Most residents of 1602 Broadway Avenue have their windows open, so one sharp bark from Mrs. Cohen’s Shih Tzu is enough to get the parrot in 306 squawking. The sound from televisions in other apartments drifts through the humid air and merges with noise from the street.
The newer Belvedere building next door has air conditioning, so everyone has their windows closed, including the couple that she watches across the alley.
The wife stirs a pot of stew. Her husband, home from a long day of work, leans against the island. He reads his tablet.
“How was your day, dear?” asks the wife.
“Wonderful. And yours? Good? Was it good? Mine was good. Yes. Very good.” He types on the tablet.
“Perfect, wonderful.” She puts the wooden spoon down and looks in the other pot where vegetables are steaming.
“You know, I love you. I love you so much. And your delicious dinner every night too. Every night.” He laughs. Then he takes his wallet out of his pocket and puts it beside him.
His wife gets plates and utensils from the cupboard and puts them on the island. “Thank you, dear.” She shakes her head. “I just want you to be happy.”
“I’m so happy I could cry.” He turns the tablet toward her. “See, that’s how I would look, if I were crying.”
She stares at the screen. Then she points at it. “I’m glad you don’t cry like that.” She gets the pot of stew and brings it to the island. “Did you put out the garbage?”
“As soon as I got home I did. Put out the garbage. I know how important it is. Right away, I did it. As soon as I came home. I like him, our garbage man. Yes. Yes, yes indeed.”
“Me too.” The wife drains the vegetables and puts the green beans in a bowl beside the stew. “I like him. As well. I like him too.”
The man leaves. “Checking on the garbage”, he says. The woman gets nice glasses from the cupboard and puts one beside each plate.
The husband comes back with a bottle. “Look what I found.” He peels off the foil and twists a puller into the top.
“I like juice.” She stirs the stew.
“It’s great that we both like juice.” He fills the glasses. “I’m so glad I moved back. I missed you so much.”
“I’m so happy you came back.” She scoops a leg of chicken onto his plate. “I thought this was stew,” she says as she gets one too.
“I like chicken.”
“Jenny? Where are you?”
Jenny scrambles to her feet, the fire escape reverberating with the clang of her shoes on the metal. She climbs through the apartment window and yells, “In the kitchen.”
At thirteen, Rick towers over her. His eyebrows furrow when he sees their mother’s high heels on his sister’s feet. “What are you doing? Mom said to get the dishes done before she gets home.”
She hops on the step stool with a clop-clop of the shoes, starts the water, and squirts Palmolive into the sink. “When is she going to be home?”
“In a few minutes, so you’d better hurry up.” Rick opens the freezer and takes out a frozen pizza.
“Is Bart coming too?”
“The guy that came over last week.”
“You mean Brett. I don’t know.” He sets the temperature on the oven.
“I don’t like him. He looks at me funny.”
“What do you mean, funny?” Rick opens the fridge, grabs the Tropicana, and takes a drink.
“He kept winking at me when no one was looking.”
“Well, it’s not up to you, is it? He’s Mom’s friend.”
Jenny pokes the water, then yanks her hand out, sending a few bubbles into the air. She turns the temperature down. “It’s just that I don’t want her to marry him.”
“Marry him? They’ve only been going out a couple of weeks.” He nudges the fridge door closed with his foot.
“If she did marry him, then Dad won’t come back.”
Rick snarls, “Don’t…” then stops. His fingers curl into a fist. “Dad isn’t coming back, Jenny. Get that through your thick little skull.” He raps his knuckles on her head.
They say nothing, staring at the sink as it fills. Jenny is blinking fast, trying to keep her eyes from overfilling. She stops the water and scrapes food off the plates into the garbage before sliding them into the bubbles. Rick watches, arms folded, leaning against the stove.
A minute later he sighs heavily, moves beside her and reaches into the soapy water to help. “What were you doing on the fire escape anyway? Spying on the neighbors again?” One corner of his mouth twitches. “Watching them have dinner?” He takes a plate from her, points out some dried tomato sauce that she missed, and slips it back into the sink.
“Not spying.” Jenny sniffs. “Just, thinking.”
Glenn Mori is learning to be a writer.