Julia’s money was deposited into her new bank account on the first of every month. It really was a pitiful amount she received, in the eyes of the world; it would not have demanded much strength on her part to grab a big chunk of her husband’s wealth. She could be living in north Oakland or Squirrel Hill—“north of Forbes”—or even in a fancy townhouse in downtown Pittsburgh. But that’s not where she went upon leaving the overstuffed house in Churchill.
Julia’s divorce lawyer, Mark Hoffman, in despair, told her that he was “at his wit’s end.” Why didn’t she put up even a weak struggle to gain as much money and worldly goods as the law would allow her? She seemed buoyant, bubbling over with joy, and she smiled all the time.
“There is nothing mysterious here, Mark,” Julia answered. “I just want to be free, with no baggage left from my old life.” Julia did make sure that part of her settlement would include a fat fee for Mark.
Julia had a secret that she felt certain nobody would understand. It was this secret that kept her from squabbling with Donald over money and possessions. Julia was jealous of blue-collar people and poor people as well. She envied people who held blue-collar jobs, like in the steel mills and sent their children to public schools. Pittsburgh’s Labor Day parade, the biggest and most-attended one in the U.S. was made up of these people. When she would allow herself, in the past, to dwell on the imagined joys of clocking out after pulling a double shift at one of the mills, hot and sweaty, or having stretch dollars in Star Market to feed a family for a week, a different part of her brain began to argue. Being caught up in this cycle was quite exhausting. Part of her longed for a life where she could breathe and plant her own garden herself, and bake cookies for the PTA. The fancy, snooty boarding school her boys had attended did not have bake sales and Read A Book week, and on March 2nd did not celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday. Then another voice in her brain berated her for being ungrateful and phony, like the hippies from her college days. Well off and comfortable but wearing ragged jeans.
Julia was now living in two rooms with a tiny bathroom over Murray Pharmacy, at the corner of Murray Avenue and Lilac Street. It was the outer, poorest edge of Squirrel Hill, running right up against blue-collar Greenfield.
But now the inner struggle and the cycle made up of the conflicting voices in her head was at its end. Julia was getting a monthly amount that allowed her to live a bare existence. When she went walking the streets of the poor side of Squirrel—sitting at the edge of Greenfield, which was all working class—she looked at the houses and watched the people sending their kids off to school, hauling brown paper bags full of groceries from the car to the house, cutting the grass in their little yards in summer, then knocking off for a cold beer under the trees.
Julia knew she could never be a read part of these lives; and maybe her sons were right when they accused her of acting in a perverse way, just to give Donald a big fat finger. But Julia didn’t care. At 60 nobody knew how much time he or she had left, and Julia decided that for whatever time was portioned out to her, she was going to be poor.
Julia dived into a life of watching every penny with relief. She threw off the old, over-stuffed ways of existence. Fighting with Donald and ignoring him had taken up most of her psychic energies along with trying to find things to do with her time. She had spent hours, it seemed, standing at the front window, gazing out at the houses that were separated from hers by acres of green velvet lawn but appearing to Julia as crowded together. Now, Julia’s latent energies rushed out from within her. She practically sprung up from her single bed at dawn with plans to take one of her all-day walks around Squirrel Hill and Greenfield.
On rainy days when Julia couldn’t take a walk, she got onto the 61C bus that stopped outside the drugstore and rode it as it completed its full cycle. No better and cheaper way to see Pittsburgh, Julia said to herself. Having been imprisoned in the house in Churchill, she couldn’t get enough of watching urban Pittsburgh through a window in the bus.
Talking also cost nothing. Days had passed in her old life when she would barely say ten words. Now there was time to “Loafe and invite her soul.” Julia knew that this quote was from Walt Whitman. Everybody was in a hurry, and nobody seemed to have time for a kind and friendly word. The librarians appreciated a smile, and the bus drivers on the 61C liked it too. The people who operated Murray Pharmacy—her mother would have called them “the downstairkes”—were friendly to Jule. At least Sonia Horowitz who ran the soda fountain was friendly, but Glenn the pharmacist stayed in the far reaches of the drugstore unseen. When the two communicated, they shouted, to Julia’s amusement.
All this was wonderful and fine and joyous except for the giggling ghosts.
Julia was not afraid of them. She didn’t hear them all the time. Maybe she was imagining them. But then she began to see what she thought was them—a boy and girl, teenagers, the girl wearing a pink two piece bathing suit with straps that tied on her shoulders in bows, the boy in black swimming briefs. They were on the black stone church and in the Star Market, where she bought her food. When she saw them she wasn’t scared. She laughed out loud the day she saw them in Star Market and the people in front and in back of gave her strange looks. Julia decided that one day soon she would pull her courage together and speak to them.