Chris Pellizzari : Trapped in Darien

Jimmy Belino sits up in bed, his heart pounding. He looks around his room. He breathes slowly, through his nose and out his mouth. He knows the routine. He has battled anxiety and depression in this room more than any other place. Damn this insomnia, he says to himself. He falls asleep for a couple hours, then wakes up. It takes him another three hours to fall back to sleep. It plays hell with his anxiety.

“St. Therese, why am I still here? Why didn’t you take me last night?” he says out loud.

The anxiety, the panic attacks, the fear of death and the longing for death are only muffled by the pills; but he is better now than he was last year, when he couldn’t leave his house during a two-week stretch in December. He focuses on how he conquered that little episode. It builds up confidence, and his heart slows down a little.

Maybe it was agoraphobia, that thing in December. Maybe. He read about agoraphobia at the library. The library is located in Darien, at the intersection of Plainfield Road and Clarendon Hills Road. He doesn’t think it was agoraphobia. It might have been, but he’s certain it was something else. One night, five months ago, he drove to the Shell gas station on Cass Avenue, also in Darien, to purchase cigarettes. Across the street from the gas station is a little shopping plaza and a large parking lot, a parking lot too large for such a small plaza. The parking lot was empty except for a semi-truck. A trucker was spending the night. Tomorrow he will be on his way to St. Louis or Memphis, Jimmy said to himself as he pulled into the gas station. But tonight he is in Darien, home for tonight is Darien. Maybe that’s what it was. It wasn’t agoraphobia, it was trucker alone in a parking lot syndrome.

Jimmy does not stray far from Darien. He hasn’t in years. The anxiety intensifies the further he moves away from Darien.

Jimmy moves to the edge of the bed, the bed that belonged to his father for forty years, and runs his fingers through his hair. The top of his head is almost completely bald, but there is enough hair on the sides and back, hair that reaches down half his neck, to remind him he is still Jimmy Belino, parts of him are still nineteen-year-old Jimmy Belino, home from Vietnam in 1969, growing his army hair out, long and shaggy.

He picks up two containers of antidepressants from the nightstand and deposits two white pills into the palm of his hand. One pill is oval, it is larger than the second pill, which is the shape and size of an M & M. He tosses them into his mouth and washes them down with what remains inside a Heineken bottle. He does not believe in wasting anything. The beer is warm, as warm as the room. He makes a face that reveals displeasure, the way a baby does, especially if someone is looking. But there is no one else in the room. There is no one else in the house.

Jimmy looks around his room. The white walls are almost entirely covered with posters of works from El Greco, Van Gogh, Dali, Magritte, Escher, and Da Vinci. There are also three framed paintings by Jimmy. Each painting is that of the eyes of a dead Viet Cong soldier he passed during a morning storm. They were large and round with long eyelashes. He wrote a letter home a day later to his brother, Paulie, describing the eyes.

Near the door is the only part of the white wall still exposed, six feet of Jackson Pollock in blue crayon. The artist is Jimmy’s nephew, Adam, age four. Adam was Paulie’s only child. The work was completed when Jimmy had his back turned, taping a Magritte poster to the wall as Adam stole a crayon from the nightstand.

Jimmy gets out of bed and walks to his closet. He puts on a black White Sox T-shirt and a pair of tight and badly faded blue jeans. He puts his keys in his front right pocket and wallet in his left back pocket. He goes to the bathroom and tries to comb the craziness out of his hair. He then brushes his teeth. As he brushes, he thinks about the last time he saw Adam, almost ten years ago. It was inside an Indian restaurant off Kingery Highway in Willowbrook, which borders Darien. Jimmy remembers arriving at the restaurant twenty minutes late.

###

Adam is there, drinking a bottle of Taj Mahal beer. As Jimmy approaches Adam, who he hasn’t seen since Adam was four, he realizes how handsome his nephew is. It is an Italian handsome, a masculine Italian beauty—large, dark eyes, thick eyebrows, a large but perfectly pointed nose, and full lips. Above all, Jimmy focuses on the eyes. 

Adam stands up with a confident smile and shakes his uncle’s hand. Jimmy wants to hug his nephew, he wants to hold him until he can compose himself. He is on the verge of tears, but he is able to sit down without making a scene. 

An elderly Indian waiter, slightly hunchback, approaches nephew and uncle and places a basket of warm nan on the table. 

“What will you drink, sir?” the waiter asks Jimmy. 

“I’ll have what he’s having,” Jimmy says, nodding at Adam. 

The waiter leaves and Adam speaks. 

“Like I said over the phone, I wanted to meet with you because I’m leaving for the seminary next week. There are things I want to clear up.” 

“You do kind of look like Father Karras from the Exorcist,” Jimmy says with a soft laugh. “Does your mother know you’re here with me?”

“You’re not the first person to tell me that, but I don’t see the resemblance,” Adam says with a warm smile. He tears a piece of nan from the basket and chews and swallows quickly and washes it down with beer. 

“Yes, mother thinks it’s a good idea. She’s sorry for a lot of things too,” Adam says. 

“It wasn’t really her fault. I was sick for a long time. You can’t really blame a mother for not wanting a crazy man around her four-year-old son,” Jimmy says with a laugh, followed by a smoker’s cough. 

“Well, she was wrong about a lot of things,” Adam says, staring into his uncle’s eyes. “But I thought you would have at least showed up to my dad’s funeral.”  

Jimmy breaks off a piece of nan but doesn’t eat it. He stares at it for a few seconds before speaking. 

“You know, there was a time when your father and I were inseparable. We could read each other’s minds. I’m sure he told you we wrote letters to each other constantly when I was in Vietnam. Whenever I finished a painting, he was the first person I showed it to. His opinion was the only one that mattered. When he told me your mother wasn’t comfortable with me being around you, I was crushed. For Paulie to go along with his wife, you know, that destroyed me.” Jimmy’s voice quivers as he mentions his brother’s name. 

Jimmy wipes his eyes with the back of his right hand. He places the piece of nan in his mouth and swallows it. 

“You know, he wrote me this wonderful letter, Paulie did, when I was in Vietnam. December of 1969. It was my favorite one. He ended the letter by saying he and I were like the Van Gogh brothers.” 

###

Jimmy finishes brushing his teeth, opens his medicine cabinet, takes a Propranolol pill, wraps it in tissue paper, and stuffs it in his right front pocket. He carries a Propranolol pill with him everywhere he goes. His psychiatrist told him whenever he feels a panic attack coming on, all he has to do is take one pill and the attack will instantly stop. Jimmy tried it twice already and, for the most part, it worked. Jimmy thinks Propranolol is a gift from God.

Jimmy leaves his house and drives to the shrine of St. Therese of Lisieux on Baily Road, down the street from his home. He usually walks, but today he drives. He visits the shrine every day before he eats his lunch. Jimmy studies the relics of the saint. It’s surreal, he tells himself. Here I am in Darien, the town I lived in my entire life, except for that year in Vietnam, in hell. Here I am in the most suburban of all suburbs and I am surrounded by the relics of one of the most popular saints in church history.

He strolls through the shrine’s museum, taking his time with each exhibit. He acts as if he is seeing them for the first time. He examines a little tambourine behind thick glass, a tambourine the saint played with as a child. He imagines he has a daughter, her name is Isabella. She is playing with this same tambourine. He examines a sketch of the world the saint made in grammar school. It is a very accurate sketch for a child’s hand. He wonders if Isabella, who is in first grade, can sketch like that, if she inherited some of his talent. He examines a tea set the young Therese used for imaginary tea parties with her father in the family garden. He sees Isabella pouring invisible tea into his cup in his own backyard.

He walks up to a replica reproduction behind glass of St. Therese’s bedroom at the Carmel in Lisieux. Her window looks out into a garden. It is a sparse room, even for a convent cell, but comfortable, Jimmy tells himself. Perhaps a view of a French garden would help with the insomnia, he tells himself. He apologizes right away. He does not mean to mock the nun, the saint.

Jimmy walks to the white gazebo in the middle of the shrine with the life-size statue of St. Therese standing under it. He kneels before the saint, staring at the fresh roses laid at her feet. He starts to pray in whispers.

“Dear St. Therese, please take me. I don’t want to live anymore. I have asked you now for three years to take me. Why haven’t you answered my prayers? What is the purpose of me still being here? Take me, please take me. I want to live with you in heaven, not here in Darien. You took Tony Capitanio last week. I know you remember Tony. We served together in Vietnam. He was living with his wife in Chicago Heights. His daughter and grandchildren lived down the street from him. But you know that. You know that he had five grandchildren and they were his life, and he wanted to live, but you gave him pancreatic cancer and took him to heaven when he wanted to stay in Chicago Heights. You know how much he loved to travel with his wife and daughter and grandchildren. They went down to Florida just last summer. He wanted to live and you took him. I want to die, but you won’t take me. Why? What is your plan? Please take me. Please give me a sign that you will take me soon. What is your sign? How will I know you have answered my prayer? Please send me a sign. Please take me home.”

He gets to his feet and walks to St. Therese’s cell for a second time. He concentrates on the bed, the smallness of the bed. He puts all of himself into concentrating on the bed. He could sleep on a bed like this. He could sleep in a cell like this, alone, with just the sounds of a garden at night to help him along the way.

Outside the shrine, the day is healthy and brisk. Jimmy enters his rust-eaten Pontiac and inserts a Muddy Waters CD into the slot above the radio. He’s proud of himself for still listening to CDs; that’s the way it should be, he tells himself. He pulls out of the shrine’s parking lot and drives in the direction of Westmont, which borders Darien. Westmont was Muddy Waters’s home for the last ten years of his life. It doesn’t take him long to arrive at the Muddy Waters house on Adams Street near the train tracks. He lowers the volume to “Got My Mojo Working,” and he ponders the potential ridiculousness of his paying homage to the blues. He tells himself and others who are kind enough to listen, that he likes the sound, the blend of electric guitar and harmonica. It has nothing to do with historical relevance or politics. But as he stares at the abandoned house, the small house with no historical marker on the front lawn to tell the world who lived there, he sinks into thought.

He thinks about how the world outside of Westmont doesn’t care about Westmont. Not even Darien cares about Westmont. He thinks about how the Catholic world doesn’t care about Muddy Waters the way it does St. Therese because you can’t pray to Muddy Waters to intercede on your behalf like you can St. Therese. He thinks about how the black world doesn’t care about Muddy Waters the way it should, how it disowned him and the music long ago. He thinks about how not enough of the white world cares about the blues, and how the small fraction that does care, does so for the wrong reasons.

He thinks about himself in 1974 visiting this house for the first time after a war buddy who lives in Bronzeville told him that Muddy Waters had moved out of Bronzeville, moved to “your neck of the woods” in Westmont.

###

He brings Paulie along that day. He tries to persuade Paulie during the drive from Darien to Westmont there is nothing wrong with a white kid liking the blues. But Paulie isn’t having it.

“Whites can never fully appreciate the blues and blacks don’t give a shit about it anymore,” Paulie says. “So what’s the point? Following the blues will lead you nowhere. Focus on your painting.”

It is hot that day, Jimmy remembers. It is August and it’s that Chicago hot that residents of southeastern and southwestern states don’t believe in until they feel it for themselves. The two brothers walk down the alley that runs past Muddy’s house until they are standing in front of a wooden gate. The brothers stand on tiptoes to stare over the gate and into the backyard. It looks like an archaeological dig.

“He’s building a pool for his kids,” Jimmy says to Paulie. “They’ll have it better than he had it, a kid in Mississippi, playing in the muddy water of some nearby creek.”

Paulie dares Jimmy to knock on the front door and get Muddy’s autograph. Jimmy says he doesn’t have it in him to knock on the man’s door.

“For a Vietnam vet, you’re the biggest coward I ever met,” Paulie says.

###

As Jimmy drives away, he tells himself it is proper the street is called Adams Street and not Muddy Waters Avenue. But he also prays that the people of Adams Street never get a good night’s sleep. He prays that the blasts of the passing trains keep them up at night. He prays that they never become accustomed to the rock and roll sound of the passing train.

Jimmy blasts “Got My Mojo Working.” He doesn’t care what Paulie says, anyone with ears can hear that this is the greatest music ever made. Jimmy tells himself this song is just for him. If the rest of the world rejects it, then it’s just for him. He speeds down Cass Avenue, moving with the harmonica.

“They’ll never catch me now! I’m protected by a saint and a mojo hand!” he shouts.

An old man speeds past Jimmy and cuts him off. He must be doing sixty. Jimmy has to slam on his brakes to avoid hitting him. The man is driving a white BMW and is wearing shades. He’s a tan prune, but he still has all his white hair. Jimmy can tell the old man is proud of his car and hair. Jimmy beeps his horn and he sees a long, arthritic middle finger slowly rise up to the rearview mirror. Jimmy laughs and moves to within a few inches of the bumper.

The old man slows down to twenty-five, but Jimmy expects it, and his foot is on the brake. There is no one else on the road and Jimmy is tempted to ride his bumper all the way to Darien. He has no great love for the elderly, even though he’s tried to love them. Jimmy’s father died at sixty-three and he has little sympathy for men in their seventies, eighties, and especially nineties who mistreat waiters or drive down suburban streets as if the world owes them something for living so long. It should be the opposite, Jimmy tells himself. They should show gratitude to the world. They should display gratitude for longevity. Jimmy wonders where all the wise old men are, the ones you can learn something from. All he ever sees are the ones who keep sending food back at restaurants.

But Jimmy sees the little bed in St. Therese’s cell, it blinks before his eyes like a broken stoplight, and he decides to let the old man go. He eases off the accelerator and slowly passes two adolescent boys mowing the front lawn. The boys have similar faces and the same ash blonde hair. They are brothers.

Jimmy drives down Plainfield, to a diner on the border of Darien and Burr Ridge. He eats here at least once a week. His waitress is a pretty girl he has seen at the diner maybe once or twice before, but he recognizes her from somewhere else. She is dark, Italian dark, short, but shapely, and very firm. He guesses she is eighteen.

“Can I get you something to drink,” she asks with a smile as she hands him a menu.

“Coke,” he says.

He makes eye contact with her but he doesn’t smile. He is missing too many teeth. Even though he’s only sixty, he has the mouth of an eighty-year-old. He tries to smile with his eyes, but they have betrayed him before. His eyes display insanity, not kindness, when he tries to make them smile.

He observes her ass as she walks away. She must be the sexiest girl in her school, he tells himself. Suddenly, Jimmy realizes where he’s seen her before. She’s a cheerleader at Downers Grove South High School. On Friday nights, Jimmy watches basketball games at Downers South.

She returns with his Coke in less than a minute.

“Do you know what you want to order?” she asks in a honey voice.

“You’re a cheerleader at Downers South, aren’t you?” he asks with a laugh. He hopes his laugh isn’t too crazy and he isn’t showing too much gum and missing teeth.

Her face turns red and she laughs.

“Yes I am. How did you know?” she asks.

“I go to all the home basketball games,” he says, smiling a smile that shows only lips.

She nods, as if she has come to a great understanding.

“You know, I thought you looked familiar. You always sit in the front row, right?”

Jimmy almost falls out of the booth. This beautiful creature recognizes me, he says to himself. He attempts self-restraint. He thinks of the seatbelt across his chest in the jeep near the beach in Vietnam.

“That’s right,” he says. “My name’s Jimmy.”

He extends his hand. She shakes it immediately and laughs again. Her hand is small, soft and warm, a little sweaty.

“I’m Maria,” she says.

“Maria, you must be Italian. I mean you look Italian.”

“Yep, one hundred percent. My last name is De La Rosa.”

“Are you Southern Italian or Northern Italian?”

“My family comes from Naples.”

“The home of Sofia Loren, once the most beautiful woman in the world! You probably don’t know who she is.”

Maria shakes her head as if to dispel such nonsense.

“Oh no, I know who she is. I love her! She’s one of my favorite actresses! I travelled to Naples last summer.”

“You look a lot like her, when she was very young,” Jimmy says.

Maria blushes again.

“Aww . . . Thank you!” she says.

“My family comes from northern Italy. Vicenza. My father was born there.”

“Okay,” Maria says. “I visited northern Italy too, but I didn’t visit Vicenza. I visited Milan, Verona, and Venice. Have you ever been to Italy?” she asks.

“No, I never have. I wish I had,” he says. He wants to say, “I’ve seen Vietnam, though.”

“You have to go. It’s the most beautiful country in the world. I want to go back so bad.”

“I would if I could. I don’t think I’ve left DuPage County in five years.”

“Why haven’t you left DuPage County in five years?” Maria asks with just the right amount of concern in her voice.

Jimmy wonders if he should explain. He knows he doesn’t have long to make this decision. He pulls the trigger.

“The further I move away from home, the more anxious I get. I’ve got an anxiety disorder, had it since I was a little older than you.”

Maria absorbs this very personal information, tapping her pink fingernails on her notepad.

“So Italy is definitely out of the question, huh?” Maria says with a half smile.

Jimmy returns a half smile. He wears it for her for as long as he can stand, about five seconds. Then he sees something in Maria’s eyes, something that says she’s just remembered something.

“You know, I write for my school’s paper. My editor is always looking for stories about people who suffer with anxiety and depression,” Maria says. “I think it might be a good idea to include you in a story. Maybe you can give advice to young people. I mean, you’ve lived with anxiety most of your life, but, I mean, you survived it, right? Maybe you can tell teenagers how they can survive depression too, or something like that. What do you think?”

Jimmy nods his approval. He never thought of anxiety and depression as something he survived.

“It might be a good idea,” he says.

Maria studies the old man’s face. His mouth is still, and she wonders if his tongue and lips are heavy. She removes a smartphone from her pocket.

“What’s your phone number? Actually, I forgot your name. I’m so sorry. What’s your name again?”

“Jimmy. Jimmy Belino,” he says. “B-E-L-I-N-O.”

“B-E-L-I-N-O,” she repeats, typing the letters into her phone.

“And your phone number?” she asks, and adds it quickly.

“Can I call you tonight at 7:00?” she asks.

“7:00 is fine. I’ll be up.”

“Okay, we’ll do an interview over the phone. It shouldn’t take longer than twenty minutes.”

“Sounds good. Thank you,” Jimmy says with a fearless smile.

“Great,” Maria says, placing the phone back inside her pocket.

“You probably need more time to look at the menu since all we’ve been doing is talking,” she says.

“Yeah, I might need five minutes,” he says.

Jimmy stares at the menu, but he reads nothing. He always orders the same thing anyway. He thinks about the interview. He will tell Maria De La Rosa many things.

She serves him lunch, a grilled chicken sandwich and waffle fries. He asks if she has a boyfriend, careful not to talk with his mouth full. She says she does, his name is Mark, and they’ve been having problems. Jimmy responds the way she expects him to, the way most old men respond when a pretty young girl complains about her boyfriend. He tells her she’s pretty enough to have any boy she wants and if he is giving her problems, she should find somebody else. When he finishes speaking, she hands him the check. He does not remember asking for it.

“You can pay me whenever you’re ready,” she says.

“I’m ready right now,” Jimmy says, taking out his wallet and removing a crisp twenty-dollar bill with sharp edges.

“Keep the change,” he says.

“Thank you so much, Jimmy,” Maria says.

The bill was only twelve dollars.

“What time are you going to call me for this interview?” Jimmy asks, freeing himself from the booth.

“7:00”, she says.

“Okay, I’ll talk to you tonight,” he says, shaking her hand again.

“Good-bye, Jimmy,” she says as he turns around and walks out of the diner. He does not say anything. He walks away slowly. She studies his feet to see if he is limping. She thinks she saw a slight limp in the right foot when he entered the diner, but as he heads out the door, she is not so sure.

Maria walks to a little nook near the kitchen where the waitresses talk, out of sight and earshot. She is happy to find Marisa there alone. Marisa could be Maria’s older sister. Maria prefers talking to Marisa over any of the other waitresses.

“How was the crazy guy?” Marisa asks.

Maria laughs.

“He was talking my ear off. Were you watching us?”

“Kind of. What were you talking about?”

“Who cares?” Maria says, staring at Marisa’s shoes.

“He gave you a nice tip, though. I did see that,” Marisa says.

“Yeah, that’s because I told him I was going to write a story about him for my school paper,” Maria says, still staring at the shoes.

“Are you?” Marisa asks.

“No! You said so yourself, the guy’s crazy,” Maria says, staring into Marisa’s face.

“Yeah, but if you promised him, you better do it. He’s the kind of guy that will chop your head off if you don’t come through on a promise like that. I’ve seen him here a few times before. I’ve never waited on him, but I’ve heard him talk to himself, out loud, just talking to himself. Jenna told me he was eyeing her last week. He was checking you out too.”

“Yeah, I know he was. Whatever, I’ll just tell him I talked with the editor and he didn’t think it was a good idea to include him in the story because he’s too old.”

“Good luck with that,” Marisa says. “Just don’t be surprised to catch him standing outside your bedroom window in the middle of the night.”

Marisa laughs at this. Maria does not laugh.

“Hey, you got Mark to protect you, right? How’s that going by the way?” Marisa asks.

Maria rolls her eyes.

“Don’t ask!” she says, storming back to the world of customers.

###

Jimmy pulls into his driveway and imagines his wife and Isabella are not home yet. He enters the house and warms up last night’s pizza from Giordano’s, thin crust, extra crispy, with black olives and mushrooms. He doesn’t know why he’s still hungry, he just knows he is. Isabella and his wife also like black olives and mushrooms, and he is grateful for that. He grabs a Heineken from the fridge and heads to the basement to watch the White Sox. Despite the weather, they’re playing the Tigers today at home, a matinee game. As he eats and drinks, Jimmy thinks about how it would be impossible to enjoy a ballgame if he knew he had cancer. Even if the doctors said they caught it early and the outlook was good, it would be impossible to truly enjoy the game. To enjoy baseball, you have to be carefree, free of serious worry, anyway. Baseball is not the sport that distracts you from serious worry. Tony, who loved the Cubs, never really enjoyed a baseball game again once he discovered he had pancreatic cancer.

Jimmy imagines his wife and daughter do not arrive home until six. They tell him they stopped at Portillo’s and aren’t hungry. Jimmy’s wife retires to the bedroom to watch TV while he helps Isabella with math homework in the kitchen. She tells him she hates math and wants to paint like him. Jimmy tells her in life you sometimes have to do things you don’t want to do. At seven, Jimmy tells his daughter he’s calling it a night. Isabella follows him upstairs and asks if she can watch TV in her room. Jimmy says it’s fine, but adds she should try to be asleep by ten. He then finds his way to his own bed.

His wife is not staring at the TV screen when he enters the room; she is smiling at him. He lies down next to her and kisses her. Her perfume smells good. She is wearing a black White Sox T-shirt two sizes too big and White Sox pajama pants. She once told him she never imagined herself wearing White Sox gear. She grew up a Braves fan on the outskirts of Atlanta, in Kennesaw.

He asks about her mother, but he doesn’t really care. He knows this will get her talking. He is feeling a little drowsy, thank God, and he thinks about the little bed in St. Therese’s cell. He asks the usual questions, four or five words max, to string her along, but he can feel his eyes getting heavy and this pleases him. He tells his wife he is ready to fall asleep.

“Oh, that’s good!” she says. “Maybe the insomnia is over!”

She says “insomnia” in a Southern drawl, and a part of Jimmy would like to make love to her; but conquering insomnia, or “insomnia” in a Southern drawl, is more important. She turns off the light and kisses his forehead. He grabs the front of her baggy shirt and brings her towards him and kisses her, placing his tongue inside her small mouth. It is a kiss that says they both still find each other incredibly attractive.

“Goodnight, I love you,” he says.

Within minutes, he is asleep.

Jimmy sees St. Therese standing in front of the window overlooking the garden. Jimmy is now in the cell with her. She points to the window. She wants him to look out her window. But Jimmy doesn’t see a garden. He sees a man standing alone in an apartment. The man is very tall and skinny and pale. His disheveled blonde hair suggests he has just crawled out of bed. Jimmy recognizes the man instantly. It’s his brother, Paulie. Paulie is a teacher in Cicero. He lives in Cicero too, down the street from the school. He teaches second graders, sons and daughters of Mexican immigrants who read textbooks in Spanish. Paulie is one of the smartest people Jimmy knows. Jimmy once told Paulie that he deserved better than this.

Jimmy watches Paulie walk to a table stacked with envelopes in the middle of a tiny room. He notices that Paulie is limping.

“Why is he limping?” he asks St. Therese.

Naturally, there is no answer.

He sees Paulie open an envelope and read a letter. He is running his fingers through his hair, trying to straighten out the blonde mess. Paulie is single, Jimmy is sure of it. There are no female fingers there to run through his hair.

Jimmy awakens violently. He realizes he has only been a sleep for a few minutes. Damn this insomnia.

“What’s the matter?” his wife asks in the darkness.

“I just had a weird dream about Paulie,” Jimmy says.

“Your brother Paulie?”

“Yeah, I don’t understand it. I thought about him today. I thought about when we were young.”

“Maybe you should call him,” his wife says.

“Call him? He’s dead!” Jimmy shouts.

Jimmy stares at the pitcher going through his windup.

“Please St. Therese. Please give me a sign that I will soon be with you in heaven,” he says to the TV screen.

###

Maria showers when she gets home from the diner. She takes long showers. Her mother scolds her about the length of her showers, but the warm water and steam does something to her. She thinks clearly under warm water. She makes educated guesses as to why Mark has been so elusive since Saturday. She decides she will not call him tonight. He will have to call her if he wants this relationship to continue.

But first things first. She will call Jimmy, get that out of the way. Then she can wait on Mark. She can wait for him to call, let the anger build, and then lash out tomorrow. It will be therapeutic, she tells herself under warm water. She cannot wait to tell Marisa about it, how she told off Mark.

After the shower, she goes to her room. She grabs the smartphone off the nightstand and plops into bed. She stretches out her legs and examines her toenails as she dials Jimmy’s number. She debates whether she should paint her nails tonight or tomorrow. As the phone rings, she decides she will paint them tonight. Then she tells herself she will never do anything so stupid like what she did today with Jimmy. No tip is worth this hassle. She prays that Jimmy doesn’t answer the phone.

“Hello?” Jimmy says.

“Hello, Jimmy? This is Maria, the waitress from earlier today. Look, I talked to my editor about including you in my story and he said it wouldn’t be a good idea. He said I should just focus on high school kids with mental illnesses.”

There are seconds of silence. Maria hears a wheezy breathing coming from the other end of the phone. Then she hears four distinctly different coughs. She then hears the old man clear his throat.

“Don’t worry about it. I kind of figured that. Besides, there isn’t anything I could tell you that hasn’t been said a thousand times before. But I appreciate you calling and letting me know,” Jimmy finally says.

“I know, but I still think your story should be heard. Give me some time, let me see what I can do.” She doesn’t know why she said this.

“Hey, if you need me, you got my number. By the way, I was thinking about what you said, about surviving anxiety and depression. I never thought of it like that, but you’re right. That’s what young people need to understand. I read about some young person who commits suicide because he or she couldn’t handle it. It breaks my heart. They still have so much to live for. I’m old and I still get up every morning. But when you’re young, man, there’s still so much to live for.”

“That’s what I mean. That’s good advice. I don’t understand why my editor doesn’t recognize that,” Maria says. She uses the toenail of the big toe of her right foot to scratch at her left ankle as punishment for lying. Her skin is still sensitive from the warm water and it doesn’t take long for the skin to hurt. She’s glad it hurts.

“Can I ask you something?” Maria says.

“Go ahead,” Jimmy says.

“At the diner, you said you haven’t left DuPage County in five years. Have you ever been on vacation before? Have you ever left Illinois before? I don’t want to make you more depressed, it’s just I couldn’t imagine, you know, in my own life never leaving Illinois. I love traveling too much.”

“I went on vacation once, a long time ago. I wasn’t much older than you. My girlfriend at the time and I drove down to Florida with my brother and his girlfriend. We stayed there for two weeks. I can’t remember a time when I was happier.”

Maria wants to ask him what happened to the girl in Florida. Has he dated or married since that time? Is he seeing a psychiatrist? What does his psychiatrist have to say about all this? She decides to save these questions for later.

“Do you feel like you’re trapped in Darien?” she asks. She takes her waitress notepad and a pen from the nightstand and begins scribbling down the old man’s answers.

“I am trapped in Darien,” Jimmy says in a matter-of-fact tone. “But there are far worse things than being trapped in Darien.”

Maria hears a beeping sound on her phone. Someone is trying to call her. Probably Mark. This is great, Maria says to herself. He can wait until I’m done speaking with Jimmy, and I’ll take my sweet time too.

“Can I ask you something?” Jimmy asks.

“Shoot,” Maria says, staring at her toenails.

“Do you know anything about St. Therese of Lisieux?”

The change in topic throws Maria off for a few seconds. It’s a strange question, but the thing is, she does know who St. Therese is.

“I actually do. I had to write my Confirmation paper about her and my mom visits her shrine like almost every day.”

Jimmy is excited. He rises in his bed.

“Me too! I mean, I visit her shrine every day too! Let me ask you something. Do you know what her sign is? I mean, I pray to her every day and I ask her to show me a sign that she hears my prayers. What is her sign? What should I look for?”

“Her sign is the rose. My mother brings roses every time she visits,” Maria says.

Jimmy messes up his hair. She can’t see me, he says to himself.

“Roses? Really, roses? Yeah, I see roses all around her at the shrine, but I never knew roses were her sign. Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“Yeah, if you come across a rose in your life, it means she will answer your prayer.”

Jimmy lets the tears roll down his cheeks. Again, she can’t see me, he says to himself.

“I’ll keep my eyes open for roses,” he says.

“I just thought of something. My last name means From the Rose in Italian. Maybe she is using me to let you know she will soon answer your prayer,” Maria says.

Jimmy stares at his nephew’s blue scribble on the wall. He is weeping over the phone. She may not see me, but she can hear me, he says to himself.

His voice breaking, Jimmy says, “She has answered my prayers.”


For more on Chris Pellizzari, please see our Authors page.