Traffic whizzed past me down South Grand Boulevard, too close. I kept near the buildings––family shops that butted the narrow sidewalk. Weathermen claimed it was the hottest summer on record, but I was not deterred. South Grand offered a playground for my favorite sport, window-shopping. On foot, I planned to lose myself in the eccentricities of my new neighborhood. On foot, I would make this neighborhood my home.
The display window of a medical supply store stopped me. Bald mannequins in ill-fitting pajamas posed with crutches and wheelchairs, the moment flavored by the scent of garlic drifting from an Italian restaurant next door.
When a car engine throttled down from whiz to idle. I turned to investigate. A boat-long ‘70s sedan had pulled within arm’s reach. With his index finger, the driver pushed his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose, lizard eyes peering over the frames at me. Idiot. I walked away and lizard-eyes sped off.
Nothing could spoil my budding romance with this eclectic avenue. Every facade offered a treat: German import shop, Vietnamese restaurant, bakery, used bookstore. Even a dry cleaner and a neighborhood market. South Grand held a place for all of them. There’d be a place for me, too.
Days later temperatures broke. At seven a.m., eighty degrees, I seized the chance for a mile-long stroll to Tower Grove Park. Nothing distracted me from my morning walk. The dry cleaner was the only place open and the medical supply window had switched to wheelchairs and raised toilet seats. A motorcycle roared between lanes as it zipped through a yellow light. The station wagon behind it screeched to a halt at the red. In the distance an ambulance screamed. I turned down Magnolia, a leafy street with broad lawns that absorbed the traffic noise from Grand. Halfway down the block, I paused to breathe in the serene quiet before jaywalking into the park on the other side. A car stopped to let me cross. I waved a thank you. A beep of the horn made me look closer. The driver licked his lips, then pursed them in a slow-motion kiss.
I pretended not to see, but my heart raced. Despite adrenaline urging me to run, I strolled with fake nonchalance to the interior of the park to find cover. Inside a gazebo, I sank to the floor and hugged my knees, huffing as though I’d been chased. The image of a slow-motion tongue infected my brain. Was he waiting? There was an edge to the mid-morning stillness, which caused me to jump when squirrels rustled through the trees. I was desperate to leave, but how, which way? I crept across the park and zigzagged home through side streets.
I stopped walking for two weeks.
The temperature climbed back to unbearable, but I needed eggs and the market was only a couple blocks away. Besides, I missed South Grand.
I reached the store just as a bus groaned to a halt, spitting riders from its maw. I weaved through them, happy to exchange hellos. Inside the sliding doors, air conditioning turned my sweaty skin to shivers. I grabbed a cart and headed toward the dairy case, tossed in Oreos and Diet Coke along the way.
The register dinged my total and the clerk snapped open a grocery sack. “Find everything okay, ma’am?”
“Sure did. See you later.”
Overhead Diana Ross questioned, “Why do fools fall in love.” I hummed along.
A man lounged on the bus stop bench, skinny as a knife blade. He was leaning forward, elbows on his thighs, hands dangling between his knees. He swiveled his head in my direction, a flat expression trained on the spot where humidity plastered my tee shirt to my stomach. I shifted the sack to cover myself, but he saw through both the bag and the shirt. His posture was like a menacing dog––head lowered, ears flattened, fangs bared. I feigned confidence, so I wouldn’t leave the odor of fear in my wake. Step by step, determined to keep my pace steady, not daring to breathe, I crossed in front of him, the dead air between us as thick as diesel fumes. Even with the bench behind me, the hairs on the back of my neck knew the dog was still watching. I wanted to crawl in a hole.
Legs trembling, arms limp and weak, barely able to hold the lightweight sack, I reached the corner two doors from my apartment. As I stepped off the curb, in front of a car at the stop sign, a passenger poked his head out the window. “Hey, baby. Where you headed?”
Fucking shit. Any-fucking-where but here.
I staggered into the apartment, but its double-locked door offered no reassurance.
I was not safe. South Grand was not home.
Dawn Goes to the Dentist