In my first job at the ripe old age of sixteen, I didn’t need a résumé. All I had to do was fill out an application, have an interview with the personnel manager and they hired me! Those were the good ole days when one’s personal presentation generally meant more than a résumé … so there was no need for fiction, no reason to pad my minimal (i.e. non-existent) credentials. Padding my résumé would be a future acquired skill.Though my experience as a baby-sitter wasn’t a résumé enhancing accomplishment, I’d have had no qualms about highlighting it – it was legit. I had the actual experience. But who among us hasn’t written a rosy résumé featuring skills and experience presented in their most favorable and hyperbolic light?
From the time my children were born, I honed my skill at multi- tasking: common combinations included dressing a child with one hand while spoon-feeding a baby with the other. Having four children under the age of eight, my brain was always on alert to figure which tasks might go together most easily.
In those days before Kindle and ePubs, I carried a book with me almost everywhere I went. While my children attended the local library’s story hour, I’d be combing the stacks for interesting volumes to read. During sports activities, I’d be sitting in the stands, one eye on my kid (or kids) and the other devouring (as best I could with one eye!) whatever book was in my grasp.
Though I read scores of pre-1950 fiction books, I also developed my interest in the fiction du jour. In the 80s, I waded through Stephen King and Tom Clancy, John Jakes and Scott Turow. I breezed several Danielle Steele and Janet Dailey novels as well. In the 90s, I continued with Clancy and Turow and added James Patterson, John Grisham and P.D. James (being sure to read her earlier novels I’d previously overlooked). Though I read lots of fiction, these are the writers I returned to regularly. Continue reading “A Time to Read”
This is Part 2 of a short story I wrote back in the late 80s or early 90s. Read Part 1 here.
“Someone cared for you. There’s a sensitive man under that tough-guy shell.” She wasn’t just flattering me. I was quite sure of that. I straightened my shoulders more than a little bit.
“She must have cared a great deal because it shows.”
“Yep, she was special. Thought I’d be a great writer someday.” I laughed. The idea was ridiculous, as ridiculous as my former ambitions to go to college.
“It’s never too late, you know. If she thought you could do it, you probably ought to try,” Cathy suggested. She was always so matter-of-fact.
I shook my head in disbelief. Working for The Man was a far cry from William Shakespeare! Still, I wished I could start over. Maybe I would try. Cathy had a way of making me want more from life.
“Where’s your father?”
“I’m not even sure who he was.” This fact had never mattered before. Now that husky feeling was back. I shook it away. My uneasiness mounted as I remembered the cruel taunts I had suffered in earlier years. “It’s not worth talking about. Tell me about you.”
We talked and laughed some more. When I told her how my kid brother drowned at thirteen years of age after neighborhood thugs beat him up and tossed him in the spring-swollen creek, she even cried. It astounded me — her crying over someone she’d never known. I hadn’t ever cried for him. She cared for people that much.
We saw each other every night after that. I was drawn to her. I found myself thinking of her happiness instead of my own. And in spite of my previous reputation, I struggled to keep my appetites in check even though the animal in me was ravenous to bed her.
It wasn’t long before I was seeking honest work. The Man was none too happy. In the short while I’d worked for him, I’d come to know about the inner workings of his slimy organization. He threatened me saying I knew too much. But I don’t scare easily so I ignored him and hired on at the shoe factory. It was assembly line work, and godawful dull, but I had determination. For her, I told myself. She deserved more than a bum who bullies for a living. Besides, she was a first-class lady, and I wasn’t going to have her exposed to the criminal types I’d come to know. So I kept on, saving cash to buy a ring — and that before I’d slept with her!
She was proud, though I’m damned to know why with such a small stone as my wages bought, but she insisted it was fine. Two weeks later, we stood in front of this preacher man. I told myself Sister wouldn’t mind Cathy being Protestant. I was certain she’d have liked Cathy as much as I did.
For days afterwards, every time Cathy looked at me with her sunshine smile, I felt I’d finally done something worthwhile.
Cathy stayed on at the café while I slaved at the factory. She didn’t mention nursing school again, but I decided she’d get there and finish, and without moonlighting in some dingy eatery. One night I told her so but she gave me this strange look. It wasn’t for sure, she cautioned me, but she thought she’d probably be busy nursemaiding come January of ‘53. It took me a minute to understand. Then we mooched a bottle of wine from a next-door neighbor and had a bang-up celebration.
With me almost a father, crazy instincts crowded my brain. It would be a pioneer effort, but I was excited for the little guy’s appearance. (She would kid me about that — I was sure we’d have a boy.) It was for them — Cathy and the first of our ten kids — that I found a second job at night. We needed money for the hospital and baby clothes and all. More than that, we began to have hopes of a different life and our dream was to buy a farm somewhere way out in the country. We wanted a good place for raising kids.
I knew The Man had been watching me, but God help me, I never figured he’d hurt Cathy. Late one night I came home to find our apartment all in flames! I rushed inside the smoke-filled hell. She was slumped on the kitchen floor like a limp dishrag. When I got her outside, The Man was standing across the street, looking pleased with himself. I’d have killed him on the spot but for Cathy. I carried her the two blocks to Doc Gennaro’s house. She was barely breathing when I laid her on his front room couch. He shoved me into the hall where I waited, knowing her chances were slim. Finally, Doc came out, shaking his head. All hell exploded in me.
When I found The Man, killing him was easy. He was a runt, and no one tried to stop me. His neck cracked like a small chicken’s in my grip, but I didn’t feel the gladness I’d expected. I was thinking about Cathy’s life choking away in that smoky fire. I dropped The Man’s lifeless body and walked away. Knowing there was nowhere to go, I sat down on the curb and balled like the baby we never had. People thought I was ashamed.
The preacher man visited yesterday, asking me to make my peace with God. When she was alive, I used to think there might really be a God. If anybody could convince me, Cathy could have. It was like she had divinity flowing from every smile, every kind word. Maybe God was jealous sharing her with me, but to have her die like that, and the kid too. It makes no sense.
I don’t like the idea of walking some long, last corridor but it’s not because I’m afraid to die. I just fancy making the decision myself for when it will be. Some people say it’s the ‘honorable’ thing, the condemned man getting to choose the time of his fate, but the way I look at it, it seems more like the dishonorable thing. I mean, in a life of shortcuts, cheating the hangman from his due ought to be expected. It just follows.
The preacher, poor sap, left me his tie. He kept asking me to pray with him but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. If I never prayed before for God, seems there’s no reason to do it for some man, even a man of the cloth. I told him I wanted to dress up and didn’t have any other clothes with me, and he must have figured leaving his tie was the least he could do for me. He gave me the silk tie right off his neck! It’s probably the finest piece of clothing I’ve ever worn. Maybe that’s as it should be, considering the occasion.
I’ve got nothing but this tablet to leave. What I valued never made it through the fire. Without Cathy, there’s no reason to live. It’s just as well they didn’t leave me that choice. Much as I wanted to try my hand at fathering, I’d likely have been lousy at it.
This is it. All that’s left is to fix this tie and wait. It won’t matter when they come in the morning.
This is a short story I wrote back in the late 80s or early 90s.
Back at St. Ignatious Parish School, Sister Mary Margaret predicted I’d be a writer or politician. She had high hopes for me even though I gave her nothing but trouble. She hounded me to finish school, encouraging me with her talk that I was gifted, that I should go to college. Damned if I didn’t almost believe her! She promised to find a scholarship for me as long as I made it through until high school graduation. So I did.
Hard as it was to stay off the streets, I did my best. I’d have gone to any lengths to keep from letting Sister down. But the week after graduation, Sister died in her sleep and any hopes I’d had for college died with her. Instead, like most men my age, I joined the Army.
But Sister would be proud because I’m finally writing. Most likely I never would have, but when Cathy came along, things turned around for me. I couldn’t put my feelings into words exactly, precisely, and yet I wanted to do so. I began writing love poems to Cathy! That’s how different life was; for the first time, I believed it was good. Cathy gave me that much.
It was after my stint in the Army. I’d come back home but I couldn’t find steady work. Having some extra time on my hands, I wandered around town until I arrived at an old hangout, the East Side Billiard Room. Many things in the neighborhood were different but this place hadn’t changed.
Johnny “The Man” Garozzi was still running the joint. We’d never been too friendly, but The Man greeted me like a brother. When I told him I was out of work, he offered me a job working for him. At first, I refused it. I’ve caused my share of trouble, but I’m no criminal. I’d heard enough over the years about The Man to know he was plenty dirty. But the money was good and keys to a black sedan came with the job. So I took it, telling The Man that I figured it would only be temporarily.
Right away, he put me into action tailing this young punk who owed him some money. I followed the creep to the Shreveport Café.
That’s how I met Cathy. She was waiting tables and when she waltzed up to my corner booth, her smile knocked me dumb. It was like opening my eyes to sunlight. She was gorgeous with cream-and-coffee-colored hair pinned up and sparkly hazel eyes. Not more than twenty, I guessed. I got so caught up with her, I never even noticed when the punk walked out the door. Ordinarily, I’d have been steamed. I knew enough about my boss to guess he would chew my butt, this being my first time out for him. Somehow, it didn’t matter.
When she left the café shortly after midnight, I was waiting in my car to give her a lift home, but she balked, looking sideways at me to see what my angle was. Finally, she said, “I don’t usually go with strangers but I’d like to think I can trust you.”
On that count she was wrong, but I didn’t let on. I suddenly wanted to be trusted. That’s how she affected me! We sat on the steps in front of her Third Avenue walkup until nearly 6 a.m. Mostly she talked and I listened. I was spellbound by her beaming enthusiasm for everything.
“I won’t be a waitress forever,” she assured me. “But I need money for nursing school. I was lucky to get through high school after my parents died. But I graduated — class of ‘49. By next summer, I’ll have enough saved to start school and maybe even finish if I can land a night job close to the hospital. I can’t wait!”
She talked on about what she planned to do after she finished nursing school. “I’d like to open a home for children, like those in the alley behind the café. They’re so hungry they actually fight over the garbage Cookie throws out!” While this surprised Cathy, it was something I’d known firsthand during my childhood.
“They’re sweet children. I watch their sad eyes and I get this overwhelming urge in my bosom to grab them and hold them close. Know what I mean?” she asked, crossing her arms as if to hug a child to her.
In spite of her innocence, the temptation was too much for me. It wasn’t difficult to imagine the warm supple flesh hidden under her wrinkled white uniform. “Oh yeah,” I agreed, leering at her. But an inner voice instantly rebuked me for these crude driftings.
She didn’t seem to notice my coarse inclination. Maybe she chose charitably to ignore it, giving me the benefit of the doubt that I never truly deserved, but she continued talking, “Children are inspiring, so full of life. Someday, I’ll have at least ten!”
“Are you kidding?” I searched her eyes. It astonished me to realize she was completely serious.
“That surprises you?”
“I’m surprised anyone wants to be a mother. My ma wasn’t much.” This honest statement threw me. Spilling my guts to a woman wasn’t my way. I felt suddenly uncomfortable. Laughing, I eyed her hungrily. “But if you’re that anxious to have a kid, I’m your man, Baby.”
This time, Cathy considered my comment, staring intently into my eyes. She examined my gaze until I had to look away in embarrassment. When she spoke again, it was in a whisper. “You think you’re Mr. Right, do you? I guess that remains to be seen, but I’ve never been the type of woman who tries men on like changing clothes.” Then, she yawned slightly. I half expected she was about to give me the brush-off.
Gimme a second chance, my brain screamed out. Realizing she wasn’t a loose sort of girl, I resolved inwardly to keep the off-color humor to myself from that point on. I liked her. I’d never met another girl like her, and I didn’t want to mess things up by getting started on the wrong foot.
Cathy was quiet for a time, looking around at the mostly-dark apartment buildings. She stretched her arms above her and then her hands fell to her hair which was still neatly pinned. With practiced fingers, she removed a couple hairpins and light brown waves tumbled to her shoulders. Immediately, I regretted my hasty resolve to good behavior. The temptation to touch her hair, and more, was simply fierce.
Finally, she spoke. “What was she like?”
For a moment I didn’t realize who she was talking about. When I did, part of me wanted to avoid her, to get up and leave, but another part of me dared to respond, making no attempt to hide the bitterness I felt. “Like? What’s any whore like? Spent most of her money on flashy clothes while we lived in this sleazy apartment over the tavern. If she had any money left after the drinking, dancing and carousing, we got dinner — our only meal — about midnight, after the tavern was closed for the night.”
“Every mother loves her children,” she defended. “Some just don’t know how to show it.”
“Hell, it don’t matter. She’s dead and I ain’t missed her yet.” A tight feeling in my chest told me I was lying.
… Part 2 tomorrow