It’s impossible to a smoke dope on a bicycle, so when I got to work, I walked across the street to the broad lawn of the University. Halfway up the slope, by a couple of trees, I laid down the bike and finished the half joint I had with me. It was one of those impossibly bright summer days you get in Buffalo after the latest lake effect humidity blows past. I looked up at the clouds and sky and flashed on a walk I took with Matisse under the same sky.
It was only a couple of weeks after we’d met. It was the day after a snowstorm. The light bounced off the snow, the air was bright, and the sky was that same impossible light blue. She told me later it was the day she finally decided she could trust me. At the time, she just started talking about her parents’ divorce.
‘I always thought it was my fault,’ she said as we walked. ‘I never told anybody about this before.’ She picked at the raw spot beside her thumbnail, something she always did when she was nervous. ‘I must have been seven because she was pregnant with Julie. Something woke me in the middle of the night. He was talking and she was crying. I was always scared when that happened, so I stood in their doorway so they could see me and take me into bed. But they didn’t see me.
‘He was stroking her and suddenly she pushed him away.
‘”You bastard,” she screamed. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It just happened. I’ll do what I can for you and the kids.”
‘Then she shrieked, “Get your hands off of me. Don’t touch me with her hands.” She started punching him and screaming and I started crying and he heard me.
‘”Oh, God,” he said, “Stephanie.”
‘He held me in his arms. I told him I wanted to sleep with them and he said I couldn’t tonight. When he tucked me in, I put my arms around his neck and asked him to sleep with me.
‘”I can’t, honey,” he said.
‘”Who do you love besides Mommy?” I asked him.
‘”You,” he said. “I love you more than anything in the world, honey.” I know it’s stupid, but I knew it was my fault. He moved out after Julie was born and he told me he’d come back on Sundays so we could play like we always did. He never came. She had a court order. I didn’t know that till later.”’
I remember that I put my arms around her and told her it was going to be OK. I remember her look, too. Blinking tears, biting her upper lip, nodding like she wanted to believe me, knowing how it was all going to turn out.
And now she’s getting married and here I am, getting ready for work. I pick up my bike and wheel it down the slope. Turning my back to the sky, I wheel my bike into Deli House. The air conditioning hits me and I’m home.