Jem left the house at precisely 6 a.m. Monday through Friday. Wanda could set her watch by this fact, and frequently did. As far as Jem was concerned, no person and no event was ever to interfere with his workday schedule. Including Wanda. In fact, Wanda learned early in their marriage that the day went better if she stayed in bed until the door to their flat clicked shut. Wanda used to watch Jem as he walked down to the corner newsstand to pick up the Times for his one-hour train ride into the city. She wondered if Mr. Dunham also set his watch by Jem.
Mr. Dunham didn’t set his watch by anyone’s schedule but his own, which included picking up assorted newspapers, muffins and fruit juices by 5 a.m., and selling out by 9 a.m. so he could return home and cook breakfast for his wife. He looked up from facing the rows of apple juice and handed Jem a copy of the Times. “Morning, sir,” he said. “Muffin? Juice?” he asked. Mr. Dunham always asked. Jem always said no. It took a few seconds to realize Jem actually nodded yes. Surprised, Mr. Dunham tucked the apple juice and bran muffin Jem pointed at neatly into a paper bag. Jem handed over a five spot. “Keep the change,” Jem said, and pivoted neatly on his right heel to continue his march down the street. Mr. Dunham’s warning died on his lips as Jem collided with the customer who had edged quietly up behind Jem.
“Careful!” The woman Jem nearly knocked over had a curious toddler clinging to her legs, further upsetting her balance. Jem grabbed her by the arm to steady her. “My apologies, ma’am,” he nodded once, and looked down at the toddler with a brief smile. The woman watched Jem walk away, before turning to Mr. Dunham to order two muffins and juice. “Pleasant enough, fellow, isn’t he?” she asked with a bright smile. “Even if he doesn’t watch where he’s going.” She pursed her lips together and glanced once more at Jem’s retreating back. Mr. Dunham narrowed his eyes at her, counting back change. No wedding band and no sign of one recently removed, either. “Pleasant, enough,” he said. “And married these last ten years or more.”
Mr. Dunham glanced up the street and waved a cheery hello to Wanda. Clutching her faded terry bathrobe closed, Wanda was leaning out the front door to pick up the morning milk delivery. She smiled and waved back. All was well in the neighborhood.