© Bruce Louis Dodson
Monday morning Dad helped shove a heavy, railroad suitcase into my less than roomy car. I hugged my mother.
“You be careful.” Dad said as he shut trunk then tried the latch to see if it was locked. He handed me the keys. “Use your damn head.”
I barely understood the feelings saturating space between the three of us. Some kind of man-thing, ancient . . . almost biblical. Boy leaving home and family to wander places yet unknown— a rite of passage.
“You be sure to write.” Mom called as I backed down our gravel driveway, waved goodbye and felt a spark of sadness mixed with my excitement of the moment.
Fifteen minutes later, I was on the Interstate, a rolling meditation, lost in thoughts. I goosed the MGA to ninety, top down, with Bill Haley and the Comets on the radio. I was in love with rock & roll . . . and Linda. Anything was possible. I’d graduate next year, we could get married, but . . . would she be dating other guys? Possibly older guys. It’s been three months.
* * *
I made it to Chicago in the early evening, felt a thrill pass through me as the skyline came in view, another world – fantastic. I soon found Hyde Park, a tree-lined, upper-class, and mostly Jewish neighborhood located four blocks west of Lake Shore Drive, at 53rd and Harper. Dearie’s place was in a 1940’s building, brick and limestone with a shawl of vines that ended at a balcony. I took my suitcase from the trunk and donned a straw hat that I thought was cool, a skimmer, with a bright red, white and blue striped band. The entrance to her building held a panel made of polished brass with aspirin-sized, black buttons. BERG – Her name engraved beside two dozen others. I vowed I would have a place like this someday, my own apartment, shared with Linda.
As I pushed the button underneath her name I heard a gravelly voice made more so by a speaker in the panel. “Yes . . . who is it?”
“David! Wonderful! Come in!”
A soft electric buzz allowed my entrance past a beveled glass and polished walnut door into a marble lobby with twin ferns on either end of a stone bench below a mirror. I started for the elevator, but heard Dearie call down through the stairwell.
“I’m up here— second floor.”
I took the wide, red carpet stairway two steps at a time, and found her at an open doorway, drink in hand, a turquoise pendant on her neck, sky-blue silk, blouse, gray slacks. A class act, and the fact that she was Jewish made her seem exotic. I was at the entrance to a world unknown.
“My God! You’ve grown! A man already. Come inside and let me look at you.” The door to her apartment was stopped open with a hard-cover copy of The Rise and Fall of The Roman Empire. She moved the heavy volume with her foot. “I didn’t want to miss your coming up.”
I stepped into a living room two times the size of ours at home, and covered with thick, sea-green carpeting. A large beige couch and coffee table faced a black and white TV. French doors lead onto a balcony that looked out on the street, and a large balcony across the way.
She hugged me, then stepped back to look at me again, leaving behind the scent of Scotch and good perfume. Dearie had a solid body, almost muscular, skin deeply tanned, eyes gray and clear — intelligent. Her hair, the color of dark chocolate, had been artfully contrived to frame her face, a few strands fell across her forehead. On the young side of the middle-forties, same age as my mother.
“Wow. I can’t believe it!” Dearie beamed. “Where’d did you get that lid? I love it. God, it’s been eight years, Dave. You were twelve, I think– thirteen? ” She paused to light a Camel. “Want a cigarette? A drink?”
“Yes, both.” I’d been transported to an urban paradise, were drinks and smoking were permitted. There were works of art on her apartment’s walls. “I love that painting.” Dearie glance to see what I was looking at: a sailboat in a storm, three fishermen in rain gear, high, white-crested waves and threatening, gray-black sky.
“Edward Moran. It’s just a reproduction. Riding Out A Gale. I find it inspirational.” An honest grin. “My life.” She led me through an open archway, through her dining room, into a bedroom. “You can keep your things in here.” She opened up a walk-in closet, first I’d ever seen. She turned to face me. “Such a hat!” She took it off my head and put it on her own, modeling her image in a mirror above a chest of drawers that held a purse and house keys on its top, beside a fifth of Black & White Scotch still inside its box.
“It’s perfect for you.”
“I agree.” She vamped a Marlene Dietrich pose, complete with dangling cigarette. “You hungry? We could eat.”
I followed her into the dining room. “I’m not that hungry, but a drink sounds good. What happened here?” I pointed to a grease-stained wall behind a polished, hardwood, dining table and six matching padded chairs. The papered wall looked like a map of some still unknown continent with great, dark spots and smaller splotches, islands . . . lakes. An area of maybe five feet wide, splashed vertically for thirty inches, more or less.
“I had a cooking accident. Should I be doing this?” She held a half filled, fifth of Scotch in her left hand, a gold ring glittered. “Dave, is it okay for you to drink? What would your father say?”
“He wouldn’t mind.” I lied. Dad was a deacon at First Baptist Church, but I had gotten pretty good at drinking with fraternal brothers—boozy parties on the beaches of Crab Orchard Lake. “And I’ll be twenty-one in ten more months.”
“Time goes so fast.” She shook her head. “Want ice?”
“Yes, please, and water . . . half and half.”
She filled the best part of a heavy, cut-glass tumbler before going back into the living room. We each took one end of the couch. Another book lay on a coffee table, “Exodus,” by Leon Uris, with a playing card, the Jack of Hearts, to mark her place.
“I guess you drink at college,” Dearie reasoned.
“Weekends mostly, but not always.” I drank beer, and sometimes Southern Comfort mixed with Coke. Hangovers were survivable and I was well-acquainted with them.
“You’ll be sleeping here, the living room,” she told me. “There’s a Murphy bed. You want to see?” She stood and walked across the room to open a wide door, then showed me how to pull the apparatus down, springs creaking like an ancient drawbridge.
I had never seen a bed like that before, as there were no apartment buildings in Wood River, no brass nameplates, intercoms or even elevators. Door bells were a rarity. I raised my glass. “Here’s to Chicago.”
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