Joe and Wendy spoke to each other, or rather, Joe spoke and Wendy responded, Joe being the young, charismatic black man raised by strong, patriarchal men, and Wendy being adopted, a young Asian woman raised in a white household, with a quirky demeanor and a slapstick kind of humor. They sat in her car one day after school, smoking, Wendy thinking about grades and exams, Joe already seeing the light, the end of his high school career that would end prematurely without much consequence.
Wendy had no doubt already stolen and pawned some of her mother’s jewelry when Joe told her: you have to do this, and this, and this differently, and look at that this way and so on, the kind of lecturing his father gave him.
“It was just a necklace and some earrings,” Wendy said with a giggle, per usual, and Joe no doubt felt he owed her some fatherly advice, the kind he was given by his father.
Schooling her to the truth, he called it. What school? The streets, I suppose, hard knocks, no books. What truth? Well, the truths of life, of course, the truths that he was taught – the way we talk and walk and see the world unfolding as a series of events, which we later reflect on and consider and maybe squeeze a lesson out of, where to go and where not to go, where not to go alone, who not to talk to, when to run.
“You can’t just flash all that jewelry around, all that cash,” he finished his thought aloud, to which Wendy without notice wrinkled her nose and felt the familiar flush of heat in her cheeks whenever someone told her what to do, and then laughed.
“Whatever,” she said, irritated now the more she thought about it, the more she knew he was right, but who was he to say? He wasn’t her dad. Her dad wasn’t even her dad. Who was anyone to tell her anything? No one. But she has to know, Joe thought to himself, that it’s dangerous to be out in Olneyville and Hartford in a car like hers, looking like her, dressed the way she was dressed, toting around gold and diamonds like they were nothing.
“You have to be careful,” he said, and thought back to the time when someone had pulled a lick on him and he was sincere in the fact that he didn’t want that to happen to her, so he kept talking and she kept brushing him off, a collision of worlds that barely knew each other, the two of them. I don’t need this, she thought. She needs this, he thought.
What he didn’t think about was as much as his father had shared with him, all the long car rides and late-night talks about life, school, girls, sports, the truths, secrets that Joe, Sr. wished he had known and that spurred his enthusiasm as a father, knowing he would prepare his son far better than his father had prepared him, despite all that, Joe didn’t think about how much he learned on his own, how much he had needed to learn on his own, and how little advice really does when pre-emptive as opposed to retrospective, especially at the age that they were.
Anyway, here we are, Wendy thought. It doesn’t really matter anymore, “I already sold them, don’t worry about it.” She heard the words come out of her mouth, but she was already past it, over the conversation, over Joe telling her what to do.
He was serious and she wasn’t. That was the root of the problem. She hated that everyone was so serious all of the time, because really what’s the use – it was a thought that entered her mind often, when she hiccupped or tripped or stumbled on her words or said something outlandish and misinformed – what’s the use in being so mindful of every goddamn thing you say or do? Doesn’t that just take away from the impulsiveness that makes life so interesting, the spontaneity that breaks the monotony of this mundane existence, history lectures and parental guidance, rigid schedules, deadlines, routine? She shuddered at the thought, something so confining as a routine – dear God, strike me dead – because what else do we have besides the excitement of the unknown? Lord help us, the incredible boredom of those who value a structured life: parents, adults, baby boomers, the corny old fogies, phonies, lonely behind their picket fences. Ick.
She pictured a shadowy hand, hairy and pale like her father’s, turning the knob on a gaslamp, and the knob squeaked and stuck, but his grip was firm, and the flame grew smaller until it was a crescent of blue burnoff clinging to the wick, gasping and thirsty, and was out. The wick smoldered, a cherry, a kernel, a wink, and smoke swirled and spiraled upwards into darkness and she swore she would never live that way. To bring order to the madness would be blow out the pilot light, poof!, no more.
“Where are we going?” Joe heard her ask, and he rushed back into the car on Broad St., which was turning on Eddy, and he couldn’t remember where he had been just then, but he remembered that Chi had just gotten out of class and would be expecting them to pick him up. The three of them, the car, the after school bliss. They might end up at the water, at Roger Williams, in the parking lot at the end of Swan St., on the Eastside in some shady, wooded nook. Somewhere in there Amory would jump in. Thus was the daily routine. They were the crew, the car their ship, and they sang the shanties blaring on the radio as they sailed through the corridors of Providence, free at last from the confines of their respective prisons.