I've Been Waiting for Tomorrow (All My Life)
by Jeanpaul Ferro
DAX JOHNSON LOOKS OUT his apartment window over downtown Arctic. Main Street is a two-lane boulevard flanked by rundown brick buildings on both sides. All the maple trees in front of the buildings are encased in a thin layer of ice that a nor’easter has left behind an hour before. As he stares out the kitchen window all he can think of are the warm spring days that lie somewhere out ahead of him.
The antiquated telephone on the wall of the kitchen begins to ring. At first this interrupts his springtime dreams of the Red Sox beating the Yankees, the leaves filling in green everywhere, the meandering lines of geese returning to Rhode Island …
He picks the telephone up.
“David Xavier Johnson¾” It’s the irrational voice of his mother. She’s calling from two houses away, where she lives in a three-story tenement.
“Doctor Rekas just called me up,” she says. “That Doctor Rekas is a straight shooter. He says you’re forty pounds overweight and you’re cholesterol is too high!”
Dax smiles as he looks down at the gold color of the dozen eggs he’s cooking in a pan. He quickly turns over the four pieces of tender brown bacon that he’s cooking in the pan right next to it.
“I’m on a new diet,” he says. “Now leave me alone, ma.”
He hangs the telephone up and lets out a deep breath. He looks over at the calendar on the wall. It’s the one he received from the World Wildlife Fund for donating five dollars.
“February?” he says in disgust. “I need Florida for a couple of months.”
He turns the stove off, places the eggs and bacon in a dish, and then goes over by the kitchen window, where he sits at the two person oak table his mother bought him when he moved out of the house two doors down twelve years earlier.
He smiles as he takes some bread from the loaf he has out on the table. He scoops the eggs up with it and eats it that way.
As he sits there and eats he tries to think of a list of qualities he has that a good woman might be attracted to. He thinks maybe making a list is a good thing. That’s what they’re always saying on television anyway. He has a go at it.
1. I have a beautiful nine year old daughter
2. I make pizza for a living
4. I’m neat
5. I have nice handwriting
6. I like King Crimson
9. The Patriots are good, I like them
He quickly scratches the idea of a list.
Dax finishes his eggs and bacon and goes over to the sink, where he carefully washes his one dish and the two pans.
He looks out the kitchen window again.
Across the valley he can make out the brick smokestacks of the closed up mills. He once worked at the Electric Wire and Cable Company over on Main Street in Phoenix. His deceased father, Skip, worked there too. They closed up shop several years ago. So did most of the mills along this corridor of Rhode Island. Only Bradford Soap exists along the riverfront down on Providence Street.
Dax works at Famous Pizza up in North Scituate now. He knows his old friends from high school are accountants, lawyers, pilots, police officers. Whenever he sees someone from school he pretends not to recognize them. He doesn’t want to have to explain about the mills and the pizza and all that.
He finishes the pots and goes over to the dresser that is right there outside his bedroom door. He slumps down onto the floor, pulls the bottom draw open, and pulls out a stack of old letters.
He looks down at the letters¾sixty-two in all, fat like an accordion, tied together with frayed blue ribbon.
These are his letters from Julie Farrell. Dax and Julie once went to the prom together. Back in high school that was like being married. But he knows everyone kept telling her, ‘you can do better,’ and that’s the way it ended. It was all written down in blue Bic pen, recorded for prosperity by Julie in the gray classrooms of Scituate High School.
He cradles the letters in his arms. He looks around his tiny apartment. The walls are painted a bright orange that was there before he moved in. There is a small television on a stand, an Audiovox stereo on top of it, a green Lazy Boy couch, the oak table in the kitchen, and the dresser he sits in front of. In the bedroom sits a bed, a nightstand, and an old mahogany tall boy.
He gets up and looks out the kitchen window again.
Even as the morning brightens it still looks like winter outside. There is a white blanket of snow on the ground and the sky is covered in gray bellowing clouds. It is February 20th. Just another day on the calendar.
It dawns on him … there is a live show that night. The biggest show there will be in all of February. A washed up 80’s band playing in the most washed up section of Rhode Island.
He gets up and goes over to the bathroom, where he begins to trim his beard in front of the mirror. The Johnson men don’t have much body hair, but they grow good beards.
He looks at himself in the mirror now. He has green eyes, a high forehead, the light-blond hair of his father and the subtle Irish mouth of his mother.
I’m not ugly, he thinks to himself. I’m not good looking. But I’m not ugly.
He carefully trims his beard, washes his face, and then he uses the toilet. He then goes and sleeps the rest of the day away.
He awakens at four o’clock that afternoon. As he gets out of bed he stares across the apartment and sees that the sky has cleared up outside.
He mopes around the kitchen for a while. He stares into the refrigerator, but doesn’t eat anything.
As the sun sets outside the kitchen window he goes off and takes a shower.
When he’s done he quickly dries off and changes into his best outfit: black jeans, a black T-shirt, and his black cowboy boots. After he brushes his teeth he goes over and grabs his black ski jacket from off the couch. He looks around the apartment. He leaves everything the way it is.
He goes outside along the snowy street and gets inside his ’74 Buick Apollo. He starts it up and drives right over to Fantastic Sam’s in Coventry. He makes sure that his Boston Red Sox cap is with him.
At the barbershop he gets a nice trim. He knows no one will even notice his haircut under his Red Sox cap. He wears it whenever he’s out, except to get a haircut or to kiss a girl. He hasn’t kissed a girl in four years. He isn’t too worried about taking his cap off.
After his haircut he goes and grabs a burger at the New York System in Arctic. The cook there¾Sandy¾teases him. “Hey, stud!” she says. Dax thinks maybe she doesn’t like him. This makes him eat his burger that much faster.
At half past nine, Dax drives from the nowhereville of Arctic to the nowhereville of Cowesett. There is a stream of blue clouds lit up white from behind by a full silver moon. It makes the nighttime look like day as the moonlight shines off of the snow everywhere.
As he drives by The Station nightclub he sees the parking lot is already full. He drives up Cowesett Avenue toward the fire station, so he can park along one of the side streets in the residential neighborhood there.
He finds a spot in front of a yellow brick house. He doesn’t even lock his car, as he gets out of the old Buick and begins down the street toward Cowesett Avenue. There is snow over two feet high along the side of the road. There is about ten inches on the lawns of all the houses.
It feels cold as he walks along a stretch of woods by the side of the road. The sky overhead is littered with bright blue stars. Dax can see the spray of his own breath as he moves along. His boots make a scraping noise on the pavement. Salt and gravel has already been put down on the main roads to stop them from icing over.
As he gets closer to the nightclub he begins to hear the music already playing inside. The lights from the parking lot cast an orange glow around the area.
He walks through the parking lot and sees people walking in and out of the club. This one car pulls right in front of the main door. The four people inside begin to wave at him.
As he walks over to the brown Oldsmobile he tries looking through the fogged up windows of the car. A woman on the passenger side rolls her window down.
“Hi,” Dax says a little weary. “I don’t think I know you.”
The woman in the car points into the backseat.
“These are our friends from Florida,” she says very concerned. “Could you show them inside while we find a place to park? They’re not used to the cold.”
He curiously looks at the people sitting there in the backseat. They have the most beautiful bronze faces he has ever seen.
“From Florida?” Dax says very excited.
“Yeap,” the man driving the car says. His face is sunburned like a strawberry.
Dax smiles as he thinks about Florida. He imagines aqua-blue waves tumbling down a perfect white beach.
He looks back at the beautiful bronze faces of the couple sitting in the backseat.
“Yeah, right this way,” he tells them.
The Floridian couple slowly exits from the car. The cold makes them stand there with their arms over their chests.
“Just up those steps, turn left inside, and someone will collect your tickets.” Dax tells them.
“Thank you!” the wife says. Mist comes out of her mouth.
“Have a nice time!” Dax tells them.
“No. We’ll wait for you,” the husband says.
“Thank you!” the other woman from the car shouts.
Dax sees the other husband in the car wave to him. He waves back as the brown Oldsmobile goes driving away.
He gets the Floridian couple squared away and then he goes up the front steps of the nightclub and walks inside. It’s an old wooden building with a sunroom in front covered over by window tint. There are some terribly constructed murals on the outside wall, but no one seems to notice.
Dax is a little surprised when he sees how overcrowded the club is. Dozens of people cram the front hallway. He feels his heart rev up a little. He notices a pretty girl as he squeezes by. And then another girl. And then there are three girls together. Two wear homemade do-rags while one brown-haired girl has a see-through tee on.
He tries hard not to feel guilty as he stares at each girl. His mother always taught him not to do this. But staring at girls seems a little bit like staring at Corvettes. What’s the harm? he thinks.
“Hey, cutie,” this one dark haired girl says to him. He watches her go over to her girlfriend. She whispers something in her ear. They both smile.
Suddenly, as his heart skips a beat, the night has this anything-is-possible vibe; and he realizes why he’s out that night: girls, music, and this vibe.
He gladly goes over to the ticket counter and pays his seventeen bucks, so he can feel it.
He gives his money to the blond girl behind the counter. Her hair is all teased out.
Dax suddenly feels like a loser again as the blond girl hands him his change back. He looks down at it. Three singles. And this is all his money for the rest of the week too.
“Have a nice night!” the blond girl yells to him.
He waves his hand, but doesn’t say anything, because the opening act onstage is playing so loud.
He goes through the front hallway.
The nightclub is standing room only. The walls are mostly done in wood paneling. There is an air of slight dilapidation about the place. Styrofoam egg crate line the walls and ceilings; there are pool tables to the right of the stage; a dart room out back. Everyone crams into the main room right in front of the stage.
Dax can feel the vibration of the base guitar go right through him. He notices a dozen other guys in black T-shirts and pants with the same Red Sox cap he has on. He can smell popcorn and lemony shampoo; the flavorful scent of cigarettes and people drinking beer.
He makes his way over to the main bar. It is directly to the left of the entrance.
He remembers the name of the bartender¾Laureen. Ah, Laureen!
He carefully watches her large brown eyes as he walks closer to the bar. She is blond and about his age. He sees her eyes light up as she notices him. He watches her smile.
… Laureen Ambrigelo has a beak of a nose, large dimples in coffee colored cheeks, and full oversize red lips. Separated and placed on another woman these features might never work, but somehow on her they make perfect sense.
“How’s your daughter?” Dax shouts over to her.
Laureen begins to nod her head as she is preparing a drink for another customer.
“Good,” she says. “Her father has her for two weeks. He lives over in Connecticut, you know. He gets her for his two weeks every year.”
Dax nods as he listens. He remembers talking to Laureen about old movies. How she likes film noir and the Marx Brothers just like him.
He has to push by a couple people to get closer to the bar.
Dax sees Laureen smile at him some more. He looks away. He’s afraid.
He turns to make sure no one is behind him.
When no one is there he wants to punch himself. He looks over and sees Laureen who is now nodding her head toward him.
“What do you have?” she shouts from behind the bar.
He innocently pulls out his three singles. They are all crumpled up and he unfolds them for her.
“How much is a Heineken?” he asks.
“Four bucks,” Laureen says.
“What about Rolling Rock?”
“I’ll have a Rolling Rock.”
He watches Laureen as she takes one step back, pulls a bottle of Heineken out from a cooler, pops the top, and then hands it to him.
He looks at her a little surprised. Her beautiful smile is making him nervous. She is wearing white slacks and a white longsleeve shirt. There is a black studded leather belt around her hips. Her blond hair is slung up in a long ponytail and it bounces whenever she moves.
Dax hands her the three dollars.
She looks at him strange.
“It’s free,” she says.
He continues to look at her.
“You don’t talk anymore?” she asks.
A gentle smile comes to her face.
He nervously looks down and sees that his boots are a little wet. He doesn’t know where to look. She reminds him of Julie Farrell.
Laureen taps her fingernails atop the bar.
He looks at her, but no words will come out.
“Well, are you a man or a mouse?” she says kind of condescending.
Dax begins to look worried. Her hand comes over and touches his.
“Don’t worry,” she says, “I’m just busting your chops.”
“Oh,” Dax says.
He lets out a deep breath.
“You were so talkative last time,” she says.
A couple of customers try to come over, but she nods for them to try another bartender.
Dax looks up into her brown eyes. He thinks about his job. He thinks about his ’74 Buick Apollo. He thinks about taking his Red Sox cap off.
“Am I a man or a mouse?” he asks.
…Throw some cheese on the ground and we’ll find out, he thinks to himself, doing his best Groucho Marx impression; but as he looks over in her eyes he begins to feel more like Charlie Chaplin, and so he just doesn’t say anything.
He watches her. He opens his wallet and holds the picture of his daughter up.
“This is Samantha. She lives in Maine with her mother. Her mother and I never really knew each other that well.”
“I remember,” Laureen says.
She reaches over and turns his hand so the photograph faces her.
“She’s very beautiful,” she says. “She must take after you.”
He looks up at her long and hard now.
“Maybe we can get our girls together sometime,” Laureen says. “I’m sure my Elizabeth would love to meet your Samantha.”
There is a long, awkward pause.
“Maybe when the weather gets warm,” he blurts out.
A sad look comes to her face. It doesn’t match her.
“Okay,” she says, “when the weather gets warm.”
He nods very happy.
“You have a good time tonight,” she tells him.
“You, too. Don’t work too hard.”
A few people come over to the bar and Laureen begins to serve them this time.
Dax raises his beer bottle and nods to her. He smiles as she nods back.
He looks back at Laureen a couple of more times as he goes walking over into the main room, where the opening act has just finished up onstage.
He looks down at his watch. It is exactly eleven o’clock.
The lead singer of the headlining act comes out onstage now. He is wearing a blue do-rag with stars and stripes on it. The other members of the band follow right after him. The sound of guitar and bass goes slashing across the air of the club. Heads begin to bob up and down. The sound of drums kick in. Everything goes wild.
Out of nowhere, Dax sees some pyrotechnics shoot up from a couple of spark-spewing tubes at the back of the stage.
The lead singer begins to sing. Hands and fingers rap the air. Dax nods his head up and down. He notices a news cameraman right next to him. The cameraman is filming the band up onstage.
Dax stands there in the crowd. Everyone is watching in delight as brilliant white sparks light up the stage area. These beautiful white cascades travel upward toward the ceiling from the tubes on the floor.
“Oh, no!” the cameraman says.
Dax looks around. He looks back onstage. He sees it too. The band continues to play. The white cascades of the pyrotechnics begin to merge with the Styrofoam egg crate behind the stage. Flames begin to burn on both sides of the wall right behind the band. Dax notices the news cameraman backing up. He stares at the guy.
“Get out!” someone yells.
“It’s part of the show!” someone else yells.
“Awesome!” someone else yells.
“Everyone get out now!” a faceless voice in the crowd yells.
Dax gets this bad feeling. This is just like when he found out he was going to be a father. This is just like when he heard his own father had died. He looks back up onstage. The band continues to play. Flames are moving upward on the walls now. It begins to snake in orange shoots across the ceiling.
Half the crowd completely turns around. Everyone begins to move backward away from the stage. Dax follows the crowd. He feels hands up against his back like people waving goodbye, everyone discretely nudging him forward.
All of a sudden the sound of the music stops. The chords and notes of the band completely disappear. For a brief few seconds there is an eerie feeling inside the club. It is a bizarre feeling of both excitement and calm. As he catches sight of the front door he begins to think about his daughter, Samantha. He can hear voices talking and hundreds of feet shuffling toward the front door. He feels an odd rush of cold air hit his face. It seems to come from outside.
Suddenly, there is this beautiful sibilant sound¾like the whoosh of gasoline being poured over a campfire. He hears this sound and everything goes completely black. He can’t see a thing through the smoke. He can still feel the person standing in front of him. He feels dozens of hands pushing hard against his back now. He feels the cold air coming from outside the front door. That’s how close he is to it.
“Oh, no!” he hears someone yell from behind.
He hears a woman screaming: “NO! NO! NO!”
Dax suddenly is being pushed forward as though a wave has come up behind him. It knocks everyone right on top of each other at the front of the nightclub. Instantly his arms are pinned beside him and people are piled up on top of him. He tries to yell, but nothing comes out. He can’t feel his boots on his feet anymore.
Everything is dark. People are piled up on one another like cords of wood. He hears moaning. Someone yells “HELP!” but it’s just once.
Dax knows it’s over. He feels a strange calmness go over him. It’s not the way he imagined this. Life isn’t flashing before his eyes. He sees no white light. God isn’t appearing out of nowhere. He simply thinks about his daughter; how he doesn’t want to leave her fatherless.
… That’s it. I’m going to die now. I’m going to burn to death five feet from the door.
A million years go by. All the screams quiet. He finds himself turned over on his side now. His arms are still pinned to his thighs.
After a while there is absolutely no movement by anyone.
He now hears the voices of firemen talking. He hears other sounds. Sirens outside the club. He feels a trickle of water soak down into his clothing. Dax feels the weight above him shift. He hears the lone voice of a fireman who is shouting to anyone who still might be alive in the club. Suddenly, he can see a ray of light through the space of two people directly on top of him. He feels the bodies slowly being pulled off him.
He clearly hears the voice of a fireman now. No one is directly on top of him anymore. He thinks of his daughter as he forces his torso straight up, grabbing the boot of the fireman who is standing right there.
“JESUS CHRIST!” the fireman screams. “We’ve got someone! We’ve got someone!”
Dax sits up amid a pile of bodies all around him. Half of them are right beside him. The nightclub is a burned out shell. It looks like a plane crash.
“Where’s the rest of the club?” he asks. There are dead bodies all around the front entrance of the club. It’s the worse thing he has ever seen. He’s the only one alive there.
Two firemen pick him up by the elbows and drag him outside. It only takes a second for Dax to stand up on his own two feet. When he looks down he sees that both of his boots are gone. He looks around. The nightclub is in ashes as the fire has completely deconstructed the building. He sees other club patrons going over to the snow banks and cupping the snow up against their burned faces. Fire trucks race up and down the road. A sea of blue lights flashes atop police cars that are parked every which way. Fire hoses lie in every direction on the frozen ground.
Dax looks around at the injured everywhere. Hair is singed off of heads. Steam is rising off of bodies. Many of them are being led across the street to the triage set up at the Cowesett Inn.
A paramedic rushes over to Dax. “Are you okay there, buddy?” the paramedic yells.
Dax looks at the young man trying to help him. His face is also burned like he has fallen asleep in the sun.
Dax looks around the parking lot for the white outfit of Laureen. He looks around desperately. Her clothes wouldn’t be white, he thinks to himself. He looks up at the paramedic.
“I don’t seem to have a scratch on me,” he tells him.
Dax sees the couple who were driving the brown Oldsmobile before. He recognizes the husband’s strawberry colored face as they come running over.
“Our friends?” the husband asks. “Have you seen our friends?”
“They’ve never been to Rhode Island before,” the wife says frantically.
Dax feels guilty for even being alive. He can’t look at them. He nods his head no. He can’t understand how a nightclub can disappear in a matter of two minutes. He looks around the scene. In a daze he begins to walk away.
He hears more sirens as he goes up Cowesett Avenue toward his car. He is completely out of it as he travels up the road unable to even think. He sees some ice and walks right on top of it like its not even there. He turns onto the street where he has left his old Buick.
As he walks toward his car the moon shines down over the neighborhood. There is an orange glow coming from the site of the nightclub, but this time it isn’t from the lights in the parking lot.
Up and down the residential street he sees over fifty cars left there by other people who went to the club that night. As he stands next to his car he realizes he’s the only one outside on that street.
Early the next morning he awakens in his bed. He gets right up and lies down on the floor and begins doing situps. He listens to the radio to try and catch something/anything he can about the fire.
The final tally of dead is ninety-nine.
“Ninety-nine?” he whispers down on the floor beside his bed.
He goes over to the kitchen and stares out the window as he cooks himself some oatmeal. It’s a sunny winter’s day outside in downtown Arctic. All the ice from the day before is still frozen around the limbs and trunks of the maple trees. The ice now glistens beneath the sunny sky, and he is thinking to himself how beautiful winter looks.
He calls up his daughter in Maine on the telephone. Her mother, Kathy, actually seems glad to hear from him. He makes plans to meet up with them that weekend in Providence.
He gets himself dressed and goes down the street in front of his mother’s house, where he left his Buick the night before. He brushes off some frost from the windshield as he shouts up to his mother’s window.
“Ma! Ma!” he yells up.
One of the windows of her apartment opens right up and he sees his mother’s head pop out. Her gray hair is blown about by the wind, but there is a huge smile on her face.
“David!” she says. “David!”
“Ma,” he says, “I ate oatmeal this morning.”
As she hangs out her window she waves and begins to cry.
He waves for her to go back inside.
One of his neighbors who he doesn’t even know walks by. The old man is all bundled up and he has red hair.
“Good to see you!” he says to Dax.
He nods to the old man, but all he can do is think of Laureen and her daughter. He knows he will never get to see her again and neither will her daughter, Elizabeth. He begins to feel choked up, and he openly lets the tears come to his green eyes, as he realizes he should have asked her out to a movie at the club last night.
Dax Johnson then goes over and gets inside his old ’74 Buick Apollo. He starts the car up and begins down the road toward his nine dollar an hour job at Famous Pizza in North Scituate.
As he drives he notices the blue spruce trees near the motor lodge on the Johnston-Scituate town line. They look so blue with the white snow all around.
Right before he reaches Famous Pizza, he thinks about the beer that Laureen gave him for free the night before. He thinks about her white outfit and her blond ponytail and the white snow that is right there outside everywhere.
He pulls his car over and drives up to the frozen blue pond right there at the antique store. He puts his old Buick into park, his hands quickly going to cover his face, his mind racing through all the memories of the night before, and all the nights there had been long before that.
© Jeanpaul Ferro
Janpaul Ferro is a poet, novelist, and short fiction author. His work has appeared in the Aurora Review, Hawaii Review, Newport Review, Mid-South Review, Portland Monthly, Underground Window, Poetry San Francisco, and many others. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005 by The Rose & Thorn Literary Review, and his work has recently been featured on WBAR radio in NYC. He currently resides in Providence, Rhode Island.