|On Thursday, stacked behind the back loading ramp
of the Kroger store are empty boxes. Boxes free to anyone who gets there before the trash
man hauls them off. So here we are, me and my little Amy, trying to stuff as many of these
boxes as we can into the back of my station wagon. My station wagon is a pre-owned vehicle
with character. That car makes more noises, grunts and groans, than an overweight old man
trying to get himself up out of a couch that sits too low to the ground. It may be old and
noisy but it's got to make one more trip back to the town that I grew up in. My
mother still lives there and we'll probably stay with her for a while. At least until I
get a job and get back up on my feet. I'm not happy about it but I'm not suicidal over the
fact either. That's just the way it is.
"Street Scene- Asterdam"
By Anjali Arora
"Mom," Amy says, "is this
a good box?"
"No, that one's too big. Try the one next to it."
I'm bent over trying to fit another box into the back of my station wagon and, as I start
to straighten up, I see a big blue Oldsmobile pulling into the parking lot. It's Betty Jo
Grossner. I practically dive into the back of the station wagon hoping she won't
notice me. Betty Jo likes to do her shopping right after deliveries are made so she can
get her fingers all over everything before anyone else does. Always first and always the
worst, that's Betty. First at the grocery store and always the first one with her
nose in someone else's business. Gossip is sort of a career with Betty, a calling you
might say. And she's good at it. She can get a grocery store clerk to reveal things
that a trained investigator couldn't find out. The way she walks puts me in mind of
this duck that my Dad used to have. My Amy can do a perfect imitation of Betty's walk
whenever she sees her coming across the yard to our back door. Oh, in case I haven't
mentioned it, Betty Jo is my next door neighbor and I'm sure it's obvious by now
that there is no love lost between us. At least not on my part. I'm hoping that we can get
packed and move out without her seeing us. I don't want to say good-bye and I sure don't
plan on keeping in touch.
One of the check-out ladies at the grocery store told me once that I was lucky to have
Betty Jo Grossner for a neighbor. I hadn't been living here long then so I believed her.
It didn't take me long to figure out that if having Betty Jo as a neighbor was luck it was
bad luck. Betty Jo has always been one to notice things. She had an eye like a hawk she
said. More like a vulture I say. Never missed a thing she said. Like the way she always
noticed when my husband didn't come home for dinner. Truth is he missed dinner more than
he made it home.
Betty would march right over around dinnertime and say, "Is that man of yours late
again? You poor things." She'd give me a big hug and grab hold of both of my
shoulders, look me right in the eye and say, "Isn't it wicked how some people talk?
Don't you believe a word those old busybodies say. I don't. I mind my own business. I
don't believe for a minute that man of yours is seeing another woman. No sir, it's
just talk. That's all it is." Then she'd compliment me on how clean my house
always was and tell me that it wasn't any of her business -- which it wasn't -- but maybe
I ought to save a little of my energy for my husband. A woman needs to smell of perfume
not bleach and hard work when her man comes home, she'd say. Then she'd say,
"Poor thing," again, hug Amy, and me, and finally leave.
And she's leaving now. Now if I can just get these boxes into the house without her seeing
me, I'll be packed and ready to go before anyone knows it. She was right about my house
though. I had a routine worked out that was simple but efficient. On the days that my
husband didn't come home after work, I cleaned cabinets -- cabinets and closets. On the
days that my husband came home from work drunk, I cleaned floors. He'd pass out, sleep
like a baby and I'd scrub floors. In the morning, he'd sit at the kitchen table in our
spotless kitchen with both his hands wrapped around a coffee cup holding it steady and
tell me he was sorry and that he'd try to do better. He'd tell me that I was the best
thing that happened to him and if I left he just didn't know what he'd do. I'd listen and
we'd both agree to try harder. And then for a couple of days everything would be pretty
good. But before long, Amy and I would be dining alone again.
I remember a Saturday afternoon when he decided to take Amy and me fishing. It was a
beautiful summer day. The sky was as blue as it could be, and it was hot but not hot
enough to make you wish you were someplace else. He never could get me and Amy to bait our
own hooks. I packed a big lunch, fried chicken and lemonade, and we spread out a blanket
under the trees. We talked about things that we did when we were kids, stupid things that
made us laugh. Amy fell asleep while we were talking. I remember thinking how much Amy
looked like him sometimes and how funny that was since they weren't really related at all.
"Let's make this a family tradition," he said. "We'll come back here every
year, first Saturday in May."
I really loved him then. Part of me still does, I guess. I know we wanted it to work. At
least we started that way. I knew it was over one day when it aggravated me that he showed
up for dinner. Even Amy just looked at him for a minute before she went to the cabinet to
get his plate and silverware.
I know exactly how many boxes I need to pack our things so packing won't take me long. I'm
not taking anything but the things Amy and I had when we moved in. I can just hear my Mom
now. "You're better off without him," she'll say. "It's his loss. He'll
realize that some day." I'll just agree with her because I won't want to talk about
it and I won't know what to say anyway. And then I'll think about him coming home, sitting
at the kitchen table, and reading my letter. I know he'll feel bad for a while, probably
just hang around the house and get real drunk. At least for a day, maybe two, and then
he'll pick up the phone, call some lady friend, and go have a beer.
I'm an employee at Southern Illinois
University, Carbondale in the Affirmative Action Office. I have been a university employee
for 22 years. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in the English department (Creative Writing
program). I am currently a graduate student in the College of Education. I am involved in
women's issues on campus and in the community. I have been a volunteer crisis intervention
counselor at the Rape Action Group in Carbondale and am currently on the executive board
of the Women's Caucus group on campus. I'm a mom. My daughter is 25 years old and
wonderful. My husband is 48 and wonderful. This is the first time one of my stories will
be published so I am very happy. My e-mail address is email@example.com and I love
to hear from people.