I walked the long dark river of sidewalk all the way back to Allen’s place. There wasn’t going to be a party tonight so I would have time to sort some things out and just relax. I liked the idea of having some time to myself, but I was still bent out of shape because of this whole business with my trip. My problem is not uncommon, however. Cleveland will do that to you in one way or another. Cities all have their own personalities and Cleveland is the jealous lover. With a dying community, a declining population, and no jobs, Cleveland was losing all she had left. She would not give up without a fight. There were always a million reasons to leave, but usually the one reason to stay succeeded in keeping you there. Now I had no reason to stay and no means of escape. Hell, at this point I would leave out of sheer spite, if I only knew how. I didn’t like knowing that I was losing, and I certainly wasn’t about to let the game end that way.
Why did I even need Jean? Adventures are always more fun with someone else along for the ride, but maybe going it alone could be just as good this time.
I bounced up the steps and let myself into the house. I walked slowly taking very deliberate steps into the darkness of the unlit living room. Once the lights were on I was more comfortable in the empty duplex. Over the next hour I pooled together all the money I could call up and had enough for a train ticket and enough booze or food for a week tops. Crinkled dollars and dirty coins littered the counter top and looked to me like freedom. Sure, it wasn’t enough to live comfortably where I was, but it was enough to get me out of Cleveland, into the East, and into my own adventure. For about fifty bucks I could take a train to Pittsburgh and see then if there would be a cheaper way reach D.C. or New York. I decided New York should and would be the tentative destination for this exodus of such epic proportions. Why not look for the real America in one of the great American cities? I did have friends in New York and could probably regroup there in the very least without having to find a job or anything. Things were looking up a little.
Savoring my small victory, I wandered into the kitchen to scavenge for food. The cabinets were empty save for a few cooking implements, several packages of Jell-o, and a half-empty bag of flour. The fridge wasn’t much better. I did find a few oranges and a takeout container with a bit of pasta that seemed edible. I slopped the pasta onto a plate and set it for a minute and a half in the microwave and began to peel two of the oranges. The first one is a clumsy struggle and takes most of my minute-thirty to fully peel. I let the pasta sit as I enjoy the sweet citrusy goodness of a cool orange. I throw the rind from the first orange into the waste basket tucked between the refrigerator and the kitchen counter and grab my rotini in red sauce. There’s a simple pleasure to be found in eating alone. Most people won’t do it. The best parts are the comfort in the quiet, the lack of any kind of pressure at all, and the ability to simply sit and stew in your own thoughts. The rotini was overdone before it sat in the fridge for however long and after a few bites I had no appetite for it.
I dumped the plate in the sink with the majority of the leftovers still on it, and retreated to the living room with my second orange. I plopped down onto the love seat and stretched out, legs sprawling over the end. Despite being hopelessly to tall for the love seat I find a relative comfort. I lean back and at full reach retrieve the TV remote from the end table and flick on the small television in the far corner of the room. The news is on and while I can’t stand to listen to these crooks, I let it roll and start to doze off.
The phone rings in the kitchen. The old phone clamors for attention, but I just let it ring into the night. You need to draw a line in the sand with things like this. If it’s really important, they’ll call more than twice. I was not about to part with my little bit of peace and quiet.
Sure enough, the damned thing keeps ringing so in a big harumph I groan across the floor to the kitchen. I grab the receiver from the wall phone and turn in place and lean against the wall. “Hello?”
A women on the other end answers “Uh, well, Al?” and I reply “Sorry, he’s not here, who is this? I can leave a message or something.”
She brusquely said “Just tell him Annie called, that should be fine. Thanks” and hung up before I could say another word. Who was this mysterious girl calling for Allen of all people? Nothing against Allen, I just never thought of him and women as being part of the same universe. He was very much the guy that had spent the better part of his life trying too hard to be successful with women, and had now accepted defeat. However, this Anne character confused the situation and piqued my interest.
I sat down with the second orange and my copy of Hesse’s Siddhartha and read in the dim glow of the lamp in the corner. I was enjoying the story greatly without realizing it was getting late. I was about ready to fall asleep when Allen finally returned. He stormed through the door in a tizzy and was banging around in the kitchen before I hardly had a chance to look up from my book. I folded the corner of the page I was on and got up to see what he had been up to.
He was leaning against the counter with his face in his hands. I was looking into the kitchen from the living room and watched for a few minutes as he moved from leaning against the counter to loudly searching for something to eat. He produced a beer that I hadn’t found during my search and drank almost half of it in one go. He was still slamming cabinets open and shut as I walked into the kitchen slowly, having only just worked up the courage to confront him in his volatile state.
“Hey…uh, is everything alright bud?”
He reached for the can of beer and threw it with a full body heave through the sallow, dirty glass of the window over the sink. I could see now that he was crying, now with his face in his hands again. While I sympathized with whatever tragedy faced him, I honestly felt more embarrassed and uncomfortable than anything. The right thing to say escaped me, and I didn’t know what to do to defuse the situation.
He was losing it I thought to myself. Something out of his control was really giving him the business and he was feeling that total frustration that you couldn’t put to words if you tried. It didn’t matter what I said because he was still going to feel the same terrible way. I had been there and I knew it well. It’s the feeling that the normally indifferent particles of the universe had not only begun to move against you, but that they found some sick and all too genuine pleasure in your undoing. Everything no matter how insignificant instantly became another bit of proof that the world was conspiring against you. Fight as you like, but for whatever reason, you are still fucked in the end.
He looked up and we met eyes and we each quickly looked away. He turned and opened the fridge. Seeing that there was nothing of any sizable appeal in the refrigerator he slammed the door shut with a frustrated grunt. I could hear the mostly empty jars of pickles and pepperoncinis and such all crash against each other inside the box. He paced the floor of the kitchen with his face in his hands, and then ran his fingers through his bushy dirty-blonde hair and stretched back with a deep sigh. Everything was not alright, and he was slowly coming to terms with this.
“Al, here” I quietly offer. Hands still tangled up in his bush of hair, he turned my way and was caught quite off-balance when he struggled to catch the orange I tossed his way. He leaned back against the refrigerator and slid down until he was on the floor. Allen dug his fingers into the top of the orange and ripped the peel off in large pieces, often digging just too far and into the meat of the fruit. It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. I was squirming with discomfort in the loaded silence. I knew I should comfort him somehow but I just didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t leave him alone and go back to my spot on the too-small love seat in the living room and just fall asleep with my book like I had planned. I had to try something and although reliving tragedies often does more harm than good, I figured I should at least know what I was up against. “What happened tonight?” He cleared his throat, paused, deep in thought, and began to tell me how things had turned so horribly wrong.