[New York City-based writer Ann Calandro is also a visual artist in a style she calls “enchanted realism.” The term could be aptly applied to this charming and soft-spoken little yarn, about one of those better worlds that we can only catch a fleeting glimpse of, in passing, one distracted afternoon while driving home from work …]
I lived on one side of the city and worked on the other. Although I could easily have taken what residents called the Innerloop or Outerloop highways between my apartment and the office, I chose to drive the major avenues instead.
They were lined with massive sycamores that provided breeze and shade, and I never knew what store or sight I might encounter. In this way, I had found a factory from which anyone could buy painters’ pants, a butcher who made sausage, a pancake and waffle restaurant that was completely underground, and a confectioner who made different types of licorice.
When I told co-workers about my discoveries, they were amused.
“You know more about this city than the people who grew up here,” one said.
One day, on my way home, I saw a sign for a cafeteria and decided to stop for dinner. I had grown up in a city with different types of cafeterias, and I hoped that this might be like one of those childhood memories.
I turned left off the avenue, left again, and drove down a gently sloping street to a small parking lot with several other cars outside a well-lit restaurant. I hadn’t known this little neighborhood was here, although for a minute it seemed familiar to me.
The houses were small duplexes or cottages, and all were surrounded by masses of flowers.
“Must be good soil here,” I thought.
Although the avenue was only a few blocks away, I could barely hear traffic noise. I went in and asked the server for macaroni and cheese and a bowl of vegetable soup.
The food was good, but it was the sense of peace I felt there that made me smile and let out a sigh of contentment.
“You local?” asked the woman who had dished up my food.
“Well, I live and work in the city, but I’m not originally from here,” I said. “And my lease is up soon, so I’m not sure if I’ll stay here or move back to where I’m from.”
“There’s an apartment for rent in that white duplex across the street, if you’re interested. If you want to leave a $50 deposit with me and your phone number, I’ll give it to the landlord, and he’ll call you.”
“I don’t have my checkbook with me,” I said, which was true, but I also wanted to think about it a little more. “Can I just leave you my phone number, and he can call me? I can come down and look at the apartment another day. I pass this way all the time.”
“Yes, leave your number with me,” she said.
I wrote my home and work phone numbers down on a piece of paper and handed it to her, and she folded it and put it in her apron pocket.
“This place is wonderful,” I said. “I really enjoyed it. I hope to see you again.”
I paid my bill, and she thanked me.
“Good-bye now,” she said.
When I got home I put my checkbook in my handbag, in case the landlord called while I was at work the next day. He didn’t call, though, and I decided to stop by the cafeteria and ask to see the apartment.
There wasn’t a sign where I thought I remembered it, and the street I drove down after leaving the avenue didn’t lead me anywhere except to ranch houses with children playing in the yards and parents coming home from work.
“Where’s the cafeteria near here?” I called to one man.
“No cafeteria near here,” he called back. “The closest restaurants are on the avenue.”
I drove around for an hour or more looking for the cafeteria, but never came across it. Sometimes I dream that I’ve found that neighborhood again, but that’s only a dream.