فصل 08کتاب: اتحادیه ابلهان / فصل 8
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“Let her alone,” Mr. Levy said. “Look, she’s trying to sleep.”
“Let her alone?” Mrs. Levy propped up Miss Trixie on the yellow nylon couch. “Do you realize, Gus, that this is the tragedy of this poor woman’s life. She’s always been alone. She needs someone. She needs love.” “Ugh.”
Mrs. Levy was a woman of interests and ideals. Over the years she had given herself freely to bridge, African violets, Susan and Sandra, golf, Miami, Fannie Hurst and Hemingway, correspondence courses, hairdressers, the sun, gourmet foods, ballroom dancing, and, in recent years, Miss Trixie. She had always had to settle for Miss Trixie at a distance, an unsatisfactory arrangement for carrying out the program outlined in the psychology correspondence course, the final examination of which she had failed resoundingly. The correspondence school had even refused to give her an F. But now that Mrs. Levy had played her card correctly in the game dealing with the firing of the young idealist, she had Miss Trixie in the wrinkled flesh, visor, sneakers, and all. Mr. Gonzalez had gladly given the assistant accountant an indefinite vacation.
“Miss Trixie,” Mrs. Levy said sweetly. “Wake up.”
Miss Trixie opened her eyes and wheezed, “Am I retired?”
“What?” Miss Trixie snarled. “I thought I was retired!”
“Miss Trixie, you think that you’re old and tired. This is very bad.”
“Oh. I am. I am very tired.”
“Don’t you see?” Mrs. Levy asked. “It’s all in your mind. You have this age psychosis. You’re still a very attractive woman. You must say to yourself, ‘I am still attractive. I am a very attractive woman.’” Miss Trixie exhaled a grunting snore into Mrs. Levy’s lacquered hair.
“Will you please let her alone, Dr. Freud?” Mr. Levy said angrily, looking up from a Sports Illustrated. “I almost wish Susan and Sandra were home so you could play with them. Whatever happened to your canasta circle?” “Don’t talk to me, you failure. How can I play canasta when there’s a psycho in distress?”
“Psycho? The woman’s senile. We had to stop at about thirty gas stations on the way over here. Finally I got tired of getting out of the car and showing her which was the Men’s and which was the Women’s so I let her pick them herself. I worked out a system. The law of averages. I laid money on her and she came out about fifty-fifty.” “Don’t tell me any more,” Mrs. Levy cautioned. “Not another word. It’s too typical. Permitting this anal compulsive to flounder like that.” “Isn’t Lawrence Welk on?” Miss Trixie asked suddenly.
“No, dear. Relax.”
“It is Saturday.”
“He’ll be on. Don’t worry. Now tell me, what do you dream about?”
“I can’t remember at the moment.”
“Try,” Mrs. Levy said, making some sort of note on her date book with a rhinestoned automatic pencil. “You must try, Miss Trixie. Darling, your mind is warped. You’re like a cripple.” “I may be old, but I’m not crippled,” Miss Trixie said wildly.
“Look, you’re exciting her, Florence Nightingale,” Mr. Levy said. “With all you know about psychoanalysis, you’re going to ruin whatever’s left in that head of hers. All she wants is to retire and sleep.” “You’ve already wrecked your life. Don’t do the same to hers. This case can’t be retired. She must be made to feel wanted and needed and loved…” “Turn on your goddam exercising board and let her take a nap!”
“I thought we agreed to let the board out of this.”
“Let her alone. Let her alone. Go ride your exercycle.”
“Quiet, please!” Miss Trixie croaked and rubbed her eyes…
“We must talk pleasantly in front of her,” Mrs. Levy whispered. “Loud voices, arguing, will only make her more insecure.” “I’ll buy that. Keep quiet. And get that senile bag out of my rumpus room.”
“That’s right. Think about yourself as usual. If your father could only see you today.” Mrs. Levy’s aqua lids rose in horror. “A motheaten playboy looking for kicks.” “Kicks?”
“Now you people shut up,” Miss Trixie warned. “I must say it was a dark day when I was brought out here. It was much nicer in there with Gomez. Nice and quiet. If this is some sort of an April Fool, I don’t think it’s funny.” She looked at Mr. Levy through rheumy eyes. “You’re the bird that fired my friend Gloria. Poor Gloria. The kindest person ever worked in that office.” “Oh, no!” Mrs. Levy sighed. Then she turned on her husband. “So you only fired one person, is that right? What about this Gloria? One person treats Miss Trixie like a human being. One person is her friend. Do you know this? Do you care? Oh, no. Levy Pants might as well be on Mars for all you care. You walk in from the track one day and kick Gloria out.” “Gloria?” Mr. Levy asked. “I didn’t fire any Gloria!”
“Yes, you did!” Miss Trixie piped. “I saw it with my very own eyes. Poor Gloria was the soul of kindness. I remember Gloria gave me socks and luncheon meat.” “Socks and luncheon meat?” Mr. Levy whistled through his teeth. “Oh, boy.”
“That’s right,” Mrs. Levy shouted. “Make fun of this neglected creature. Just don’t tell me whatever else you did at Levy Pants. I couldn’t bear it. I won’t tell the girls about Gloria. They wouldn’t understand a heart like yours. They’re too innocent.” “No, you’d better not try to tell them about Gloria,” Mr. Levy said angrily. “Any more of this foolishness and you’ll be down on the beach in San Juan with your mother, laughing, and swimming and dancing.” “Are you threatening me?”
“Now quiet!” Miss Trixie snarled more loudly. “I want to go back to Levy Pants right this very minute.”
“You see that?” Mrs. Levy asked her husband. “You hear that desire to work. And you want to crush her by retiring her. Gus, please. Get help. You’re going to end badly.” Miss Trixie was reaching for the bag of scraps that she had brought as luggage.
“Okay, Miss Trixie,” Mr. Levy said as if he were summoning a pet cat. “Let’s go get in the car.”
“Thank goodness,” Miss Trixie sighed.
“Take your hands off her!” Mrs. Levy screamed.
“I haven’t even gotten up from my chair,” her husband answered.
Mrs. Levy shoved Miss Trixie down on the couch again and said, “Now stay there. You need help.”
“Not from you people,” Miss Trixie wheezed. “Let me up.”
“Let her up.”
“Please.” Mrs. Levy held up a warning hand, plump and ringed. “Don’t worry about this neglected creature I’ve taken under my wing. Don’t worry about me either. Forget your little daughters. Get in your sports car and ride. There’s a regatta this afternoon. Look. You can see the sails from the picture window I had installed with your father’s hard-earned money.” “I’ll get even with you people,” Miss Trixie was snarling on the couch. “Don’t worry. You’ll find out.”
She tried to rise, but Mrs. Levy had pinned her to the yellow nylon.
His cold was getting worse and worse, and each cough caused a vague pain in his lungs that lingered on for moments after the cough had seared his throat and chest. Patrolman Mancuso wiped his mouth clean of saliva and tried to clear the phlegm from his throat. One afternoon he had had such a bad case of claustrophobia that he almost fainted in the booth. Now it seemed that he was ready to faint from the dizziness that the cold had induced. He leaned his head against the side of the booth for a moment and closed his eyes. Red and blue clouds floated across his eyelids. He had to capture some character and get out of that rest room before his ague got so bad that the sergeant had to carry him to and from the booth every day. He had always hoped to win honor on the force, but what honor was there in dying of pneumonia in a bus station rest room? Even his relatives would laugh. What would his children say to their friends at school?
Patrolman Mancuso looked at the tiles on the floor. They were out of focus. He felt panic. Then he stared at them more closely and saw that the haze was only the moisture that formed a gray film over almost every surface in the rest room. He looked again at The Consolation of Philosophy, which was opened on his lap, and turned a limp, damp page. The book was making him more depressed. The guy who wrote it was going to be tortured by the king. The preface had said so. Now all this time the guy was writing this thing, he was going to end up with something driven down into his head. Patrolman Mancuso felt sorry for the guy and felt obliged to read what he had written. So far he had covered only about twenty pages and was beginning to wonder whether this Boethius was something of a gambler. He was always talking about fate and odds and the wheel of fortune. Anyway, it wasn’t the kind of book that exactly made you look up to the brighter side.
After a few sentences Patrolman Mancuso’s mind began to wander. He looked out through the crack in the door of the booth, which he always left open an inch or two so that he could see who was using the urinals, the lavatories, and the paper-towel box. There at the lavatories was the same boy that Patrolman Mancuso had been seeing every day, it seemed. He watched the delicate boots moving back and forth from the lavatory to the paper-towel dispenser. The boy leaned against a lavatory and began drawing on the back of his hands with a ball-point pen. There might be something in this, Patrolman Mancuso thought.
He opened the booth and went up to the boy. Coughing, he tried to say pleasantly, “What’s that you’re writing on your hand, pal?” George looked at the monocle and the beard at his elbow and said, “Get the hell away from me before I kick your nuts in.” “Cawd the police,” Patrolman Mancuso taunted.
“No,” George answered. “Just get away. I ain’t making trouble.”
“You afred udda police?”
George wondered who this nut was. He was as bad as that hot dog vendor.
“Look, kookie, move it. I don’t want no trouble with the cops.”
“You dote?” Patrolman Mancuso asked happily.
“No, and neither does a screwball like you,” George said, looking at the watering eye behind the monocle and the moistness at the mouth of the beard.
“You udder arrest,” Patrolman Mancuso coughed.
“What? Boy, are you out of it.”
“Patrodeman Madcuso. Uddercover.” A badge flashed in front of George’s pimples. “Cubb alogg wid me.”
“What the hell are you arresting me for? I’m just standing here,” George protested nervously. “I ain’t done nothing. What is this?” “You udder suspiciudd.”
“Suspicion of what?” George asked in panic.
“Aha!” Patrolman Mancuso slobbered. “You rilly afred.”
He reached out to grab George by the arm and handcuff him, but George snatched The Consolation of Philosophy from under Patrolman Mancuso’s arm and slammed it into the side of his head. Ignatius had bought a large, elegant, limited edition of the English translation, and all fifteen dollars of its price hit Patrolman Mancuso in the head with the force of a dictionary. Patrolman Mancuso bent over to pick up the monocle, which had fallen from his eye. When he straightened up again, he saw the boy scraping rapidly out of the door of the rest room with the book in his hand. He wanted to run after him, but his head was throbbing too badly. He returned to his booth to rest and grew even more depressed. What could he tell Mrs. Reilly about the book?
George opened the locker in the waiting room of the bus terminal as quickly as he could and took out the brown-paper packages he had stored. Without closing the locker door, he ran out onto Canal Street and jogged metallically toward the central business district, looking over his shoulder for the beard and monocle. There was no beard anywhere behind him.
This was really bad luck. That undercover agent would be prowling the bus station all afternoon looking for him. And what about tomorrow? The bus station was no longer safe; it was off-limits.
“Damn Miss Lee,” George said aloud, still walking as fast as he could. If she weren’t so tight, this wouldn’t have happened. She could have fired the jig, and he could have kept on picking up his packages at the old time, two o’clock. As it was, he had almost been arrested. And it was all because he had to go check the stuff in the bus station, all because he was stuck with the stuff now for two hours every afternoon. Where did you put stuff like that? You could get tired of carrying that stuff around all afternoon. Mother was home all the time, so you couldn’t go around there with it.
“Tight bit@h,” George mumbled. He tucked the packages higher up under his arm and realized that he was also carrying the book he had taken from the undercover agent. Stealing from a cop. That was good, too. Miss Lee had asked him to bring her the book she needed. George looked at the title, The Consolation of Philosophy. Well, she had a book now.
Santa Battaglia tasted a spoonful of the potato salad, cleaned the spoon with her tongue, and placed the spoon neatly on a paper napkin next to the plate of salad. Sucking some pieces of parsley and onion from between her teeth, she said to the picture of her mother on the mantelpiece, “They gonna love that. Nobody makes a good potatis salad like Santa.” The parlor was almost ready for the party. On top of the old console radio there were two fifths of Early Times and a six-bottle carton of Seven-Up. The phonograph she had borrowed from her niece sat on the mopped linoleum in the center of the room, the cord rising to the chandelier where it was plugged in. Two giant-sized bags of potato chips rested in either corner of the red plush sofa. A fork stuck out of the open bottle of olives that she had placed on a tin tray on top of the covered and folded rollaway bed.
Santa grabbed the picture on the mantelpiece, a photograph of an ancient and hostile-looking woman in a black dress and black stockings standing in a dark alley paved with oyster shells.
“Poor momma,” Santa said feelingly, giving the picture a loud, wet kiss. The grease on the glass that covered the photograph showed the frequency of these affectionate onslaughts. “You sure had it hard, kid.” The little black coals of Sicilian eyes glared almost animatedly at Santa from the snapshot. “The only picture of you I got, momma, and you standing in a alley. Ain’t that a shame.” Santa sighed at the unfairness of it all and slammed the picture down on the mantelpiece among the bowl of wax fruit and the bouquet of paper zinnias and the statue of the Virgin Mary and the figurine of the Infant of Prague. Then she went back to the kitchen to get some ice cubes and one of the kitchen chairs. After she had returned with the chair and a little picnic cooler of ice cubes, she arranged her best jelly glasses on the mantelpiece before her mother’s picture. The proximity of the picture made her grab it and kiss it again, the ice cube in her mouth cracking against the glass.
“I say a prayer for you every day, babe,” Santa told the snapshot incoherently, balancing the ice cube on her tongue. “You better believe they’s a candle burning for you over in St. Odo’s.” Someone knocked at the front shutters. In putting the picture down hurriedly, Santa tipped it over on its face.
“Irene!” Santa screamed when she opened the door and saw the hesitant Mrs. Reilly on the front steps and her nephew, Patrolman Mancuso, standing down on the banquette. “Come on in, sweetheart darling. You sure looking cute.” “Thanks, honey,” Mrs. Reilly said. “Whoo! I forgot how long it takes to drive down here. Me and Angelo been in that car almost a hour.” “Id’s the traffig is whad id is,” Patrolman Mancuso offered.
“Listen to that cold,” Santa said. “Aw, Angelo. You better tell them men at the precinct to take you out that toilet. Where’s Rita?” “She diddit feel like cubbig. She’s got her a headache.”
“Well, no wonder, locked up in that house with them kids all day long,” Santa said. “Aw, she oughta get out, Angelo. What’s wrong with that girl?” “Nerbs,” Angelo answered sadly. “She’s got nerbous trouble.”
“Nerves is terrible,” Mrs. Reilly said. “You know what happened, Santa? Angelo lost the book Ignatius give him. Ain’t that a shame? I don’t mind about the book, but don’t never tell Ignatius about it. We’ll really have us a fight on our hands.” Mrs. Reilly put her finger to her lips to indicate that the book must forever be a secret.
“Well, gimme your coat, girl,” Santa said eagerly, almost tearing Mrs. Reilly’s old purple woolen topper off. She was determined that the ghost of Ignatius J. Reilly would not haunt her party as it had haunted so many evenings of bowling.
“You got you a nice place here, Santa,” Mrs. Reilly said respectfully. “It’s clean.”
“Yeah, but I want to get me some new linoleum for the parlor. You ever used them paper curtains, honey? They don’t look too bad. I seen some nice ones up by Maison Blanche.” “I bought some nice paper curtains for Ignatius’s room once, but he tore them off the window and crumpled them up. He says they an abortion. Ain’t that awful?” “Everybody to his own taste,” Santa observed quickly.
“Ignatius don’t know I come here tonight. I told him I was going to a novena.”
“Angelo, fix Irene here a nice drink. Take a little whiskey yourself, help out that cold. I got some cokes in the kitchen.” “Ignatius don’t like novenas neither. I don’t know what that boy likes. Personally, I’m getting kinda fed up on Ignatius, even if he is my own child.” “I fixed us a good potatis salad, girl. That old man tells me he likes a good potatis salad.”
“You oughta see them big uniforms he’s giving me to launder. And all the directions I get on how to wash them. He sounds like he’s selling soap powder on the TV. Ignatius acts like he’s really made good pushing that wagon around downtown.” “Look at Angelo, babe. He’s fixing us a nice drink.”
“You got any aspirins, honey?”
“Aw, Irene! What kinda party pooper I got on my hands? Take a drink. Wait till the old man comes. We gonna have us a nice time. Look, you and the old man can dance right in front the phonograph.” “Dance? I don’t feel like dancing with no old man. Besides, my feet swole up this afternoon while I was ironing them uniforms.” “Irene, you can’t disappoint him, girl. You shoulda seen his face when I invited him out in front the church. Poor old man. I bet nobody ast him out.” “He wanted to come, huh?”
“Wanted to come? He ast me should he wear a suit.”
“And what you told him, honey?”
“Well, I said, ‘Wear whatever you want, mister.’”
“Well, that’s nice.” Mrs. Reilly looked down at her green taffeta cocktail dress. “Ignatius ast me why I was wearing a cocktail dress to go to a novena. He’s sitting in his room right now writing some foolishness. I says, ‘What’s that you writing now, boy?’ And he say, ‘I’m writing about being a weenie vendor.’ Ain’t that terrible? Who want to read a story like that? You know how much he brought home from that weenie place today? Four dollars. How I’m gonna pay off that man?” “Look. Angelo fixed us a nice hi-ball.”
Mrs. Reilly took a jelly glass from Angelo and drank half of it in two gulps.
“Where you got that nice high-fly from, darling?”
“What you mean?” Santa asked.
“That gramaphone you got in the middle of the floor.”
“That’s my little niece’s. She’s precious. Just graduated outta St. Odo High and she’s awready got her a good saleslady job.” “You see that?” Mrs. Reilly said excitedly. “I bet she’s making better than Ignatius.”
“Lord, Angelo,” Santa said. “Stop that coughing. Go lay down in the back and rest up till the old man comes.”
“Poor Angelo,” Mrs. Reilly said after the patrolman had left the room. “He sure a sweet boy. You two sure been good friends to me. And to think we all met when he tried to arrest Ignatius.” “I wonder how come that old man ain’t showed up yet.”
“Maybe he’s not coming, Santa.” Mrs. Reilly finished her drink. “I’m gonna make me another one, if you don’t mind, sugar. I got problems.” “Go ahead, babe. I’m gonna take your coat back in the kitchen and see how Angelo’s making out. I sure got two happy people at my party so far. I hope that old man don’t fall down and break his leg on the way over.” After Santa had left, Mrs. Reilly filled her glass with bourbon and added a jigger of Seven-Up. She picked up the spoon, tasted the potato salad, and, cleaning the spoon with her lips, put it back on the paper napkin. The family in the other half of Santa’s double house was beginning to stage what sounded like a riot. Sipping her drink, Mrs. Reilly put her ear to the wall and tried to filter some meaning out of the loud shouting.
“Angelo’s taking some cough medicine,” Santa said as she returned to the parlor.
“You sure got you good walls in this building, babe,” Mrs. Reilly said, unable to comprehend the gist of the argument on the other side of the wall. “I wish me and Ignatius lived here. Miss Annie wouldn’t have nothing to complain about.” “Where’s that old man?” Santa asked the front shutters.
“Maybe he ain’t gonna come.”
“Maybe he forgot.”
“That’s the way it is with old folks, honey.”
“He ain’t that old, Irene.”
“How old is he?”
“Someplace in his late sixties, I guess.”
“Well, that ain’t too old. My poor old Tante Marguerite, the one I told you them kids beat up on to get fifty cents out her coin purse, she going on eighty.” Mrs. Reilly finished her drink. “Maybe he went to see a nice picture show or something. Santa, you mind if I make me another drink.” “Irene! You gonna be on the floor, girl. I ain’t gonna introduce no drunk to this nice old man.”
“I’ll make me a small one. I got nerves tonight.”
Mrs. Reilly slopped a great deal of whiskey into her glass and sat down again, crushing one of the bags of potato chips.
“Oh, Lord, what I done now?”
“You just smashed them potato chips,” Santa said a little angrily.
“Aw, they all crumbs now,” Mrs. Reilly said, pulling the bag from beneath her. She studied the flattened cellophane. “Listen, Santa, what time you got? Ignatius says he’s sure the burgulars is striking tonight and for me to get in early.” “Oh, take it easy, Irene. You just got here.”
“To tell you the truth, Santa, I don’t think I want to meet this old man.”
“Well, it’s too late now.”
“Yeah, but what me and this old man gonna do?” Mrs. Reilly asked apprehensively.
“Aw, relax, Irene. You making me nervous. I’m sorry I axt you over.” Santa pulled Mrs. Reilly’s drink down from her lips for a moment. “Now listen to me. You had arthritus very bad. The bowling’s helping that out. Right? You was stuck home with that crazy boy every night until Santa come along. Right? Now listen to Santa, precious. You don’t wanna end up all alone with that Ignatius on your hands. This old man looks like he’s got him a little money. He dresses neat. He knows you from somewhere. He likes you.” Santa looked Mrs. Reilly in the eye. “This old man can pay off your debt!” “Yeah?” Mrs. Reilly hadn’t thought of this before. The old man suddenly became a little more attractive. “He’s clean?” “Sure he’s clean,” Santa said angrily. “You think I’m trying fix my friend up with a bum?”
Someone knocked lightly at the shutters on the front door.
“Oh, I bet that’s him,” Santa said eagerly.
“Tell him I hadda go, honey.”
“Go? Where you goint to, Irene? The man’s right by the front door.”
“He is, huh?”
“Lemme go take a look.”
Santa opened the door and pushed the shutters outward.
“Hey, Mr. Robichaux,” she said into the night to someone whom Mrs. Reilly couldn’t see. “We been waiting for you. My friend Miss Reilly here’s been wondering where you was. Come on in out the cold.” “Yeah, Miss Battaglia, I’m sorry I’m a little late, but I had to take my little granchirren around the neighborhood. They raffling some rosaries for the sisters.” “I know,” Santa said. “I bought a chance from a little kid just the other day. They beautiful rosaries. A lady I know won the outboard motor the sisters was raffling last year.” Mrs. Reilly sat frozen on the sofa staring into her drink as if she had just discovered a roach floating in it.
“Irene!” Santa cried. “What you doing, girl? Say ‘hello’ to Mr. Robichaux.”
Mrs. Reilly looked up and recognized the old man whom Patrolman Mancuso had arrested in front of D. H. Holmes.
“Glad to meet you,” Mrs. Reilly said to her drink.
“Maybe Miss Reilly don’t remember,” Mr. Robichaux told Santa, who was beaming happily, “but we met before.”
“To think you two are old friends,” Santa said happily. “It’s sure a small world.”
“Ay-yi-yi,” Mrs. Reilly said, her voice choked with misery. “Eh, la la.”
“You remember,” Mr. Robichaux said to her. “It was downtown by Holmes. That policeman tried to take in your boy and he took me in instead.” Santa’s eyes opened wide.
“Oh, yeah,” Mrs. Reilly said. “I think I remember now. A little.”
“It wasn’t your fault though, Miss Reilly. It’s them police. They all a bunch of communiss.”
“Not so loud,” Mrs. Reilly cautioned. “They got thin walls in this building.” She moved her elbow and knocked her empty glass off the arm of the sofa. “Oh, Lord. Santa, maybe you oughta go tell Angelo to run along. I can get me a taxi. Tell him he can run out the back way. It’s easier for him. You know?” “I see whatcha mean, honey.” Santa turned to Mr. Robichaux. “Listen, when you seen my friend and me down by the bowling alley, you didn’t see no man with us, huh?” “You ladies was all alone.”
“Wasn’t that the night A. got himself arrested?” Mrs. Reilly whispered to Santa.
“Oh, yeah, Irene. You come by for me in that car of yours. You remember the fender came loose entirely right in front the bowling alley.” “I know. I got it in the backseat. Ignatius is the one made me wreck that car, he got me so nervous from the backseat.” “Aw, no,” Mr. Robichaux said. “The one thing I can’t stand is a poor loser or a bad sport.”
“If somebody does me dirt,” Santa continued, “I try to turn the other cheek. You know what I mean? That’s the Christian way. Ain’t that right, Irene?” “That’s right, darling,” Mrs. Reilly agreed halfheartedly. “Santa, sweet, you got some nice aspirins?”
“Irene!” Santa said angrily. “You know, Mr. Robichaux, now suppose you saw that cop that took you in.”
“I hope I never see him again,” Mr. Robichaux said with emotion. “He’s a dirty communiss. Them people want to set up a police state.” “Yeah, but just supposing. Wouldn’t you forgive and forget?”
“Santa,” Mrs. Reilly interrupted, “I think I’m gonna run in the kitchen and see if you got some nice aspirins.”
“It was the disgrace,” Mr. Robichaux said to Santa. “My whole family heard about it. The police called up my daughter.” “Aw, that ain’t nothing,” Santa said. “Everybody gets took in some time in they life. You see her?” Santa picked up the photograph lying face down on the mantelpiece and showed it to her two guests. “My poor dear momma. The police took her out the Lautenschlaeger Market four times for disturbing the peace.” Santa paused to give the snapshot a moist kiss. “You think she cared? Not her.” “That’s your momma?” Mrs. Reilly asked interestedly. “She had it hard, huh? Mothers got a hard road to travel, believe me.” “So, as I was saying,” Santa continued, “I wouldn’t feel bad about getting arrested. Policeman got them a hard line of work. Sometimes they make a mistake. They only human, after all.” “I always been a decent citizen,” Mrs. Reilly said. “I wanna go wrench out my glass in the zink.”
“Oh, go sit down, Irene. Lemme talk to Mr. Robichaux.”
Mrs. Reilly went over to the old console radio and poured herself a glass of Early Times.
“I’ll never forget that Patrolman Mancuso,” Mr. Robichaux was saying.
“Mancuso?” Santa asked with great surprise. “I got plenty relatives with that very same name. As a matter of fact, one of them’s on the force. As a matter of fact, he’s here now.” “I think I hear Ignatius calling me. I better go.”
“Calling you?” Santa asked. “Whadda you mean, Irene? Ignatius is six miles away uptown. Look, we ain’t even give Mr. Robichaux a drink. Fix him a drink, kid, while I go get Angelo.” Mrs. Reilly studied her drink furiously in the hope of turning up a roach or at least a fly. “Gimme that coat, Mr. Robichaux. Whatcha friends call you?” “Claude.”
“Claude, I’m Santa. And that there’s Irene. Irene, say ‘hello.’”
“Hello,” Mrs. Reilly said automatically.
“You two make friends while I’m gone,” Santa said and disappeared into the other room.
“How’s that fine big boy of yours?” Mr. Robichaux asked to end the silence that had fallen.
“Oh, him. He’s okay.” Mrs. Reilly’s mind flew back to Constantinople Street where she had left Ignatius writing in his room and mumbling something about Myrna Minkoff. Through the door, Mrs. Reilly had heard Ignatius saying to himself, “She must be lashed until she drops.” There was a long silence broken only by the violent sipping noises that Mrs. Reilly made on the rim of her glass.
“You want some nice potato chips?” Mrs. Reilly finally asked, for she found that the silence made her even more ill at ease.
“Yeah, I think I would.”
“They right in the bag next to you.” Mrs. Reilly watched Mr. Robichaux open the cellophane package. His face and his gray gabardine suit both seemed to be neat and freshly pressed. “Maybe Santa needs some help. Maybe she went and fell down.” “She just left the room a minute ago. She’ll be back.”
“These floors are dangerous,” Mrs. Reilly observed, studying the shiny linoleum intently. “You could slip down and crack your skull wide open.” “You gotta be careful in life.”
“Ain’t that the truth. Me, I’m always careful.”
“Me, too. It pays to be careful.”
“It sure does. That’s what Ignatius said just the other day,” Mrs. Reilly lied. “He says to me, ‘Momma, it sure pays to be careful, don’t it?’ And I says to him, ‘That’s right, son. Take care.’” “That’s good advice.”
“I’m all the time giving Ignatius advice. You know? I’m always trying to help him out.”
“I bet you a good momma. I seen you and that boy downtown plenty times, and I always thought what a fine-looking big boy he was. He kinda stands out, you know?” “I try with him. I say, ‘Be careful, son. Watch you don’t slip down and crack your skull open or fracture a arm.’” Mrs. Reilly sucked at the ice cubes a bit. “Ignatius learned safety at my knee. He’s always been grateful for that.” “That’s good training, believe me.”
“I tell Ignatius, I say, ‘Take care when you cross the street, son.’”
“You gotta watch out in traffic, Irene. You don’t mind if I call you by your first name, huh?”
“Irene’s a pretty name.”
“You think so? Ignatius says he don’t like it.” Mrs. Reilly crossed herself and finished her drink. “I sure got a hard road, Mr. Robichaux. I don’t mind telling you.” “Call me Claude.”
“As God is my witness, I got a awful cross to bear. You wanna nice drink?”
“Yeah, thanks. Not too strong, though. I’m not a drinking man.”
“Oh, Lord,” Mrs. Reilly sniffed, filling two glasses to the rim with whiskey. “When I think of all I take. Sometimes I could really have me a good cry.” With that, Mrs. Reilly burst into loud, wild tears.
“Aw, don’t cry,” Mr. Robichaux pleaded, completely confused by the tragic turn the evening was apparently taking.
“I gotta do something. I gotta call the authorities to come take that boy away,” Mrs. Reilly sobbed. She paused to take a mouthful of Early Times. “Maybe they put him in a detention home or something.” “Ain’t he thirty years old?”
“My heart’s broke.”
“Ain’t he writing something?”
“Some foolishness nobody never gonna feel like reading. Now him and that Myrna writing insults to each other. Ignatius is telling me he’s gonna get that girl good. Ain’t that awful? Poor Myrna.” Mr. Robichaux, unable to think of anything to say, asked, “Why don’t you get a priest to talk to your boy?”
“A priest?” Mrs. Reilly wept. “Ignatius won’t listen to no priest. He calls the priest in our parish a heretic. They had a big fight when Ignatius’s dog died.” Mr. Robichaux could find no comment for that enigmatic statement. “It was awful. I thought I’d get throwed out the Church. I don’t know where that boy gets his ideas from. It’s a good thing his poor poppa’s dead. He’d be breaking his poor father’s heart with that weenie wagon.” “What weenie wagon?”
“He’s out on the streets pushing a weenie wagon all over.”
“Oh. He’s got him a job now.”
“A job?” Mrs. Reilly sobbed. “It’s all over my neighborhood. The lady next door’s been asking me a million questions. All Constantinople Street’s talking about him. When I think of all the money I spent on that boy’s education. You know, I thought chirren was supposed to comfort you in your old age. What kinda comfort Ignatius is giving me?” “Maybe your boy went to school too long,” Mr. Robichaux advised. “They got plenty communiss in them colleges.”
“Yeah?” Mrs. Reilly asked with interest, dabbing at her eyes with the skirt of her green taffeta cocktail dress, unaware that she was showing Mr. Robichaux the wide runs in her stockings at the knee. “Maybe that’s what’s wrong with Ignatius. It’s just like a communiss to treat his momma bad.” “Ax that boy what he thinks of democracy some time.”
“I sure will,” Mrs. Reilly said happily. Ignatius was just the type to be a communist. He even looked like one a little. “Maybe I can scare him.” “That boy shouldn’t be giving you trouble. You got a very fine character. I admire that in a lady. When I reconnized you down by the bowling alley with Miss Battaglia, I says to myself, ‘I hope I can meet her sometime.’” “You said that?”
“I admired your integrity, standing up for that boy in front that dirty cop, especially if you got troubles with him at home. That takes courage.” “I wisht I woulda let Angelo take him away. None of this other stuff woulda happened. Ignatius woulda been locked up safe in jail.” “Who’s Angelo?”
“There! I hadda go open my big mouth. What I said, Claude?”
“Something about Angelo.”
“Lord, lemme go see if Santa’s okay. Poor thing. Maybe she burnt herself on the stove. Santa’s all the time getting herself burnt. She don’t take care around the fire, you know.” “She woulda screamed if she was burnt.”
“Not Santa. She’s got plenty courage, that girl. You won’t hear a word outta her. It’s that strong Italian blood.” “Christ Awmight!” Mr. Robichaux screamed, jumping to his feet. “That’s him!”
“What?” Mrs. Reilly asked in panic, and, looking around, saw Santa and Angelo standing in the doorway of the room. “You see, Santa. I knew this was gonna happen. Lord, my nerves is shot already. I shoulda stayed home.” “If you wasn’t a dirty cop, I’d punch you right in the nose,” Mr. Robichaux was screaming at Angelo.
“Aw, take it easy, Claude,” Santa said calmly. “Angelo here didn’t mean no harm.”
“He ruint me, that communiss.”
Patrolman Mancuso coughed violently and looked depressed. He wondered what terrible thing would happen to him next.
“Oh, Lord, I better go,” Mrs. Reilly said despairingly. “The last thing I need is a fight. We’ll be all over the newspaper. Ignatius’ll really be happy then.” “How come you brought me here?” Mr. Robichaux asked Santa wildly. “What is this?”
“Santa, honey, you wanna call me a nice taxi?”
“Aw, shut up, Irene,” Santa answered. “Now listen, Claude, Angelo says he’s sorry he took you in.”
“That don’t mean nothing. It’s too late to feel sorry. I was disgraced in front my granchirren.”
“Don’t be mad at Angelo,” Mrs. Reilly pleaded. “It was all Ignatius’s fault. He’s my own flesh and blood, but he sure does look funny when he goes out. Angelo shoulda locked him up.” “That’s right,” Santa added. “Listen at what Irene’s telling you, Claude. And watch out you don’t step on my poor little niece’s phonograph.” “If Ignatius woulda been nice to Angelo, none of this woulda happened,” Mrs. Reilly explained to her audience. “Just look at the cold poor Angelo’s got. He’s got him a hard road, Claude.” “You tell him, girl,” Santa said. “Angelo got that cold on account of he took you in, Claude.” Santa waved a stubby finger at Mr. Robichaux a little accusingly. “Now he’s stuck in a toilet. Next thing they gonna kick him off the force.” Patrolman Mancuso coughed sadly.
“Maybe I got a little excited,” Mr. Robichaux conceded.
“I shouldn’t of toog you id,” Angelo breathed. “I got nerbous.”
“It was all my fault,” Mrs. Reilly said, “for trying to protect that Ignatius. I should of let you lock him away, Angelo.” Mrs. Reilly turned her white, powdery face to Mr. Robichaux. “Mr. Robichaux, you don’t know Ignatius. He makes trouble everyplace he goes.” “Somebody oughta punch that Ignatius in the nose,” Santa said eagerly.
“Somebody oughta punch him in the mouth,” Mrs. Reilly added.
“Somebody oughta beat up on that Ignatius,” Santa said. “Now come on. Everybody make friends.”
“Okay,” Mr. Robichaux said. He took Angelo’s blue-white hand and shook it limply.
“Ain’t that nice,” Mrs. Reilly said. “Come sit on the sofa, Claude, and Santa can play her precious little niece’s high-fly.” While Santa put a Fats Domino record on the phonograph, Angelo, sniffling and looking a little confused, sat down on the kitchen chair across from Mrs. Reilly and Mr. Robichaux.
“Now ain’t this nice,” Mrs. Reilly screamed brightly over the deafening piano and bass. “Santa, honey, you wanna turn that down a little?” The thumping rhythm decreased slightly in volume.
“Okay,” Santa shouted at her guests. “Now everybody make friends while I go get us some plates for my good potatis salad. Hey, come on, Irene and Claude. Let’s see you kids shake a leg.” The two little coal-black eyes scowled down at her from the mantelpiece as she stomped gaily out of the room. The three guests, drowned in the pounding beat of the phonograph, silently studied the rosecolored walls and the floral patterns on the linoleum. Then, suddenly, Mrs. Reilly screamed to the two gentlemen, “You know what? Ignatius was running the water in the tub when I left, and I bet he forgot to turn it off.” When no one answered, she added, “Mothers got a hard road.”
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