How Can I Be Sure?


Thomas found Harking Café and went in. He found Julia at a table eating a salad as big as her head. He sat down and, as usual, waited for her to begin the conversation. Two hours before Julia had called wanting to talk to her childhood friend Thomas about her Jeffery.

Julia, her mouth full, waved to Thomas with her fork. After several bites she started. “You know,”…,”Jeffery hasn’t said anything but I think he doesn’t love me.”

“And, what makes you think that?” Thomas asked.

“I have a feeling that he wants out of our relationship.”

“What gives you that impression?” Thomas looked puzzled.

“He’s avoiding me.” Julia tapped the air with her fork.

“Avoiding you as in not being with you? You two are married.”

“He’s avoiding me by not seeing what I need before I have to ask.”

“Mind reading is not easy. See.” Thomas cupped his hands around her salad bowl and closed his eyes. “I got nothing.”

“Jeffery should at least know how I feel. I don’t feel loved. Aren’t I supposed to feel loved in a marriage.” Julia took another bite.

“Maybe you have never been loved like this before.” Thomas put the menu in front of his face.

Julia stopped chewing, raised her brows and looked at Thomas.

“Oh, I know what love is and what I feel isn’t love. It is more like Jeffery puts up with me.”

When the waitress came, Thomas ordered a sandwich and then winced. High-pitched screams had come from across the room. Two young girls were fighting over the syrup bottle.

The waitress snarled, “Its Kids Eat Free day at Harking.” She put her hand on her hip and looked around. “We supply the food, you supply the environment. This is what I put up with every Tuesday.” She grabbed the menu from the table and was off.

“Have you talked to Jeffery about all this?” Thomas continued where Julia left off.

“Oh, yeah. He says he doesn’t understand what I am talking about. He says he loves me. He says he goes to work every day to provide for us and then comes home to me. It’s nice that he takes care of things but that isn’t what I mean by being loved. I need more.

And, when I ask Jeffery, he says he isn’t thinking of someone else when we make love. But, how can I be sure?”

Thomas looked out the window and thought. “I really don’t want to go there, do I?”  After some long slow chewing he looked at Julia and asked. “Do you think of someone else when you make love with Jeffery?”

“Sometimes. I mean, it’s just women’s fantasy stuff, you know? Paperback novel chick flick stuff, not real guys.”

Thomas pressed her.  “But, do you think of Jeffery when, you know…?”

After a long silence between bites, Julia said, “In a way I guess. It’s hard for me to visualize him when I’m not sure he’s thinking of me.

“You say that as if you know what Jeffery thinks.”

“Jeffery’s a guy. You know how guys are.”

“Tell me.

“Did I tell you that my father was never around because of his sales job?”

“Yes, the last time we talked.”

“Mom told me countless times that she couldn’t count on dad except for his paycheck.”

“Jeff is home for you at night. Do you take advantage of that?”

“I want him to sit with me and watch TV. He likes to go into the garage and work on his car.”

“Maybe, you two should find something you enjoy together. Take a mind reading class together.”

“Yeah, right. It wouldn’t take a mind reader to see that I like certain things a certain way. Isn’t that why he married me – to take care of me? In any case I don’t see him changing. Talking with him hasn’t changed anything. I don’t think he listens to me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“He’s distant, like he doesn’t know how to respond. Maybe he just doesn’t want to be bothered.”

Julia grabbed her purse and got up from the table.

“I’m going to grab a smoke. I’ll be right back.”

Thomas looked down at his half-eaten sandwich. He wondered if this conversation would finish him off.

After several minutes, Julia returned.

“There’s this guy outside,…Bill. He is having the same thing going on in his marriage. He doesn’t feel loved by his wife. He says his wife doesn’t understand him. We have a lot in common.”

Thomas, hoping to change the subject, asked Julia how her telemarketing job was going.

Julia was quick to reply. “Try selling something that people don’t want over the phone. They don’t know you and you are trying to get them to take a credit card offer and one with a 26 percent finance charge. I don’t like manipulating people.”

Thomas choked on his ice tea and covered his mouth with his napkin. He set the glass down on the table.

Julia continued. “Maybe Jeffery thinks he is better than me. Maybe he is better than me. Maybe that is why he doesn’t love me. He must think that I am not worthy of his love.”

“Didn’t you say he brought you flowers the other day?”

“He did. The flowers…I need more than the thought behind it, you know? So, I have a weekend planned for us. I made a reservation at a resort for this weekend.”

“Jeff never mentioned that to me when I saw him yesterday.”

“Oh, he doesn’t know yet. I’ll tell him tonight and see how he responds. If he balks, well…that will tell me everything.”

The waitress came with the check.

“Here”, Thomas offered, “let me pay. I read your mind.” Thomas grabbed her check off the table.


Julia’s phone rang. “Hi Liz. Yeah, let’s get together and talk. See you at Lou’s in about an hour.” Julia ended the call.

“Oh, before I go Thomas, I have to tell you about my dream last night.”

“There’s no sense holding anything back at this point,” Thomas said with a wink.

“I was on the platform at the Metra station. There was a large clock above me. Jeffery was somewhere inside the station paying for our tickets. A conductor leaned out the door of the train and asked me, “How can you be sure?” I looked around for Jeffery and then saw my mother. She told me, “You can’t count on tickets, kiddo.

Then the train started moving, I looked backed for Jeffery and saw my dad. He was the conductor. Then I went through a turnstile and boarded the train alone. I sat down next to a fortune-teller and I asked, “Where are we going?”  She said, “If you don’t know where you are going any train will take you there.” And then I woke up.”

“Someone is reading your mind.” Thomas put his tongue in his cheek.

Julia pulled her compact from her purse and checked her look. She then got up from the table.

“Thanks Thomas for…” Julia pointed a swirling finger at the table. “Gotta go.”

Thomas stood up. “You know where I can be found.” But, Julia had already walked out the door.

“Or, maybe not.”





© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

Never My Love


The first day of Junior High School Darren left his house and found the end of the “stand quietly” line waiting for him. That is where he put the French horn case down. On the walk to school the bell of the case had banged his left leg. The pain in his shin reminded him that his band director, who liked to tap out tempo on his head, had decided that Darren would play French horn and not his trumpet. “We need French horn players,” said Mr. Palmer, the Jr. High band director. And, when Darren sat second chair behind first chair Diane in the horn section he became aware of his loss.

As Darren walked from class to class that first day he looked around and began to wonder: “What am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to wear or even say? What are troll dolls?” Juan, who was in most of the same classes as Darren, would fill him.

“Look, if you are a greaser you wear all black.” Juan fell back into his chair so that Darren could see. Sure enough. Juan wore black pants, a black shirt, a black leather jacket that never came off, black pointed shoes and the telltale sign of all greaserhood – black socks.

“Look.” Juan pointed to Bill across the room. “That is a climber. He wears white socks and does sports. Sometimes climbers wear paisley shirts. They are freakin’ flowery.”

Darren now knew the social code but wasn’t sure what he was. With Juan being in most of the same classes he decided that day that he should be a greaser. So, that night he told his mom he needed lots of black socks and plain “No flowers” shirts. He wanted Juan and one teacher to like him.

Darren’s seventh-grade Spanish teacher was a larger than life blonde who, Darren thought, must have noticed that Darren was in her class. After all, someone with shocking red-orange hair stood out. Newly purchased hair goop would put in check his cowlick.

Darren learned his Spanish verbs and infinitives. He learned Spanish adjectives as fast as he could. He needed no incentive. To speak the Romance language in class invoked a passion he had never felt before. “Señorita, eres hermosa!” Darren would daydream his devotion to her.

Geography class offered a different topology. Mrs. Foley contained significant geography on her person. Unmercifully, the kids would snicker, “Fatty Foley,” under their breaths. Then uncontrollable giggling would ensue until the yard stick smacked the bulletin board.

In the halls, between periods, notes were passed and looks connected. If you received a note from a third party that meant that someone wanted to go steady with you. That is what Juan told Darren. So, when Darren received his first note he was at once terrified and curious. He did not know what “going steady” meant. He wasn’t going to ask Juan and look stupid. The black socks kept Darren from doing any such thing.

It wasn’t till lunch period that day that Darren unraveled the note and read it. Therein, he found out that Mary K liked him and wanted to go steady. Mary K played first chair flute in the band. Darren became filled with dread as he thought about going to band rehearsal after lunch. He had no response or “going steady” in him. When the bell rang he went to rehearsal pretending that he hadn’t gotten the note. But the pretense didn’t last long.

Mary stared at Darren from her chair. The girls around her were giggling. Darren felt his face become lobster red. He could do nothing about it except hide behind the music stand and empty the spit out of his horn tubes.

After practice Mary waited for Darren at the bottom of the risers. As she waited Darren took every single tube off his French horn and blew through each one slowly. Then he began to polish the horn never looking up. When the next period bell rang he looked up over the stand and there was Mary.

“Will you walk me home after school? Mary asked.

“Sure, I guess, sure.” Darren then rushed off to shop class leaving Mary and her gaggle of friends.

Later, not sure of what was coming next, Darren gathered up his homework, shut his locker and picked up his horn. He waited at the main entrance not knowing when Mary was done with her classes. She appeared twenty minutes later.

“Hey, I’m ready.” Mary looked at Darren and the two left the building.

Darren had no idea where Mary lived. He had no idea if this walk meant that he was “going steady.” He didn’t say anything in case her liking him would change. The walk took them across town.

“If you have a ring I will wear it,” Mary said as they neared her house. Darren had no ring. He had black socks.

“Yeah, OK, right,” Darren replied and said, “See you tomorrow.”

By now Darren’s arm shoulders and arms were aching. Carrying the horn across town had worn them out. He took his time getting home. At home, he reassured himself, no one was to know about this. He couldn’t explain it anyway. And, there was his hunger to take care of.

The next day, Darren found his way to his first period English class and to his seat. Juan was already there in the seat behind him.

“Hey, are you going steady with a climber girl?”


“Mary is a cheerleader, man.”

“How would I know that?” With that Darren turned to the front of the class and hoped he never had to go steady again. But then again, he did like it, in a greaser kind of way.


Between second and third period class Darren received another note. This time it was a direct note from another Mary – Mary E.  Mary E was also in the band. She played clarinet.

Band rehearsal loomed on the horizon, 12:30 that day. There was no escaping this “going steady” business. And now there was a decision to be made – Mary or Mary or feign strep throat coming on.

At 12:30 Darren walked into the band room and over to his chair. There was another note. It was right on his stand. “Now what?”, he quietly muttered. When he did, Diane looked over at him. The note was from Diane. She wanted to go steady.

The “going steady” madness continued for Darren throughout seventh and eighth grade. His arms never stopped aching. It was no relief to learn that girls in Junior High School were fickle and flighty, especially if you didn’t give them a ring. No matter. The black socks remained a social staple for Darren.

During the summer after eighth grade graduation, Darren tried out for the High School Concert Band. He played all the major and minor scales so flawlessly on his new B Bach trumpet that Mr. Gies awarded him first chair. The trumpet had been a graduation gift from Darren’s father who must have known what “going steady” meant.






© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

Love – Backlit, Natural and Nearly Impossible- To The Wonder

Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder  

Using Scripture references, natural backlighting and encompassing music,  (and yes there are characters) Terrence Malick once again, as in The Tree of Life, helps us to reflect on life and especially now on love: 

Let’s Make Some Music, Man!

(One day, a long time ago, my father came home with The Music Man LP. He had won it as a prize during an office Christmas party. I believe this LP is the first record that I ever heard played on a stereo. In fact, my dad bought a small turntable to play the LP. I played the album unceasingly.)(I was big Trouble in River City!)


Living gniviL

Only. .ylnO

Never reveN

Even nevE

Loving gnivoL

You. .uoY



© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved

Timing is Everything

Timing is Everythingwedding-flowers


Monday morning Tom and Linda left the train station and walked to work in a constant sprinkle of rain. Walking together, Tom juggled an umbrella and their usual conversation.

“I’m not joking.” Tom was holding Linda’s hand when he snapped at her.

“I don’t think you are. I just think that we should wait, that’s all.” Linda countered.

“We are going to get married next July. Why don’t we just move in together? We can save some money for the wedding.”

“I want to be with you, Tom, but I think we should wait.”

“I love you Linda, don’t you know that?”

“Sure, I do.”

“Then, what’s the problem? Why are we waiting?”

“I want to make sure it’s real, that’s all,” Linda said.

“Huh? This is the real thing, isn’t it?” Tom asked.

“It’s becoming more real as we go on, Tom,” Linda explained, “but something tells me to wait till our wedding day.”

“You love me, don’t you?” Tom queried.

“Of course I do.” Linda replied, “My heart and my mind are telling me to wait and my . . . my…,” Linda leaned into Tom and whispered, “my body wants to go ahead.” Then with a smile she said, “It’s a two to one decision. Anyway, I want to be secure in our love and not just in the thought that we are living together. This engagement time will help us get to know each other better. It’s a good thing.”

Tom and Linda came up to the Dunkin Donuts and went in. They ordered two coffees: a small for Linda and a large for Tom. Linda added a small drop of cream to her cup, put a lid snuggly on top and then sat down and waited for Tom to finish fixing his coffee. Tom poured a large dose of cream into his coffee and then he grabbed five packets of sugar from the holder. He took one packet by the edge and started to shake it and then smack it against his left hand. After half a minute of settling the sugar he tore open the packet and poured the sugar into the coffee. He did the same with the other four packets. Linda waited. When the sugar packets had been poured into his coffee, Tom grabbed a stir stick and began stirring his coffee while staring at the floor. He wasn’t aware that three people were waiting behind him, waiting for the cream and sugar.

“Tom, hurry up. People are waiting.” Linda prodded from her chair.

Tom looked up to see the line of people, he said, “Sorry”, and hurriedly put a lid on his cup. He gathered up his backpack and walked over to the table where Linda was sitting, looked at his watch and said, “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

Linda smiled in response and then gathered up her bag and her coffee. They headed out the door and down the street to work. Tom, a business consultant and an investment counselor for real estate investment trusts, worked with several clients creating the investment trust contracts. Linda was an information technology support person in an engineering firm. They both worked in the same building in downtown Chicago. Tom had a small office on the 16th floor and Linda’s cube was on the 23rd floor. They rode the elevator together each morning.

Heading into the elevator that morning Linda moved to fill a space made by two others on the elevator. Tom came in as the door was closing and turned to face the front of the car. As he did this his backpack hit the coffee cup in the hand of a short woman standing behind Tom. Tom didn’t notice but Linda couldn’t help notice. She received some of the hot coffee on her new linen skirt.

“Tom, be careful. Look what happened.”

Again, Tom swirled around in the elevator and nearly hit another cup off coffee out of someone’s hand.

“Tom, that backpack is a nuisance in this elevator. Please be careful.”

“Sorry.” With those words, Tom left the elevator on the 16th floor and said again, “Sorry I’ll see you at lunch.”

“Bye Tom, call me.”

Tom reached his office, unlocked the door and turned on the overhead light. He noticed his wall plaque; the mounted gold crow bar glinting yellow under the fluorescent light. Inscribed beneath the crowbar in the plaque’s mahogany wood were the words, “Leverage Everything”. He set his umbrella down and took off his wet top coat and laid it on the credenza. He could see his phone blinking a red eye at him. He sat down behind his oak desk and took his phone messages.

His office space, an eight by twelve foot room, was cozy with one window. The view was of the elevated train and a partially hidden neon sign which offered “Cheap Eats at Murphy’s Bar and Grill” in emerald green light. His client’s waiting chairs were in the main hallway with a small end table holding a dog-eared copy of Fisherman’s World magazine. Painted on the sand blown glass pane door was “TOM LANDSURE, REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT TRUSTS, A name you can trust in real estate.” Through the glass Tom could see the form of a waiting client. Tom put the phone back on the receiver and went to the door and let him in.

“Hi, Mike.” Tom welcomed him.

“Hi, Tom, Did you get my e-mail?”

“Yeah, sure did.”

“Well what do you think?”

“I think you should act on that property immediately, get the most you can out of it. You can always walk away if it doesn’t pan out – sell your share of it. The downside is losing a little time and a little money. You can always flip it for another property. If you can handle that you’ll be fine. Do you have the people lined up? You need at least one hundred investors to make a go of it.”

“Yeah, I do and you’re right. Down the road I could have great returns on this investment. If it goes south, I’ll just ditch it. No harm, no foul.”

“Sure, I’ve seen this kind of thing a dozen times before. You will do fine either way.”

“I think so. I just wanted to talk to you face to face before I made the decision to act on the property. I’m gonna go ahead and make some calls right now, get my foot in the door. Can I use your phone?

“Sure, I’m going to visit the rest room. I’ll be right back.”

One of the phone messages waiting for him when he came back to the office was from Linda. She wanted to know where they were going to eat for lunch. Before returning her call Tom talked with Mike about his new real estate investment, again encouraging him to buy while it was cheap. The deal sounded too good to pass up. They shook hands and agreed to meet again in a week to review the investment contract. Mike left and Tom reached for the phone to return Linda’s call.

“Hi, Lin, how about the usual for lunch?”

“Murphey’s? Again?”

“How about Sam’s Deli, then?

“That sounds better, let’s go there. See ya downstairs. Bye.” Linda hung up and Mike returned to his pile of contracts waiting for his review. At 11:30 am he left his office, locked the door behind him and took the elevator to the ground floor. He waited for Linda near the building reception desk. A moment later, Linda appeared.

“Tom, I’ve got a half hour today for lunch. We have to hurry.”

They half ran to Sam’s Deli a couple of blocks away. In line were a dozen or so people with numbers. Standing in line Tom happened to notice a young woman sitting alone eating her sandwich. He stared at her while standing behind Linda. After a few moments, the young woman looked up and noticed his stare. She looked over at Linda and then scrunched her face, looking back at Tom. Tom, now flush with embarrassment, tried to start a conversation with Linda in order to pretend that he wasn’t looking at the young woman.

“You know, I like the corned beef sandwich here. It is real kosher corned beef.”

“Tom, I saw you. Keep your eyes on the lunch menu up there. Linda grabbed Tom’s arm, pulled him next to her and then pointed to the menu sign hung above the grill.

“Sorry ‘bout that.” Tom whispered.

With their sandwiches they headed over to a quiet tree-lined garden outside of the art institute. They ate lunch silently looking at each other, letting the city and their thoughts do the talking.


Linda’s mother called Linda on Tuesday afternoon.

“Hi mom.”

“Linda, how’s work going?”

“Good mom. I received a good review this year so I’ll be getting a raise soon and I have already told my boss about next July. I will get two weeks off for the wedding and the honeymoon.”

“That sounds great. Things are coming together it looks like. How’s Tom holding out? Anything new with him?”

“He’s doing okay. He’s written more contracts so far this year than last year at this time so he’s at a good pace. His business looks promising.”

“I mean about not moving in together before the wedding?”

“Oh! Ah, he talks about it almost daily. He is pushing hard for it but I am telling him I want to wait till we are married.”

“That conversation must be hard for you.”

“It is. I want things to move forward and yet I feel like I need to stand back and get my bearings. Things are moving too fast right now.”

“I think you are dong the best thing, Linda, though it isn’t easy. Hah, I just remembered reading something out Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park last night. I’ll go get the book. Hold on for a second, Linda.”

Linda could hear her mother set the phone down on the counter, leave the kitchen and then walk down the hall. She heard her return and pick up the phone.”

“Are you there?”

“Yeah, go ahead, mom.”

“Here’s Jane: “Oh, Do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.” ”


“What do you want, Tom?”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“What is it that can’t wait until our wedding day?”

“Ummm. . . I guess I’m just anxious to be with you, you know.”

“Good things come to those who wait, Tom. Isn’t that what they say?”

“Yeah, I guess so, but I’ve been waiting all my life for someone like you. Isn’t that long enough?”

“Then, time is on your side, Tom.”

‘You are full of quaint sayings today, aren’t you?” Tom answered.

“Well, I want our lives together to be special, that’s all. All of this is special to me. Your mother told that when you were a kid you wanted Christmas to happen right away, as soon as you saw the presents – you wanted to open the presents days or weeks before the actual day. “

“I was so excited and I wasn’t sure what I was getting. I couldn’t stand to wait and find out.” Tom responded.

“Well, you seemed to have survived that ordeal.” Linda quipped.

“Just barely, but it was cruel and unusual punishment.” With these words, Tom evoked a smile on Linda’s face.

“You’re a good guy Tom. You can still wait for your presents. And, we’ll have many Christmases together unwrapping gifts.” Linda winked at Tom.

“Yeah, just as long as they are not wrapped in flannel.” Tom winked back with a Cheshire cat smile.”

“You can be sure of that, my Tom cat,” Linda assured Tom.

“Scratch you later.” Tom kissed Linda with a smile and headed back to his office.


The week of the wedding finally came. On Friday night, Tom and Linda met at the church for their wedding rehearsal. Linda’s father walked Linda down the church aisle on their musical cue. Linda was wearing the heels she would wear in the wedding. Her father kept Linda stable as she walked slowly forward. All eyes followed Linda to her place next to Tom. She hugged her father and then she took Tom’s hand in hers. The rehearsal passed like a dream sequence. Linda was only aware of the red flush of her cheeks and how hot she felt that July evening.

Afterward, Linda packed her car with some early wedding gifts and the left-over food. Tom helped her carry the trays out to the car. Linda turned to say goodnight to Tom. She cuddled up to him and looked him in the eyes. “Tomorrow I become Mrs. Linda Landsure. Now that’s an investment!”

“I have already received a great return on this investment and we haven’t even signed the contract yet.” Tom laughed.

They hugged and kissed each other. “I’m so glad that we waited,” Tom whispered in Linda’s ear, “Wow, I thought tomorrow would never come.”

“Well its midnight and its tomorrow. We’re both tired.” Linda said, “We better get home and get our beauty sleep. I don’t want bags under our eyes for the wedding pictures.”

Tom smiled in agreement. He helped Linda get into the car and he closed the door. He gave her one last kiss through the open window and then Linda drove off saying, “Don’t forget your tux shoes tomorrow.”

Tom got in his car and drove towards home, an hour away. It was midnight and he was exhausted. He found the expressway and headed west. He thought about the Linda walking down the aisle in her blue jeans and heels, her dad gently holding Linda’s hand, her nervous smile and her watery eyes. He thought about waiting for this day and how hard he had pushed her to move in with her. He was glad that she made them wait. He wanted her more and more each day. He imagined her tomorrow night in his arms, the day’s events behind them and they would finally be alone. He imagined falling asleep next to her…

At 2:30 am Linda was awakened by a phone call. The state police were on the phone. They said that a car had careened into an overpass and the driver had been killed. Every word now began pulling her heart down. They had found a wedding invitation in the car and Linda’s phone number was listed in Tom’s cell phone. They said that Tom appeared to have fallen asleep and had driven into the cement wall of the overpass at 55 mph: “I am sorry. He died instantly from a broken neck. There was a necklace in a box on the floor of the car.” Linda did not answer. “The necklace has two hearts hanging from the chain, one gold heart and one silver heart. It looks very expensive. I will bring it to you, tomorrow.”

Linda hung up the phone and stepped backward. Overcome with grief, she cried out into the morning darkness, “Tom…Tom…Tom…” She sank down to her knees and wept. When daylight came the sun’s rays began to wash her swollen red face with amber light. Linda raised her head and stood up.  She turned to leave the room. In a whisper she heard the voice of Tom:

“I have prepared a place for you.”

Sally Paradise ã 2009

I Suppose…

I suppose you believed the words you said

At the front of the church: “I do.”

Those words were waiting for you.

They stood waiting with me.

Did you know that you would shred them?


I suppose that if you had kept your vows

We would be forever united in words:

Words that wrap lives with ribbons of care;

Words that tie down lives with stakes in the ground;

Words that follow balloons as they become pixels of the sky


I suppose, had you said,

“Let’s make this work.”,

I would be walking down the aisle with you everyday.

Un-tethering balloons, staking our lives

And letting rice fleck my hair.


© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved

Almost like Praying

Almost Like PrayingWest Side Story

It is 1967 and that’s all I know about that. I do know that I looked in the mirror tonight and I didn’t see me. What I saw was the face of a thirteen year old girl with a pony tail pulling back on acne plagued skin. The adult woman I had wanted to see was really a decrepit adolescent in the bedroom mirror. This would-be woman, this child, this me with a hint of a baby face, stood in front of her dresser preparing herself for a night with her best friend Jane and Jane’s boyfriend Mick. They invited me along, feeling sorry for me, I think, knowing that I don’t have a boyfriend. If my mirror is any gauge, my chances of getting one are slim to negative. So, I see myself sitting alone in the backseat of Mick’s Chevy Impala Caprice tonight, hiding far from view. All eyes would be focused on Jane and Mick or on Tony and Maria. The three of us were going to the Sky-Hi Drive-In on Route 53 to watch West Side Story. I am just going to try to forget myself, hide my face and just let the movie carry me away in its arms. I wish I had someone to share it with, though. Maybe the gods of love will see me alone in the back seat of Mick’s car as they look down on me from their huge screen throne. Maybe, speaking with their muted voices in merciful tones through little black boxes, they will intervene on my behalf. Or, perhaps not.

As always, I’m not sure what to do with my hair. When I was a young girl it was easy. A pony tail was easy. Now it’s up or down, ratted or flat, sophisticated or playful? And, I’m not sure whether I should be a Greaser or a Climber tonight. In my school Indian Trail Junior High everyone has to be one or the other. The Greasers wear only black: black socks, black shoes, black clothes and black leather jackets; the girls wear black tight skirts and ratted hair above their black Dracula-like mascara staked eye lashes. The Climbers, the ones like me, wear white socks, paisley, plaid and colored school clothes and letter jackets and pink makeup. It doesn’t matter if you are a Climber or a Greaser-acne shows up where it wants to. As usual, tonight I have nothing black to wear except for some Buster Brown shoes that I wear to church. The black church shoes won’t do for the drive in. So, I’ll wear my dark brown penny loafers. But, what do I do about socks? I know, I’ll wear black socks. I’ll be a Greaser and a Climber.

My face is a blotchy patchwork of pointy blemishes. I’ve had it with puberty. I need different skin. This skin isn’t working. My body and clothes are just another battle on the same front. I tug on my dryer shrunk top until I fit inside its shamrock green sheath. My jeans, which I had pulled out of the dryer half an hour ago, are still wet. They will surrender to my lower half after I complete my wrangling dance yoga inside the resisting denim. I’ve done this before.

My friends are going to show up in fifteen minutes and I still am still not made up. This is the first time I would be at a drive-in without my parents. I am pacing myself to the AM radio: Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell are singing, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby… I’ve got to move faster.

I find my purse and I am trying to find my cotton candy pink lipstick somewhere inside. My mom convinced my dad that I was old enough to wear lipstick. Lipstick and some cover stick. (The lipstick was like Chapstick, my mom tells my father. He’s not sure. “It’s good for her lips.” Mom goes on. “Every girl needs cover stick, too.”) No mascara. No blush. No eye shadow. Yet. I dab my face with the cover stick trying to hit every red spot at least twice. I look at my profile standing sideways to the mirror with my eyes shifted right. Then, I turn around and look in the mirror with my eyes shifted left. I apply move cover stick. I look straight into the mirror. There is a rose bud on my nose. More cover stick. I don’t see the pretty girl there I used to know. Pretty is not going to happen tonight. Where are my shoes? “Mom?” I yell downstairs.

“Honey,” my dad yells from the living room, “Your mother’s on the phone. She can’t talk right now. She’s talking to Jane’s mom.”

“Oh, no. Now what? Something’s coming.”

“Jane’s mom said they are on the way. They got a late start.” My mom talks to me from the bottom of the stairs. “Your shoes are under your bed, remember?”

“Whew.” I grab my shoes and do more denim leg stretching as I bend over to get them. I walk to the hallway and I take a last look at myself in the hallway mirror. “Ugh.” The figure I see is an embarrassing collision of childhood and adulthood, of Climber and Greaser. I want to go back to my room and hide. I take another look and I think that it is getting dark soon and my “ghastly” appearance won’t matter. Besides, I’ve wanted to see West Side Story. I turn around and pause to think about what I need for tonight’s movie: I have my baby sitting money. I have my lipstick. I have my comb. Where’s my good luck pink troll key chain? Ah, I remember. It’s under my pillow.

I head downstairs and my dad says, “Hi, beautiful. Have fun tonight. I’ll be waiting up.”

“Dad, I’m gross.”

“No your not, sweetie.”

“Dad, I am, too.”

“No, No, No.” Dad protests.

Mom says, “They’re here.” Then she says, “Oh, there is someone in the back seat of Mick’s car. I wonder who that is. Jane’s mom didn’t mention that there would be someone else going with. Did Mick and Jane pick him up on the way over? I wonder.”

So do I. I look out the window and see Mick and Jane in the front seat of the Caprice and in the back seat is Juan from school. “Oh, god!” Now my dad is looking out the window, too and I say, “Mom and dad get away from the window. Quick!”

Maybe we should go say “Hi” to them and see who this is? My dad talks to my mother.

“Good idea. You go first.” My mom responds.

I stand on the front door porch. I see my parents talking to Mick and Jane parked in the driveway. My dad is now talking to Juan. He shakes his hand as he does with everyone he meets for the first time. I see him smiling. I hear a scream inside of me. I look horrible and Juan, a Greaser, always looks so cool. The scream is edging upwards towards my mouth. A flood of terror rushes through my heart like a tidal wave. I take out my pocket mirror for one last look. I see my dad and mom heading towards me. I am almost fainting. I turn and face the house.

“Honey, Mick and Jane picked up Juan on the way over to our house. Juan is Mick’s friend and I guess Juan didn’t have anything to do tonight, so they picked him up. I will call Jane’s mom and let her know that he is going along. I talked to Juan. He seems like a nice kid. He says that he is in some of your classes. Is that true?”

“Yeah, dad. I didn’t think anyone would be around to see me except Mick and Jane. I look gross.”

“Honey, all I can tell you is that you look pretty, tonight. Don’t worry. Have fun watching the movie and come home right afterwards, as you promised. I told Mick to bring you right home after the movie. Here’s some money for a Coke and some popcorn. I know that you wanted to see this movie. You have been talking about it since it came out, since you sang some of the songs in chorus.”

“I do want to see it, dad, but maybe some other time. Maybe…”

“Marianne,” my mother says my name when she wants my attention, “Marianne,” her voice lowers, “your skin looks fine. I like your hair down and your lipstick is just right. You may feel embarrassed about how you look but your father and I see a beautiful young lady. Go ahead and have some fun. We’ll be waiting for you later and you can tell us how it goes. OK?”

“All right, mom. I’ll go. I’m very nervous, though. My stomach feels like it’s in a pillow fight. I’ll go. I see you later.” With that I head over to Mick’s car and get in the back seat behind Mick. Juan smiles over at me and says, “Hi, Marianne.” And, I say, “Hi.”

From the front seat Jane turns around and says, “You look great Mare. I like that lipstick.”

I see Mick looking in the rear view mirror. “Thanks. Hi Mick.”

Mick backs the car down the driveway and says “Hi, kiddo. Juan wanted something to do tonight so I invited him along. Is that OK?”

“Ah, yeah, I guess so.”

“Good” Mick smiles back in the mirror.

I lean toward my window and look out. I don’t know what to say to Juan so I’m just going to wait for him to talk. I’ve seen him at school in the hallways and waiting in line to go into the school building. I now remember him looking at me when our school was evacuated during a bomb scare. He was in the crowd with the Greaser girls but he was looking over at me standing with my girl friends. Now I remember Juan.

Five minutes later, “Marianne, you look swell.” Juan speaks to me while combing his hair straight back.

“Thanks, Juan. You look nice, too.”

“Did you hear about Mrs. Rhoades? She’s leaving the school. I guess she’s too old to teach.”

“Yeah, she must be a hundred years old. She was always nice to me but she got angry with some of the kids, mostly the Grea…” I stopped myself.

“Yeah, you’re right. She was very strict. I won’t miss her.” Juan looked over to me.

“She was nice to me. I’m not sure why.” I looked over at Juan. He was trying to get a black forelock to stay in a curl.

“I hear that you are in the band. What instrument do you play?”

“I play the French horn.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“It’s a brass instrument.”

“Like a trumpet?”

“Well, a French horn is round with a lot of tubes and a big bell where the sound comes out. It has a small mouthpiece. It takes a lot of air to play and it heavy to carry but I like it.”

“Cool.” Juan replies, sitting slightly forward from the seat. (I think he does that so he won’t mess his hair.) “I play the radio.” Juan laughs to himself.

I break into Mick and Jane’s conversation. “Hey Jane, put on WLS. I want to hear some music.”

Jane turns on the radio and finds 890 AM. The Hollies are singing Just One Look. I sing the words to myself as I look at my orange-pink reflection in the car window. Outside the window the sunset is washing the sky like an art class project.

We arrive at the Sky-Hi and we buy our tickets. The ticket guy checks the trunk to make there is no alcohol and no food hidden anywhere. We drive in and find a good spot in the middle about half way to the screen. All around are cars driving into their uphill spots, the car windows begin rolling down. I hear music everywhere, from every car. There are people walking to the concession stand and coming back with window trays full of food. I sit back and wait. I don’t want to be the first one in the car to get some popcorn.

Finally Mick says, “Hey, everyone let’s get our food now before this thing gets started.” We all say “Yeah” and we get out of the car. Mick and Jane walk hand in hand while I walk with Juan a few feet apart. I felt like we were being watched by everyone, that we were the movie, yet I felt safely obscure.  I wasn’t alone at the drive in and all eyes weren’t focused on me, just on our group.  At least, that’s how I pictured the way our audience of inclined viewers would view us.

At the concession stand I get a medium Coke and medium bag of popcorn. Juan gets some nachos with jalapeno and a Coke. Mick and Jane share a large bucket of buttered popcorn and a large Coke. We head back to the car. From the overhead loudspeakers I hear the Monkees sing, “I’m a Believer.” I notice as we walk back to the car that there are ascending pillars of cigarette smoke coming from many open car windows. Each pillar has an extended arm attached. The approaching midnight blue sky consumes the grey smoke while dancing on the giant screen, behind the plumes of smoke is Mr. Popcorn and Mrs. Cola.

We return to the car and listen to WLS until the sun disappears and darkness pulls in front of us. We can hear the cars around us and all the chatter of voices coming from those cars. Out of our speaker box comes the voice of the drive-in announcer telling us to be courteous to our neighbors and to not make a lot of noise. He tells us: “There are bathrooms behind the concession stand.” The previews begin with a commercial about the concession stand food: popcorn, nachos, hot dogs, Coke, Seven-Up, Jujubes, Milk-Duds, Affy-Tapples…. Hmmm, Milk Duds sound good. The previews start to appear on the screen. Car horns begin beeping and some guy is shouting “Shut up!” and “Hey, be quiet!” The surrounding murmur siphoned down into the movie sound coming from the little black box hanging on Mick’s open car window:

“The Graduate, opening January 1968… starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross and directed by Mike Nichols. A movie about an impulsive, rebellious kind of love, but the old-fashioned notion of love conquers all.”…

…“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, opening in December, starring Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Houghton…a love story of today. Does love conquer all?”…

…“Thoroughly Modern Millie starring Julie Andrews, James Fox, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Channing, in the happiest motion picture hit of the year. Directed by George Roy Hill. “You’ve come a long way…”

…“Wait until Dark starring Audrey Hepburn who plays Susy Hendrix, a blind woman who unwittingly becomes involved in three murderous crimnals’ drug scheme. How does a blind woman defend herself? Now playing in a theatre near you.”……Feature Presentation…Technicolor…Now were getting somewhere. At last the movie is beginning. There’s another reminder on the screen to be courteous to our movie neighbors. I sit back and lean a little to the middle of the car to see around Jane’s head. Juan moves his head towards the middle also making sure his hair doesn’t touch the car seat. I can smell his cologne. It’s not like my dads. It smells musky. It smells like a rain forest would smell: fresh, earthy, inviting.

Music begins the movie. The overture fills our small space with jarring and unsettling tritones. The music sounds jazzy, modern and classical. It sounds hip (I got this word from listening to DJ Dick Biondi). The clashing dissonance of the music causes me to wonder about the story. Will it be like Romeo and Juliet? Will there be guys fighting? Will there be romance? “O Romeo, O Romeo…” Juan says that he wants the music to end and the story to begin and yet I see him tapping his hand while looking out his rear window. I crane my neck further toward the front of the car. I want to be closer to the sound. A cool breeze floods the car through the open window. My bare arms are covered with goose bumps. I shiver. Juan remains cool. Mick and Jane continue munching on popcorn while holding hands.

Juan returns his gaze to the screen when two street gangs appear, the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. The Jets have names like Riff, Action, Diesel, A-Rab, Baby John Big Deal and Ice. The Sharks: Chino, Pepe, Indio Luis, Anxious and Toro. There’s talk of a rumble and a dance. Tony is cute and so is Bernardo. Anita and Maria, two Puerto Rican women, work at a bridal shop. I find out that Bernardo is Maria’s brother and Anita’s boyfriend. Maria wants to wear a new dress to the dance and she asks Anita to make it for her. Maria wants her dress lower in the front but Anita, the older woman, is resisting her. She won’t lower the bust line of the white eyelet party dress for Maria even though Maria insists.

Something is coming. I am beginning to sense it. At the dance the two gangs meet and square off for a dance challenge. I love the warm feminine summer dresses of the Latin women. The rival couples dance the Mambo while doing a version of musical chairs with their dance partners. It doesn’t end well. There is tension everywhere in the room except in the eyes of Maria and Tony. They see each other across the room. They come together and dance. They are falling in love. They kiss warmly and I suddenly I don’t mind the chilly car.

Bernardo, Maria’s brother, does not like what he sees and he pulls them apart. He wants to fight. A war council is set up at Doc’s Candy Store. I don’t get this. Why don’t they just fight at the dance and get it over with. Maybe because the cop is there. I don’t know. After the dance, Tony can’t stay away from Maria. I like this. He finds her apartment window and he serenades Maria. I see myself on the fire escape. “Maria…the most beautiful sound…Maria”. More tritones and more melting. Maria and Tony sing to each other while the two gangs get ready to fight:

“Today the minutes seem like hours…

…Well, they began it!…
The hours go so slowly,

…Well, they began it!…
And still the sky is light.

…And we’re the ones to stop ’em once and for all,

Oh moon, grow bright,
And make this endless day endless night,


There’s a war council at Doc’s Candy Store. Now I’m wishing I had bought some Milk Duds. Tony tells Doc about Maria. Doc’s not crazy about the idea but Tony says he is in love. It will be alright. Tony only wants a fair fight. Things are heating up for the Jets and the Sharks and for Tony and Maria. The next day Tony meets Maria at the bridal shop. They dream and I begin to dream…

“I, Anton, take thee Maria…”

“I, Maria, take thee, Anton…”

“For richer, for poorer…”

“In sickness and in health…”

“To love and to honor…”

“From each sun to each moon…”

“From tomorrow to tomorrow…”

“From now to forever…”

“Till death do us part.”

Tony and Maria are holding hands:

“With this ring, I thee wed.”

“With this ring, I thee wed.”

A cool breeze floods in through the open window. I shiver and think to myself, “My hands are cold.” I nest them together on my lap. Juan reaches over and puts his warm hand on top of my left hand. He gently pulls my hands apart and brings our hands to rest on the seat between us. He holds my hand there. I don’t look at him. I don’t know what to do. No one has ever held my hand before. I feel the racing pulse of my wrist in my chest and my throat tightens. I try to swallow. This is all new and all good.

Tony sings:

“Make of our hands one hand.

Make of our hearts one heart

Make of our vows one last vow

Only death will part us now.”

Maria sings:

“Make of our lives one life,

Day after day, one life,”

Now they both sing:

“Now it begins, now we start

One hand, one heart;

Even death can’t part us now.”

“Make of our lives one life,

Day after day, one life,

Now it begins, now we start

One hand, one heart

Even death won’t part us now.”

The movie rolls on but my thoughts are removed from the movie. Instead, I picture myself in the back seat of the car with Juan. I imagine concentric circles of newly found energy flowing out of me. I’m not sure about the end of the movie: There is a fight. I think Bernardo stabbed Riff and then Tony killed Bernardo, Maria’s brother. I think Tony is shot by Chino. The fighting stopped. Maria is waving a gun and saying that it was hatred that killed Tony and the others. Maria is left alone to grieve about Tony. But now, I am outside their story and inside my own. I am sitting in the back seat with Juan, pimples, baby face and all, one hand one heart.

The credits begin to roll and Mick says, “Hey, that was pretty good.”

Everyone says, “Yeah, it was.” I am still not looking at Juan.

“I better get you home, Marianne. You dad’s waiting.”

I cringe under the weight of his words. “OK.”

Mick drives me home. In our driveway he looks in his rear view mirror and then looks over at Jane. He smiles at Jane. Jane doesn’t turn around. She just says, “I’ll call you tomorrow, Mar.”

I say, “OK.” I finally look at Juan. I think I had a shy smirky grin on my face. There was too much blood flowing in my cheeks to feel the words come out of my mouth. “Goodnight, Juan.”

Juan gently squeezes my hand and says, “See ya, Marianne. On Monday.” He gently squeezed my hand again and then let go.

I smile back him and when I do see moon glow sparkle in his dark eyes. I start to speak. “Juan…”, but my words are choked off when my brain decides to stop working. I return to the smile when I get out of the car. The cool night air revives my brain: “See you guys on Monday!  I had a great time! Thanks Mick and Jane. Bye Juan.”

I walk to the front door of my house. Mick waits for me to go in the house like my dad would. I turn and wave a goodbye and smile a smile that I think could be seen a mile away. I go in and shut the door. I lean back on the door. I feel that I had just begun living. I feel my heart racing.  My head is swirling.  I look at my left hand and I see his hand. I feel Juan’s pulse in my hand. I sense his heart beating as my own. The rush of romance feels like an unstoppable prayer.

Dad is sitting in his arm-chair watching his favorite movie Pork Chop Hill. He turns and sees me leaning against the door not moving. “Hey honey, how did it go tonight?”

“Dad, you would like the movie. There were a lot of guys fighting. I guess I’ll just go up to bed. Good night dad.”

“Goodnight, Sweetie. I love you.”

Now I know that I won’t fall asleep for the rest of my life. I will stay awake and be completely alive forever. I will think of Juan and how the movie gods looked down into the back seat of Mick’s Impala Caprice and made a musical out of me with a touch of his hand.

© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved

All Rights Reserved