Fiction


Nonfic


Staff Writers






      


SAINT MARY'S by MIKE TOWNSEND

God, I'm glad this day is over. My feet are killing me. My back is killing me. My head, fucking killing me. The case of longnecks in my hand rattles with each step through the snow, back home from the packie. I can't wait to take off my boots, sit in my comfy chair and watch some TV. There's nothing good on, but I don't care. A couple of beers and the tube, that's what I need.

Opening the door, the warm air hits me and I realize how cold I really am. I can smell food. Christ, it's good to be home. Shelly shouts to me from the kitchen, "supper's on the table, but you need to go talk to Tommy."

"Why? What he do now?"

She looks out from the kitchen door. "Father Connolly said he was in a fight at school. It looks like he lost and he's been crying in his room ever since we got home."

I put down the case of beer with a sigh. "Let me take off my fucking coat a minute, will you?" I do that and then crack open a bottle. No rest for the Goddamned wicked. "I'll talk to him. Don't wait on us."

"OK."

Tommy's door is closed. When I push it open, I find him sitting on his bed. His small hands are folded in his lap, head down. Dry tears stain his cheeks. "What's this I hear you been fighting?" He looks up at me and his eyes turn to puddles. One of them has a nasty shiner. There's dry blood in his nostrils, but the nose doesn't look broken. I stand over him waiting for him to say something. He doesn't. I take a long pull of my beer and glare. I ain't pissed he was fighting but this sissy crying shit can't go on. You don't grown up in this neighborhood and not scrape a bit. The boy's got to learn how to lose a fight like a man. "Who? Who did this to you?" The water works explode. He begins to sob and puts his face into his hands. He don't want to snitch, I guess. That's good. But I'm not leaving until I get a name. I want to know how bad the beat down was. Hopefully the other kid's hurting a bit too. "Damnit Tommy, stop crying. You know I'm not going until you tell me, so quit fucking around. It's time to be a man. You were knocked down. Get up off the mat." The pep talk seems to make things worse. This is going nowhere. "Fine then, you want to be like that, go stand in the corner until you're willing to tell me what went down!"

My boy is clearly hurting. I can see it in the way he gets out of bed, still bawling. He still hasn't said word one. What the fuck? Normally by now he'd be trying to argue and convince me not to punish him. This ain't like him at all. His spirit's totally broken. He stands in the corner stiffly and begins to tone down the crying. His body still shakes with sobs though. Christ, I've got to work on toughening him up. He's seven for crying out loud. It's a bit past the point where he should be acting like a baby. As I finish the bottle I notice it and almost throw up. There's a spot of blood on the seat of his pants. Looking over, there's another one on the sheet where was sitting. My little boy wasn't in a fucking fight. Without my thinking about it, my fingers clench into fists. I need to find someone to hit. My boy. My little fucking boy. My Tommy.

I trip over the beer bottle that I must have dropped on my way over to shake the truth out of the kid. Thank God for that. I've got one shit storm of rage, but not with him. Besides, I read the papers. I know who. Tommy doesn't even look over as I hit the floor. The thud does draw Shelly's attention though. "Hey!" she shouts from the dining room, "what's going on in there?"

"We're fine! Go back to eating." Getting up off the floor, I sit back on my haunches. "Hey Tommy, forget the corner. Come here." I soften my voice as much as possible. This kid's been through enough today, he doesn't need his old man barking at him. He walks over slowly, head down. I wrap my arms around him and he melts. Fair enough. I let him cry it out for a bit.

Once he's settled down I say, "this wasn't a fight, was it?" He shakes his head, no. "Was it Father Connolly?" He begins sobbing again, but manages a nod before burying his face in my shoulder. I let him cry some more before picking him up and carrying him to his bed. "Come on, let's get you cleaned up." I'm not going to ask him anymore. I know all I need to know. He doesn't need to talk about this. I lay him down and walk to his door. "I'll be right back. You hungry?" He nods yes. "OK, I'll get you some food."

Bile's in the back of my throat as I walk to the bathroom. "Shell, put a plate together for the boy. And go light on the vegetables and shit. He had a rough day."

"You're not pissed?"

"Nah, boys will be boys and whatever the fuck. We still got any ice cream?" She doesn't need to know. No one needs to know. I'll take care of this.

Shelly stands behind me as I get a washcloth good and wet. "We're not rewarding him for getting into fights."

"You asked me to deal with this. I'm dealing with it."

"I wanted you to get his ass to the kitchen table to eat with the fucking family, not throw him a little tea party in his room," she snaps back at me. Not now, Shell, not now.

"Look, he's hurting and it's not just his pride. Just put the plate together." We stare for a moment, neither willing to budge. "Please."

"All right, but if he pulls this shit again, I'm going to blame you." She walks to the kitchen and I hear dishes rattle as I go to the living room, where I keep the good bottles and grab the Jameson.

Of course that's when Shelly walks in with the plate. "What? You're doing shots now?"

"To sterilize his cuts," I hiss.

She puts the plate down on the end table and folds her arms. "We have peroxide in the bathroom. You know, where you just were."

"Goddamnit Shell. Go eat with the kids, I'm handling this." Thank Christ, she backs down.

Back in Tommy's room, I put the plate down on the nightstand. He reaches for it. "One second, son. We've got to clean you up first." I put down the washcloth and open the bottle. "Normally, I'd bust your ass for touching this, but if ever there was a day for a slug, this is yours." I hand him the bottle. He looks up at me, unsure what to do. "Take a big gulp and swallow it down."

Tommy tilts the bottle back and probably pulls about a shot. He starts to choke on it, but manages to keep most down. "That's a good boy. This will help with the pain and help you sleep." After splashing some whiskey on the washcloth, I begin tending to his cuts and bruises. He winces from time to time but doesn't cry. He seems to be done with that. He looks to me to see how to act and I'm deadly serious. "This thing that happened, no one knows. All right? No one. Not mom, not your best friends, not anyone. It sucks that this is the goddamned moment, but son, this secret means you're a man. You got to carry this shit like one. It's just you and me, all right?" I look him straight in the eyes.

"Yeah dad." His voice is barely above a whisper. He is not going to be known as the kid that got diddled. It's bad enough he has to live with what happened, he doesn't need that stigma.

I soak the washcloth good with the Jameson and hand it to him. "You're going to need to clean up your bum. I'm going to turn around and give you a bit of privacy, but I'm going to be right here. OK?" He nods. I stare at his wall. Kid's got Red Sox and Power Rangers posters and now he's I start seeing red and don't even hear him at first when he whispers that he's done.

I take the washcloth, now spotted in red. "You good in here?" He sits back down and starts eating.

"Uh huh."

"All right son." I give him a hug. "Eat up and then try and get some sleep. I'm going to sort some shit out."

Shelly sees me pull my coat on and yells, "where the hell are you going?"

"Out."

"Out? Get your ass back in here and eat with the rest of your goddamned family!"

She has a right to be pissed. I haven't really given her much to go on. "Hon, I can't. I have to take care of something."

"You get the name of the kid who beat up Tommy?"

"Something like that. Leave him be. He'll sleep when he's done with his food. I'll clean up when I get back. Don't wait up." I'm out the door. The latch clicks before she has a chance to say anything. I'm going to have to do something special for her to make up for all this, but I can't worry about that. Now I need to think.

I started walking without any direction, but somehow my feet took me to O'Leary's. I guess that shouldn't surprise me. They've been taking me here since I got my first fake ID. All right, just one quick pint and then I'll hit the streets again. I've been walking, but not really figuring much out. Getting drunk won't help.

Of course Sean's here. I should have known that before even walking through the door. I try and sneak back out, but he sees me. "Billy! Billy boy, what the hell are you doing out on a fucking school night? Shelly finally kick your ass to the curb?" The punk's got a big grin painted across his gob. Leaving is no longer an option. I plaster on the best smile I can muster and head to the stool next to him.

"Listen you son of a bitch, we can't all tomcat around every night. If I did that, you'd never get any pussy, ugly mug like you've got." I slap him on the back and sit down.

Sean's been one of my best friends since I was old enough to have them. He sees right through me. He signals for two more beers as he stands. "Come on, let's grab the table in the back."

"Nah man. I'm here for one quick one and then I'm heading home." I don't want to, but I follow anyway.

"Like hell you are. What the fuck is up?"

We sit down at a dark table in the back corner. We've started our share of trouble here over the years. This is where we sit for serious shit. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Suit yourself." We sit silently pulling on our beers for a bit. "Fuck that. Last time you had that look in your eye, we ended up putting someone in the hospital. I don't need to know why, but who?"

"It ain't like that."

"Shell?"

"She's fine."

"The kids?" I can't make a lie come out fast enough. He reads far too much from the silence. "OK. The offer stands." I nod.

We sit quietly for another pint. He gets several texts during that time. I assume it was one or more of his women until Kenny walks in and right too us. I shoot Sean a look that lets him know how much I'm going to kick his ass. "Fuck you," he sneers. "Now we've got a goddamned quorum." Kenny slides in next to him. "Who did what to which of your kids?" I shake my head. No.

Kenny flags Bonnie, the waitress, for a drink of his own. "Do we need to dispose of a body? Because we can use my boat." There's no question in my mind about the seriousness of his offer. It's tempting. Christ, I love these guys. I open up about what happened to Tommy. Kenny's his Godfather and he's ready for blood too. I'm thankful that this corner's so dark because I can't keep a drop or two from my eyes in the telling. If either of them noticed, they keep it too themselves. When I'm done, it's Ken who speaks first, "so I guess someone should say it. We're going to cut his dick off and let him bleed out, right?" Sean nods.

"No." I can't believe I'm the voice of reason, but he's a Goddamned priest. Some things you just don't do. Besides, we do that now, Tommy never gets a chance to do it himself.

Sean cocks his head, unable to read me now. "We have to do something. That shit's supposed to watch your kids tomorrow after school."

"Not going to happen. Meg will watch them as long as you need."

"Thanks, bro. I'm not sure what I'm going to do, but killing him's not it." That's when we begin the serious work of figuring shit out. As justice goes, what we come up with isn't without its poetry.

I sit and watch Kenny work his magic on the cell. Normally, Sean's our hustler, but Kenny's on fire. "Father Connolly, I need your help. It's Sean. He's on a two day bender. I'm about to drag his ass out of the bar and into bed. He's not going to listen to me, but maybe you can talk some sense into him before he loses his job." He gives us a smile and a nod while he listens to the phone. "Great, I'll see you there in about an hour." He hangs up. "That enough time?"

"Perfect." We each pound one last beer before heading over to Kenny's apartment.

We wait in the bedroom talking sports and music and anything but why we're here or what we're about to do. Finally, there's a knock at the door. "This is me." Kenny's up and on his way to the front door. Sean and I take positions on either side of the bedroom doorway, out of sight. "His room's right over there." The plan is for Ken to take up the rear so he can't run when he figures out what's going on.

Father Connolly walks into the room and gives a confused look at the empty bed. "Where's Sean?"

I step forward so he can see me. "He's right behind you." The scratches on his face barely register since the look in his eye tells me everything.

His lips begin to move, but the words are meaningless noise. I think he's trying to explain or some shit. It doesn't last long. My first punch connects with his nose. I can feel a satisfying pop as it breaks. The second hit is to his stomach. He can't talk anymore now the wind's knocked out of him. Good. I pull the back of his shirt up over his head so his arms get tangled, leaving me free to start raining body blows.

I don't really know when he fell on the floor and I started kicking him because I was completely seeing red. Reality comes rushing back as Sean and Kenny grab me and pull me away. I realize that I'm shouting obscenities.

"Bill. Billy! Chill out man. We're not killing him. Not in my fucking apartment!"

"Yeah. Sorry." Father Connolly lays curled up in a whimpering ball. He's covered with scratches. It looks like Tommy didn't go down without a fight. I know I shouldn't be, but still, that fills me with pride. I kneel down by his head, lifting it up by his hair. I look closely into the eye that isn't swollen shut. "I'm not going to kill you, though it's what you deserve. I'm not even going to tell anybody what you did. But things are going to change, you hear me?"

"Yugsh."

"Good. From now on, you're going to stay the fuck away from kids. Not just mine, all kids. Understand?" He manages a nod. "Excellent. My wife says I need to communicate my feelings more. It's nice to see that this talking shit works. If I hear so much as a rumor that any kid who goes to St. Mary's got touched by a priest, they will be fishing bits of you out of the harbor for months. We clear?" He lets out a whimper that I take as a yes. I'm on a fucking roll. I'm not stopping now. "So now you can consider yourself the neighborhood protector of the children. Oh, and you're going to give Sean two hundred and fifty bucks, Sunday after mass. I don't give a shit how you get it. Consider it a downpayment. If you move to another parish, I'm going to hunt you down and finish the job. I will take my sweet ass time too, so don't try and fuck with me. Got it?" Once again the look in his eye tells me everything I needed to know. "I think it goes without saying that this conversation and your little romp with Tommy, they never happened, so there's no need for threats about that." I look up at Sean. "Can you guys take out the trash? I wanna go have a talk with my boy."

"Sure. We can take care of this."

I spit in Father Connolly's face as I leave. Behind me Kenny tells him to "get up, you worthless piece of shit. Stop sniveling and be a man. If you know how."

It's well after midnight when I get home. I walk straight into Tommy's room before even taking off my coat. "Hey son. I wanted you to know that I took care of things. You'll go with Meg, Mrs. Kelly, after school from now on. I'll tell mom in the morning. Also, I saw how hard you fought when I talked to Fa- the shit head that did this to you. I'm proud as hell of you son."

He smiles at me through half sleeping eyes. "Thanks dad."

"I'll let you get some more sleep. Just wanted you to know. It's all taken care of, there's nothing to be scared of." He's out before I close the door to his room.

Shelly barely talks to me the rest of the week. I gave her a totally bullshit excuse for why Meg's taking the kids after school. Kenny got shit from her for that too. The Father told people he was mugged. That's good. It means he realizes my threats aren't just talk.

The bells of Saint Mary's are ringing. Mass is about to begin. This will be interesting. It's the first time Tommy's going to have to face that fucker. So far, he's keeping his chin up. He may have to keep this secret, but he's not alone. I'm going to stay by his side.

Printer Friendly Version

Bookmark and Share