I was afraid of him when we first met, even though I saw him every night after work, sitting in the
cafeteria of the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind, paper coffee cup cradled in hands as white as
Ivory soap. He always looked the same: grey gym shoes, tattered jeans, black corduroy jacket, hazel
eyes staring through wire rim glasses, scruffy beard and long uncombed hair beneath his Greek sailor cap.
"Hi." I lower my eyes and smile. I hate the way I smile when I'm nervous. It's hard to look
serious with dimples. Perhaps my purposeful stride will convince him this Black girl's got no time
for a crazy White boy.
The ritual repeats itself day after day, week after week.
"Hi." Smile. Walk away.
Then in November he stops me. "Need a ride home?"
It had been snowing all day. I watched the janitors through my office window as they struggled to
keep a clear path on the sidewalk so our blind clients could safely reach their rides. They
shoveled it three times, yet it looked like they hadn't touched it.
"No thanks." My mother's warnings about cars and strange men forced me to decline his offer. I
have on clean underwear. Mommy won't be embarrassed if I die in the blizzard. I like snow. I'm
dressed for it. I can make it to the bus stop on the corner. "Don't trouble yourself."
"No trouble," he says. "I go your way."
How does he know which way I go? My boss, the manager of the Word Processing Office, vouches for
him. "Go ahead." She whispers in my ear. "He's harmless. Drives Dexter home."
Dexter, the Lecher of the Lighthouse, deaf-blind, and in a wheelchair. Greets every woman with
grabby paws. "Hi, can I Braille you?" I proofread his letters and interpret for him sometimes. No
one else has the patience.
In my head my mother's voice screams, "Take the bus. What's a little pneumonia?"
I smile. "Sure. Thanks."
"I know." We shake hands. His are cold.
I ride home in the back of a strange man's car with an even stranger chaperone. Dexter sits up
front because it's easier for him to get in and out. He thinks our names are disgustingly cute.
Calls us Lenny-Jenny, singing our names like a playground chant. He sounds drunk because his
hearing is deteriorating. It's getting harder for him to hear himself and speak clearly. Doesn't
stop him from giving his opinions. "You should take her out," he says. "She's a nice girl." Turns
around to tell me, "Lenny doesn't know any nice girls. Only dates militants." Reaches for my hand.
"Talk to me. Lenny can't talk and drive at the same time."
My dark fingers spell into his pale palm. "How did you meet?"
"Known him all his life." Dex reaches out to pat Len on the cheek.
Len ducks out of reach. "Tell him not to touch me while I'm driving."
I spell, "Do not touch."
"Why does he hate to be touched?"
"What's so hard about driving? The car does all the work. He'd let you touch him." To Len. "She
has nice hands, but all she'll do for me is spell. Has this thing about married men."
I pull my hand away.
"Don't be mad," says Dex. "Lenny's not married. He's not one of those funny boys either." He pats
Len's thigh. Len slaps his hand.
"Tell him to stop."
"Stop," I spell. "Behave yourself."
"Are the roads really bad?" asks Dex.
My hand nods, "Yes." I can barely see the lights of the car in front of us. Snow clings to the
street refusing to turn to slush.
"Too bad it's Friday," says Dex. "A day off would have been nice. Why waste a blizzard on a
weekend?" He settles into his seat still holding my hand. "She's nervous," he says to Len. "I
think she likes you." In the rear view mirror Len's cheeks redden beneath his beard.
"Hush," I spell.
"Why are you always telling me to hush?"
"Shut up is too long to spell."
Dex laughs and pats my hand. "You should take her out. She's a nice girl."
Mommy is surprised to see me home so early. I tell her I got a ride from a dirty old man. She
thinks I'm joking.
After a week of driving me home, Len asks me for a date. "To make Dexter shut up. He won't leave
us alone until we go out. How about dinner and a movie?"
We never get to the movies. Len is late picking up me and Dex.
It's snowing. Something is wiggling under his coat.
"My brother's cat," he says apologetically. "He didn't want it any more. I couldn't let him drown it."
Len wants to call it Cat. I name the kitten Allyosha. Dex insists on holding it during the drive
to Len's apartment. When Len gets out of the car, Dex lets the kitten loose. Len and I spend half
an hour in the snow looking for it in the alley.
"This is not the date I had planned," says Len, as he locks the kitten in his apartment.
"No problem." Why did I agree to this?
"What if we just drop Dexter off at his house and have dinner, talk?"
The snow is so bad it takes both of us to help Dexter up the steps to his apartment. He insists
that I meet his wife and son. She's a big cheery woman with a bubbling kitchen. Junior clings to
her legs. His toys are everywhere. Dex wants us to stay for dinner. Says Len can't afford to take
me someplace nice. Two cups of tea later, Dexter's wife helps us escape his clutches.
We go to an Iranian restaurant. I am the only woman there, surrounded by swarthy men. Some are
darker than me, with straight black hair. They remind me of my favorite movie, Lawrence of Arabia.
Such wonderfully musical names: Ali, Daoud, Farash. I smile. The walls are covered with images of
men with rifles, veiled women, blood red and black. I can't read the posters. The words are
written with letters that look like drawings. Len talks about his causes: Atomic Vets, the whales,
pollution, politics. His backpack is filled with leaflets. He proudly gives me one of each. He
wishes he was in college in the 60's. Things were happening then. I'm glad the 60's are over.
Things were frightening then. Watching your neighborhood burn down around you does not inspire nostalgia.
The food arrives. It is strange and spicy and wonderful. We talk about music. I thrive on it,
classical, jazz, soul, funk. I love it all. For Len, music begins and ends with Dylan. We change
the subject. Religion. He can't decide if he's Methodist or Jewish. I go to Catholic mass every
Sunday, sing in the choir, traditional hymns and gospel. He wants to hear me sing. I invite him to
our Christmas concert knowing he won't come.
I wonder about his family. Mine is my lifeline. He cringes when he mentions his. Mommy didn't
want me to go on this date, but she didn't try to stop me. Daddy gave me mad money. I can feel it
in my bra. "If you get mad, take a cab home."
I don't. Len sees me to my front door. It's nearly midnight. Holiday lights scatter their colors
across the snow.
"Can we try this again?" he asks, "without Dexter and the cat and everything? I've got to go to a
birthday party next Friday. Would you come with me?"
He kisses me good-bye. His lips are warm despite their thinness. His mustache tickles. He doesn't
drive away until I'm safely locked inside.
Mommy is at her sewing machine pretending not to wait up for me. I hand her the mad money with a smile.
Monday, after work, Dexter wants all the details. We tell him nothing. He wants to tag along on
our next date. Says we don't know how to have fun. I spend Tuesday interpreting for Dex at a city
council Handicap Access Meeting. Len has been with us all day. Wouldn't do for me to help Dexter
in and out of public restrooms. Dexter insists on taking us out to dinner to thank us. My fingers
are too tired to argue. Even Len gives in to his nagging.
Dexter takes us to Diana's Greek Restaurant and Grocery because he knows his wheelchair will fit
through the door. I fall in love with saganaki, flaming cheese served with a rousing "Opah!" We
drink red wine from plain straight glasses while the jukebox alternates between Greek folk songs and
the Village People. The manager loves Dexter's flamboyance. Gives us free bottles of wine and a
check for Dexter's advocacy group. "You come back. Bring you friends. No problems." The
restaurant becomes our hangout.
We are a threesome. A third of my time at work is spent interpreting for Dexter. My boss doesn't
mind. She says I'm domesticating him. I'm not sure what he's doing to me.
On Friday, Len takes me to a birthday party --- for Albania. People stand around exchanging
political leaflets, drinking apple cider, and singing Albanian freedom songs. I start to wonder if
Len has a culture of his own. In December we celebrate the winter solstice because Len doesn't
believe in Christmas. I invite him to my house for Christmas dinner anyway. He brings a poinsettia
for my mother. His freshly washed hair is in a ponytail. His beard is neatly trimmed. My father
is not impressed, but he jokes with Len until he starts talking politics. I hide his backpack filled
with leaflets and remind Len it's a holiday, time for family. He doesn't understand. My elder
sister, the biochemist, and her husband, the physicist, are happy to argue with him. I leave them
to solve the world's problems.
I listen outside the kitchen while Mommy tells my aunts, "Len is just a phase she's going through."
They decide he's too skinny and prepare to fatten him up. I set the tables for dinner. My younger
sister wants to know how a vegetarian can eat so much turkey. My brothers want to know what he does
for a living. My uncle wants to know what happened to that nice young Black man I brought to his
fraternity cotillion. I tell him he married my best friend.
Before he leaves, Len and I exchange gifts in the front hall. I wrap a bright red scarf around his
neck. He hangs a turquoise pendant around mine. This is not a phase.
I'm still seeing him when I start college in September. When his car finally dies, it takes him two
hours by bus and subway to reach me on the other side of town. He still insists on seeing me home.
My roommate wants to be my maid of honor. I want a fine arts degree. Len wants to live in a commune.
I spend a lot of time at his apartment learning to like my body. We bathe together, sleep together.
I sketch him in the nude. Despite our explorations my virginity is undisturbed. He doesn't want
to rush me into something I'll regret.
We take long walks on the beach even after the first snow. Len wants to solve all the ills of the
world. I want to concentrate on my corner of it, my family, my neighborhood, my church, in that
order. He tries to raise my political consciousness. I try to teach him how to play. He goes to
Arizona to spend Thanksgiving with his parents. My family spends Thanksgiving asking about Len. I
assure Mommy he's just a phase.
While Christmas shopping a fine Black brother smiles at me as we pass each other in front of the
library. I smile back. The season makes me happy. I smile at everyone. I pause at the flower
stand to look at the roses. I love yellow roses. Len always buys strange flowers that look like
umbrellas for Barbie dolls. I long for one perfect yellow rose. The brother buys me a red one. "I
like your smile," he says in a voice so deep it makes me senseless. His name is Alexander. I let
him follow me all over the Loop. The day feels like a musical. We go to the Art Institute and he's
not bored. We have dinner together and see a movie with no political message. We are inseparable.
When we're not together we're on the phone. I don't know what we talk about. I just soar on his voice.
Three days after we meet he's all over me, in broad daylight, in my roommate's bed. And I love it.
God how I love it. His deep, beautiful voice rumbles through me begging for ways to please me. In
his arms I am graceful, voluptuous, sexy.
Three days later, it's over. He stands me up. Arrives at my apartment six hours late, reeking of
beer and reefer, demanding the dinner he missed. I throw him out. Suddenly I want Len.
He calls from Arizona. Says he had a long talk with his parents. They're starting to work things
out. He's staying for Christmas. Needs to sort out his life. So do I.
He's back in time for New Years Eve. New Years Day is my birthday. He wants it to be special. He
gives me one perfect yellow rose. My eyes tear. He kisses me. The passion I long to feel just
isn't there. He gives me turquoise earrings to match the pendant he gave me our first Christmas
together. He asks me to marry him. Move out west, live off the land. I want to cry, but I don't.
He's so sweet I want to love him, but I don't. I don't need to run away with him. I've got nothing
to run from. Like the snow.
Joan Grisham is an elementary school teacher who believes that nice people have
interesting stories too.