BY LARRY BROWN
Copyright is held by the author.
TO GET to the apartment in the house at 41 Wyatt you went through the gate and along the top of the sloped backyard, then up 17 steps. We moved in — unmarried and not questioning it — the first Saturday in May, the owner Mrs. Peters, who lived in the rest of the house, apologizing again for the number of steps. She was dressed all in black, earrings included. She gave Claire the key in a sealed envelope. I scratched an end table on one trip up, with all the steps damage was bound to occur, and carrying too many boxes Claire turned her ankle. I bought a bag of ice for the ankle and pizza to feed those who helped us. Claire’s friend (Rhonda?) kept finding different ways of saying the same thing. Even she seemed not to listen when she was talking.
Claire’s parents visited first. Her father was quiet, not unfriendly, I see the difference clearly now. He kept his jacket on during the visit, sitting forward in his chair, smiling at the wrong times. (I remember him, another day, saying no one gets anywhere without first making some big mistakes. I still believe I am the only person who heard him.)
Claire eventually grew used to the random groans and creaks the apartment made and stopped pointing out every noise. We snaked extension cords throughout the place, it seemed safe, and it was necessary, each room except the kitchen having but a single two-plug outlet. So new we were, so ready. And certain. (Though about what I can’t fully say.)
Summer blazed to life the first week of June. Sharp morning light slanted across the kitchen counter. Weeds rushed up in the yard and hostas began massing in the pockets of shade. Claire, and nothing else, inside a yellow sundress. Our lively, ribbed bodies. We spent humid evenings on the small landing at the top of the steps, barbecuing on the hibachi and having drinks, too many too often, in glasses decorated with penguins (where did those glasses come from?), while jazz music squirmed and screeched, and wept, out Mrs. Peters’ screens, the musicians themselves, to my ears, sounding startled by what they played. But then what did I know. About jazz, for starters.
Mrs. Peters’ son (her only child?) visited for a weekend in June. A toupee, swore Claire, and we picked away, made his “muskrat” of hair into a character flaw. He treated us better, much better, than that.
July, more heat. Flowers sagged. Mrs. Peters spent about a week in the hospital but appeared to come through it all right. Someone from a homecare service made visits. But us knocking on Mrs. Peters’ door and asking, offering? We conveniently decided that would be prying.
Stretched out on lawnchairs, our feet creeping over the edge of the landing, we could see the ballpark at the bottom of the Wyatt Street hill where the city’s team, the Cardinals, played. Red uniforms flitting under the lights. I think we could hear the pop of bat on ball, when things were quiet. Then one evening, the hibachi yet to be started, Claire announced she was going to a movie. Did I, I didn’t have to, only say yes if you mean it, but did I want to come along? I enjoyed the theatre air conditioning. In bed later Claire gave no as her reason for no.
She bussed it to her job at the bank and I coaxed the car to the garage door factory. The factory wasn’t on any bus route, how could I bus it, earth to Claire, for me bussing won’t work. She needed to be reasonable, okay?
One night I took us to dinner at the Greek restaurant we liked, the “gus” (yes, all small letters) on the sign a previous owner we hadn’t met. We ate more than we talked, and we left food on our plates. Neither of us mentioned our dessert tradition of sharing a fork and an order of baklava. The next week we found her a not-too-ancient VW Bug, and right in front of the guy selling it Claire interrupted me: she already knew the engine was in the back.
She took a sick day. She took another. The apartment was fine. The apartment was temporary. The floor fan moved air. I’m not the cheerleading kind, even today. I can run out of caring. But I always, always, stick it out.
Then, on a rainy day in August, finally, an answer. Relief rushed in. Claire was late, not pregnant. This of course was before she learned she couldn’t.