The summer she and I were twelve, Alexandra Metcalf became my best friend only hours after she moved onto our block. I was sitting on my front stoop, hugging my knees, listening to the bees’ late summer panic as my parents carted sod back and forth. They were planting the evergreen that would eventually tower over the house, and surrounding it with chrysanthemums. Alexandra’s blond head bobbed past our honeysuckle hedge and she stopped to wave at me as if she weren’t thinking twice about it.
He told me about his war wounds. I recounted my masturbation injuries. We bonded.
Then came winter.
“See here, Klugstein,” he said. “There’s no need to raise the thermostat above 45. If the pipes won’t freeze, then neither will you.”
Inspired, I replied, “Righty-O!” and reached for the Echinacea.
The New Year brought the worst ice storm on record. The roads were impassable. The supermarkets closed. He ate my cat.
Why did things have to get all retarded when I came out of The Shepard? Why did I have to be the only bull to see those bulls clocking that bull? One stick! Then two! Popping down on Old Man’s dome like me cutting open melons for dessert. Poor homeless fuck. Punk ass with a Kidd jersey’s kicking him under the alley light but it looked like he was just kicking a bunch of tattered rags. Poor emaciated homeless fuck.
If summer was breaking plates, what then was spring?
A time to keep moving. One deliberately placed foot at a time. A left step followed by a right. Learning what the phrase “going through the motions” means.
Begin with the occasion. A blue linen cloth covers the table. Your mother ironed and starched the embroidered daisies into submission. The candles flicker.
Gittel Goldberg turned her back on her cramped kitchen and gazed out the window over Madison Street. How she longed for a space between the tenements, a glimpse of the ocean—the last thing that had touched the world she had left behind. But no, only an unyielding line of stone and metal stood before her, buildings and fire escapes huddled together beneath a gray sky heavy with rain. She wiped her hands on the dishtowel and untied her apron, all the while staring at the window directly across the way—Frieda Mandelbaum’s place, with its fringe of white curtain blowing to and fro. Looking at it, she remembered the dream of the night before.
As the rain sopped cement becomes an ever darker hue, Jeanette calls to insist that she’ll be over to visit within the hour. Thirty-three years of watching the rain in blissful solitude isn’t a bad run. Besides, I already know that today’s rain isn’t going to be one of those eternal days. The air isn’t right. I’ll check outside anyway, even though the rain wasn’t violent enough. It wasn’t urgent. Rain needs to be urgent; my husband taught me that.
I’m sitting at a small rickety table by the window of this nondescript cafe, its only sign a half-shattered plastic square that reads “Breakfast.” No name, just what it serves. What I serve. Remarkably, Angel manages to keep this place open. I don’t know why he picked this location, this dingy block of downtown Long Beach , so empty of hope the only life on the sidewalks are the alcoholics ditching into the Algiers Bar across the street. I’m on my break, trying to read a moldy paperback copy of The Stranger, drinking coffee I’ve laced with whiskey from the flask I keep in my apron pocket. The awning of the bar reflects the sun in glaring hot swaths across the asphalt. I lift my cup to drink and in she walks, predictable as the heat of the California sun.
My father closes the refrigerator door and takes seven steps, so I know he is halfway through the dining room when he lets out one of those long-winded farts to beat the band. The shuffling sound of socks on tired linoleum tells me he is doing the victory dance he always does when he thinks he has outdone himself.
My friend Debbie mouths, “Yuck, gross.” She knows better than to make a sound.
Luz blessed the day her neighbor, Don Chuy rolled-over his milk truck. Nobody would ask for an accident like that, but now, years later, she knew Don Chuy blessed the day too. It was the day he was miraculously spared from the jaws of death, the day the Virgin spoke to him.
As soon as the bus driver pulls the door shut, I drop into an empty seat, pressing my head against the glass, closing my eyes so I can’t see the girls waving their arms out the windows, muffling my ears so I can’t hear the boys chewing gum. Mrs. Harden and Shanna are standing in the aisle, delivering their speech about good behavior but I’m thinking about bad behavior, about Shanna’s body, which I can see even though my eyes are closed.