|Publisher:||Chicago Review Press, Incorporated|
|Edition description:||1st Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Arnine Cumsky Weiss grew up in Wilkes-Barre, PA, but moved to Philadelphia after college to pursue a career as a teacher of the deaf. After marrying her husband she moved to Scranton, PA, and then again to New York City, where she currently works as an interpreter and English teacher. Her first book, Becoming a Bar Mitzvah, is based on experiences with her six-year-old son's battle with leukemia.
Read an Excerpt
She Ain't Heavy
By Arnine Cumsky Weiss
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2012 Arnine Cumsky Weiss
All rights reserved.
Teddy's boots hit the pavement with an odd pecking sound as she hurried down the sidewalk. The rubber tip on the bottom of one heel had completely worn down, so it sounded like the rat-a-tat-tat of a machine gun. Lost in her own thoughts, she was oblivious to the noise. If I sell some of my furniture, she thought, maybe I could scrape together a few dollars.
Who was she kidding? Everything she had was a cast-off from someone else. She took things nobody else wanted: a one-armed futon, a television that got only three channels, a kitchen table with four unmatched chairs. The only thing she had ever bought new for herself was a queen-sized mattress and box spring on a metal frame. She drew the line at sleeping in a used bed.
I could sell my blood, she thought, but then she realized that with the sum she needed, she'd have to let them drain her whole body and replace it — with what? Formaldehyde? The thought made her cringe. "Think!" she yelled into the cold night air as she continued walking. How much do I need? First month, last month, security. $500. $500. $500. $1,500. It might as well be a million! Where was she going to come up with that kind of money?
Damn that landlord! He had sold the building to a high-priced developer, and all of the tenants had to be out January 5th. In five days. Lots of warning, right? Goodbye, you have to leave. Merry Christmas! In all fairness, there had been announcements and official notices of the upcoming sale since September, but she just kept hoping it wouldn't happen. Even with four month's notice, she couldn't raise enough money to move.
She worked. She paid her bills on time. She didn't owe money to anyone. But living paycheck to paycheck didn't leave room for extras. Extras? This was a roof over her head! What do they call it, "gainfully employed?" She had been gainfully employed since she was fifteen, and what did she have to show for it? A one-armed futon?
She wrapped her scarf tighter around her neck, and hiked up her oversized bag. A bunch of teenage boys yelled something obscene out their car window. "In your dreams, buddy!" she yelled back. The courthouse square was brightly lit with festive holiday lights. A crowd was gathering for the midnight fireworks. They called it the "First Night" celebration; Teddy couldn't help thinking, Yeah, right, this is the first night of the rest of my life. Hah! Maybe an apartment will drop out of the sky.
She opened her phone to check the time, but saw only a black screen and remembered the service had been canceled. Worthless hunk of metal, she thought, as she tossed it back into her bag. Just then the clock tower bonged once, 11:30 p.m. She was freezing and there was a half an hour before the fireworks. Her short, form-fitting jacket that had looked so good in the store provided little warmth and no protection against the wind.
She looked up and down the brightly lit street. There were vendors selling blow-up plastic toys, balloons, glittery glasses molded to look like the year 2010, and soft pretzels, but nothing hot to drink. The Coffee Bean was open across the street and, although she had the feeling of being a traitor since she worked for their competitor, self-preservation and the desire for warmth won out. She went in.
* * *
There was a line, which was not surprising since it was freezing and it was the only business that remained open for the celebration. She took her place and watched a young mother balance two steaming cups of hot chocolate as she pushed her stroller. Couples, hand-in-hand, palmed their warm cups as they made their way to the small marble tables. When it was her turn, she ordered a small regular and took it to a tall stool in the window. She heard the click-click-click as her boots hit the floor. When she put her coffee cup down, she examined the bottom of her now rubber-less heel. She squatted down onto the floor, pretending to get something out of her bag, and tried to remove the black rubber bottom of a neighboring stool.
She looked up, startled and embarrassed.
The two young women stared at each other for a long second of awkward silence while a hundred conflicting thoughts careened through Teddy's head. What do I say? How long has it been? Leave me alone? You look great? I hate you? Run!! But her natural inclinations kicked in and she jumped up and leaned forward to give Rachel a hug. They held each other at arm's length for a moment. Finally Rachel said, "Hey, how are you?"
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Teddy answered overly enthusiastically, "Great! You?"
"Fine. Wow. I haven't seen you in ages. I didn't think I'd see anyone I know here. It's nice to see a familiar face."
Teddy was tempted to say, You grew up here! Of course you would see familiar faces at a New Year's celebration. But she answered, "It's nice to see you, too. Wow! What brings you back to Scranton? I heard you moved to Philly or something?"
"Just for graduate school. My parents still have the house here, so I came home for the holidays. You still live here?"
"Yup. Somebody's got to stay here, right? Graduate school? Big time. What are you studying?"
"Biology," answered Rachel, looking past Teddy through the window. Teddy assumed she was in search of more familiar faces. Feeling uncomfortable, she moved back toward the stool to finish her coffee. People don't change, she thought.
"Hey, do you mind if I join you?"
"Join me?" Teddy repeated. Used to working late and going out by herself, Teddy was not at all self-conscious about being out on New Year's Eve alone. But girls like Rachel traveled in packs.
"Yeah, I'll just get a cup of coffee," Rachel said. But instead of moving, she blurted out, as if reading Teddy's thoughts, "I have a boyfriend."
Taken aback by this blunt admission, Teddy just nodded and looking around added, "Great, is he here?"
"No, uh, uh, he's with his family."
"Oh. Have you met them?"
"Uh, no, Not yet. I've seen pictures."
"Nice," said Teddy, while thinking, We haven't seen each other in five years and she has to make sure she tells me about her phantom boyfriend. If he's so great, where is he? "Must be pretty new."
"We've been together since September. Well, actually we met in September, but we've been a couple since October. He's great. But, wait, tell me about you. The last time I saw you was, when? High school graduation?"
Is this girl on crack? Does she not remember anything? I didn't go to graduation. I didn't graduate! Do I tell her I got a G.E.D? "I went to some of the after parties. But I don't think we went to the same ones." Yeah, you were with the preppy high school girls and I was with who — girls most likely to sell donuts for the rest of their lives?
"Well, anyway, it's been ages," Rachel said. "What have you been doing?" But, before Teddy could answer, Rachel walked toward the counter. "Wait! Hold that thought. Let me just grab some coffee. You want something?"
Teddy held up her full cup in response and thought, for the second time that night, People don't change. She asks me a question and doesn't wait for the answer. The last time we saw each other was in English class junior year. She didn't wait for any answers back then, either. Who knows what she thought, but she never asked me what was going on. She just assumed. They all just assumed. Ah, what's the point? It's over now. It's been over for a long time.
They had been childhood friends, best friends, and then Rachel had moved away. Not far, just to a better part of town, but far enough away that they went to different schools. They re-met in high school, got close again for a short time, and then it was over. Just like everyone else, Rachel had made assumptions. And Teddy never bothered to straighten them out. Any of them. She had heard the rumors, too. Let them think what they want. The hell with them. And at that time she thought, The hell with Rachel, too.
"OK, sorry. I'm freezing. I needed this," Rachel said holding her coffee cup with two hands. "Tell me everything. What do you do? Where do you live?"
"Not much to tell. I have a small apartment on Prescott and I work at Dunkin' Donuts. That's pretty much it."
"You're still there?" Rachel asked, holding the paper cup against her cheek.
"It's not bad. Benefits, sick days," she said, then added, with a shrug, "I've got seniority. It's a job."
Rachel smiled then took a sip of her coffee and wrinkled her nose. "I forget how provincial this town is. For most of the people who work at Dunkin' Donuts in Philadelphia or any big city, English is not their first language."
Teddy didn't know what provincial meant, but she felt insulted anyway and thought, Rachel may be smart, but not smart enough to be nice.
Seeing the wounded look on Teddy's face, Rachel added quickly, "I love DD. There's a shop right near school. I start almost every day with their coffee."
Not wanting to give Rachel the opportunity to further offend her, Teddy changed the subject. "So, tell me about your boyfriend. What's his name?"
"Huh ... his name? Ah, his name is John. John."
Rachel blushed. "No. John ... Lawrence. He's with his family."
"Right, so you said. You must miss him. It's New Year's Eve."
Rachel picked at the corrugated sleeve on her cup. "He's very devoted to his family. I understand. What about you? Anyone special in your life?"
"Nah. No good guys left in this town."
There was a commotion on the other side of the restaurant as the kid in the stroller spilled his hot chocolate all over the floor and himself. He screamed as hot liquid soaked his clothes. His mother tried to pull him free from the stroller, but she forgot that he was still strapped in. She lifted the boy and the stroller, knocking everything over in its wake. The father yelled, "For God's sake!" and roughly took the child and the stroller out of her hands. He slammed the stroller back onto the floor which made the child scream louder, but unbuckled him deftly and hoisted the boy up further, spreading the scalding brown liquid.
"It's almost time," Teddy said. "You want to go outside?" They readjusted coats, hats, and scarves, and Teddy pushed her stool in. They both grabbed their coffee cups.
"That's a pretty scarf," Rachel said, fingering the multi-colored wool that fell to Teddy's knees.
"Thanks. My mother made it."
"Your mother? I didn't know she could knit."
"Yup. She made it."
Normally, the streets of that small downtown section were dead once the clock tower struck six. There was something exciting and almost enchanting standing with a crowd around the well-lit courthouse square. Rachel and Teddy stood next to a tall war monument and looked up as it started to snow lightly. Someone cued up music and the fireworks began.
They were beautiful. Teddy had to admit that as much as she would have enjoyed them by herself, there was something nice about watching them with someone. She could have ooohed and ahhed all she wanted, but it was more fun to do it in unison. She was a bit let down when the grand finale ended.
"That was great!" Rachel offered first. "I was just going to watch the ball drop at home. I'm glad I came out tonight."
Not wanting to sound pathetic and needy, Teddy agreed. "Yeah, it was great. Well, Happy New Year!"
"Where'd you park?"
"Park? I walked down. Locked up at work and came straight here."
Pulling her car keys out of her pocket, Rachel said, "But that must be more than a mile! And it's more than a mile to your apartment. How were you planning on getting home?"
Wrapping her scarf tighter around her neck, Teddy said, "I'm fine. I walk. I'll be fine. I do it all the time."
"Well isn't it a good thing that I came along? Come on, I'll give you a ride home."
The two young women walked the few blocks to the car, and when they got there, Rachel opened the passenger side first and began moving posters and papers to make room for Teddy. "Sorry, this is my dad's car for work."
"No problem. It's got four wheels and a motor. That works for me. How is your dad? Still working at the printing company?"
"Yeah. He says they're going to take him out of there feet first. He's been there over thirty years," Rachel said, getting behind the wheel.
"I always liked your dad," Teddy said, looking ahead, thinking she would keep her thoughts about Rachel's mother to herself.
When they got to Teddy's apartment, she felt awkward. This is like a bad first date, she thought. Do I invite her in? Lean over and give her a hug and jump out? We hardly even caught up. Do I want to catch up with her? "Do you want to come in?"
Rachel threw the car into park and said, "Sure. My parents were asleep before I left. I'd just be going back to a quiet house."
Teddy put the key into the door and flicked on the light, an overhead fixture that cast weird shadows. She had been living there for two years and always thought it was kind of cozy. But, in that instant she saw the apartment as Rachel was seeing it. There was a tiny sink with a drain board filled with dishes and a toaster oven with a cord wrapped with duct tape. The kitchen table was adorned with a set of salt and pepper shakers in the shape of Santa's boots and a napkin holder, surrounded by four unmatched chairs. There was one small carpet on the linoleum floor in front of the futon and perched on pilfered milk crates, courtesy of Dunkin' Donuts, was a television that required pliers to change the channel. It looked pathetic. Cold and un-homey-like. The early Salvation Army décor screamed, "I'm not doing well here, am I?" Even her sad attempt at decorating, the colorful valances that crowned the Venetian blinds, looked cheap.
"Nice place. I like these," Rachel said as she picked up the Santa boots and did Rockette-like high kicks with them. "How long have you been here?"
Teddy had walked the few steps to the fridge and held up two green bottles. "You want a beer?" When she had seated herself across from Rachel and handed her a bottle, she said, "I've been here for two years."
"Did you move here from the house on Mineral Street?"
Teddy shook her head as if trying to shake off a thought. "I haven't thought about that place in a long time. No, I've lived in a few apartments before this. Always with other people. This was my first apartment by myself. I was excited to find it."
Rachel opened her beer and took a sip. "I know what you mean. I lived in the dorm all four years of college. My mother made me crazy with her "dangers of living off campus speeches," so I was a little nervous about getting my first apartment. I thought I might be lonely. But, it's nice."
Teddy took a long pull on her beer and said, "It'll be nice for five more days."
"Why? What's happening in five days?"
"I'm being evicted."
"Why? Didn't you pay your rent?"
Why do people always assume it's my fault? That I did something wrong? "No, I pay my rent on time," Teddy said with more force than she intended. "Actually I pay early. My landlord is selling the building. All of the tenants have to move in five days."
Rachel looked around. "In five days. You haven't even started packing."
"That's because I have nowhere to go."
"In this economy, I'm sure there are apartments for rent all over the place."
Not wanting to admit that she couldn't come up with the necessary three months' rent to move, she said, "I'll work it out. I always do."
"Where's your computer? There're probably lots of listings for apartments. Everything's online now," Rachel said, getting up and looking around.
Teddy got up, too, and put her empty bottle on the table. "Don't worry about it," she told Rachel, who was standing across the table. "I'll be fine."
"Do you have any friends you can live with temporarily? We can go to Price Chopper and get boxes. They're open all night. I can help you pack."
Teddy wanted to scream WHAT IS WITH THIS SHOW OF CONCERN? Where have you been all these years? I've been doing fine by myself and now you want to man up for a marathon packing session. I bet you just want to go through my things. See if I've got anything left over from my mother. "PLEASE don't worry about it. I'll work something out."
"I know you. You wouldn't have said anything if you weren't worried," Rachel said, as she walked toward the drain board to stack the clean dishes.
Excerpted from She Ain't Heavy by Arnine Cumsky Weiss. Copyright © 2012 Arnine Cumsky Weiss. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
She Ain't Heavy is a poignant coming of age story that follows Teddy Warner's journey of self-discovery and determination to make it on her own. Author Arnine Cumsky Weiss weaves an inspirational tale set in Scranton and Philadelphia, that draws the reader into Teddy's story as she travels down the path of life wrought with trials and tribulations. With amazing determination and strength she learns to overcome the various challenges and continues to move forward in search of finding a fulfilling and happy life. From early childhood, Teddy learned how to stand on her own two feet in order to survive. Through her tenacity and faith, Teddy's journey from Scranton to Philadelphia will teach her to learn to trust people she meets who will lend her friendship and support, have the courage to take risks, and not give up on her dreams of love and happiness. She Ain't Heavy is a compelling story with a universal theme that every reader can relate to. Author Arnine Cumsky Weiss has created a beautifully written story about a spirited and strong young woman who has the will power and desire to survive and succeed against any challenges that life threw her way. The author's inspirational message that a person can do anything with their life and make it on their own successfully, will provide much food for thought, and will leave the reader to ponder what they would do if they ever found themselves at a crossroad in their life.