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Diana from Anderson Avenue
                     by Patricia Carragon

Diana and her imagination lived on Anderson Avenue. Pseudo coat-of-arms embellished the entrance and long vestibule. In her head, she was royalty. At school, she was the designated pariah.

She loved to walk on weekends. Her penny loafers could testify to that. After her walk, she would jot down what she saw in a notebook. Improvised theater was everywhere. Changes in the wind and sky, laughter from children playing “Hit the Penny,” and the noise from the Polo Grounds shuttle turning at Jerome Avenue. A solitary leafless tree near broken Coca-Cola bottles held a tale. She strung these images into fiction. Reading books didn’t stir her imagination like her walks. For assignments, she used tidbits from her notebook. She read a few of them to her mom. Her mom would say, “Show them to your brother.” The teacher wasn’t impressed and made red notations across the pages. Diana figured that she wasn’t good enough. She stopped writing and tossed the notebook into her closet.

Art was her considered her forte. Brush strokes painted scenes or still life. Penciled lines took human form. Yet her work lacked the connection between art and artist. It was her downfall at Music and Art High School. She hated drawing. Her hand would always stiffen. The kneaded eraser did its best to remove unwanted lines, but not the scars of indentation. Oil and tempera paint did a better job in camouflaging errors.

For four years, her academic achievement paralleled with her artistic struggle. She couldn’t compete with the Arista kings and queens at the “Castle on the Hill.” She sat by herself in the lunchroom, listening to her neighbors’ boisterous conversations. Her Highbridge schooling and family never trained her to develop people skills. She was a dumb loner, and it was her fault. Her nights were spent doing assignments between blank stares and coffee sips. Her walking days terminated. Her brother was graduating from Columbia University. Diana wanted to get out of Highbridge and walk.

She retired her worn-out penny loafers for pumps. Immune to the July heat and foot pain, she went from one interview to another. Her mediocre appearance and lack of experience backfired. After a few weeks of “sorry the job was filled” or “come back in a few months,” she struck fool’s gold—a receptionist-file clerk position at a small ad agency on Seventh Avenue. The place was dingy and had a staff of three. Throughout the interview, Mr. Janovich eyed her up and down, but he was old enough to be her father. Diana needed a job and to get away from her parents. She accepted the job until a better one came a month later.

She missed her weekend walks. She bought a new pair of penny loafers at Alexander’s. She rented a studio apartment on Walton Avenue, west of the Concourse. Her loafers traversed the Art Deco strip up to Fordham Road. Plymouth Shops had a sale, but she stopped by Gorman’s for a hot dog and Nedick’s orange soda. As she bit into her hot dog, an elbow jabbed her side. Her soda dropped and stained her cotton skirt. Diana snapped.

The man apologized and gave her his napkin. His brown eyes softened her mood. From his accent, she surmised that he wasn’t from the area. Perhaps a Fordham student from Westchester? The man asked the clerk to give her a glass of seltzer and extra napkins. She did the best she could with the cleaning. Lucky thing that the skirt was a salmon color. Most of the stain came out.

The tension subsided. The sale at Plymouth Shops would wait another day. The man ordered another hot dog for Diana and himself. As she ate, she learned that he came from Bedford. He was an assistant professor of English at the University Heights campus of NYU and lived near Van Cortlandt Park. She spoke about her love for walking and how it stimulated her thoughts. He asked if she ever wrote them down. Embarrassed, she said that she did, however, her stories were juvenile. She confessed that she wasn’t smart enough for college. Her vocabulary was limited, and she was bored at school. He inquired if she showed her stories to her parents. She replied that they weren’t interested. Her brother was the main focus. She was to go to high school, get a job, and marry. He questioned if she kept those stories. She nodded yes. Perspiration enhanced her white lilac scent.

He asked if she was wearing Mary Chess. Diana nodded again. He commented on how he loved floral eau de toilette. She said, “You mean toilet water?” He smiled and explained that the correct name was in French, not to be confused with the water inside the toilet bowl. Her faux pas stained her cheeks, matching the one on her skirt.

They spent a half an hour talking. His name was Edward, a king’s name. He came from a well-off family. His future was beginning. Hers was on hold, filing résumés for potential candidates. She never answered his question about pursuing a career in the arts. She hated Music and Art, and buried her pencils and brushes in the closet. Reality taught Diana from Anderson Avenue that she wasn’t royal. Her education and talents were limited. Torn pages from her notebook sat in an old Stride Rite shoebox on her closet’s top shelf next to her art supplies.

She scribbled her name and telephone number on a clean napkin. Although he didn’t give her his, Edward promised to keep in touch. As he made his exit, the radio behind the counter played “Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite.”