Hanging up the kitchen phone John glanced at the wall clock that hung above the sink. 12:37. Chewing on his lower lip he mused, “Joni should be home in less than hour.” He looked out the window to the backyard. The white, green and rusted storage shed stood in the far northeast corner of the tiny lot; the sliding door closed and padlocked. The lawn was littered with leaves and what grass there was was patchy and brown. Brown grass in an Illinois winter was to be expected but the lawn was a mess. “’Folks say this town don’t look good in snow. You don’t care, I know, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh,’” he sang.
“Home ownership: American dream, or American nightmare? Film at eleven,” he declared in his best overblown, small town, Midwestern newscaster voice. “Can’t believe I’m wishing for snow,” he added, glancing at the tiny, mercury filled thermometer that had performed guard duty outside the kitchen window starting when Nixon had been in office. “As Vice-President,” he quipped, holding his hands up, index and middle fingers splayed in either a “V” for victory or peace sign and shaking his head quickly back and forth to make his cheeks shake. “Sock it to me, baby,” he uttered.
“Should I stay or should I go now?” he sang to himself. The temperature outside was either a frigid 32 degrees or an incredibly warm 32, depending on one’s perspective. John expressed his opinion by sing-songing, “Cold, cold, go away, Johnny K would like to go out and play.” He was tired from his twenty-hour stint on the bus the day before and lack of solid sleep but he also knew that part of his fatigue was the result of inactivity. When someone doesn’t have a car and really can’t afford a city bus then physical movement becomes part of one’s daily routine whether it’s desired or not. John wasn’t an “exerciser” but he was a mover and while his bed was calling him he knew that a little activity would refresh him even better. “I can always take a nap later,” he said aloud.
‘Hey! I’ll go see Joni,” he thought. ‘Maybe surprise her! No,’ he immediately reconsidered. ‘Let’s not surprise her. I should call her.’
Calling Joni was a little bit of a logistical problem. She had no private line at work, every call rang through to the store’s phones and the likelihood of her picking up the phone rather than someone else was infinitesimally small. She didn’t do a lot of retail work; she was more the office gal at Bill’s shop. Personal phone calls were allowed but highly discouraged. Joni’s skinflint Bohemie rant of earlier was not a new theme for her. He could call her cell with the landline phone but employee cellphones were supposed to be turned off during working hours, so in all he likely wouldn’t speak to her anyway.
John considered his options. He could call the store’s phone with the Hagans’ landline and ask for Joni. This would be effective but likely to get her at least a dirty look from Bill if not a “more in sorrow than in anger” lecture on the importance of separating work time from personal time. Or he could call her cell and leave a voicemail but she didn’t always check voicemails before heading home. At last he decided to use his phone and text her. This decision pained him as it would entail digging into his prepaid phone minutes but then he had a revelation. “We have $24,000. We’re not dirt poor anymore,” he said aloud.
He texted her a quick message: “Need fresh air. Going to jog down. Should be there @ 1:30. DON’T LEAVE WITHOUT ME!” and then ran upstairs and slipped into some old sweats before heading downstairs, locking the door and starting his trek southwestward.