Friday, November 16, 2012

“There are some things we can do.  We don’t have to take this lying down.  We can challenge this decision.”  Juniper has spear-headed a tenants’ meeting in a downstairs common area that none of them even knew existed.  It seems everyone is present.  The tension in the room is so thick it could be cut with a knife.  Some aren’t holding back how disgusted they are with this sudden inconvenience.  Some are hanging around the refreshments seemingly more interested in free food and evening entertainment. 

Geneva creeps in and pushes her way through the crowd, taking a vacant seat near the wall at the back of the room.      

“Some things we can do like what?  Those folks aren’t going to listen to us!  If they cared anything about what we thought, they’d have talked with us before making this decision.”  Maria’s tone leaves no question as to how she feels about the entire ordeal.  Valissa looks at her sideways, then rolls her eyes and shakes her head.  She sits with her arms crossed, hoping this is finally her ticket to return home to her father. 

“Unfortunately, this is what happens when we don’t pay attention to what’s going on in city government.  If suggestions are made and there’s no one there to speak on our behalf or otherwise, we get excluded from deciding upon the outcome,” Bethany echoes.  As any best friend would, she’s volunteered to help organize and whatever else Juniper might need.  

“Then, who’s our councilman? Or is it an alderman?  Whatever it’s called, I’ve never seen anybody around here introducing themselves even around election time.”  Alesandra whirls in with an armful of additional finger foods.  Tish is close behind carrying beverages to put on ice.  They begin to assemble the refreshments on the table amongst the others.

“What about the owner of the building?  He made the deal without telling us anything!  And I just moved in here a couple months ago.  Do you know how expensive it can get moving?  Then transferring mail and all that!”

“Ok, there’re quite a few questions we want answered.  Now, I think the first thing we should do is get an attorney to advise us of what our rights are.  Do any of you happen to know someone or have a family member that could help us out? Cost-friendly?”

The room remains silent.

“Ok, there could be someone that would be willing to do some pro-bono work.  I’ll handle it.  And… the next thing would be to find out who represents us on that council.  Since none of us seems to know, I’ll phone and find out whose district we’re in and ask a few questions.”

“Who should I speak with about possible relocation assistance, since we’re being forced out?”

Juniper’s hands are throbbing from scribbling the tenants’ questions on her steno pad.  “I’ve noted that also, Alesandra.  By the way, let’s give Alesandra a hand for these delicious refreshments that she’s prepared.”  A few tenants chewing on finger food smile and nod in her direction, with staggering applause.  “Thank you so much, Alesandra.”

Alesandra nods with a nervous smile, slightly taken by surprise.  The tenants resume their questions and complaints.

A stranger enters the room, his head swallowed by an oversized chapeau.  He leans against the doorway with his hands in his pockets.  For a moment, Juniper is hopeful that it’s the owner of the building.  She invited him via voicemail and email but never received a response.  He did send one of the maintenance men to open up the room for them, though.  So perhaps he did decide to show.

“Ok, so how many of us would be willing to attend the next city council meeting?”  Surprisingly, most the entire room raises their hands, murmuring among themselves how serious they are about challenging these decisions.  “That’s great!  I’m going to start a contact list.  You can include your name, telephone number, email address and whatever other information you think would be useful.”  Juniper tears out a couple sheets and makes a quick heading before starting the list circulating around the room.   “Beth, do you have an extra pen?  I have more notes to jot down.”

At the mention of Beth’s name, the stranger begins scanning the crowd.  Beth digs through her purse and pulls out a writing utensil.  She taps the person in front of her and asks her to pass it to the person with the list. 

“Beth, can we take a moment to talk?”

“The stranger towering over her shoulder isn’t easily identifiable to the other tenants with the oversized chapeau.  They pay little attention to his quiet request that Beth to excuse herself.  

 Juniper freezes as she watches Bethany try to handle the situation on her own.  The look on her face is clear.  It isn’t the maintenance man, nor the owner of the building.  “Sir, this meeting is for tenants only.  I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“This lady isn’t a tenant in this building,” the man rebuttals, almost with a tinge of humor.   “But we’ll gladly leave,” he smiles as he takes Beth by the hand.  She tries to resist, but his grip is firm.  Some other tenants notice that something doesn’t look quite right.  To avoid further embarrassment, Bethany gets up from her chair and reluctantly walks toward the exit with her escort.

Juniper watches, unsure what to do.  She wants to call out to her friend, but doesn’t want to give away too much of Bethany’s personal matters to the other tenants. 

“Perhaps we can also get the media involved.  They’d have a field day with this story.  Local residents forced out.  All these faces in the news.”  Juniper’s message is clear.  The man looks around at the crowd, some of them still watching.  He smiles maliciously back at them before turning to Beth.

“Are you coming along?  Or should I plan on seeing you afterwards?” 

Bethany slowly turns and makes her way back to her seat, occasionally glancing behind her as if she’s afraid she’ll be threatened with violence.  She doesn’t say another word.  The entire room has an eerie silence.

He never takes his eyes off of her.  “Later then,” he announces before glancing over the room one last time.  “You all have a very productive meeting.  Sorry to have disturbed you.”  He gives another malevolent smile and exits.

“Alright, then,” Juniper sighs.  “Now, let’s make plans to organize a –“

Bethany bolts out of her seat and runs out of the room, startling Juniper and a few others seated nearby.  Some roll their eyes and shake their heads as if they’ve seen this before. 

“Beth, NO!” Juniper calls out to her, watching her run after her abuser.  “Ma’am, do you mind continuing?  I have to-“

“Not at all, honey.  Go see about your friend.”  A lady gets up and starts to make mention of other resources that could be useful to their cause while Juniper goes to assist Bethany.

The tenants all seem slightly shaken.  Yelling can be heard echoing from the foyer.  They glance at each other, not sure what should be done.  Some are fidgeting with their cellulars, contemplating phoning the police.  Others seem all too familiar with this scenario and begin whispering among themselves, ignoring the lady that’s taken the floor. 

“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!?!”  Someone yells from the foyer.


Gunfire echoes throughout the place, followed by screams and gasps.  Panic and tension return.  Some run toward the foyer.  Others quickly dial the police.  aH

Friday, November 9, 2012

“These old rags will never do.”  Geneva pushes back the numerous “dusters” and house dresses she has accumulated over the years.  Grocery.  That’s all she’s bought for herself.  Of course, there isn’t much income to purchase clothing.  Still, if she’d have skipped buying a house dress or two, she could’ve managed to buy a new dress over a couple of months, even if only from the clothing barn or community center.  But then, why should she?  She’d never actually expected to get a phone call from Quincy asking her out.  Yet he’d called only moments ago explaining that she’d left a bag of cat food at the Cornerstore Market last week.  He’d suggested they meet for coffee this afternoon so he could return it to her.  A Friday morning date.

 Geneva pulls out an old floral print dress and presses it against her body while looking in the mirror.  As she studies her appearance, her eyes rest on the reflection of a photograph of herself from over thirty years ago framed on her dresser.  She takes one hand and caresses her face.  The years have been bitterly kind.  For a moment time flashes to the last date she can remember.  The silly feelings she had hoping to become Mrs. Wellman on that day so many years ago, only to be told that there was already a Mrs. Wellman.  The pain from that experience seemingly etched in her forehead and around her eyes. 

“Oh, this is so silly, PomPom.  This isn’t a date.  I’m just picking up my bag.”  She hangs the dress over the mirror and turns toward PomPom nestled in the center of her bed. “This silly old ninny left your bag of food at the grocers.”  She pets PomPom’s head and begins unwrapping the clothing from her body.  After a few moments, she’s changed and ready to go.  Her hair is pinned in a neat chignon.  She smooths the sides down once more before tying the scarf neatly over her crown and putting on her coat. 

“I shouldn’t be gone long, PomPom,” she calls out as she shuts her door and makes way toward the stairs.  No chance in hoping that the elevator has been fixed.  It’s been broken so long that she’d be afraid to ride it if it were.  Her knees question if Quincy is worth the effort with every stair she takes.  But it isn’t for Quincy she tells herself.  PomPom has to have his food.

It’s a good thing that the coffeehouse is nearby.  Geneva has never been inside.  She’s only passed by a time or two.  This seems a popular spot.  Lots of people buzzing in and out.  She marvels at them, mostly young and middle aged adults.  People huddled together chatting.  Some sound so serious.  Some laughing.  Quincy stands and waves his cane in the crowd.  He’s seated in the back near a window.  Geneva nods and makes her way through the crowd.

“I hope this wasn’t too much of an inconvenience for you.”  Quincy props himself on his cane and pulls out her chair.

“No, I should be thanking you,” Geneva laughs as she takes her seat and nods in appreciation.  “I’ve only passed by this place going this place or the other.  Never been inside.  It’s really nice.”

“It’s usually not so busy this time of the day.  The morning crowds rush in for coffee.  The afternoons are usually mellow.”  Quincy takes his seat and rests his cane on the back of his chair.  “Oh, before I forget…” he pulls a bag from the seat adjacent to his. “This is yours.”  He extends the bag to Geneva.  “Didn’t know you had a cat.  I can usually tell a cat person from a couple of feet away,” he laughs.

Geneva takes the bag and gives a nervous smile. 

“How long have you had your cat?” Quincy inquires.

“I, eh… I’ve-“

“Your coffee, sir.”  The waitress interrupts, placing coffee and condiments on the table.  Quincy gives her a nod and smile as she leaves.

“I hope you don’t mind.  I took the liberty of ordering for you.  It’s only black coffee.  Decaf.  Medium roast.” 

“That’s just fine, Quincy.  Thank you.”  Geneva and Quincy begin personalizing their coffee with sweeteners and creams.  Geneva takes half and half.  She notices a box in the chair that Quincy pulled the bag from.

“A package?” she motions toward the chair.

Quincy is puzzled at first, until he realizes she’s pointing at the box.  “Oh, yes.  I’m sending a care package to the victims of Hurricane Sandy. ”

“That’s very thoughtful of you Quincy.  I’m sure that’ll be much appreciated.  Did you have family there?”

“No, I just always try to do something to help when I can.”  Quincy sips his coffee.  “That’s just right.  Nothing like a nice cup of coffee in good company.”

Geneva smiles as she tests the temperature of hers that’s now cooled slightly from the cold half and half that’s been added.  There’s a sudden noise that startles them both from a table not too far from theirs.  Some patron emotionally charged over the re-election of President Obama to the point that he has lost his ability to communicate his feelings without all those unnecessary sound effects.

“Guess there are some still unsettled about the election,” Quincy scoffs. 

“Well, can’t please everybody,”  Geneva laughs.  Quincy joins her in laughter. 

The two of them sit for about an hour or so, reacquainting themselves.  Geneva learns that Quincy has been married only once.  A widower for only about five years now.  He has two grown sons that are also making careers as servicemen.  Geneva sits and listens to his stories with not much to share about her own. 

“I’d better get to the post office and get this mailed off if I want it included in today’s shipment,”  Quincy announces, preparing the get up with the assistance of his cane.  “Would you be interested in a walk to the post office?  It’s just right around the corner.”

“No, I’ve got to get back,” Geneva lies, not wanting to seem too available.  She also prepares to rise from the table.  Quincy quickly reaches to pull her chair out.  She smiles at him displaying such qualities of a gentleman, wondering how long that could possibly last.  As she picks up her bag and stands, she extends her hand to shake.  “PomPom thanks you,” she says while holding up the bag of cat food.

Sparked by the mention of her cat, Quincy inquires again.  “You know, this is really the strangest thing.  I’ve been deathly allergic to cats all my life.  Can’t stand to be within a few feet of anyone that owns one.  But…my allergies aren’t the least bit bothered by you.”

Geneva gives a nervous smile. 

The waitress comes to clean the table.  “Is there something else I can get you?”

“No,” Geneva nods.  “We’re leaving.”  She looks toward Quincy.  “Thank you again.”  Geneva begins to make her way toward the door, turning back to wave at Quincy.

Quincy nods and picks up the box from the other chair, never taking his eyes off of her.  “I’ll call again.  Another cup of coffee on another day?”  He asks.

Geneva turns and gives and affirmative nod.  “I wouldn’t mind that at all.”  She waves once more as she exits the coffeehouse.

The stroll back to Millford Estates is one of the most pleasant Geneva has had in quite some time.  Her knees don’t ache quite as bad.  Perhaps the small amount of exercise has helped, if only a short walk to the coffeehouse.  As she climbs the steep stone stairs to the entrance she takes in a deep breath and smiles.  Then she opens the heavy, intricately carved mahogany door and carefully makes her way over the threshold.  Some tenants are gathered near the mailboxes just to the left of the entrance.  Guess now’s as good a time as any to check for her new AARP card.  And maybe her new benefits statement arrived.  She slowly moves around the people near the mailboxes, reflecting on the wonderful time she’s had.  While fumbling with her keys she notices that the conversation from those gathered about sounds upsetting. 

“How can they just do this without telling us anything beforehand?” One questions with disappointment.

“It seems like we should get a vote or some say so about what happens to us!” another angrily protests.

“I just moved here a few months ago.  Look like if they knew about this they wouldn’t have accepted new tenants,” sputters someone else.

“Thank God.  I wonder if they’re going to give us some relocation assistance,” sighs another.

Geneva reaches inside her mailbox and pulls out a neatly folded piece of paper addressed to her and taped together.  She gently separates and unfolds the paper, squinting to try and read the typing that is already in large, bold print.

Dear Tenant,

Millford Estates will no longer be available as residential property effective immediately.  You are being asked to vacate within three months of this date.  Your understanding and cooperation is greatly appreciated as we continue to grow and expand in effort to remain a thriving city.       

Friday, November 2, 2012

Valissa rushes in the house and drops her backpack by the door.  Today was the best day of school that she’s had since they moved to this new school district.  She’s made a new friend.  Of course, no one could ever take Larque’s place.  But this girl will do for now.  She’s alright.  And she’s invited her to a masquerade party for Halloween.

“Mom!”  Usually she’s in the kitchen fixing a late lunch or in the living room.  She didn’t mention having to go anywhere before Valissa left for school.  Yet, she was nowhere to be found.  “Mom!”  Valissa peers out on the terrace.  No one there. 

“Dag, if I’d known she wasn’t gonna be here I’d have stopped and hung out longer.”  After peeping in the bathrooms, Valissa returns to the kitchen to fix a snack.  She removes some frozen appetizer from the freezer, unwraps it and pops it in the microwave.  Her eyes focus on the near empty bottle of Hennessey on the counter.  “Not again!”  A few paces to the bedroom confirms what Valissa knew to be true.  Maria was passed out again laying on the bedroom floor. 

“Maria!  MARIA!”  She doesn’t move.  Valissa stares for a moment.  She’s still breathing.  “This time I won’t put you to bed, Maria!  You’re a mess!  What is wrong with you?!?!”  Valissa slams the door and runs to her backpack to get the prepaid cellular her friends gave her.  This is why she doesn’t invite friends over.  The last thing she wants to add to her list of parental embarrassments is to bring company home to witness Maria sloppy drunk or passed out.  Larque answers almost immediately it seems after Valissa’s dialed her number.

“What’s up, chick?”

“Can you get Dennis and them to come through and swoop me up?”  Her fury is barely detected.

“Whut?  Maria lettin’ you out the house???”

“Let’s just say that the responsible parent pissy drunk and passed out is understood  permission to leave.”

“Gotcha.  I’ll be there soon as I can get hold of them.”

“Good.  I’ll meet ya’ll at the pier.”  Valissa disconnects the call and tucks the phone in her back pocket while making way for the door.  A thought breaks her stride.  She backtracks to Maria’s room where her purse is rested on the bed and uses her hand to fish down toward the bottom where Maria thinks she’s hiding her cash.  When she brings her hand out, there are a couple hundreds, a few twenties, some tens, fives and ones.  Valissa returns $220 to the “secret compartment” and strolls out of the house, slamming the door.