John watched Joni as she made her way over to I-94 and headed south as far as the 130th Street exit where she looped through the clover leaf and went west to Indiana Avenue. Joni lived in a small, single family unit on 136th Street East in the far north eastern corner of the Chicago area known as Riverdale. The Little Calumet River lay two blocks to the north, six sets of railroad tracks were one block west, three sets of tracks ran diagonally from the northwest to the southeast one and a half blocks south of her place and South Indiana Avenue was half a block to the east. Optimists called this a working class neighborhood, pessimists used harsher language. There was no doubt that the neighborhood was not one of Chicagoland’s finest.
For more than a decade the Hagans’ home had also been Joni’s and while it had no garage, and hence no driveway, there was, at least theoretically, ample street side parking. Mercifully, the thus far mild by Chicago standards winter of 2015/2016 had managed to remove the specter of a turf war in regards to cleared parking spaces that occurs in so many big northern U.S. cities when the snow lays deep and heavy. The warm and dry winter contributed greatly to her ability to park on the north side, “their side,” of the street, and even with the abundance of inoperable cars that littered 136th Joni managed to parallel park just two doors east of the house. “Good girl, Blue,” she said, turning off the ignition.
“No snow, know peace,” John said aloud as Joni unlocked her door.
Joni turned to John with a look of interrogative but before she could say anything he leaned over and again kissed her gently on her mouth.
Smiling she asked, “What was that for?”
“That’s for nothing. Just for you being you, Lovey.”
“I’ve really missed you.”
“I’ve really missed you,” he answered, opening his car door, grabbing his bag from the back seat and stepping up onto the slippery sidewalk. “Who’s here?”
Joni hit the lock button on her key fob and took John’s offered hand. “Here? What do you mean? Just the two of us; why?”
“No why, just asking. I thought your brothers were here?”
“No. Well, sort of. Jacob and Payton and all are over at Amber’s. There’s more room here but her place is decidedly nicer. We’re going over to Amber’s for dinner.”
“You sound thrilled.”
“Well,” Joni responded as she unlocked first the deadbolt on her front door and then the low security one in the door’s handle, “I think I mentioned that I seem to be doing the vast amount of work while receiving Monday morning quarterbacking concerning the funeral arrangements? I wish they would support me rather than kibitz. We Hagans do have a tendency to put the diss in dysfunctional.”
They stepped onto the house’s tired, 25 square feet of cracked linoleum. John wasn’t certain but he’d have bet money that the faded, scuffed and torn, once white, five-by-five-foot patch of entryway was at least a hundred years old. He placed his bag on the old, red, overstuffed chair that sat next to the doorway and helped Joni off with her coat. He then carefully opened the tiny coat closet that was adjacent to the front door and hung her jacket up for her.
She smiled at him, said, “Thanks,” and then returned the favor. “So, are you hungry?”
“Yeah. A little. And tired. And dirty.” He rubbed his tongue back and forth over the outside of his top two front teeth and added, “And I need to brush my teeth.”
“Well, I can cook breakfast if you want to shower and brush. Put your stuff away, too, if you’d like,” she said, reaching for the bag he’d dropped on the armchair.
“That sounds fantastic. Thanks, babe.”
“Don’t mention it,” she responded, air kissing him. “Go shower. Oh. And take your shoes off. Lot of salt around here.”
John winked at her, slipped his shoes off, kicked them under the red chair and made his way up the narrow, steep staircase to the dingy upstairs room where Joni slept. On the way up the stairs he heard her singing, “Babe I hear you calling, but I can’t come home right now…” and he smiled.
“That’s my girl,” he said.