There Was a Boy
"Grandma? Are you here?" Christina Porter walked into her grandmother's tiny bungalow, and shook out of her jacket, as she scanned the small entryway and living room slowly.
"In here, sweetheart."
Christina turned her head in the direction of her grandmother's shaky voice, then made her way through the cozy living room and into the small den. She smiled slightly as she passed the wall of photographs that covered the wall that separated the two rooms. Photos of cousins; of aunts and uncles. Photos of her parents, when they were young; and photos from her childhood. Then there were photos of people she never knew—of her great-grandparents, and of her grandmother's only brother. She gingerly ran her finger over the photo of her great-uncle, straightening it so that it was just so.
Mom's right, Christina thought to herself, I'm just like her.
Christina turned her attention to her grandmother, seated in a large, brown leather chair, a thin, hand made afghan covering her tiny legs. She was turning the page of a large, well-worn photo album, her hands, worn with time and labor, trembling as she moved from one page to another. She looked up when her granddaughter entered, and a smile lit her face, her blue eyes dancing with mirth.
"Christina, sweetheart, how are you?"
Christina leaned down to embrace her grandmother, careful not to squeeze her too tightly.
"I'm okay, Grandma. Tired, I guess."
"Being a lawyer can be tiring, I imagine," her grandmother stated, and Christina laughed.
"You're right. But I have the next few days off, and I intend on spending a good deal of it with you."
"Oh, honey, it won't take that long to get my affairs in order. I already have a will you know."
"Well," Christina smiled," It's not the legal stuff that interests me. You promised to tell me more about your life…about all of the mysterious people in these photo albums of yours."
"What are you talking about? You and your sister have seen these albums a million times."
"Not this one! I've never seen this big red book before!"
Christina watched as her grandmother looked down at the photo album, her already pallid skin paling slightly. She ran her frail hand over the black parchment reverently, and let out a heavy sigh.
"Grandma? What is it?" Christina sat down on the floor in front of her grandmother, her face knitted with concern.
"I…haven't looked at this book in a long time. Not since your grandfather passed away."
"Is it…photos of Grandpa?"
Intrigued, Christina perched herself up on her knees, and peered into the book.
"Is that your father?"
"Yes, it is."
"He looks like a very kind man," Christina smiled, "you have his eyes."
"So do you, my love."
Christina smiled, and looked down, as her grandmother turned the page slowly.
"Who is that?"
"That…is the man I was supposed to marry. He was very wealthy and well connected, but…"
"You didn't love him?"
"Exactly," Christina's grandmother smiled, and wiped a small tear from her eye slowly.
"So you left him for Grandpa?"
"You left New York?"
"I left for New York," her grandmother corrected.
"Where were you? Where did you leave from?"
"I was younger than Sabrina, you know. I was only seventeen years old then…"
"When I left San Francisco."
"You were in San Francisco? And you left? When were you there?"
"My parents moved there during the gold rush. And I left after…"
"I left in 1906."
Christina's eyes widened with understanding.
"You were in the Great Quake?"
"Yes, I was."
"What happened? How did you survive? Is that how Great Uncle Ross died?"
"I think…I should start at the beginning.
"Back then…San Francisco was one of the most vibrant, beautiful cities in the world. It had a busy port, and it was still reeling from the Gold Rush. It was a large city, and a small town, all at once. It was a prosperous, stately city, and our family was one of the wealthiest in the city. In spite of all of this…I was completely miserable."
1906 – February
Monica watched incredulously, as her mother and new fiancé discussed the best time of year to hold the wedding. She swallowed down her soup sourly, and listened helplessly.
"April…it rains here in April," Judy Geller shook her head, her dinner growing cold in front of her as she deliberated passionately.
"It won't rain in March," Ross interjected, and Judy's face lit up. Monica shot her older brother a foul look.
"Yes! Oh, but that's only one month. We can not possibly arrange all of this in one month!"
"What about July?" Richard Burke, Monica's fiancé, (and one of the most boring men she had ever met) piped in, then smiled broadly.
"July! That's perfect! You can get married in the park!" Judy cooed, then looked at her husband, "Jack, what do you think?"
"What does Monica think?" Jack looked at his daughter, empathy lining his worn face.
Monica smiled at her father, and opened her mouth to speak, only to be silenced by her mother once again.
"Monica will be happy with any date we choose," Judy insisted, waving her hand at Monica dismissively.
Monica rolled her eyes, as Judy picked up her spoon, and sipped her soup.
"Ugh! This is cold! I can't eat this!" Judy announced, throwing her spoon onto the table.
Monica closed her eyes, and sighed. She would give anything…anything at all…to be anywhere but here.
Monica sat in the parlor several hours later, staring out at the darkened streets below. She was still reeling from the events of the morning, her head throbbing at the very thought of marrying Richard Burke. The man was so much older than her, and they had absolutely nothing in common. She could see that he disapproved of her passion for books and travel, and his conservative thinking and constant cigar smoking repulsed her. Sighing heavily, she ran her finger down the cold window slowly.
"Penny for your thoughts," Jack whispered from his spot in the parlor doorway.
Monica started slightly and turned, her eyes dark and moist with sorrow.
"Do I have to marry him, daddy?"
"You know you do, Monica."
"I don't love him."
"But you will learn to! Please Monica, don't act like this," Jack pleaded gently.
"I don't understand why I have to marry him—perhaps I don't want to get married at all!"
"Monica, don't be silly," Judy said crossly, as she joined Jack in the doorway, "any woman would be lucky to have someone as wonderful as Mr. Burke! Now stop sulking and get your coat—your music lesson is in half an hour."
Monica rolled her eyes and stood slowly. She despised her music lessons, and her etiquette classes, and all of the mind-numbing conversations and parties she was forced to participate in. They only served to remind her that she was being trained to be a conservative, humorless, dull society woman, who bows to her husbands needs and talks of nothing but local gossip and the weather.
She was being trained to fill her mother's old-fashioned shoes.
What was wrong with seeing the world, getting an education, having a mind of her own?
Why did she have to marry someone so…old?
Her friend Rachel was constantly telling her that she was looking at it all wrong;
"You are so lucky Monica! You won't die a lonely old woman!"
Rachel, who was now betrothed to Ross, felt that there was nothing wrong with their lives. She was convinced that she had everything she needed.
But how would she know? She'd never lived any other way.
The winter wind bit through his coat fiercely, as he made his way up the darkened street slowly. He struggled to tighten his coat around him with his free hand, but to no avail.
He ducked into the open doorway quickly, his face tingling immediately as it met the sweet warmth of the small bakery.
"Good evening, Mr. Halloway!"
"Oh! Good evening Chandler! I was worried you were not coming tonight!"
"I wouldn't let this little storm keep me from your bread!" Chandler replied jovially.
Mr. Halloway smiled, as he handed the young man a long loaf of sourdough bread.
"How is your mother, son?"
Chandler's easy smile faltered and his sharp blue eyes shifted to the ground.
"I'm afraid she's not much better, sir," Chandler replied quietly.
"You give her my best won't you? And that bread is on me tonight."
"Oh, no Mr. Halloway, I couldn't—"
"Nonsense, young man, I insist! You should spend some of that hard-earned money on yourself!"
"Well…thank you, Mr. Halloway. You are very kind."
Mr. Halloway smiled warmly, and nodded silently, as Chandler made his way out of the warm shop and onto the cold street. He began the long trek home, his ears ringing with cold, and his chest tightening as he made his way up a steep hill that led to Market Street.
Chandler crossed Market Street, then paused for a short moment, to watch the throngs of wealthy San Franciscans rush down the long street. He sometimes wondered where all of those people were going, and why they were always in such a hurry. Even when the wind wasn't biting their noses, they were running to and fro, too busy to notice anything or anyone.
Sighing heavily, he made his way south of Market, and toward the small flat that he shared with his mother, Nora.
As he walked farther south, the streets seemed to darken, and the people lining the streets more desolate and less rushed. He keyed into his building, a dilapidated tenement in Hunter's Point, and shuffled up the four flights of stairs to the flat.
After his father had died suddenly one year ago, Chandler had dropped out of University to take care of his mother, who was suffering from a severe case of Typhoid Fever. Now delusional, Nora was hardly able to recognize her own son, something that Chandler tried hard to ignore.
Chandler keyed into the one-room flat, and set down the bread and medicines quietly, but managed to rouse his sleeping mother anyway.
"Who are you? What do you want?" Nora cried desperately.
"Mom, it's me, Chandler—your son?"
"I don't…I don't have a son."
Chandler sighed, and sat down on the thin, creaky mattress slowly.
"I got your medicines…and Mrs. Tribianni is going to look in on you later tonight. I'll be at work until tomorrow morning. If you need anything, Mrs. Tribianni is right across the hall. Okay?" Chandler stood slowly, and bit his lip nervously.
"There's some bread here if you get hungry…and the water in the pitcher is fresh. Are you warm enough? Mom?"
"Where is Clara? I want to talk to Clara!"
"Mom," Chandler sighed, "Clara is gone, remember? She died two years ago."
"Leave me alone," Nora mumbled, as she began drifting into unconsciousness.
Chandler nodded silently and pulled another threadbare blanket over his mother, before gathering his gloves and cap, and slipping out the door.
He knocked on the door across the hall, and a moment later, the door swung open.
"Hey Chandler," Joey smiled at his friend and neighbor, "I'm almost ready."
"Great. Is your mom here?" Chandler looked over Joey's shoulder to see several younger girls—Joey's sisters—running through the small flat, infusing a youthful exuberance throughout the room. It was a stark contrast to the drab, sick-filled atmosphere that consumed the flat across the hall.
"Yeah," Joey smiled sympathetically, and disappeared into the flat. Gloria Tribianni appeared moments later.
"Hello, Chandler," Gloria smiled warmly, and pulled the thin young man into a tight hug.
"Hello Mrs. Tribianni," Chandler smiled.
"Please, sweetheart, you know that you can call me Gloria!"
"Yes M'am," Chandler reddened slightly.
"How is Nora tonight?"
"Not well," Chandler sobered, and his eyes fell, "she…may not recognize you."
"She didn't know who you were again?"
"No," Chandler sighed, "and she was asking for my sister again. But she'll need to take her medicine…and maybe try to eat some bread?"
"I'll take care of it, sweetheart, don't worry," Gloria replied, just as Joey reappeared in the doorway, his cap and gloves in hand.
"We should go," Chandler nodded toward Joey, "Thank you Mrs. Tribianni."
"Wait!" Gloria rushed into the flat, and reappeared with a small, soft-sided sack, "There should be enough stew in there for both of you," Gloria looked at Joey pointedly, "you will need your strength."
"Thank you, Ma," Joey kissed his mother on the cheek, and Chandler waved, as they rushed down the steps and out of the tenement.
Chandler and Joey made their way toward the Embarcadero, both of them trying desperately to ignore the bitter chill that filled the winter night. They walked down to the docks, and checked in, before heading toward the boat.
They worked through the night and into the early morning, loading and unloading crates at a steady but exhausting rate. They worked until mid-day, then made their way out of the docks, and back into town.
"I think I need a drink," Joey sighed heavily.
"Yeah," Chandler agreed, "but I should get home."
"Chandler, my mom will look after her. Come on, you deserve it."
Chandler nodded reluctantly, and followed Joey into a small, nondescript saloon on Taylor Street.
The saloon was dark, and only half-full. Joey and Chandler took a seat at the long wooden bar, and Joey ordered two whiskeys.
"What are you going to do," Joey ventured slowly, "after your mother…you know."
"After she dies?" Chandler finished wearily, "I don't know. I guess I'll keep working at the docks. Maybe save up some money, and move up north."
"What about school? You said you loved University."
"I…can't afford that anymore," Chandler shook his head, "I can't go back."
"But you're so smart! You don't belong in the docks with us lunkheads!"
Chandler shrugged, but said nothing.
The two men sat in silence for a long moment, sipping their whiskeys intermittently.
"She doesn't even know me anymore," Chandler suddenly said, his voice hoarse and heavy with grief, "I don't think she'll make it through the winter."
"I'm so sorry, Chandler," Joey sighed.
Chandler downed his drink, and stood up, "I need to go."
Joey nodded, and followed suit. The men stepped out onto the street, and made their way down to Market in silence.
"Do you want to get a drink?" Joey asked, as he and Chandler left the docks two days later. They had both worked overtime, and now the sun was descending quickly into the horizon.
"Not tonight, Joe," Chandler smiled tiredly.
"Oh, come on! I want to see if that waitress is working again tonight. I think she likes me," Joey grinned.
"You can go without me, can't you?"
"I guess," Joey sighed, disappointed, "where are you going?"
"I think I want to take a walk…I need to clear my head."
"Okay…see you later then?"
"Sure," Chandler smiled, and watched Joey turn and walk up the street. He sighed heavily, and turned back toward the San Francisco Bay. White and orange light bounced off of the glassy surface, as the sun began to disappear completely.
Chandler strolled down the Embarcadero, stopping as he reached Pier 3. He turned and walked down the Pier slowly, taking in the crisp sea air, and the unusual silence that surrounded him.
He was halfway down the Pier when he noticed her.
She was dressed immaculately—clearly a society woman. Her ebony hair was swept up off of her delicate neck, held in place by a large, ornate clip. Her porcelain skin glowed in the moonlight, making her appear almost ethereal.
She was staring out at the Bay, and had yet to notice him. He looked around, wondering what a woman of her beauty and stature was doing down here, all alone.
She sighed heavily, and he pulled himself from his thoughts, and watched as she wiped a small, delicate tear from her cheek.
He longed to talk to her—to ask why she was so sad. But as he took a small step toward her, he realized that he was filthy—and completely out of her league. Biting his lip, he slowly, quietly backed away a few steps, then turned and rushed off of the Pier.
Chandler returned to Pier 3 every night, hoping to catch another glimpse of the mysterious woman. It was the first time since his father's death that he had thought of anything besides his job and his mother's well being. The feeling was both exhilarating and disconcerting. For an entire week, Chandler walked to the Pier, but the woman never reappeared. Then, just as Chandler was ready to give up hope, she reappeared, standing at the end of the Pier once again, a rose in a sea of thorns. Chandler smiled, and ventured down the Pier, their class division seemingly forgotten for the time being.
She was crying, in real earnest, her tiny frame trembling slightly. Chandler stood several feet behind her, his heart hurting. She stepped toward the end of the Pier slightly, and Chandler started, concern for her safety mounting.
"Miss?" he called softly, but she started anyway.
She turned, her eyes wide with fear, her body rigid and unmoving.
"I—I didn't mean to startle you…are you alright?"
"W-what do you want?"
"You were crying…and you are very close to the edge…I just wanted to make sure that you—"
"My welfare is not your concern," the woman said harshly, her voice shaking.
"I—I am sorry. Please, pardon me," Chandler bowed his head quickly, and turned to leave.
"Wait," the woman pleaded, and Chandler stopped, "I—I'm sorry for being so cruel. Please, forgive my rudeness."
Chandler turned toward her, and was surprised to see that she had approached him slightly.
"What are you doing down here all alone? This is no place for a lady."
"I knew that…no one would look for me here," she said softly, and looked down at her feet.
"Who…or what, are you hiding from?"
"I—I really should go," the woman said suddenly, and moved past Chandler quickly.
She smells of lavender…
The woman paused, but refused to turn.
"Please…allow me to walk you back toward Market?"
The woman did not turn, but nodded slightly. Chandler smiled, and moved to her side, careful to keep two feet of space between them.
"My name is Chandler…Chandler Bing."
She did not reply, and was silent as they made their way off of the Pier and up the Embarcadero. As they approached Market Street, the woman paused, and turned toward Chandler slowly.
"My name is Monica Geller. It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Bing."
To Be Continued…