February 10th, 2020

Venus

LJ Idol Season 11: "The Hand You're Dealt"

The Hand You're Dealt
idol season eleven | week 13 | 1582 words
Fan Death


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It was the summer when everyone in Philly thought they were going to die.

The heat hit triple digits all the way through July, keeping the air so wet and rank and heavy that it sagged with the weight of it. Dogs grumbled beneath suburban porches, while the city people drifted down sidewalks heading toward work or home or the corner store and hoped to reach their destinations before the heat sapped the life right out of their bones.

It was the summer some were saying that the Phillies would win the pennant, and yet they didn't—another heartbreaking journey in a city already sweltering with disappointment.

By the second week of the heat wave, everyone had hunkered down in their own little patch of misery and was just waiting for it all to end.

That summer was also when Louis Benedetto decided he was hotter than a tin roof in Texas, and that it was time the world wised up and paid its respects.

His sister Anita—unmarried and eight months' pregnant, and ornery as a tick on a griddle—thought someone ought to slap him into next Christmas. Every time he started going on about himself, she had to fight back the urge to be the one to do it.

Now, Louis was handsome enough, no doubt. But there were men all along the Eastern seaboard just as handsome, and many had other notable qualities, like charm or money. Louis's interests and expertise were largely limited to Louis himself.

Anita was the only one who noticed. The family's big box-fan was dead and the power kept going out, so her parents hardly ever spent time at home. When he wasn't working, her father was over at Tony's Tavern, soaking up beer and air conditioning. Her mother would go to a friend's to play Canasta—any one of the many friends who lived just a few blocks East, where the power grid was more stable.

Anita hated Canasta from the little she'd seen of it, and she was too young to legally drink in bars, not to mention being pregnant and what people would make of that. She sweltered in the apartment and sulked, or spent hours soaking in the tub in a few inches of cool water while she tried not to lose her mind.

Louis was usually right outside the door, standing in front of the hallway mirror and combing and re-combing his hair just so. His constant stream of updates was the stuff of which domestic homicides were made.

"Shut up," Anita would say.

"Why? What's the problem?"

"Why are you so stuck on yourself?" she would groan.

"Hey, with these looks, who wouldn't be?"

Then she'd hear him whistle his way down the hall and out the front door, off in search of a more appreciative audience.

Sometimes, Anita would go visit her friend Marjorie, whose apartment had air conditioning like normal people. She was lucky Marjorie's parents hadn't banned her from their home the way some of her other friends' parents had, like her pregnancy was contagious—or at least, like the bad decisions that led to it were.

Marjorie was a sweet girl, and there were always snacks and endless jars of instant iced tea. But she also had a crush on Louis, which put Anita in a tough position. Yes, Anita knew you were supposed to be loyal to family, but Louis was too young for Marjorie and he wasn't good enough for her anyway. He was always looking for the next pretty girl, the next opportunity, and Anita didn't want Marjorie to end up the way she had when Rico ran off to Florida to work on a fishing boat and left her to deal with the consequences.

"Don't be silly. Louis is sweet," Marjorie always said. "He wouldn't do that."

Anita had thought the same about Rico, and look how that had turned out. Aunt Rosa had always said Rico was no good, but Anita hadn't listened. What did Aunt Rosa know, Rosa who played Canasta and watched soap operas about crazy people with stupid names and big hair?

Quite a lot, apparently, but now it was too late. There was nothing Anita could do, and the whole city was on fire and this baby was still coming…

At least she'd made it out of high school, though she hadn't done much with her life afterward. She'd taken a couple of night classes at cosmetology school, and worked as a radio-station mascot until she couldn't fit into the uniform anymore. Now she did nothing but worry about the future while trying to make it from one day to the next through the horrible, relentless weather.

It was always a little better after the sun went down, but only just. The air was still hot and humid, still thick and wet and almost too heavy to breathe. Worse yet, Anita might wait all day for the night to bring relief, and then find herself sitting in the dark because the power was out again.

At least the darkness kept her brother from mooning over his reflection, like he did the rest of the day.

Anita's mother, Ida, came home from Canasta one Thursday night, and finally seemed to notice the state of her family. "Anita, what on earth are you doing in the tub?" she said, peering into the bathroom. "Pregnant women can't take baths, it's too dangerous. What if that water gets up inside you and hurts the baby?"

"Ma. That's ridiculous," Anita said. "It's the heat that's dangerous, not the water. And baths are the only thing that keeps me cool."

"This is not how they did things in my day, let me tell you," Ida said. "And where's that brother of yours? Louis!"

"He's out again, probably struttin' around looking for a new girlfriend."

"That boy needs a job. And what about you, Anita? How are you planning to take care of the baby when it comes?"

"I don't know!" Anita clutched the tiny washcloth draped over her breasts, a shield too small to protect her, and every bit as useless as she felt. "I have no idea! I didn't think any of this would happen until later, after I was old and married!"

"Well, it did!" Ida said. She breathed in a slow, deep breath and then huffed it back out. She snatched up the towel on the floor and handed it to Anita. "Come on out of there, and we'll talk."

A few minutes later, Anita was sitting on the living room sofa with her mother, wishing the little table fan she'd brought out from her bedroom was stronger. She was hot and miserable, and she had the feeling things were about to get worse.

"Look, honey," her mother said. "We're not going to turn you and the baby out to starve, but you know things have been a little tight around here. We're going to need you to help out with some money, maybe not right away, but probably before winter starts."

"I know," Anita sighed. "I've been trying to figure out what kind of work I can do after the baby comes, and who'll watch it while I'm at work. I mean, what can I even afford? Daycare is so expensive."

"Maybe you'll need to think about working swing-shift or nights, so your Dad and I will be home when you're gone. You might even be able to leave the baby with your Aunt Rosa, who knows? She's retired, and she doesn't have any grandchildren of her own, but babies are a lot of work, so she might not be up to it. It wouldn't hurt to bring it up as a possibility, but only as a hint. She'd be doing you a huge favor, and it's asking a lot, so you don't want to pressure her into it."

"Okay," Anita said.

"You'll have a better idea when It's time to start looking for work, and you can see what the options are then. But I wanted to make sure you know how things are looking, and that you might have to get creative."

"I get it," Anita said, and somehow knowing what was expected was better than all of the 'what-ifs' she'd been worrying about for months. She had family and a place to live, and she'd figure out a way to make the rest of it work.

"Thanks, Mom." She leaned over and hugged her mother, jumping back as the baby kicked between them.

"Oh, do I remember that feeling!" Ida said. "That's a healthy boy or girl you've got it there."

Anita smiled. Something to be grateful for, she thought, even when everything around her looked like just another problem.

She went out on the balcony and looked down at the street below. There were a few more people out than usual, and she felt the air stir softly. She'd heard the heat might be lifting. Maybe this was the beginning of it?

"Yo, check me out!"

It was Louis. Down there on the sidewalk, he was looking up at her and spinning slowly like a model on a runway stage.

"Yeah, yeah," Anita said. "It's still you."

"You better believe it!" he said. "Hey, you want to go get ice cream? I'm buying."

"Sure, why not."

Anita felt the hint of a breeze against her arms, against her face. She breathed in the promise of something better.

"I'll be right down."


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