Eyes that had grown accustomed to the face of Manhattan devoured the quirky imperfections of downtown Athens. The multicolored Federal-style and Greek Revival buildings fit together like pieces from unrelated puzzles that a precocious child had creatively combined; it thrilled Janet like a finely detailed musical set piece.
She marveled at a three-story house on Broad and Thomas with elaborate paneled doors on the second and third stories that opened to nowhere but a sudden drop. Janet thought one building we passed had on a concrete paper hat and grimaced in the direction of Jackson Street through two rows of arched windows on its sorrowful, weathered face.
We paused further along Broad to look through the four pilasters encasing a restaurant with white tablecloths, stemmed water glasses, and serious conversations taking place between students and their parents. We turned onto College Avenue, and Janet pointed out a “scrumptious” white-frosted slice of cake resting above a green-canopied storefront that sold what she called “dreary and cruel ice cream” (the actual product was more successfully advertised as “smoothies”).
Across the street, we encountered windows plastered over with a peeling and discordant wallpaper of concert fliers. A red sign flashed “Wuxtry” from the bare transom. Inside the record store, Janet and I explored the walls of vinyl, speaking to each other in whispers as if in a house of worship, before she “rescued” a Wayne Newton album from the bins. You were always rescuing music when you saved it from simply being on display, she explained into the fold of my neck. As I collected myself, the clerk in the Speed Racer T-shirt avoided actually touching the record when ringing it up.
We strolled down Clayton Street, and Janet sang “Danke Schoen” and smiled at a pair of dormer windows above us that lit up as the sky slowly became the color of the Tate Theater curtains.
“Great, I thought it would never leave,” she remarked about the day, which had just slipped into a more comfortable evening. “Now we can be alone.”
Janet wiggled her nose as we approached 233 East Clayton.
“I smell pizza!”
Leaves cascaded over the face of the building, partially obscuring the sign that identified the restaurant as “Rocky’s.” Janet pretended to gnaw hungrily on my shoulder as she led me toward the screen door; it slammed behind us — startling a waitress and resulting in a small puddle of pasta on hardwood.
“Oh, sugar honey ice tea!” Janet said with a sigh. “So much for an inconspicuous entrance.”
–from Mahogany Slade, Chapter 4