have that drink."

"I'm driving so maybe a nice glass of club soda with ice," she said.

"Go crazy, girl.  I'm having a martini with two olives," he said.

Having made the drinks he led her to the back of the house where he continued to set things up for those who might want to watch the came.  He laid out crunchy snacks and stocked a beer cooler with domestic and imported brews.

"You're not a football fan, though," she stated.  "I've never heard you mention football once in all the time I've known you."

"I will tell you straight, I love football.  I make like I don't care to keep peace at home but I love football.  I run a huge pool at a bar I go to after work, so, shhhh, keep it to yourself," he said.  "You told me your secret and I've told you mine.  Let's keep 'em between us."

Just then the K-Mart caravan pulled up out front.  Everyone burst into the house together, her aunt and cousin leading the way with their many bags of toys.

"The big stuff's in the backseat and the trunk, honey," her cousin told her husband.  "Can you please move it all to the basement?"

"Of course I can," he said.  He nodded at her and went to move the bigger toys.

Her cousin and aunt assessed her as she stood drinking her club soda.

"All black," said her aunt.

"So mysterious," said her cousin.

"What are you hiding?" asked her aunt.  "A butt?  A gut?"

Her cousin laughed like a banshee, then her aunt and cousin each embraced her.

"Ha, ha, ha, only fooling," said her cousin.  "You look good."

"Really good," said her aunt.  "Except for what is going on with your hair?"

"Roots-a-rama," said her cousin.

"No," said her aunt, "not roots.  It's just salad hair."

"Salad hair! What do you mean, Mom?"

"Tossed!" shouted her aunt.

They laughed so hard her aunt got tears in her eyes and her cousin snorted.

Family members poured into the house, filing past her giving her a hug or a kiss, as they made their way to the basement with their additions of toys.

Had she realized she would have stopped and gotten toys.  Her toy inadequacy would make her part of an incident which her aunt could one day recount.

"Let me rush to K-Mart, too!" she proclaimed.

"No need," said her other cousin, the one she preferred.  "Give me twenty-five dollars.  When we were shopping I told them I was buying stuff for you, so I did."

She embraced this cousin hard.

"Now stop," said this cousin.  "Today we can be thankful for no incidents."

"We just can't say it so it can be heard," she said.  "Unless we want an incident about the incidents."

They went off to the football room to watch the game.  She didn't care about the Detroit Lions or their opponent or even football but there were snacks and a flickering image from another town.

As soon as she settled into the chair, she fell asleep.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday, November 11, 2012

She Is Where, Part 20

No matter what she wore, be it suit or frock or jeans and a shirt, her cousin and aunt would both find something wrong with it.

"That dress is for a wedding," her cousin stated.

"If you're the bride," said the aunt about a particularly nice dress she'd put on.

"Why are you so dressed up?" they'd ask if she wore a suit.  "Trying to make everyone feel small?"

She never made anyone feel small.  Her aunt and cousin had both been jealous of her since she was born because her cousin was no longer the special, first child and because her parents no longer babysat her cousin and showered attention on her.  Her own parents still included her in the family as if she were their own but the cousin, even as a small child, had gotten used to two sets of parents, three if her grandparents could be included.  When her own parents had died within a few days of each other -- one succumbing to cancer, the other to a broken heart -- she found out her aunt and cousin loved nothing more than to continue hanging onto their grudges, their meanness, their pettiness, their jealousy.

"Jeans?  Really?" her aunt asked her.  "It's Thanksgiving, not Halloween."

So she selected something like she'd wear to work -- a black sweater, black pants, black shoes, only small earrings to accessorize.  Once she put her new coat over the ensemble she knew she'd look like a million bucks.

She could never precisely see what her cousin's husband saw in her cousin.  He was your standard issue nice, normal guy.  He wasn't petty, he encouraged harmony with the aunt and cousin, and he always remembered her birthday.  Of course, he could be talking up a storm of smack behind her back but his eyes and smile were genuine and warm so she doubted it.  They'd been high school sweethearts, the cousin and her husband, and he'd been quite the bad boy back then but a bad boy with a good heart.  She wondered if her cousin was disappointed that he still worked for the Secretary of State in the motor vehicle division but her cousin gave no indication of her displeasure about it.  They had two children immediately after getting married and the kids were now off on their own -- making their way in the world and proud of it.  The kids -- a boy and a girl -- favored their dad.

It was a 30-minute drive to her cousin's home, still in the city but in a remote neighborhood that required taking surface streets to reach.  She left exactly a half hour before she was supposed to go, putting the relish in a box in the trunk so it wouldn't slide all over the place and wouldn't go flying in the interior if she stopped short.

Some of the things she saw as she drove:  a large house being decorated for Christmas; three grocery stores; two Target stores; a Wal-Mart with a small line for the doorbuster that would take place that night; a huge turkey made of chicken wire and covered in lights the colors of a fall harvest; and a giant driving a flesh-toned Fiat 500, with handsome man in the passenger seat.  They did not see her.

She was convinced that she had to be hallucinating.  Those two together?  Randomly?  In some neighborhood?  She was seeing things.  That had to be it.  Things like that don't happen.

Except they do.

Years before she was out in the suburbs and made a wrong turn.  She realized where she'd gone off track, saw where she was, and decided to take a nearby road that went from the suburbs into the city.  It was a Sunday evening and there were few cars on this stretch of asphalt.  She sat in the left-turn lane, waiting for the light to change so she could head home and a car drove up next to hers and stopped for the light.  She glanced at the driver.  It was a woman from her office with whom she was friendly.  They both laughed and pointed and smiled.  The woman indicated her husband and he leaned forward and smiled and waved.  The light changed and they waved good-bye to each other.

Things like that don't happen unless they do.

She drove a little faster than she preferred just to get off the streets and be somewhere in a crowd of people.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

She Is Where, Part 19

After the shower, she dried off, removed the shower cap, turned on the TV, and had a nap on her bed.  She awoke to full blown Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Years ago, she had a friend who was in the parade, attached to a float starring the late Shari Lewis, the creator of Lambchop and Charley Horse.  The people walking were all dressed a la Raggedy Ann and when they got to Macy's at 34th Street, Shari Lewis sang a song and they all danced around.  When it was over, her friend almost got separated from the rest of the Raggedy Anns except Shari Lewis came to her defense calling out, "Wait!  She's with us!"  Now whenever she happened upon the parade, she thought of her friend who now lived in Florida.

She sat bolt upright in bed.  She needed another pair of ears and her friend might be willing to hear.  She put on her robe and slippers and entered the speed dial for her friend.

As she usually did, her friend answered calling her by name.

"I am right about to start making dinner," her friend told her.  "But here's someone who wants to talk to you."

The next voice she heard was her friend's husband.  Her friend's husband was a no-nonsense kind of guy.  She got on great with him.

"What's going on?" asked the husband.

"Well," she paused.  "Check this out and tell me what you think."

And she told him.  She spilled everything to him.  The giant.  How handsome this man was.  The trip to Mount Prospect.  The Fiat.  The waitress in the restaurant.  The coat.  The car at the store.  The car by her house.

"This could be nothing," he said.  "Or it could be some weird psycho shit.  Damn.  I was thinking coincidence for the sightings.  I was thinking just a guy who was messing with your head at first.  But this could be some weird psycho shit.  Or it could just be some guy who thinks you're interesting and wants to spend more time with you."

She paused.  And thought.

"Then why not just say that he think I'm interesting and he doesn't know why I always run from him when he's just trying to be nice.  Why won't he tell me what he does for a living?"

"Because it's probably the weird psycho shit," he said.  "Frankly, I don't know.  What does your friend Lee say about it?"

"I haven't told him.  I haven't been able to put it into words to tell him."

"But you told me.  That's a great compliment.  Thank you," he said.  "Lee might have a different perspective."

"Lee has a hard time keeping things to himself.  He doesn't mean to spill information but he can't help himself.  It's just how he is.  But you're right.  He might have a different perspective," she said.

"I've not met him, I've only heard you talk about him, but he seems sensible," said the husband.

She just had to call Lee and tell him what had happened.  She was a little ashamed of herself.   He was a dear friend of hers and she hadn't confided in him about something that was bothering her so much.  He usually could sum up the situation in a sentence.  She promised herself that she would tell him.

"So what about the giant?" she asked.

"Honestly," said the husband,  "I think he really is just a guy who is nice and doesn't think this guy's a psycho.  You try not to categorize your friends as nut jobs because then you have to make excuses for the insanity.  Or he does know he's off but doesn't think he's dangerous.  If he thinks he is dangerous, then he can't justify having this friend who makes him look cool because he has a friend who is so incredibly handsome.  You know?"

"So he likes having such a handsome friend because people think differently about him?  He believes they think he's way hipper than he imagines himself to be?  Is that right?"

"Yes," said the husband.  "That's my theory.  Now you have to do me a favor."

"Sure," she said.

"Stay the fuck away from this fucker and the goddamn giant.  The handsome fucker is probably dangerous and the giant doesn't know yet.  It's just a feeling.  I'm not sure.  But don't let them get too close," he advised.

Her stomach flopped over.

"And now your old best pal needs my help in the kitchen so I have to go.  You call me the next time you see something.  Call me on my cell.  I know you have the number.  Just call me.  I'll tell your pal what's up and that I said to call me.  You have to swear.  I want to hear about this fucker" he said.

"You're making me all scared again," she said.

"Good," he said.  "Fear makes us pay attention.  Happy Thanksgiving."

He hung up.  Out on the street she heard someone's car alarm go on and not go off.

She peeked between the blinds and saw a family of four trying to load into a car as the father hit various buttons on the car remote.  It finally stopped whining and they were all smiling and laughing.  They really didn't have a care in the world.  Seeing their ease made her feel better and she went into the bedroom and got ready to go to her cousin's for dinner.