Copyright © 1994 by David Reitzes
"So," his grandmother asked him, "what did you do last night?"
"Oh, nothing, really," Daniel said, holding the receiver with his shoulder while pouring the tea.
"You haven't heard from Carol, I suppose?"
He paused only slightly before replying, "No."
Over the phone he could hear his grandmother make the slightest clucking sound with her tongue.
"Well, what are you going to do," she said. "Did you spend the evening with friends?"
"No, there aren't that many people around right now. I'm used to spending all my time with Carol."
Steam drifted up from his tea to vanish in the sallow haze that seemed to dull and obscure the morning. He added the milk and stirred half-heartedly, waiting for his reflection to appear again on the surface, but the liquid's cloudiness cut through the image. He took a small sip, then put it aside.
He glanced at the window, but the harsh glare of golden sun off snow through dusty windows jabbed at his eyes, and he quickly looked away. As his hand brushed over the sticky surface of the counter, he made a mental note to do some cleaning now that he had the time.
"Well, look," his grandmother was saying, "there are plenty of fish in the sea, and you know what that's about, and that's all there is. And the prescription for my back isn't doing much for my conversation. And that's too bad!" she added, and laughed. "What about your roommate, whatsisname?"
"Yeah, he isn't around."
"What, he went home?"
"I don't know, actually. He was talking about flying to Texas next week to visit friends; maybe he left early. All I know is he didn't come home yesterday."
"He didn't tell you he was going?"
"Well, I think he must be out of town, because he left the mail key; he usually keeps that with him. He could have gone to visit his girlfriend in Providence - he said he'd changed his mind, but maybe he changed it back. Or maybe he's home in Philadelphia. So I'm just here trying to get some work done, trying to get over this cold."
"Hm. Oh, wait - Pop wants to say something."
His grandfather's voice came over the line clear and strong, "Daniel, nothing but the best to you!"
"You too, Pop."
This was the booming voice of Izzy Reed, the onetime hometown hero - a massive young man who could do everything but run. Inevitably tagged out on any base hit, he did the only thing he could: He hit home runs. Lots of them. He was signed to the majors, but an injury cost him his career before a single chance at bat. So he hit a home run of a different kind: He married Daniel's grandmother, Rose. Then he walked into the nearest factory and said, "I need a job. What do you need?"
A salesman, they'd told him.
"I can do that," he'd replied.
He was soon collecting Salesman of the Year plaques when he wasn't umpiring Little League ball or tossing a baseball to his own two increasingly massive sons. And when the work dried up, and the sons were grown, he and Rosie picked up their belongings, and headed out west to start again.
He found work selling the newest addition to the modern office, the mechanical adding machine, a contraption that looked like a cash register gone mad. He carried one home, set it on the kitchen table, and sat up all of one boiling hot Reno night learning how to add, subtract, multiply, divide - every which thing he could make it do. He took the whole unit apart, put it back together, did it again, and by the time he was done, he'd probably taught the machine a thing or two. Then he went out and earned some more plaques.
And if his grandfather ever had a moment to be bitter, Daniel never saw it. Oh, he would gripe about money, and occasionally belittled the loyalty he'd shown certain employers who hadn't exactly knocked themselves out repaying his efforts. But if he had to do it all over, Daniel imagined he'd probably do it all pretty much the same.
Besides, what use did Izzy have for money? Put a hot meal in front of him, a ballgame on the TV, and his family nearby, and he was as content as Frank Sinatra.
"You're all done your work now?" his grandfather asked.
"My schoolwork, yeah - you're talking to a college graduate."
"Ho-lee cow! Isn't that something? What's next, babe?"
"Pop, I haven't the faintest idea."
"Well, you got time for that. You sound good, that's the important thing. Hey, do you know what my first year tuition bill in college was?"
"I can't imagine."
"Twenty-five dollars! How do ya like that?"
"That's hard to believe."
"Yeah. Well, listen - nothing but the best to you, as always. And I love you, and I'm going to put your grandmother back on."
"Okay, Pop. Love you too."
"He's a man of few words, isn't he?" his grandmother asked. "Oh, the snow is just lovely out. Have you been out? Oh, not with your cold, I suppose. But it's just beautiful out - oh, the snow just makes me so lightheaded. Listen to me carry on like this. Well, Pop and I went out and had lunch and saw the geese."
She and his grandfather took a drive every week down the winding hills that kept suburbia at bay in Daniel's hometown. On the way to a lunch of cottage cheese and fruit and a bread pudding for Pop, they most looked forward to the geese that dotted the ponds along the long stretch of back road. These drives were practically the only time his grandfather got out of the house now, except for the half-hour walks with his cane that took him the length of two or three houses and back.
"I don't care if you like the geese or not," said his grandmother, "but you must see the geese! Oh, and this snow. Well, I will let you go before you have me locked up, raving like this.
"Oh, and I talked to your sister last night, and she sounded great. And I tried to get your parents, but they were out, and I couldn't get your brother, either. He was probably out doing the town. Ha ha, three shades to the wind, or however that goes. Well, this family could use a drunk! Okay, so that's all."
After saying goodbye and finishing his tea, he put on his shoes, his coat, his earmuffs, a scarf, and his gloves. He didn't know how many blocks he'd have to walk in the cold - it depended on how many stores were open.
The snow had melted from the steps outside, leaving a wet but only slightly hazardous descent to the street. It was surprisingly mild out, possibly in the forties. Still, it was just as well to be all bundled up with his cold still faintly lingering.
He was surprised to see the laundromat across the street open for business, and it appeared the corner deli's lights were on as well. Walking down the block of squat rowhouses with the grass crunching beneath his boots, he thought about how much he used to enjoy the snow when he was a child - when snow either meant no school or a weekend full of promise. Before there were places to go, blocks to walk, miles to drive, and the snow became an obstacle.
He crossed the street to avoid a noisy gaggle of children playing stickball, using snowballs instead of the real thing. They squealed in Spanish at - kapow! - another home run. A pudgy kid in a lumpy coat and a Cossack-style hat rounded the bases, his hands above his head, fingers forming two V's for victory. Then came the celebratory snowball fight. Home runs all around today.
Daniel stepped into the harsh sulphur light of the tiny store. Two old men with brown, leathery faces were here as always, playing checkers by the door. When the weather was warm, they'd take their game outside.
He picked up a carton of juice, checking the expiration date, and rummaged about the snack shelf, finally deciding upon some small, sugary coffee cakes wrapped in plastic - the mass-produced kind that didn't taste so great, but could be counted on to be exactly the same each time.
He placed his selections on the counter. A balding, mustachioed man began to ring the items up. He wore a green and black sweater with a pattern that suggested mountaintops in a rainstorm. A younger man in grey workclothes stood behind him, sipping on a cup of coffee.
"Oh, and and two packs of gum, please - plain," Daniel asked, indicating a yellow cardboard rack on the wall behind the younger man. The older man said a few words in Spanish, and the younger reached up and plucked a red package from the rack.
"No, no," Daniel pointed, "in the black package."
"Negro," said the older man. The younger plucked one down.
"Two," Daniel repeated, holding up two fingers in a V. "Dos."
Dos, he thought idly. Dos for victory.
The older man rang his purchase up, handed him his change, and thanked him.
"Thank you," Daniel replied. "Happy New Year."
"Happy New Year, Sir," the man said.
Bundling himself up again, Daniel stepped out into the cool of the day, where children scooped up slushy snowballs from the vanishing white foam, and colored holiday lights winked their chlorine cheer in the noonday sun.
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