“Jim? Could you open the door? It’s very cold out here,” shouted Marie, shivering.
Jim sat in the driver’s side of the 78 Volvo with the motor running, diesel fumes belching from the tailpipe. He touched the leather upholstery on the passenger side. He leaned over and sniffed it to glean a remnant of Mother’s scent. No one else had ever ridden in the car with him.
It’s ok. You can do this. It’s ok. She is a friend. It’s ok. Mother would approve.
Marie knocked harder on the passenger side window. “Jim!”
He stepped out of the car and breathed the cold, January air. burning maple, diesel, and Marie. He walked around the front of the car tripping over a crack in the drive. Much of the house was dilapidated. He unlocked the door and opened it for her.
“Thank you. That was very gentlemanly of you,” she said.
The sleeves of their coats brushed each other as she stepped into the car.
He stood for a moment, watching her sit down and buckle herself in to Mother’s seat.
He shut the door.
He drove her to the Midway Supermarket three blocks from his house which was heated by a gas furnace and smelled of refrigerated beef. He drove her to the playground at Andrews Park where they sniffed black rubber swing seats and the stout, wooden beams that comprised the big toy which was cushioned with cedar chips. He drove her to Betty Lou’s Flowers and Gifts which smelled of roses and lilies and scotch tape.
And then he took her to the post office. On the way up the steps he turned to her and held his finger to his lips. She nodded and quietly followed him in. A calm came over him as he stopped inside the entry way. He paused and closed his eyes and breathed.
“This is my most favorite smell,” he whispered with reverence.
“What makes it so special?” she asked. Her green eyes beamed with curiosity and respect, for she was gaining a tender appreciation for Jim and his smells.
He didn’t answer her, instead he walked though the doors to the counter and took his usual seat in the corner. She sat down beside him.
“When I was just a little boy, Mother took me to the post office. Not this one, but one very much like it.” He paused and swallowed, nervously. “Uhhh–” his voice quavered.
It’s ok. It’s ok.
“Jim, it’s ok. You can tell me. I won’t tell anybody.” She touched his hand gently. And he let her. Never had a girl touched him on the hand like Marie touched him just now. For the moment, Jim was frozen. He did not move or speak.
It’s ok. Marie is my friend. It’s perfectly ok for her to touch my hand.
“There was a little girl…at the post office Austin where we once lived,” he began. “Her hair was shiny and brown and was drawn up with a red bow. She wore a pretty polka dotted dress. On her feet, were ruffly socks and patent leather shoes. She did not say anything to me. I did not say anything to her. But I knew. I knew that she…she…”
“She what?” asked Marie.
He hung his head and stared the linoleum tiles.
“This sounds foolish,” he said. “I’ve never told anyone this. Not even Mother.”
“Jim, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t–”
“No, it’s ok. I want to tell you. It’s just that this girl…I sometimes imagine our life together. How we might have played together as kids. How I might have taken her to the prom. How I might have asked her to marry me. I know it sounds foolish.”
The line shuffled by. A woman in tennis shoes and blue jeans held a sleeping baby. A man with thick, dark eyebrows and fringes of gray, wiry hair peeked over her shoulder and smiled at the baby. Behind him, an obese woman held a stack of three boxes.
Marie squeezed his hand and said, “I don’t think it’s foolish, Jim. We all want to have someone special in our lives. Maybe it’s easier to imagine someone than it is to find them. I sometimes do the same thing. What would you say to her if she was sitting right here beside you?”
Jim shifted in his seated. He looked up at her. He looked straight into her pretty green eyes. He took a deep breath, savoring her scent for a moment, and said, “Do you want to see my basement?”
“That’s what you would say? If you found your long-lost love? Do you want to see my basement?”
“I’m asking you if you’d like to see my laboratory. There’s something I want to show you. Something I’ve been working on.”
The sleeping baby woke up and began to whimper.
“It’s ok. If if if if you’re not interested –” he stammered.
“No. No. I think that that would be ok,” she said cautiously. “Will your mother be there?”
“Oh yes, of course, but she’ll be having her afternoon nap.”