A WAY WITH BOYS
They were sisters Juline, 46, a widow and Clara, 34, separated with two young sons. Clara lived in a second-floor apartment facing a small park. Juline’s apartment was directly across the park, also on the second floor. The two women could look out their windows and chance would have it, catch a glimpse of each other – but they rarely bothered, for they saw each other regularly at a much closer range.
Every week day, while Clara was at work, Juline took care of the boys after school; she took care of them on school holidays, as well and when they were sick. She loved the boys so much because she had no children. On Sundays, Juline had lots of date though. Men were crazy about her, always had been – and not because she was a great beauty, for she wasn’t.
Juline had a way with boys that Clara, at different times before her life, had admired and envied; had imitated unsuccessfully, and had finally learned to accept as one of the great differences between herself and her sister. Even now, there were times when she would look at her sister with wonder; for what she saw was a woman, past her prime, and wearing bifocals, and her waistline gone.
That was how she looked on this particular Sunday, seated in a reclining chair in Clara’s living room, her legs straight out, and a smile on her parted lips as she watched the movie on family classics. The children James and John were on the floor near her feet. Clara came in with a sweeper and rags.
Juline interrupted, “If you need a husband...” Perhaps the movie had inspired the remark or memories of her own good husband, or her date the previous night, or the fact that Clara made an attempt to meet a man. Whatever its source, the remark disturbed Clara. She folded her arms as her lips silently found the words, “Not in front of the children!” She didn’t want them getting any ideas.
Still smiling, Juline glanced at the boys, who were intently watching a beverage commercial. “They’re not listening,” she said.
“Juline,” Clara said “come into the kitchen, please. “ Juline got to her feet, bent down to speak with the boys something about practice in the park after the movie- then followed her sister, who promptly closed the door behind them.
“Now look,” Clara asserted, “I’m not even close to having a husband and I don’t want the boys thinking that I am. So stop making irritating comments!”
“Hey, don’t be pissed,” Juline said calmly.
“I’m not sorry for anything.” Clara said, trying to fight back the memory of Brandon, the way he had looked after he’d searched deep into his soul and come with a regrettable fact that he was not a person who could devote his entire life to one woman – no offense.
Juline shook her head. “It’s Brandon, I know. Because of him you’ve given up on men, and that’s not right. There are nice men in the world. Why every day I run into –“
“I’m not you, Juline,” Clara said, feeling sorry she had spoken sharply to her sister. But how could Juline, who had never felt intimidated by any man, understood her feeling of failure? Brandon had been her first love, her only serious boyfriend. She hadn’t even dated much before meeting him. “It’s not that I’ve given up on men, “ she said. “It’s just that I don’t know why single men are still interested in getting married. And I don’t know how to meet them. I can’t talk to people the way you do, start a conversation with a total stranger.” When dealing with strangers, Clara spoke carefully, wanting the words to come out right always taking into account what the other person might think. Juline, however, seemed to talk off the top of her head and what she said always seemed to come out right.
Shortly after Brandon had left, when Clara was feeling the deep hurt and loss and when everyone was giving her advice, she was still listening to it, she had been persuaded to go to a bar for some fun. It was awful. All men in the bar reminded her of Brandon, that she felt like a piece of merchandise returnable. No questions asked.
“No, you’re not me,” Juline said, “and that’s as it should be. But where is it written that you must be alone and lonely, without a husband? You know what I mean – without love.”
“I guess I’m not lucky in love, but I’m doing okay, Juline.” Gradually, Clara had learned to depend on herself; she had become quite good at it, in fact, that made her feel proud.
“Take companionship then,“ Juline said. “What’s wrong with that? A nice lonely man would be lucky to meet you. “Materials Fuertes! Clara – you are still young, you’re intelligent, attractive –“
“I’ve got two children,” Clara put in. “Would your imaginary man call them assets?”
“Two deductions?” Juline continued. Clara half- listened. Juline was thinking about how she used to dream of inheriting Clara’s gifts, her sons. Clara was thinking about Juline’s charism.
Always friendly, Juline was in the habit of talking to total strangers whenever she happened to be – on a bus, in a restaurant, on a line at the movies, even on the street. Men of all ages like her, handsome men as well as homely, they liked the way she gave them her full attention, was interested in the details of their lives; they liked the way she complimented their looks, or brains, or skills, and they loved it when she made them laugh.
Clara knew that her sister possessed a special quality of great value. Almost every man wanted to talk to her. Every man she came in contact with. These incident and others, resided quietly in Clara’s mind and for a long time she had believed that one day, when she was older and wiser, she would learn to be like Juline. Juline’s late husband liked the way she was, the way she could charm people. This was her gift from heaven.
Juline was still talking when the boys ran into the kitchen, looking for Aunt but she broke off to give them her attention, “Ready to play?” They ran off and she chose that moment to say, “Oh by the way, there’s a man interested in armies stuff…”
“What do you mean?” Clara said.
“You know, Brandon’s – “
“I know about Brandon’s stuff; cassettes, records, etc.” There were stacks of them in boxes. They were worth something and he said he was leaving them and giving them to Clara.
“Well,” Juline went on, “you once talked of selling them.”
“Get to the point Juline!”
“Well, I met a man and he collects old cassettes and records and he said he wants to see the records.”
“I gave him your address.”
“You told him to come here?”
“Yes, this afternoon. He’s a good man, I could tell. Trust me Clara. Be nice and offer him some snacks.”
“This afternoon? But, Juline, look at me! I’m a mess. The place is disorderly. I still have to clean!”
“Relax,” Juline said. “Ready boys?”
“Wait, don’t leave me like this!” Clara screamed. But Juline and the boys were already out of the door. Her first thoughts was to ran after them. Her next thought was of her appearance. She liked to think she dressed with elegance, but she was wearing rubber shoes and denim pants.
She had no make-up. Should she change first or clean? Her thoughts whirled. As she stood at the window trying to decide, she saw Juline and the boys playing. She considered putting on a fluffy blouse, loose t-shirt and some pink lipstick, combing her hair to look more feminine, with soft locks curling over her ears.
Five minutes later, the doorbell rang, her face flushed.
Archie was about fifty, a kind-faced man, looking a bit reserved. “Yes, hello, you must be Juline’s sister...he paused, then began again, “I mean, she told me to come – your sister, Juline.” And then he smiled.
“Oh, yes,” Clara said clasping her hands behind her back, noticing the white shirt and attractive mustache Archie had on his upper mouth.
After a brief silence, Archie said, “I’m here to see the record.”
“The records? Oh, right! The records and some cassettes… She did mention them. This way.” She walked and he followed bravely behind. She dragged out the boxes, and while she opened them, he said, “It’s a beautiful day!”
“I’ve been cleaning up, “ she said.
“I saw Juline – your sister – in the park having fun with two little boys. I don’t think she saw me.”
“Those are my children.” Clara said to let him know she had responsibilities.
“”I also have two girls – they live with my wife. She lives with a partner and they’re happy. They have got kids.”
“That’s nice,” Clara said.
“But I spend a lot of time with them the girls. We are great friends. At other times, when I’m alone, I’d listen to jazz music. It’s terrific. Have you been to concerts already?”
“No, I haven’t, ” answered Clara, as she handed him a record.
Archie examined it carefully. “Fine record, Juline was right, it was my lucky day, that day in the shop.”
“These were left to me by my husband,” Archie’s eyes clouded over.
“I’m sorry,” he said with sympathy.
“Oh, he’s not dead,” she shrugged.
“We’re separated. Maybe, it just happens …” she said sarcastically.
His eyebrows went up. “Oh?”
All the records were still in their jackets and while she handed him one after the other, Archie’s excitement increased.
“What a collection!”
She accepted, liking him better and better. She knew that her sister had been right – he was a nice guy.
There was a moment when it would have been appropriate to ask him to stay for a snack. She hesitated, trying to find the right words among those that rushed through her mind. She ran a hand through her hair, feeling uncertain and a little afraid. And then the moment was gone. She wanted him to stay…which he would suggest it.
He carried the boxes down to his car making three trips. Should she call him back? Too late…
She went to the window to watch him drive away and instead she saw him waved to Juline. They talked. There was no doubt in her mind about where they had gone. She looked at Juline’s place on the other side and saw a light in the window. She marched back up the stairs angry with herself, envious of Juline and her gift; why she wouldn’t be surprised if Archie asked her sister for a date.
Frustrated, Clara paced up and down her living room. “What’s the matter with me?” She thought. She paused to look out the window. It was dark now and Juline’s window looked so bright and inviting, she could imagine the good time going there.
The door bell rang; loud, startling her. She composed herself and opened the door. But it was Juline, with the two boys, not Archie.
“We ran all the way, those boys are full energy.”
“Where’s Archie?” Clara asked. With surpise, Juline answered, “How would I know?“ he left after a little talk.”
“Ah.” Clara winked.
“The boys came to my place to make popcorn.” “He liked you,” Juline said. “Too bad you didn’t like him.”
“I did – he was nice.”
“Well, good! Did you make any plans?”Clara shook her head. She would never see him again.
Later that evening after the boys were in bed, Clara called Juline on the phone and said, “:How did you know that he liked me?”
Juline laughed. “Because he said so, Clara!” His exact words were “She’s a fine person… He said it more than once.”
“Did he really say that Juline?”
“Yes, he did, honestly! And he liked the records, too.”
“Bye, Juline. Thanks.” Mention of the record reminded her of Archie’s check tucked in her purse.
She took it out and saw the address and telephone number of Archie printed right below its name. She knew what she would say when she called him – she would ask about the concert. And she knew, also, that she would not try to imitate Juline. She would use all that she knew and felt and hoped for, if she could manage, and she believed she could. It would be enough. That was her way.
/Rosalinda Flores Martinez.
/posted by rosevoc2. 5.27.2013