Archives for November 2013
This is the fourth book in the Ron Tuck series and continues his story.
Available in paperback
Early in the afternoon, Ron drove back to his apartment to get changed. He was wearing a grey morning coat, dark grey slacks, a light grey vest, a carnation and a cravat. He pulled on the short silk grey gloves that matched the vest. His stomach was quivering as he looked at himself in the mirror. He felt like he was ready for the wedding and hoped that he was ready for marriage. If he wasn’t ready now, when would he ever be?
He met Chris at the church. The day had just grown colder and was overcast. Ron was chain smoking. Somewhere in his mind he worried if she would show up. Father Tom Orecchio was smoking with him and smiling and telling him that it was going to be alright. Chris Calvin laid a hand on his shoulder and said, “The Church is filling up.”
Ron lit another cigarette. The minister, Peter Fiesley, smiled at Ron from in back of his steel framed glasses. “I’ve practiced the poem that you selected, but I’m sure that I don’t read it as well as you.”
Ron smiled and said “You’ll do fine.”
Fiesley grinned back at him, “So will you.” He walked off to check on the bride’s arrival.
The Church was lit by candles that were on long thin poles down the center aisle. Ron and Celeste had been careful to order non drip candles at the request of Fiesley, but the wax was running down the sides and onto the red carpet.
Fiesley came back to them with a smile and clapped his hands together. “I think we’re all ready.”
Ron blurted, “She’s here?”
They all chuckled at him. Father Tom Orecchio said, “Yeah Ronnie, she wouldn’t take my advice. She showed up.”
This was Orecchio’s first ecumenical ceremony. He and Fiesley had worked through who would say what. They were both professionals. With Orecchio’s help, Celeste had gotten the annulment of her second marriage. Since Ron never mentioned the first one, which hadn’t taken place in a church anyway, he was free to bless the ceremony.
Ron went out with Chris and stood on the altar. He smiled his best dimpled grin and looked out at the gathering. Music from the pipe organ began. Angel truly looked like an angel as she walked down the aisle with her Aunt Tina. There were ahhs and ohhs from the bride’s side of the church. The first chords of “Here Comes the Bride” brought the people to their feet. Tina held Angel’s hand and looked a bit intimidated by the music and all the people.
When Ron saw her, he felt humbled. Her smile was huge. He hair hung perfectly curled down passed her shoulders. Mario looked debonair in his tux. But Ron never really made eye contact with him. His eyes were wide open. She carried a bouquet of white red and pink roses. There was a sparkle in her eyes and a beautiful cameo at her throat. She wore white open toes shoes with a thin strap at the ankle. She seemed to glide down the aisle.
When she reached Ron and they took each other’s hands, they felt lost and locked in their gaze. It was just then that Marjorie began to wail. These were not the soft tears of joy that someone hears at a wedding. They were more the piteous howls of grief that a person hears at the funeral of someone unexpectedly deceased.
As Fiesley began to speak the wailing grew louder. He raised his voice so that he could be heard. Celeste could hear it. She knew what it was. She knew who was doing it. She knew that each wail represented trouble in her future, but she could not turn away from his face and was pretty sure that he couldn’t hear anything.
Ron stood there mesmerized at the sight of her and the realization that she was going to be his wife. She was smiling back at him, confident and sure and frightened. Ron silently vowed to make her fears disappear.
Fiesley began to read, “Let me not admit impediments,” he paused and began again, “To the marriage of true minds, let me not admit impediments…”
The minister slaughtered the sonnet, but Ron didn’t hear it. He felt enveloped in the cocoon of warmth that shone out of her eyes.
The ceremony continued, as did the wailing. Anna heard it and while a part of her was offended by its implications, she respected its strength and simplicity. Tina heard it. She loved her older sister but hated being a maid of honor and now she was doing it for the third time. The first time she’d dreamed that Greg was hers. The second time, she understood what her sister was doing and accepted it. Now, she was more than skeptical. How many chances did you get? How many times could you put your family through this? Ron Tuck was not a factor in her thinking. She’d allowed herself to feel nothing from him.
George struggled with the urge to take Marjorie outside. He somehow knew that would make it worse. Harry Tuck heard her crying. He’d heard her crying like this just twice before. The first time was when she lost their first child. The next time was when she learned that he had been sleeping with one of her friends. Harry looked at his son and saw the blend of Marjorie and himself. It was still there. The distance mixed with the warmth. The brain mixed with the physical desire. If this was who he wanted, this was who Harry wanted for him. It was as simple as that.
Janine thought the wailing curious. She wondered what it meant and where it came from. She gazed at the solid figure of her husband and then over to her son and daughter and felt secure and safe.
Chis was fighting the urge to giggle. The enduring quality of the wailing was admirable. He could see that Ron didn’t hear it and thought that was a bit of a miracle.
Quimpy felt a pang in his chest. Celeste should have been his and now Ron had stolen her.
Fiesley said, “Ron, do you have words for Celeste?”
Ron looked into her eyes and grasped her cold hands. For the first time, he realized how nervous she was. He tried to exude the warmth that he felt in his heart through his hands and his eyes and then his words. “I promise to love who you are, not who I want you to be. I promise to be there for you no matter what happens. I promise to trust you and not doubt your love or your actions. I promise that I will never leave you. I promise to protect you and to protect Angel.” He saw her eyes open a little wider. Angel had not been in the original version of the vows that they created. “I promise to make our lives as full and rich as they can be.” They were simple promises and Ron knew that each and every word was a vow. He wasn’t sure that he’d ever understood a vow before, but now that he was taking one, he knew beyond doubt that he would live up to it or die trying. It had been a very long time since he felt unstoppable, but he felt that way now.
Fiesley turned to Celeste. “Do you have words for Ronald?”
Celeste said, “I love who you are won’t try to change you. I love with my whole heart that you want me and know that I want you just as much. I know that some people may think that we are crazy, and we are, and I know for the first time in my life that it doesn’t matter as long as we continue to love and support each other.”
People say lots of things at weddings. Sometimes they say them to sound good. Sometimes they say what other people have told them to say. Sometimes they just say what the priest and minister want them to say. Ron and Celeste’s vows were not identical, but they were the same.
Harry didn’t listen to the words that closely. Words were ok, but they didn’t really mean that much. Marjorie felt like the words stuck into her like knives. Her wailing had reduced to whimpers. The words were beautiful but in her heart she still thought that they were being said to the wrong person. It should have been Julie. She could have loved and embraced Julie. It could have been worse. He could be up there saying them with Robin, but she would have learned to accept Robin, eventually. The mouse would have been easy. No, he never would have accepted a girl that she introduced him to. But why did it have to be this one who already had a child?
The pictures went on endlessly. Ron had never posed for so many photos in his life and his face hurt from smiling. He was sure that he had closed his eyes for at least half of the photographs. It had always been an effort for him not to blink and he could do it some of the time, but not for all of this.
There were pictures with Celeste. Pictures with his father. Pictures with his mother. Pictures with Anna who never looked at him once. Then there were the group pictures. Every combination of people imaginable. The photographer and the camera seemed insatiable.
Celeste had to stand for even more pictures than he did. Ron thought, she better at this than I am. She’s better at a lot of things than I am. But she’s mine now. It felt so strange to have someone say that they wanted you and would love who you were, not who you could be or who that person wanted you to be.
Chris drove Ron, Celeste and Tina to the reception. It was cold and everyone except Chris wanted a cigarette. Ron and Celeste sat in the back seat holding hands. The grinned at each other. “The hard part is over now,” said Ron. “Now it’s just the party.”
He had just said that when Tina set fire to the car. She dropped a lit match onto some papers on the front seat and the started smoking and then a shot of flame flickered. Ron remembered the apartment that had caught fire while he was asleep and thought that the fire had come to his wedding. The candles had dripped when they weren’t supposed to and now this. Chris pulled the car to the side of the parkway. Tina opened the door and jumped out before her dress got singed. Chris came around and stomped and then got rid of the smoking papers.
Back in the car, Chris said, “Well that was exciting.”
Tina said, “I’m really sorry.”
“Did it get anything important?” said Ron.
“What could be that important?” said Chris.
Tina turned around to Celeste. “I’m really sorry.”
“You didn’t mean it,” said Celeste.
Chris said, “Are you sure that we are supposed to make a left here?”
“No, it’s a right,” said Ron.
“Directions say left,” said Chris.
Ron looked at Celeste. Celeste winced. One of the things that she hadn’t gotten around to telling Ron was that she didn’t have the best sense of direction when it came to writing them down. She could get there but sometimes left and right got mixed up in her head. They found their way to the Women’s club.
People who had chosen to skip the church were more successful than those who tried to follow the directions. The people from Bergen County had a basic idea of where it was. Ron’s Essex County people were totally lost, except for Harry who had driven the route yesterday and seen the mistake. He hadn’t bothered mentioning it to anyone else.
When they went inside the club they saw about 30 people sitting in a cold room huddled in their coats. They did not smile at the bride and groom. Ron went looking for Mr. Miller and found him in his overcoat.
“Mr. Miller, the room is freezing.”
Roy Miller smiled at the groom who had not hired him to coordinate the reception. “Some people likes it warm and some people likes it cooler.”
“They’re freezing in there. Could you please turn the heat on?”
“Are you sure that you wouldn’t rather do that yourself?” said Miller.
It was then that Ron understood. “No, I’d prefer that you did it. I’m really supposed to be greetings people and such.”
“Alight, I’ll make it warmer.” Miller went to the thermostat and turned it up to 85 degrees.
When Ron came back downstairs, he saw Celeste looking troubled and worried. “What’s wrong?”
“Everything,” said Clare.
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s see, everyone is lost. The room is freezing and the bartender just left.”
“What do you mean he left?”
“He got beeped and told Bottles that he was sorry and that he had to go.”
Ron sighed and said, “Ok, what do we do now?”
“Bottles said that he would tend bar.”
It wasn’t what either of them wanted. Bottles was a good friend to Celeste and they had wanted him there as a guest, not an employee. “That’s really nice of him.”
“There’s something else.”
“Roger said that two of the waiters they hired didn’t show up and that they will have to serve buffet style.”
“That’s not so bad,” said Ron.
“Rita said that the kitchen is not what she thought it was going to be and that it’s going to take a lot longer than she thought.”
Ron felt the tension starting to build inside of him. “Ok, tell Bottles to make the drinks strong. If they can’t eat, let’s get them warm and drunk.”
It was then that Ron saw Marjorie and George come through the door. Marjorie looked at him like she wanted to spit. “How could you do this to me?”
“Do what?” said Ron.
“It took us an hour and a half to find this place and it’s freezing in here. Look at those people shivering in their coats!”
“The heat’s on now.”
“Well isn’t that nice. Usually you turn the heat on before the people arrive.”
“Mom, it’s my wedding,” said Ron.
“If that’s what you want to call it. I call it a disaster.”
Ron felt slapped. “I’ll do the best that I can.”
“Yeah,” said Marjorie with a disgusted grimace.
Ron looked over at the long line at the bar and saw Bottles working feverishly. Part of him wanted to go over and help, but he wouldn’t have known what he was doing and that kind of a move might actually drive Marjorie over the edge.
The room seemed to be getting warmer. Except for the older women who still sat in their coats and appeared to be shivering, other people had taken off their coats and were moving around in relative comfort.
It was then that Ron saw Anna and Mario come through the door carrying Angel. Anna was moving more quickly than Ron had seen her move before. She marched up to Celeste and gesticulated and said something that made Celeste shrink. Ron watched from a distance.
When Anna saw where she was seated, she turned at glared at the bridal table from the other side of the room. Marjorie hadn’t made her way to her table yet and didn’t realize. When Ron had moved the bridal table, he’d neglected to rearrange any of the other tables. As a result, both his family and Celeste’s family were seated in the rear of the room and the friends that were supposed to be there were now up front.
It was just then that Pipes waddled out carrying a milk box that would help him to reach the keys on the piano. When Ron walked over to shake hands with Pipes, he realized that his fingers were webbed. He wanted to ask how he managed to play the piano but he guessed that he would soon see.
Ron and Celeste found themselves explaining to the guests that there was a mistake in the directions for the next hour. Those of them that knew Celeste, looked at Ron and said, “You let her do the directions?”
Ron felt her blushing next to him and realized that he felt more badly for her than he did for the guests. When he saw Harry, he said, “Did you have any trouble getting here, Dad?”
Harry Tuck smiled his impish grin. “Not a bit.”
Celeste physically relaxed next to him. He could almost feel the tension go out of her body. Harry added, “I made the drive yesterday, figured it out.”
That was his dad. He was never going to get caught being lost. If he did get lost it would be on his own so that no one would ever know.
Marjorie said, “Why are we sitting way back here?”
“That’s my fault,” said Ron.
Marjorie frowned. “Well I guess that shows how important I am in your life.”
“It wasn’t like that. Because of the extra guests they had to remove the dance floor. Originally the curtain were supposed to be closed and we were supposed to be at this end of the room. When I told them to put us on the stage, I didn’t tell them to rearrange the tables.”
“What a mess,” said Marjorie and walked off.
At ninety minutes into the reception, no food had yet been served but the room was now very warm and people had all been drinking. Roger and Rita, served the wedding table first but neither Ron nor Celeste felt much like eating. They had made their way around the room for the first time and people had begun to give them envelopes of money.
Quimpy took Ron off to the side and handed a bag stuffed with two ounces of the finest golden pot he’d ever seen. “Congratulations,”
Ron stuffed the bag into the inside pocket of his jacket. It bulged too much. He tried his pants pocket. It still stuck out. He walked back into the room where Celeste had hung her white fur coat and found that if he wrapped inside of the coat that it couldn’t really be seen. He just had to remember to tell her that it was there.
Pipes came over and said, “When do you want me to start playing?”
Ron said, “Now would be good.”
Ron and Celeste began to dance as the dwarf played Imagine. In the background they could hear the waiter saying, “Table Five, we’re ready to have you eat now.”
Pipes belted out, “Imagine no religion…” and Ron found himself drawn to look at the priest and minister who didn’t seem to notice. Ron held Celeste close and they swayed slowly to the song. It was the first time that they had danced together and she moved so smoothly while he felt himself to be awkward and tentative.
To Ron’s surprise there was applause when the song ended. Maybe everything was going to be ok. Most of the people had food now. The room was warm, maybe too hot, but Ron wasn’t going to encounter Mr. Miller again if he could avoid it.
Quimpy was looking around and seeing if anyone had noticed that he had slipped away. He had his eye on an antique chair that he saw in the vestibule. Quietly, he dragged the chair closer to the door. He took another surreptitious look around the room and quickly picked the chair up and was out the door. He loaded it into the backseat of his pink Cadillac and returned to the party. He made sure to lock the door because he didn’t really trust the neighborhood.
It was about two and a half hours into the party that the people who ate the undercooked chicken began to get sick. Mostly it was women and they blamed it on too much alcohol and not enough food at first. Then someone said that her chicken had been bloody inside. Ron closed his eyes and just wanted to disappear with Celeste.
He looked over at her with a stupid grin and said, “How long do we have to stay?”
Celeste’s eyes widened and she giggled. “They’d kill us if we left.”
“They’re going to kill us anyway,” said Ron.
Warren Lashly made his way over to Ron and Celeste. “Do you mind if I borrow your bride for a moment?” he drawled.
“Sure,” said Ron.
“Let’s go for a little walk,” said Warren.
“I’ll just get my coat,” said Celeste. When she found the pot tucked inside of it, she called Chris over and said, “Can you hold on to this for me?”
Chris grinned. “Absolutely, but I don’t think we should smoke it here.”
Celeste smiled and stroked his cheek. “I’m sure that Ron wouldn’t mind if you smoked one.”
“Marjorie might,” said Chris.
It was very cold outside when she and Warren got out the door. “You aren’t anything like I thought you’d be,” said Warren.
“What did you think I’d be?” said Celeste.
“Shorter and cold,” said Warren. “But you’re warm and friendly.”
Celeste felt his arm slide around her waist. “Thank you.” She realized that he was a little drunk.
“You know Ron and I were very close.”
“I know that he admires you.”
“We share everything,” said Warren.
He drew Celeste to him and kissed her. When he tried to make the kiss passionate and opened his mouth, Celeste pushed against his chest and said, “I’d better get back inside.” She turned and walked away. She wasn’t sure if she should tell Ron or not.
He was over at the table with Paula DeFreio and Herman Horvack and Anthony Fiangelo. Ron grimaced when he looked at their plates and saw that Horvack and DeFreio had chicken that was leaking blood. He took a deep breath.
“I’m really happy that you guys could make it.”
“I couldn’t resist meeting the beautiful woman who tamed your spirit,” said DeFreio.
Celeste and Lashly came up next to them. “And here she is,” said Fiangelo.
“I don’t want to tame him,” said Celeste.
“She just wants him all to herself,” said Lashly.
Ron made introductions. Lashly and DeFreio seemed to size each other up from a distance. Ron had told each about the other and he somehow thought that their mutual interest in him would create a bond. It did not. There was some slightly awkward chit chat and then Ron took Celeste’s elbow and led her off.
Ron whispered in her ear. “That was weird. I thought they’d like each other.”
“They just don’t know each other,” said Celeste.
Ron thought about that. In his naiveté he’d expected them all to hit it off. He liked them and somehow he thought that would translate into them liking each other. It hadn’t.
The people came up to them with gifts. Envelope after envelope was delivered as they sat at the bridal table in front of the meal that they hadn’t touched.
Ron embraced his great aunt Anita. Tears were in his eyes as he could see his Aunt Dottie, his Uncle Mike, his great grandmother Mina who taught him how to read and recite from the bible. He held Anita’s hands. “You gave me a lot by just staying alive to be here.”
She looked up from her white face and silver hair. “I love you. I have always loved you. Your Uncle Mike loved you. I’m sorry that I’m not your Aunt Dottie.” Celeste heard this exchange and wanted to cry for them both. It must be so hard to be the last of your generation and to be forgotten.
Jimmy and Janine came over and slipped Celeste an envelope. Janine whispered into her ear. “I hope that he’s an animal with you.” Celeste felt heat on her cheeks.
Jimmy shook Ron’s hand and said, “Good luck coach.”
Ron looked into eyes that had seen more football than he ever would. The game had taken its toll on Jimmy and left him proud but bitter. Ron wondered why he wasn’t bitter about it. Was it because it ended so early? What was the dream like when you almost made it to the highest level? Was there anything more that you could draw from the game after that? Ron wanted to know Jimmy better.
Paulo DeFreio was well manicured, formal and warm. He grasped Celeste’s hands and said, “Thank you for inviting me. I think that he will be a good man for you.”
Herman Horvack was more cautious with Ron’s women after Robin had bitten him. He was polite but did not touch her and hid his hands. Herman smiled at Ron. “Where to now?”
“Jamaica,” said Ron.
Herman was teaching as well. He’d stopped writing. He did translations only now.
Ron looked over at Angel and felt the need to hold her. She meant so much and had only a small part in the day. She was in pajamas now. Ron walked from the stage and gathered her up into his arms. He whispered, “Are you sleepy?”
Angel wrapped her arms around his neck and said, “No, I’m lonely.”
“You know that your mom and I are going away for a few days?”
“They told me.”
“I’ll miss you.”
“Why can’t I come?”
“We’ll be back soon.”
Angel didn’t respond. She just held him. In that instant Ron wanted all of this to be over and for them to be back in their basement and for her to be fresh from her bath. He gave her back to the teacher who they’d hired to be her companion for the day.
Celeste felt herself beginning to breathe again. It was almost over.
As the reception drew to a close, Ron and Celeste thanked everyone for coming. They tried to do it individually but some people left before they could get to them.
Mr. Roy Miller approached them as they were about to leave. “I wish you many happy years.”
Celeste said, “Thank you.”
Mr. Miller said, “There’s just one thing. It seems that something is missing.”
Ron looked confused and said, “What?”
“A chair that one of your guests was observed loading into the back of his pink Cadillac.”
Ron and Celeste felt a simultaneous wave of embarrassment. “I’ll make sure that it’s returned and I’m sorry. We should have hired you. We made a mistake.”
“People need to learn from their mistakes,” said Mr. Miller.
They sat in the plane together and Celeste held his hand. Ron gripped hers tightly as the plane took off. It was only the second time in his life that he’d been on an airplane and the first time as an adult that he’d been on vacation. Celeste was an experienced traveler and assured him that everything would go fine.
Celeste had taken any money that she had and paid for this honeymoon. It was insurance money that she’d gotten from being injured in a car accident when she was run off the road and broke her collarbone. She knew that they would never have much money and she knew that Ron’s life was about to change in ways that he could not possibly imagine. At least they would have this.
Montego Bay was hot. Ron began to sweat almost instantly when they got off the plane. The resort was beautiful and Ron felt that glowing lightness inside of him that caused him to smile continuously.
The air conditioner in their room had been turned on and as soon as they put down their bags, they made love and then they made love again. After their third round of lovemaking Ron fell asleep.
Celeste quietly unpacked their clothes and put them away. She watched him as he slept and thought that he looked like a little boy. She ordered five pina coladas from room service and when they arrived she gently woke him up. The sat on their screened in porch and sipped them and played gin rummy while a steel drum band walked along the courtyard playing When the Saints Come Marching In. Then they had dinner under the stars and they felt like they were in a temporary heaven.
It was at the front desk that Ron heard the desk clerk say, “How can I help you, Mrs. Tuck?”
The words hit him like a jolt. This beautiful woman was his and it was his responsibility to care for her and make her happy for the rest of his life. Ron grinned.
The breeze was a teasing and delicate stimulation. They’d come farther than they realized with absolutely no idea how long the road really was. His palm was pressed to the small of her back. Almost involuntarily, it caused her hips to roll. Her skin was scented with jasmine. Her hair hung down naturally soft. The breeze didn’t lift it, but Ron’s fingers did. He held her hair to his face and inhaled. The smile was deep and satisfied.
Celeste and Ron didn’t speak of their wedding day very much at all. They journeyed into the mountains of Jamaica. Their smiles were so genuine and open and enthusiastic that they brought out the best in the people that they met. Except for at the hotel’s outdoor café.
They watched in horror as an American tourist called an old man boy and castigated him for a mistake that the tourist had made and would not own. Their bodies tensed. They felt the old man’s humiliation. Celeste went to him and hugged him and gave him some money. Ron glared at the Texan tourist. His fists balled. And then Celeste was at his side again and he said, “How do people live without respect?”
“That’s a great question,” said Celeste, “and I don’t know the answer.”
“I don’t like disrespect. I used to. I think I was foolish.”
She gazed at him in wonder of the cynicism and innocence that he displayed. She’d never seen the two mix quite this way. It intoxicated her. It provided her with something that she hadn’t known that she needed. She wanted to make love with him and took his hand.
“So where is this bar?” said Ron
Celeste said, “It’s right on Washington Avenue.”
It was a bar like that the hundred that Ron had been in with his father when Harry used to take him to work. It was long and dark with some filtered light that gave it a sullen feel. Ron wondered if bars did that on purpose like having no clocks in a casino caused you to forget about how much time you had spent there. Was the bar designed to make you feel sullen so that you drank more?
Bottles was a stocky guy with black curly hair and dark framed glasses. He saw Ron and came over to shake his hand. “Let’s go in the other room for a few minutes,” he said. Bottles motioned to the other bartender and jerked his thumb and then led Ron around a wall. There was another full bar there but if was very dark and almost empty. Sitting at the bar alone was Gregory Lumus, Celeste’s first husband and Bottles best friend.
Ron felt a moment of discomfort and scanned for exits. There were none other than the one that he had just walked through. OK, so here he was in this fairly isolated place with two men who might wish to do him harm. He felt his body tense a little. Bottles walked in back of the bar and refilled Greg’s glass with bourbon. “Can I get you anything, Ronnie?’
Ron felt back in Newark. “Just some water.” He didn’t want to tell them that he didn’t really drink. Gregory hadn’t looked up from his glass.
Bottles said, “Greg, this is Ronnie Tuck. He’s going to marry Celeste.”
Without looking at him, Lumus said, “Good fucking luck with that.” Then he laughed to himself and turned to face Ron. “So, you’re going to marry her now, huh?”
“Yeah,” said Ron.
“What’s that make you, number three?”
Ron ignored the barb. “She’s told me a lot about you.”
“Yeah,” said Gregory. “What did she say?”
“That you were exciting and talented. That you went to Europe together.”
“She tell you that she walked out on me without a word? Without any explanation?”
“Yeah,” said Ron. “She did.” Ron didn’t tell him that she left him because of his refusal to get a job, his endless drunken nights passed on the floor, and the generally chaotic life that he wanted to live.
Gregory went back to his drink and stared into the smoky mirror in back of the bar. All three men lit a cigarette. Bottles looked a little uneasy but then said, “So you want me to just order what would be standard for a wedding, or did you have something else that you needed?”
“I’d better leave that up to you.”
“Celeste said that you knew a guy who we could hire to tend bar?”
Greg Lumus reached for the bottle of bourbon and poured another two fingers worth into his glass. Ron still wasn’t taking his eyes off of him but was watching with peripheral vision so as not to appear to be staring.
“Yeah,” said Bottles with a gravelly voice. “I got somebody.”
Lumus said, “She’s not getting you to do it, huh?”
Bottles laughed, “I’m a guest.”
Lumus downed the bourbon. “I’ll catch up with you later.”
He walked away without saying anything to Ron.
Bottles looked relieved. He said, “Greg is alright.”
“Yeah,” said Ron. “He seems really nice.”
They both laughed.
When he got home, Ron called Celeste. “So I saw Bottles and we got the alcohol thing straightened out.”
“That’s good,” said Celeste.
“I also met Gregory Lumus.”
Celeste began to choke. She had been drinking a cup of coffee and was mid swallow when he said it. She could feel it coming out of her nose now. Ron was laughing.
Then he said, “Are you Ok?”
It took her another minute to stop choking. “Yes,” she managed to squeak as she fought for air. “What happened?”
“He wished me luck,” said Ron.
“He did?” Celeste sounded incredulous.
“Sort of,” said Ron. “What he actually said was good fucking luck with that.”
“That sounds more like him. Was he drunk?”
“On his way,” said Ron.
“Sure, Friday night. Let’s see he’ll get fairly plastered, sleep for a couple of hours, and then do some serious drinking.”
“You can set your watch by it,” said Celeste.
“He asked if I knew that you left him without a word.”
“What did you say?”
“I said yeah.”
“It sounds like it was tense.”
“More it was just awkward after I figured out that they weren’t going to jack me up.”
“Were you worried about that?”
“It crossed my mind. That was just me. There wasn’t anything like that.”
Ron said, “George had the invitations printed for us.”
“How do they look?”
“I haven’t seen them yet. I’ll stop by their house and pick them up on the way up to see you. I’ll get the list from my mom.”
“Ok, want to do them tonight?”
“Sure,” said Ron.
Marjorie was waiting for him. She showed him the invitations. Ron smiled up at George and said, “Thank you. They’re really beautiful.” They were printed in a script that Celeste and Ron liked and they were on a creamily white, fine paper that would accent her wedding dress. Ron looked at them again and smiled. “They’re really great George, thank you.”
George said, “I printed up enough thank you notes to last forever.”
The genuine kindness of the act touched Ron in a place that he never believed that he could ever be touched by George. Marjorie handed him the list. “It’s larger than what we expected.”
“We agreed on 100 people,” said Ron.
“This will only bring it to about 125 and these people are important.”
“Why?” said Ron.
George got up and left the table. He went into the living room and turned on the TV.
“I want to invite Rocky,” said Marjorie.
The cold gaze that came over Ron was almost frightening. “No.”
He knew that his mother still talked to Rocky on the telephone. For all he knew they may have met again. He hadn’t expected her to ask for this and his reaction was visceral.
“He was important in your life.”
“Pretty much the way that the bubonic plague was important to Shakespeare.”
“Don’t be a bastard, Ronald.”
“Mom, I can’t. I still hate him and I don’t want anyone that I hate there that day.”
“What about your father’s boss?”
“He was always good to me. If he wants to come, I want him there.”
“George’s family wants to be there.”
Ron felt a little stunned. He looked down at the invitations. “That would be nice.”
“What about your Uncle Mike’s family?”
Ron thought about his Aunt Dottie and her sister Anita who had married Uncle Mike. He wasn’t sure why they would want to be there. His uncle had died. “OK,” he said. He loved the Yankees because of his Uncle Mike. He’d ignored his uncle. Ron had the feeling that this would be a rerun of his life. He had very few vetoes and he’d already used the biggest one.
They moved to Glen Ridge in early summer. Richie helped them with the move. The sense of space was shocking. There was a backyard without gravel and glass and in back of it was a football field that was ringed by a track. When they shook hands Ron said, “I not losing touch with Newark.”
Richie shook his friend’s hand warmly. “You will. Everybody who moves away does.”
“Not me,” said Ron. “I know where I come from.”
“You still want to play football?”
“Yes,” said Ron.
“Is your knee better?”
“Sometimes, but I can’t run the way that I used to.”
“I could always beat you in a race,” said Richie.
“You always did,” said Ron.
It was goodbye to Newark and Ron’s friends and everything that he understood. He wouldn’t miss Jersey Catholic, but right now he missed Newark very much.
His first walks were explorations that were filled with wonder. What struck him first was that there were no smells. You didn’t get that whiff of diesel when a bus rumbled its engine. The aroma of what your neighbors were cooking didn’t waft out to you as you passed their windows. The houses were set too far back from the street for any of that. The lawns were manicured and the wonder of flowers was everywhere. Ron had only seen flowers in a vase or when he visited Rocky’s sister who had rose bushes. These flowers bloomed everywhere and instead of diesel and cooking aromas he sniffed their scent.
Some streets were wide and some were narrow but they were all quiet. A dog’s bark rang out like a siren but without its implications. Instead of streetlights, there were gaslights that glowed but did not really illuminate.
When Ron realized that he could walk to his father’s house, he felt his heart beginning to race. It was a couple of miles but he could do it and wanted more than anything to be able to walk over and see him.
Newark was a bus ride away and when he took it back there everything felt strange. He could feel it on his skin and he wondered if it had always been there.
When Harry Tuck found out that Ron had been in the hospital he was shocked. It came in a phone call from Marjorie.
“I thought that you might want to know what is going on in your son’s life, since you seem to take no interest at all in it.”
“Don’t start with me, Margie. What’s going on with him?”
“He’s been in the hospital, not that you would care.”
“Why was he in the hospital?”
Marjorie’s voice was anguished. “Harry, he lost control and was shaking and twitching and the doctor wanted to send him to a psychologist and said that he has an ulcer from stress.”
“Jesus Christ! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because he said that he didn’t want you to worry about him and that when you weren’t so busy that you would call. So I waited and you didn’t.”
Harry wiped his hand over his face. “How is he now?”
“He seems better. I don’t know. I know that he misses you and would rather die than bother you.”
“I’ll stop by tonight.”
“We don’t live there anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
The surprise in Harry’s voice caused a broad grin on her face.
“We have a house in Glen Ridge,” she said with a swelling pride.
End of Part 3
The day before the wedding Ron picked up the boxes of alcohol from Bottles and drove them up to the Women’s Club. He was met by the caretaker, an older Black man, tall with gray hair. His name was Roy Miller and Ron called him Mr. Miller.
“There had to be some changes,” said Mr. Miller.
“What kind of changes?”
“Your guest list grew. We had to put in more tables and take away the dance floor.”
“Oh that’s not so good,” said Ron. “Is there anything that we can do about that?”
“Well,” said Mr. Miller, “if I move the bridal table to the other side of the room and we open the curtains and put it on the stage, there should be enough room.”
“Then let’s do that.”
“Just move the bridal table to the stage and leave everything else the same?”
“Sure,” said Ron, “that will be the easiest way.”
Roy Miller smiled his fake, fuck you smile. “Whatever way you’d like to do it.”
If Celeste and Ron had hired him to co-ordinate the event, as had been suggested, he would be looking out for their interests. But they had turned him down and said that they had it under control, so now he was just there to tend to the Club.
Ron loaded in the liquor while Mr. Miller watched. He liked the feel of the club and the room. He thought Marjorie would be happy with it too. “Is there anything else that I should know, Mr. Miller?”
Roy Miller smiled. “Not that I can think of right now.”
“Great,” said Ron nervously.
Ron drove to Roger and Rita’s restaurant. Roger was a former English teacher that both Ron and Celeste knew through Quimpy. He had left the profession, which Ron thought was the best move that he could have made and opened a place with his wife. It was a small storefront that served French style food. Rita was a trained chef and did all the cooking. Roger ordered the food and acted as a host. They put out a great meal and when Ron and Celeste had gone to them with the idea that they cater the wedding, they’d were excited. It would be their first catering job and a nice way to expand the business.
Roger smiled and shook Ron’s hand. He looked so much happier and relaxed now that he didn’t have to face the pile of papers that had begun giving him hives by the end of his career teaching.
Ron said, “Are you all ready?”
“We’ve got it under control,” said Roger. “It’s going to be great.”
Ron smiled. “Is Rita back there?”
“Yeah,” said Roger. “Go say hello.”
Rita was a short, Scottish woman with black curly hair and a winning smile that always put Ron at ease. She grinned up from a pot of a white wine cream sauce. “Are you nervous?”
Ron grinned his best dimpled grin. “About everything but the food.”
Rita handed him a cream puff. Ron smiled and it was gone in two bites.
“I know that you’re busy,” said Ron. “I’m just trying to make sure that we have everything in place.”
“You’ve done all the planning. Now you just have to sit back, let everyone do their job, and marry Celeste.”
Ron broke into a wide automatic grin at the sound of her name.
“Will Angel be there?”
“Yes, we hired her favorite teacher to be her companion for the day.”
“That was a good idea. Do you have music?”
“We have a piano player.”
“That’s great. I hate this new thing of using a DJ. Live music is the best.”
Ron and Celeste had painstakingly created a set list for Pipes, a friend the next door neighbor, Jake Clifford had found for them. Jake told them that Pipes looked a little strange but that he played great piano and his nickname was earned by his really strong voice. When Ron asked what was strange about the way that he looked, Jake had told them that Pipes was a dwarf. Celeste and Ron thought that was both funny and appropriate.
“See you tomorrow,” said Ron.
Rita kissed his cheek and Ron felt the dampness that came from working in the hot kitchen. “You just relax and enjoy.”
Ron shook hands with Roger again. Rita put him at ease but Roger didn’t.
When Ron asked Chris Calvin to be his best man, he felt good about the choice. It was true that he knew Quimpy longer, but Quimpy had been more of an early teacher and always looked at Ron as a crazy fucked up kid that he enjoyed helping. Quimpy had also been one of Celeste’s boyfriends. That would have been too weird. But things between Ron and Chris weren’t the same. Chris was married now. He owned a house in the same town as his parents. His wife was obviously pregnant. Ron had the sense that both of their lives had changed immeasurably.
Ron drove back to his apartment. He’d stopped staying there. He spent each night with Celeste, in her basement room. The basement touched something primitive inside of him. He felt it from the first time that he’d seen it. In spite of all the objections of Celeste’s family, Angel was thriving in day care. She accepted the way that things were organized and her pathway to approval was so easy. Ron filled the pitcher at his kitchen sink. He walked around the debris that had come down from the ceiling, through his bedroom and into the place where he kept his desk and had bay windows and music and his plants. He stroked the leaves as he watered them.
He felt that he communicated with his plants through music and emotion, thought and touch. His fingers strokes the asparagus fern that he encouraged to grow and touch the other potted plants and who had rewarded him with white flowers that were beautiful and delicate. His olive tree looked healthy and was coming through the winter chill and lack of light in good shape. The jade plant was plump although there were small wrinkles in the plump leaves that called for light. The spider plant was prodigious.
Ron sat in the fan back chair and lit a joint. The room felt happy to see him. There had been so many hours in this room. For almost all of them he’d been alone. He’d learned to be fully alone here. When he moved in, Chris said, “I think you’re going to stay here for a long time and it’s going to be good.”
Chris had been right. He had stayed a long time and it had been good for him. It occurred to Ron that whenever he lived alone, he’d been forced out of the apartment eventually, like something was moving him. In Elizabeth, it had been a fire. Here it was a collapsing ceiling in his kitchen. Ron sucked on the joint and laughed. That wasn’t true. Now there was Celeste and Angel. That’s why he was no longer here.
He finished the joint, resisted the temptation to light another and turn on his music, laid out his tux, locked the door and drove down to spend the night with Chris.
Ron turned down the barely paved one block, dead end, one house street. The house was small but surrounded by an enormous amount of property. The light inside the screened in porch was on and Chris was sitting in a chair on the side of the round, iron table. The window to the screened in porch was open. Chris was wearing a light jacket. The lights were lit on the second floor. Music filtered out from the adjoining living room.
Chris poured Ron a glass of red wine. “I think that she’s really great.”
“I do too,” said Ron. “It’s just not something that you get to fuck up and say oh well, and then move on.”
Chris grinned. “Don’t think about fucking it up. It’s going to be great.”
Ron said, “I invited Laureen and April. They never responded.”
“That surprises you?”
“I suppose that it shouldn’t.”
Chris sipped at the wine and smiled his contagious grin. “Celeste responded though, right?”
Ron lit a cigarette and laughed softly to himself. “Yes, she did.”
“That’s all you need.” Chris shifted his position and said, “Look, you’re getting married. After that, it’s just a party, right?”
Ron felt that confident warmth that Chris always inspired and said, “You’re right.”
The morning was cold like winter. Ron cradled a mug of coffee in his palms on the screened porch of Chris Calvin’s house. The light was just coming up and birds were singing. Ron thought that he has never lived in a place where birds singing was the dominant music of an early morning. The coffee felt warm. He was getting married. His mind was pulled like a magnet, not to his mother but to his Aunt Dottie.
Last Christmas eve, he and Celeste had eaten at her family’s house. It was the first time in his life that he’d done that. Marjorie was almost too wounded to speak. She accepted that he would be there on Christmas Day.
Ron sipped the coffee and felt the bite of the air. It was going to be cold today. That night Celeste heard that her Aunt Minn had no place to be. It was the first time that Ron had seen her stand up to her mother and father. It was a sight to behold. She gave in about everything except the things that truly mattered to her.
A transformation took place when those things were somehow insulted or disqualified or ignored. That metamorphosis exuded a certain power.
Celeste said, “I’m going to bring Aunt Minn here. I won’t eat here without here.”
Tina objected. “No, it’s supposed to be just us.”
Celeste moved in closely. She was taller than her younger sister. It wasn’t a growl, but it was tending in that direction. “I’m bringing our Aunt Minn to dinner.”
Tina frowned but the look in Celeste’s eyes withered her mother and her sister. Mario was annoyed and proud.
They got into the car and Celeste drove. She said, “My Aunt Minn loved me like no one else has ever cared for me. She was just always on my side and she’s old and I don’t know how much longer she has.”
Ron loved her more deeply in that instant than he had ever loved a woman. “Let’s get her.”
Ron cradled the cup in his palms and held it to his mouth. Aunt Minn had white hair and smooth powdered cheeks when he first saw her. She was wearing a shawl over a soft print dress. She kissed Celeste and stroked her face and Ron watched Celeste beam and know that she had felt a kind of warmth that he was yet to experience.
Aunt Minn lit up the table when they brought her back. Anna basked in the glow of the older sister who had really been more of a mother to her. Tina felt the warmth of her loving eyes. Mario gazed at her and thought about Tony, her late husband who had been so strong and so important and so rich.
Ron sipped his morning coffee and closed his eyes. Then
he opened them and looked down at his left pinky. The ring that Aunt Minn gave him was there. It was copper. She told him that he had kind eyes. She told him that the ring would protect him. She’d smiled at Celeste after she said that. It was a blessing.
Ron stretched his legs out and felt the cold of the day again. It was the end of March what about the out like a lamb nonsense.
Celeste and Anna got dressed to go to the beauty parlor where Janine worked. She had done Celeste’s hair for each of the her other weddings but teasing Celeste about it in front of Anna only elicited a stony gaze that said she was in no mood to laugh. Being at your daughter’s first wedding was an honor. Having to attend the third was an embarrassment. She communicated to Celeste with her facial expressions and body language that she just wanted this to go smoothly and be over.
Janine waited until Anna was safely ensconced under the hair dryer to talk with her cousin. “She is in one hell of a snit.”
“I know,” said Celeste, “but there’s nothing that I can do about it.”
“She thinks that you are taking Angel away from her.”
“I’m not. Angel will still be there every day.”
“I know that and you know that.”
They both looked at Anna was sat plump and sullen, her chin tucked down against her chest and her eyes in a magazine that she wasn’t really reading.
“Do you think that I should try to explain that again today?”
They both laughed. Anna could not hear because of the dryer over her head but she sensed the laugh and looked over at them. The no nonsense gaze caused them both to act like naughty school girls who had been caught doing something wrong.
“She can’t hear us, can she?” said Celeste.
“No, but she has radar. She knows.”
They tried to stifle their giggles.
“Are you excited?”
“I’m ready to jump out of my skin.”
“Where did he spend last night?’
“At his best friend’s house.”
“He’s the best man?”
“Doesn’t he have a brother?”
“A half-brother, but they aren’t that close.”
“You’re going to look beautiful.”
“I just hope that he thinks so.”
“He’d be an idiot not to,” said Janine.
“Do you think it’s possible to know what someone else is thinking?”
Robin answered, “If you really want to, yes.”
Ron said, “I don’t understand.”
“If you really want to know my thoughts, they come with a price tag.”
“I don’t know. It depends on the situation. It depends on what I want you to know.”
Ron shifted in the bed. They were dressed. She was sipping wine and reading a play called Ring Around the Moon. “Suppose it’s something that you don’t want me to know?”
“Then either you won’t find out or the price will be higher.”
“Why do you want me to pay?”
Robin looked at him with the same eggshell blue eyes that he’d seen when he looked at his father. She smiled and said, “Because you fell in love with me.”
Ron tried to digest that. He loved her, did he? She held back from him. He mistrusted that. She wanted to exact a price for his trust. He didn’t understand but he should have.
“I think the recording sounds smooth and good. I like what you did with the mumbled words and the expletive deleted parts.”
Robin grinned. “You sounded just like a lawyer.”
Robin came to class the night that Grant Pritchard played their tape. She was wearing a white wool sweater that had small pearly buttons that she left open halfway down. She wore boots and jeans.
Ron was wearing yesterday’s clothing. He’d listened to the tape at least a dozen times. He wished that they had another shot at it but Robin told him to leave it alone.
The class listened very quietly. Ron and Robin looked at each other as the tape played.
When it ended, Grant Pritchard said, “I want you to notice some things before we listen to this again. Now remember, Nixon knew that he was on tape and he’s a skillful lawyer. Dean did not know that he was on tape and thought that he was speaking with attorney-client privilege. Nixon asks how much money they would need to pay off their blackmailers and Dean tells him a million dollars. Nixon very carefully says that it could be gotten, that he knows how to get it. Someone might leave that conversation and think that had been told to pursue that avenue, but Nixon never actually says that is what he wants Dean to do. He retains deniability.”
A student asked, “Wasn’t he just exploring options?”
Pritchard nodded. “That is exactly what he makes it sound like he is doing. Now in and earlier part of the conversation Dean talks about the things that the Plumbers have done. They mention the burglary of Daniel Ellsberg’s doctor’s office. The attempt here was to discredit the Pentagon papers, but it was only one of the things that they had done. They used prostitutes, buggings, and infiltration of the opposition’s organization. It is clear that they also infiltrated antiwar groups. In other words there was a wide spread attempt to compromise the opposition and dissent.”
Ron said, “So when we thought we were being followed and had people join us who were there to make trouble, we weren’t mistaken.”
Pritchard laughed. “No you aren’t paranoid if they are truly after you.”
The class laughed and Ron felt old. He’d been in college longer than most of the people in the room and many of them had been in high school when he was involved in the Moratoriums. He didn’t find it funny that he and others had tried to stop mass killing and had been characterized as anti- American. It made him angry. Watergate might be the biggest I told you so that he could have imagined but his classmates seemed to think of it more as a game.
Pritchard turned their tape on again and Ron and Robin found each other’s eyes. She had been tense during the laughter because she could see what he was thinking written on his face and she knew that he wasn’t above admonishing them and that was always counterproductive.
After class, Pritchard said, “Ron, you did a great job with that tape and Robin thank you so much for donating your time to the effort.” They both beamed the way that they did when they got applause.
On the way home in the car, Robin said, “That was a lot of fun.”
Ron smiled. “You were worried I was going to say something, weren’t you?”
“I’m always worried that you are going to say something. Accepting compliments isn’t exactly your strong suit. For someone who craves approval as much as you do, it amazes me that you respond so poorly to it.”
Ron grinned. “I’m better than I used to be.”
She shook her head and laughed again. “Yes, it wasn’t as bad as the drama festival when they gave us an award and you got up and told them that we flubbed the lines and jig sawed the scene back together.”
Ron blushed. “That was really stupid. You’re never going to let me forget that, are you?”
“Only if you promise to never do it again,” said Robin.
Ron trudged home after his ninth consecutive day of jug. He only had one more day left. His mother and George were sitting at the kitchen table. She was smiling and he looked worried.
Marjorie said, “Ronald we’re moving.”
Ron’s mouth dropped open. “Where?”
“A beautiful little town called Glen Ridge.”
“It’s right off of Bloomfield Avenue. Wait until you see it. You’re going to love it.”
Ron stared at them in disbelief. “We’re leaving Newark? We’re leaving all my friends?”
“You’ll make new friends,” said Marjorie.
“I don’t want new friends.”
George said, “I just don’t see how we are going to afford it. What happens if one of us gets sick? How are you going to get to work in the morning?”
Marjorie’s face was resolute. “George, this is what I want. You promised that if we found the right house that we could do it. There is a tenant and that will help a lot with the mortgage.”
“You can’t count on that.”
“We have to count on it.”
That night, after a dinner that consisted of a green salad and steak, the drove down Summer Avenue, passed George’s family’s home and turned right onto Bloomfield Avenue. The Avenue ran like an artery through Essex County. It began in the north end of Newark and wiggled an almost straight line up to West Caldwell where it intersected with one of the highways that was constructed during the Depression, US route 46. There were farm stands out at the end of the Avenue and people lived very differently than they did at its base.
Marjorie had taken Ron to a pumpkin farm in Verona where they had swiped a Halloween pumpkin that they’d carved and lighted. Ron remembered the squishy feel of the pumpkin seeds and the long stringy tendrils that enveloped them. The further away from Newark they drove, the more the memory of the tendrils on his hands made him sick to his stomach.
The he saw a Woolworth’s to his right and a bank like the one that was down in Newark where Bloomfield Avenue began.
The road climbed and there were lots of oak trees. The Avenue broadened into a wide sweep and the air seemed cooler and fresher. They made a right hand turn by a small row or stores, a police station, two gas stations and a tiny A&P. It was a one block one way street.
A little more than halfway down the block, they stopped in front of a grey house. “Here it is!” said Marjorie.
It rose up slightly from the street. The top of the roof came to a peek. There were green bushes and no broken glass. Ron’s eyes absorbed. What had this place to do with him? How could he ever be more than a visitor to a place like this? Ron thought for maybe the first time that George might be right. They didn’t belong here.
When Ron went back to school, he felt strange. The time that he still had to go there had seemed endless and now he was unsure of how long he had left. Brother Alvin no longer spoke to him or looked at him. When he checked homework, he didn’t even pause at Ron’s desk. He just walked by like Ron was invisible. Ron didn’t know what to do and so he did nothing.
Brother O’Shea was still handing out the weekly smacks for failing grades, but Ron had managed to catch up to the point that he was barely passing each Algebra quiz.
Brother Cecil, who Ron had managed to impress with his knowledge of the life of Jesus, told Ron that he knew more religion that the other kids in his class and that Brother Cecil wanted him to stay quiet when he asked questions or when they had discussions in the room.
English and History continued to go well, but Ron was finding that he had to force himself to read the pages and was always looking ahead and hoping that large portions of the pages would be taken up by pictures. He seemed to forget what he read as soon as he was finished reading it. Sometimes it would come back to him and sometimes it was just gone.
In Latin, he was totally lost and stopped even opening the book. The days were very long and very quiet. The quieter they grew the more withdrawn Ron became. He stopped seeing the psychiatrist. Marjorie told him that they needed to save every penny they could now.
Between teacher arrivals, Billy Mitchell said, “I got indefinite fucking jug.”
“What did you do?”
“Didn’t go to school so that I could get laid.”
Ron was impressed. Billy grew in respect in his eyes. Ron had never gotten laid and he wondered if he would ever get laid.
“We’re moving,” said Ron. He knew that Billy took the bus down from Verona every day and thought maybe he would be able to tell him something about Glen Ridge.
Billy Jenkins laughed and said, “You’re fucked.”
Ron felt slapped. “Why?”
“What do you mean?’
“That’s the land of madras shirts and penny loafers.”
When the literary magazine came out, Ron was impressed by its size and cover. The cover was a high gloss explosion of fruits, flowers and birds that were arranged in the middle of a wooded scene with a hint of blue and white sky in the background. The yellows and blues and purples and reds sprang out at the reader.
Ron thumbed through it quickly to see which of his four submissions were in the magazine. When he saw his name in print a rush of adrenalin surged in him. It was his poem Leopards in the Temple. He’d written it about Franz Kafka and borrowed the title from one of Kafka’s Parables and Paradoxes. His eyes moved quickly over the lines. He liked what he saw. His was the only poem on the page. He winced when he saw the parenthesis that he’d grown too fond of using. He realized again that they added nothing to the piece. He wanted to erase them, but there they were in print. He heard Warren Lashly’s admonishment in his head about being foolish for letting things go before they were ready. He could hear his Southern drawl saying, “Your impatience causes your poems to be flawed. Well, it’s one of the things that causes them to be flawed.” Ron felt his ears burn.
He leafed through the pages and there was another of his poems. The title of this one was a line of French that he’d copied out of The Magic Mountain. When he wrote the poem, he pictured Robin and himself as figures in a painting. She was looking out at the world and he was staring only at her. But there were the stupid parenthesis again. Ron glared at them. Warren had been right. And now the way that he had placed the words on the page, the lines that he felt looked so elegant when he had written them with a quill pen on parchment paper now appeared to just be confusing.
Ron wondered if any of his other pieces had made it to the magazine. When he got to pages 54 and 55, his eyes grew larger. Herman Horvack had taken his other two poems and combined them into one very long poem. He’d changed the title of his poem. A look of horror twisted Ron’s face. He heard Melanie’s voice singing, “Look what they done to my song, ma.” He felt a rush of rage. He had an urge to find Herman and confront him about it. Then a voice in his head said that he should also remember that they had published every word that he had submitted to the magazine.
Later that night Robin read the magazine and said, “You turned your poems into a choo-choo train.”
“What do you mean?” It sounded almost childish but with insight.
“Your poems are strung together like railroad cars. Why did you do that?”
“They changed your poems?”
“I don’t know if it was an accident or on purpose.” Ron knew. The title had been changed. He didn’t want to tell her.
The next day Herman said, “I saw a connection between the two poems and thought they would look great as a single piece.”
Ron’s anger had dissipated some. “I wish that you would have talked to me about it first. I see your point but I would have made it a part one and part two, not run them together.”
“Here’s the exciting news. The magazine is being considered for a national award.”
“The combination of artwork and poetry and prose and photography is getting a great reception,” said Herman. “Your poems look great.”
“So do yours, but one in English, one in French, and one in German without translations. Are you trying to be Thomas Mann?’
Herman laughed at Ron’s reference to the thirty pages of untranslated French that was in the middle of the Magic Mountain.
Ron was tired. He went straight home from practice and stopped at his local deli and bought two rolls and some turkey breast and Swiss cheese and added some mayo. That was dinner. He just didn’t want to face papers tonight and he was enough on top of it so that he could let it go for a day.
Ron was watching this new show called Cheers that took place in a bar in Boston. He thought the blonde was hot and loved the way that she stood up so straight with her legs together. It gave her ass the cutest little wiggle when she moved her arms as she spoke. He turned the sound down when the phone rang.
Celeste’s voice made him smile. They talked briefly about their day and she told him that her friend the bartender was arranging for the alcohol for the wedding and that she had found a place called the Englehard Women’s Club.
“Wow, that’s a long way from Glen Ridge, isn’t it?”
“I just couldn’t find anything else on short notice.”
Ron didn’t understand how several months could be short notice but he trusted her that it was. He laughed, “You know more about these things than I do.”
“It’s going to start moving very fast now, Ron. It will be here before you know it.”
“Do you have the TV on?” she said.
“Did you see the special on the Kennedy Assassination?”
“No,” said Ron. “Why are they doing something about the assassination?”
“The anniversary of it is coming up.”
Ron grimaced. He hated the way they dredged it up every year now. He hated what it had done to the country. “I used to be really involved with looking at the conspiracy theories around it. But after the Church hearings, I just gave up. I knew that we were never going to know the truth and that it was so long ago that it didn’t matter anymore.”
“I don’t know why but every time I see something on TV or see an article in a magazine, I read it. I just can’t help myself. I feel like I am being loyal to his memory somehow.”
“I know what you mean, but it’s like banging your head on the wall. Walls don’t bleed but your head does.”
“Do you remember where you were when it happened?”
“I remember everything about it. That’s why I can’t watch those specials. It just dredges up all that pain and anger.”
“I know it does but it reminds me of a time before I knew that there was anything wrong in the country.”
“You knew it during the Civil Rights Movement,” said Ron.
“Yes, but it was getting better and JFK and Bobby and Martin Luther King were changing things. It felt so filled with energy and hope.”
“I know it did. Then we grew up.”
“Do you think that they three of them are connected?”
“I don’t know,” said Ron. “I would have said that we would never know the truth about anything until Watergate. I was pretty sure that we weren’t going to know the truth about that either, but then Nixon and his tapes.”
Ron lay his head back on the pillow. He closed his eyes and listened to her voice and heard his voice. Their telephone calls had a soft intimacy that had nothing to do with the topic but everything to do with the way that each of them sounded to the other.
“Did I tell you that I worked for the Underground Railroad?”
Ron’s grinned widened. “No you just told me that you worked for Harry Chapin and World Hunger Year. What did you do?”
“I drove guys from New Jersey up into New York State.”
“Then they met somebody else?”
“Did you ever learn what happened to any of them?”
“No, we didn’t even know their names.”
“Did you talk to them much?”
“We weren’t supposed to. The less we knew the better.”
“How long did you do that for?”
Ron smiled into the phone. “Pretty risky stuff.”
“It didn’t seem that way then. Looking back on it, yeah. What do you really think about the assassinations?” said Celeste.
“I think it’s all really connected by Watergate and what it reveals,” said Ron.
Celeste felt stunned. “I don’t understand what you mean.”
“Here is what I believe. Six months before he died, JFK said that he wanted American troops out of Viet Nam by the end of the year. That was 1963. There was ten more years of war to be waged. Profits to be made. Weapons to be tested.”
Celeste feel shivers as she heard his whispers. “What about Bobby?”
“That’s a tough one,” said Ron. “Here’s the common denominator. Bobby became a peace candidate. He was going to win. It had only been five years. Camelot was a dream that was not so far away. That’s how people were responding. Remember it was only 1968. We had five more years of war at stake.”
“Sirhan killed him,” said Celeste. “It might be the one time that it really was a lone assassin.”
“I don’t know or think that I will ever be able to know any of that. We got Nixon. He could never have beaten Kennedy. The Kennedys were his nightmare. They would have brought out the worst in him very early in in 1968.”
“What you’re saying is scary,” said Celeste.
“Fairly buried in Watergate is what Nixon did to the Peace Movement. They discredited it. They sabotaged it the way that Nixon sabotaged for his whole career. The Pentagon Papers,” said Ron. “They were a key. It showed that we knew how fucked up what we were doing was and didn’t care. It was a kick in the balls to every person who had supported the war. But you know what?”
Almost automatically, she said, “What?”
“They didn’t want to read it or know it. Then they shifted the focus to those gallant man who served their country. Private Benjamin and Officer and a Gentleman. They got away from Apocalypse Now. It was back to You’re in the Army Now.”
“I don’t understand what you mean,” said Celeste.
“After I read 1984 and Brave New World, I knew about how propaganda worked. It was all about manipulation. Everything that is designed to affect our desires for a better world is manipulated but what we know and what we don’t know.”
“That’s very dark,” said Celeste.
“I’m sorry. Do you want me to stop?”
“No,” she said quickly like there was a scary movie in her ear and she wanted to hear where it was going.
“I think Howard Hughes had it right. Make movies that support what you want.” Ron laughed. “See Nixon is a key to it all. He was either there or a representative of what controlled him from the start.” Ron laughed. “But he’s fucked up. Or, they set him up because while he was useful, he wasn’t likable. His greatest nightmare, to be reviled.”
“You’re all over the place,” said Celeste.
“I know that it sounds that way. I really do. Here’s what I learned from Watergate. Follow the money. Translated that means follow the power.”
“That’s thinking the game is rigged,” said Celeste.
“I’m thinking that we don’t know what the game is.”
“You sound like Quimpy.”
“Quimpy is a very smart man.”
Celeste said, “He sure is but he’s also great evidence for brains not being everything.”
Ron said, “He and I go way back. I think I was sixteen when I met him.”
“At the bowling alley?”
“That seems like such an odd place for you to hang out.”
“I was different then.”
“Do you mean you’re older now?”
Ron thought hard. “Maybe I do. Maybe it took me a long time to figure out what getting older really means.”
Celeste said, “I know what you mean, but I didn’t really learn it until I gave birth to Angel. It just changed everything. Do you understand?”
Ron murmured, “No.” He thought about telling her. He’d never told anyone about that conversation and how it made him feel. The he just found himself saying, “Robin and I never wanted children. I think, for me, I was just too young to understand. For her, it was something deeper and I don’t know what it was or is. Zoe wanted children and begged me to impregnate her.” Ron laughed as he remembered. “Can you believe that we had sex multiple times each day and used no birth control except for withdrawal and she didn’t get pregnant?”
“It depends on a lot of things,” said Celeste. He had caused her nursing brain to activate and give her multiple options of symptoms such as age and eating disorders to consider.
“Anyway,” said Ron. “I had this friend named Paula. She used to come over to see me before my apartment got burned out and when I lived in Elizabeth. We were friends and we liked sex. That’s how it was for me. Looking back, that was a stupid way to feel. I was staying in Rahway a couple days after the fire and she called me there. She told me that she’d been pregnant but had an abortion. She said it had been my child.”
Celeste winced. What had she told him that? The answer came swiftly. She’d loved him and he hadn’t recognized it and so she punished him with both the abortion and the call. Celeste conjured his face in her mind. Why did his lovers feel the need to punish him? Was it something that he was doing? She’d not felt that way. Did he pick women who liked doing that? No, that wasn’t it. What was it? “We all do crazy things sometimes,” said Celeste.
“Why?” His word was a plea to understand.
“I don’t know. There’s lots of evidence for it though.”
They laughed sweet and warm smiles into the phones.
“I think it’s because we live in the instant but then our brains keep recreating that instant over and over.”
Celeste’s voice was gentle and filled with understanding. “Not everyone’s brain needs to do that, Ron.”
Looking at his grades, Ron felt his head begin to spin. He had never failed a subject in his life and there they were, two failures staring up at him. French and Latin had both turned out to be a mess.
Marjorie said, “How did this happen?”
“I just didn’t do well.”
“But you’re so smart. I never had to help you with homework. You never needed help before.”
“What happened this time?”
“I don’t know. Those subjects were hard and I missed so much time.”
“That’s a terrible excuse.”
Ron felt his ears begin to hum. She was right. He had given up on both of those subjects and he hadn’t liked the teachers very much. “I’m sorry. I know that you’re right. I just gave up on those classes.”
“You gave up?” Her face showed genuine surprise. “How could you give up?”
“I didn’t like them.”
“Do you think that I like all the things that I have to do, Ronald? What would happen if I gave up?”
Ron didn’t answer. If he answered he would have gotten into deeper trouble because the truth was that he had seen her give up and give into her fears all the time. So she was allowed to give up and he wasn’t?
“Well, you’ll do better in your new school.”
Ron looked shocked. “What new school?”
“There’s no reason to pay to send you back down to Newark to a school where you are failing when the public schools where we will be living have a great reputation.”
Ron felt confusion. Newark was all that he had ever known and now everything was going to be taken away. He knew the rules on the streets but this new place that he had only seen once and was now going to be his home was different. He didn’t know the rules and he would have no friends and he wasn’t sure that he would ever be able to play football again. “I guess not,” said Ron.
“I have something to tell you,” said Marjorie.
“When I got your report card, I went to Jersey Catholic and met with Brother Kelly.”
Ron felt a flush of embarrassment. Why did she do things like that?
“I asked him why you had done so poorly and he told me that it was your attitude.”
Ron felt the buzzing in his ears again.
“He said that you had been insulting to your teachers and had missed a lot of time and showed no desire to be successful.”
Ron put his head down. He’d never told her that he was hit at school. He never told her any of what had happened to him there. She wouldn’t have understood and would have only made it worse.
“He did say that it was not unusual for a boy to have a rough transition from grammar school. I told him that you were a convert and he seemed surprised by that.”
Ron knew that his face must be very red now. He could feel the heat. His palms were beginning to sweat.
“I told him that it had been your dream to go to Jersey Catholic and would you like to know what he said to me?”
Ron didn’t want to know but said, “Yes.”
“He said that you were like an untrained animal that had no discipline.”
Now Ron felt his anger beginning to rise. He saw the hurt on her face. He knew how much she must have hated hearing that.
“I felt humiliated, Ronald.”
“I’m sorry, Mom. You shouldn’t have gone there.”
“I’m trying to figure out what’s happened to you, Ronald. You’ve changed. Something is going terribly wrong with you and I don’t know what it is.”
“It’s just been a hard year.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Sure,” said Ron. “It was going great until I got hurt. Then everything changed. I started worrying that I would never be able to play football again.”
“Football is just a game, Ronald.”
“I know, but I’m good at it. I was anyway. There aren’t that many things that I am good at.”
“That’s nonsense. You’re very smart.”
“Being smart and being good are two different things.”
“So this is all about football?”
“No,” said Ron. He wanted to tell her how much he missed his father but knew that if he did that she would call his dad and yell at him. Then his father would be angry with him. “I’m frightened about moving.”
Marjorie said, “Moving is going to be a very good thing. Newark is changing. There is trouble coming.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not sure, but it’s something that I feel.”
“Tension and bad feelings,” said Marjorie. “George is carrying a baseball bat in the car. He doesn’t play baseball.”
In his mind’s eyes, Ron saw the image of his dad. His father could pick it at third base and had an elegant swing. The thought of George carrying a baseball bat was obscene to him. “Why does he have the bat?”
“He says that it’s for protection.”
“What does he need to be protected from?”
Marjorie looked into her son’s eyes. “I don’t know.” Then her voice got soft. “Every man I have ever known has lied to me.”
Ron winced and knew that included him. He said, “I miss Dad and since he started really playing golf, he never come to see me anymore. I know he’s busy but…” His voice trailed off.
Marjorie looked at him and felt sympathy. More than any other man, Harry Tuck had lied to her the most and, sadly, loved her the most. She thought about Rocky. She couldn’t help it. Was a lie different from a betrayal? Was every rejection a betrayal or maybe an acknowledgment of a person’s failings? “Your father had a hard life.” She wondered how much of Harry had seeped into her son.
“I just miss him,” said Ron.
Marjorie wanted to cry for him the same way that she had cried for Harry, but in some ways his connection was stronger than hers. He had Harry’s blood in him. He couldn’t help but have it. She wanted to kiss him but they rarely touched and it would have been awkward. “Well, you aren’t going back to Jersey Catholic. That’s over now.”