He was tall, she noted as he sat down in the other lawn chair on the balcony of the 24th floor apartment. Her mother was in the shower and they were heading out for the day once she was ready. Little swung her bare legs back and forth under the lawn chair, skidding her jelly shoes against the concrete.
She peeled back the skin on her banana and shifted in her seat, settling in and feeling the nylon take the shape of the curve of her tiny spine. The view from the balcony seemed to go on forever. Buildings and parking lots sprawled out and peppered the skyline with their hard lines. Little thought it was beautiful and loved the days it was clear enough to see the outline of the C.N. Tower. Today wasn’t one of those days. She often wondered what other people’s apartments looked like and if they had cats or kids.
She looked sideways at him, often straining her eyes to study his face, his eyes. Between them sat a small table with two glasses leftover from his date with her mother, the night before. The sun was shrouded in enough cloud to dull the glare on the glass and Little could smell that familiar aroma of wine. Her mother’s current boyfriend was a new fixture in their revised life and he made Little’s mother very happy.
“Let me tell you a joke,” Little said, and she suddenly perched herself on the edge of the chair, nearly tipping forward. She was nervous around him, and really wanted him to like her. He made her mother so happy.
“Okay,” he smiled. His glasses were dark now, as they automatically adjusted from clear to a deep brown when he stepped outside. Little and her brother Buddy found this to be one of the most fascinating things about him. Years later, she saw Steve Buscemi on screen and gasped, instantly reminded of the man sitting across from her on that balcony.
“What’s red and green and goes 100 miles an hour without going anywhere?” she recalled the familiar joke her own father had told her a million times.
He put his finger to his chin and pretended to ponder her riddle.
“I don’t know,” he chided. “Tell me.”
“A frog in a blender!” Little squealed.
They laughed together and he clapped his hands once. It seemed as though he wanted Little to like him too.
“What happens if you drink it?” Little asked, bursting.
“Tell me,” he grinned.
“You croak!” she giggled and went to take another bite of her banana.
“Oh you!” he laughed, and with one swoop, he clasped her hand in his and shoved most of the banana into her mouth, smashing it into her mouth and chin and down into her lap.
Little stopped cold and looked down. He was still laughing but she had banana on her shorts and felt the cherry red heat climb up her neck and onto her cheeks.
“I’ll be right back!” She used her body weight to awkwardly pull the heavy balcony door open, nervously smiling, and disappeared inside.
Her mother met her in the bedroom hallway, fresh and ready to go out. Her bangle earrings hung gently under her curly hair. Little met her mother’s eyes.
“I have to change,” Little said, wiping at her face and looking at her hand.
“What? Why?” Then she saw Little’s shorts. “What happened?”
Little told her about them joking around. Please don’t get mad please don’t get mad.
“What do you think of him, Little?”
“He’s funny, Mom.”
Clearly Mom wasn’t mad about the shorts. She clutched Little’s shoulders and said, “I have something to tell you. Where’s your brother?”
They both called out and soon Buddy was in the hall with them. Their mother sat down on the steamer trunk in the hallway and looked at her children carefully. She asked Buddy what he thought of her current boyfriend too and he said the same thing, “he’s funny Mom.”
He was funny, but not always in a funny ha-ha way. Most of the time when the three of them went to his apartment, Buddy and Little were expected to play quietly while Mom talked with him. They often went out on his little balcony with their wine glasses, while Little and Buddy watched T.V. inside the apartment.
The apartment was always immaculate and there was never anything out of place. There were rules as sure as the vaccuum lines in the carpet. All the tables were made of glass and they weren’t to get fingerprints on them. They had to use coasters, something they didn’t own at home, and if they played with the glass chess set, they had to be sure the pieces were placed back upon it, facing forward, in the middle of each square. They had to rinse their glasses and put them in the dishwasher, but Buddy wasn’t tall enough, so Little did it. If water got on the counter, they had to wipe it up and put the dishtowel, folded, back on the handle of the stove. The dishcloth was folded in thirds and draped over the neck of the faucet.
As much as perfection hung like a shroud over the apartment, the grownups didn’t seem to care when Buddy and Little sifted through his impressive collection of Heavy Metal magazines. Buddy was naturally enthralled with the naked comic women and their enormous boobs. Little leafed through them and thought they were weird and scary. She stared at the monsters that often had woman clutched at the neck or penetrated these women between their legs with their talons or other alien parts and wondered who would enjoy these seemingly violent pictures. She watched him with great interest whenever he came in to refill a glass or grab a snack, and wondered.
Little stared, wide-eyed at her mother in the hallway, waiting for her to say it. “Well he asked me to marry him!” she told them with great excitement, with promises of a house instead of an apartment, and more money. The three of them rejoiced in the hallway for a minute and Little scampered off to change her shorts.
This would be marriage number three for Mom.
Little’s stomach hurt. Worry slumped over hope like a dead body, and Little peered out from under it all, unable to move.