I first saw the young couple sitting on the steep outside steps of the Victorian house next door. It had been renovated so the upstairs space could be accessed from outside.
They both looked terribly thin, sitting there sunning on the steps. They smoked and drank their morning coffee. It was a cold morning and she was wearing shorts and hugging herself. Her worn t-shirt was stretched to keep her long legs warm. Her stringy jet-black hair hung limp over the t-shirt and she stroked it nervously.
Their lean bodies were covered in tattoos and piercings. He wore silver chains up the length of his arms. I watched them through my living room window and wondered what they were talking about. I smiled as they smiled at each other. They were cute. She jabbed him playfully in the side and he held her in a mock choke-hold.
I had no shortage of distractions while trying to get out the door in time for work. I showered, got my breakfast and lunch ready, and tried to lock the door behind me.
‘He really needs to fix this lock,’ I thought to myself, having to slam the door several times and hold it just so before it finally clicked.
I smiled and waved at them as I juggled an armful and got into my car. He waved warmly, almost standing up. She glanced up and quickly looked away, taking a long draft of her cigarette into her cavernous jaw. When I returned at the end of the day, they were still on the steps, smoking and drinking coffee.
As I walked to my door, I waved at them and he stood straight up and bounded down the stairs, his silver chains clanging as he came. His wore a leather vest with no shirt and I fought the silly urge to look under it. “Look at the eyes,” I said to myself. He stuck his cigarette in his mouth, flicked his shock of long black hair away from his eyes, and stuck his hand out to shake mine.
My hands were loaded with a dirty breakfast bowl and spoon, my purse, work-bag, lunch bag, and who knows what else. I laid what I could down on my front step and reached out to shake his hand.
“That was kind of awkward. I suppose I could have tried to help you but I didn’t want it to look like I was trying to take your dirty bowl or anything,” he said. “My name is DJ.”
I was taken aback. I introduced myself.
“That’s Denise,” he turned his head around and blew a huge puff of smoke into the air. “She thinks she’s shy but she’s actually kind of spicy, hey baby?”, he yelled. “This is our first house. It’s pretty awesome. She’ll keep it real clean while I work. You guys can be friends.” She raised a feeble arm in greeting and quickly looked away.
“We moved in yesterday. This is our first house. We’re taking it easy today coz that was pretty hard moving on the bus. Moving’s pretty hard, you know. Luckily we don’t have a lot of stuff. Just a couple bags is all. For now. I’ll get a job and take real good care of her. This is a great home.”
He told me he had spent several years in jail since he was a teenager and was recently free. “She waited for me, hey baby?”, he turned and yelled again. She looked up and nodded a wan smile. I thought that if he talked to her again she would dissipate into a wispy membrane and disappear. He spoke fast and shifted frequently from one foot to the other. “She waited for me. I’m gonna get me a sweet ride after a while. I hate the bus. Bunch of creeps on the bus.”
“I saw you leave this morning. That’s what I’ll do every morning. Leave for work and come back in the evening. I’m gonna pump gas or lift bales of hay or work in a bank or something. I’d go crazy sitting around at home. I need to fix things, do stuff. I do like to cook. Denise doesn’t have to cook. You take a steak and put a great rub on it. Then you grab the potatoes and slice them real thin, like this,” he stuck the cigarette in his mouth again and demonstrated how with his elegant hands. “You gotta fry potatoes with a little salt and garlic. I hate vegetables but you’ve gotta eat the stuff, right?”
He laughed really hard and I got the distinct impression he wanted to high five me. I didn’t know what to do so I stupidly started to raise my hand but he didn’t want to high-five me, so I ran it through my hair and into my pockets, feeling an embarrassing rise in temperature to my face. Note to self, don’t high five strangers, especially when they’re not high fiving you.
I snapped back to attention as he was still talking. “… it’s been a long day and pretty soon we’ll be heading to The Plaid to buy some smokes and milk. Anyway, I’d love to chat, gotta go!” And he spun on his heels and ran up the stairs.
I cocked my head and stood there a minute, rather dazed, then looked around as if to see if anyone had witnessed what I just had and could confirm that I wasn’t imagining it.
No one, darn it.
I fumbled with the lock and kicked the bags through the door, stepping over them with my milk-caked Cheerios bowl, and chuckled to myself, “That’s a good one. Love to chat, gotta go!”