I looked around the room. Five of the folks there were from the brick apartment at the end of the street. There was the old couple, Gladys and Manny, that breakfasted at Marv’s Café every morning. She started using a walker about a year ago and he was bent, but they still got out every morning for their Number 2 special and coffee. Julie, that flighty woman who worked at Stellard’s Grocery, was standing frozen in the corner, her eyes darting around the room, until Sally went up to her, linked arms and brought her over to visit with Gladys and Manny. Bud and Ashley were making out in the corner. I saw an empty envelope (I know it was empty because I checked) with his address on it in the gutter one day. It was addressed to ‘Thom Winston’. Ashley’s name was underneath his, so I knew it was Bud’s name. I’ve never trusted the name ‘Thom’. It seems somehow deceptive to me. If a person wanted to stick in the ‘h’, he might as well add the last two letters and get a whole name out of it. But this. This I judge to be either pseudo sophistication or stupidity. You can be sure that the last follows the first no matter where and when it shows its silly head. I guess Bud never trusted it either.
All the while I was thinking this, Sally had spotted them. I watched her as she quickly fixed up two plates of snacks and two lemonades and brought it over to them. They had to unlatch then and act interested while she visited with them. Ashley actually looked engrossed in the conversation, but Bud looked peeved.
I went over and helped myself to the food. There was a huge bowl of popcorn, some Chex mix, little circles of bread with what looked like Ranch dressing and cucumbers on top, brownies, and oatmeal raisin cookies without the raisins. As I sized up that last plate, I shook my head in despair and loaded up. I’d have to come back for my lemonade once I got settled.
The Wang family from the house on the other side of Sniff’s jostled in just as I reached my chair. I had my place staked out just in time! There are a lot of them, and once they started finding places to sit, there was certain to be no place for anyone else.
Neighbors filed in and out for over two hours. They came mostly to check out Sally and her boy and, of course, because, other than the gatherings of loud music and beer cans, we never had parties on our street. It was a novelty, and no one wanted to be the only one to miss it.
Sweet Beat walked in around 8:45 or so. His name is Kevin, but no one in his right mind would ever dream of calling him that. Some days he seemed almost normal, but other days he seemed wound tight as a champagne cork. It was at his house that the loud music and beer cans had their parties. Maybe he thought he’d see what a party with people was like. I said as much in a jokey sort of way, and he popped a switchblade out at me before you could say ‘thou shalt not kill’. Sally hurried over and asked if she could admire it while he helped himself to the snacks. She held that thing in her hands and examined it like it was a lovely antique, but I saw her glance at her watch when she thought no one was looking. Sweet Beat came back over to collect his knife, but Sally kept it in her hand and patted the seat beside her on the couch (the Wangs had left by this time, so there was room for others again).
“Would you like me to hold this for you while you eat?” she asked, as though they were old friends and she was doing him a favor.
He grunted, and started in on his plate.
“I noticed you have a new bike,” she continued.
Sweet Beat looked at her sideways.
With his mouth full, he said, “Harley ”.
“Right. Harleys are the best, don’t you think so, Mr. Bingham?”
I looked at Sally like she was out of her mind because I was beginning to think she was.
“Mr. Bingham,” she persisted, “Harleys are by far the best, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I’d agree with anything you say, Ms. Cortland,” I answered truthfully.
to be continued . . .