Before the lot on East 93rd and Reno in the old Union-Miles neighborhood changed owners only to become vacant decades later, there existed a house. At the back, a rental unit. At the front, a tailor shop. And in the middle, an upstairs-downstairs railroad apartment.
On days when the wind was strong, the father slipped his feet into worn wingtips and ferried his chunky, frizzy-headed daughter down the rubber-treaded stairs to a field at the end of the block, across from a steel mill, where kites flew high.
Other days, when the wind was strong and rain pelted the sidewalk and puddled in the gravel driveway, the girl watched her Red Raven Magic Mirror spin round and round on the turntable while her grandmother tended steaming pots of rigatoni, polenta, chicken wings in gravy. On days like these the girl’s uncle was a frequent guest at mid-day dinner. When the mill’s whistle blew, he ambled to the house, let himself in, sat at the table. The girl, old enough for kindergarten but home for want of a school bus, marveled at the uncle’s perfectly dry white t-shirt and oil-stained dungarees. “I waltzed between raindrops,” he’d say.
One night, the girl’s parents needed to attend a wake. They took the children—six, three, two—to neighbors who lived across the street above a taxidermy shop. The grandmother, felled by stroke, had died; the children knew only that she was gone. The lady fed them porridge in the waning October light, but they could not be satisfied. When the parents returned to bring the children home, the oldest heaved. Later the middle and youngest would drive their pedal car into a wall. The youngest would cut his head and bleed.
Three winters the family stacked galoshes neatly on the rubber-treaded steps to their apartment. Three springs the parents tilled soil, cultivating the garden the grandmother had started. Two summers the mother sweltered in the upstairs kitchen canning green beans, tomatoes, peaches, pears. Finally the father found a new house in the suburbs, on the corner like the mother wanted, and sold the house to a trucking firm. The family moved just in time to enroll the children in a new school—fourth grade, first, kindergarten—and to welcome a baby into a room he didn’t have to share with anyone.
By then the girl had come to understand her uncle had hidden an umbrella in the entryway on those windy, rain-soaked days. She watched the family grow from five to six to seven, babysat, took refuge in the neighborhood library befriending Half Magic, Pippi Longstocking, A Wrinkle in Time.
The trucking firm razed the old house and its rental unit and tailor shop to erect a building of its own. The taxidermy shop remained dark, except for when lamppost light fell just so on the deer head’s antlers and splintered the light into something like a star, sent it shimmering, softly, like the muted echo of a man who waltzed between raindrops.
Joanne Lozar Glenn is a freelance writer, editor, and educator whose work has been published in Beautiful Things (River Teeth), Peregrine, Under the Gum Tree, Ayris, The Northern Virginia Review, Brevity, and other print and online journals.
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