The rain ****** through a darkening sky.
The man's eyes grow bright and he smiles. Softly, he whispers, " Man, you're the biggest, whitest, what hell are you anyway?"
The pup sits up and Jack Delleto caresses her neck, but much to the mutt's chagrin the man stands up and walks away.
Jack has his hand on the door about to go into the bar. The pup issues an interrogatory, "Woof?"
The rain turns to snow.
The man's eyes grow bright and he smiles, "My grandma used to say that when it snows the angels are sweeping heaven. I'll be back for you, Snowflake."
Jack shivers. His smile fading, the night jumps back into his eyes.
Snowflake chuffs once, twice.
The man is gone.
The room would have been a cold, dark place except the bodies who sit on the barstools or stand on the ***** linoleum floor produce heat. The cigarette smoke burns his eyes. Jack Delleto looks down the length of the bar to the boarded shut fire place and although the faces are shadows, he knows them all.
The old man who always sits at the second barstool from the dart board is sitting at the second bar stool. His fist clenched tightly around the beer mug, he stares at his own reflection in the mirror.
The aging barmaid, who often weeps from her apartment window on a hot summer night or a cold winter evening, is coming on to a man half her age. She is going to slip her arm around his bicep at any moment.
"Yeah," Jack smiles, "there she goes."
Jack Delleto knows where the regulars sit night after night clutching the bar with desperation, the wood rail is worn smooth.
In the mirror that runs the length of the bar Jack Delleto sees himself with clarity. Brown hair and brown eyes. Just an ordinary 29 year old man.
"Old Fred is right," he thinks to himself, "If you stare at shadows long enough, they stare back." Jack smiles and the red head returns his smile crossing her long legs that protrude beneath a too short skirt.
The bartender recognizes the man smiling at the redhead.
"Well, Jack Delleto, Dell, I heard you were dead. " The six foot, two hundred pound bartender tells him as Dell is walking over to the bar.
"Who told you that?"
"Crazy George, while he was swinging from the wagon wheel lamp." Bob O'Malley says as he points to the wagon wheel lamp hanging from the ceiling.
"George, I heard, HE was dead."
The bartender reaches over the bar resting the palms of his big hands on the edge of the bar and flashes a smile of white, uneven teeth. Bob extends his hand. "Where the hell have you been?"
They shake hands.
Dell looks up at the Irishman. "I ve been at Harry's Bar in Venice drinking ****** Marys with Elvis and Ernest."
Bob O'Malley grins, puts two shot glasses on the bar, and reaches under the bar to grab a bottle of bourbon. After filling the glasses with Wild Turkey, he hands one glass to Dell. They touch glasses and throw down the shots.
"Gobble, gobble," O Malley smiles.
The front door of the bar swings open and a cold wind drifts through the bar. Paul Keater takes off his Giants baseball cap and with the back of his hand wipes the snow off of his face.
"Keater," Bob O'Malley calls to the Blackman standing in the doorway.
Keater freezes, his eyes moving side to side in short, quick movements. He points a long slim finger at O'Malley, "I don't owe you any money," Paul Keater shouts.
The people sitting the barstools do not turn to look.
"You're always pulling that **** on me." Keater rushes to the bar, "I PPPAID YOU."
As Delleto watches Keater arguing with O'Malley, the anger grows into the loathing Dell feels for Keater. The suave, sophisticated Paul Keater living in a room above the bar. The man is disgusting. His belly hangs pregnant over his belt. His jeans have fallen exposing the crack of his ***, and Keater just doesn't give a ****. And that ragged, faded, baseball cap, ****, he never takes it off.
When Keater glances down, he realizes he is standing next to Jack Delleto. Usually, Paul Keater would have at least considered punching Delleto in his face. "The **** wasn't any good," Paul feining anger tells O'Malley. "Everybody said it was, ****."
The bartender finishes rinsing a glass in the soapy sink water and then places it on a towel. "*******."
Keater slides the Giant baseball cap back and forth across his flat forehead. "**** it," he turns and storms out of the bar.
"Can I get a beer?" Dell asks but O"Malley is already reaching into the beer box. Twisting the cap off, he puts it on the bar. "It's not that Keater owes me a few bucks, "he tells Dell, "if I didn't cut him off he'd do the stuff until he died." Bob grabs a towel and dries his hands.
"But the smartest rats always get out of the maze first," Jack tells Bob.
Cigarette butts, candy wrappers, and losing lottery tickets litter the linoleum floor. Jack Delleto grabs the bottle of beer off the bar and crosses the specter of unfulfilled wishes.
In the adjacent room he sits at a table next to the pinball machine to watch a disfigured man with an anorexic women shoot pool. Sometimes he listens to them talk, whisper, laugh. Sometimes he just stares at the wall.
"We have a winner, "the pinball machine announces, "come ride the Ferris wheel."
"I'm part Indian. "
Jack looks up from his beer. The Indian has straight black hair that hangs a few inches above her shoulders, a thin face, a cigarette dangling from her too red lips.
"My Mom was one third Souix, " the drunken women tells Jack Delleto.
The Indian exhales smoke from her petite nose waiting for a come on from the man with the sad face. And he just stares, stares at the wall.
Her bushy eyebrows come together forming a delicate frown.
Jack turns to watch a brunette shoot pool. The woman leans over the pool table about to shoot the nine ball into the side pocket. It is an easy shot.
The brunette looks across the pool table at Jack Delleto, "What the **** are you starin at?" She jams the pool stick and miscues. The cue ball runs along the rail and taps the eight ball into the corner pocket. "AH ****," she says.
And Jack smiles.
The Indian thinks Jack is smiling at her, so she sits down.
"In the shadows I couldn't see your eyes," he tells her, "but when you leaned forward to light that cigarette, you have the prettiest green eyes."
" I'm Kathleen," her eyes sparkling like broken glass in an alley.
Delleto tries to speak.
"I don't want to know your name," she tells Jack Delleto, the smile disappearing from her face. "I just want to talk for a few minutes like we're friends," she takes a drag off the cigarette, exhales the smoke across the room.
Jack recognizes the look on her face. Bad dreams.
"I'll be your friend," he tells her.
"We're not going to have ***." The Indian slowly grinds out the cigarette into the ashtray, looks up at the man with the sad face.
"Do you have family?"
"Family?" Delleto gives her a sad smile.
She didn't want an answer and then she gets right into it.
"I met my older sister in Baltimore yesterday." She tells the man with sad eyes.' Hadn't seen her since I was nine, since Mom died. I wanted to know why Dad put me in foster homes. Why?
"She called me Little Sister. I felt nothin. I had so many questions and you know what? I didn't ask one."
Jack is finishing his beer.
"If you knew the reasons, now, what would it matter, anyway."
The man with the black eye just doesn't get it. She lived with them long enough. Long enough to love them.
She stands up, stares at Jack Delleto.
And walks away.
It's the fat blondes turn to shoot pool. She leans her great body ever so gently across the green felt of the pool table, shoots and misses. When she tries to raise herself up off the pool table, the tip of the pool cue hits the Miller Lite sign above the pool table sending the lamb rocking violently back and forth. In flashes of light like the frames from and old Chaplin movie the sad and grotesque appear and disappear.
"What the **** are you starin at?" The skinny brunette asks.
Jack pretends to think for a moment. "An unhappy childhood."
Suddenly, she stands up, looking like death wearing a Harley Davidson T-shirt.
"Dove sta amore?" Jack Delleto wonders.
Death is angry, steps closer.
"Must be that time of the month, huh," Jack grins.
With her two tiny fists clenched tightly at her side, the brunette stares down into Delleto's eyes. Suddenly, she punches Jack in the eye.
Jack stands up bringing his forearm up to protect his face. At the same time Death steps closer. His forearm catches her under the chin. The bony ***** goes down.
Women rush from the shadows. They pull Jack to the ***** floor, punch and kick him.
In the blinking of the Miller Light Jack Delleto exclaims," I'm being smother by fat lesbians in soft satin pants." But then someone is pulling the women off of him.
The Miller Lite gently rocks and then it stops.
Jack stands up, shakes his head and smiles.
"Nice punch, Dell," Bob O' Malley says, "I saw from the bar."
Jack hits the dust off of his pants, grabs the beer bottle off of the table, takes a swallow. Smiling, he says, "I box a little."
"I can tell by your black eye." O'Malley puts his hand on his friends shoulder. "Come on I'll buy you a shot. What caused this spontaneous expression of love?"
"They thought I was a ******."
Jack Delleto walks out the door of the bar into the wind swept gloom. The gray desolation of boarded shut downtown is gone.
The rain has finally turn to snow.
His eyes follow the blue rope from the parking meter pole to its frayed end buried in the plowed hill of snow at the corner of Cookman Avenue.
The dog, Snowflake, dead, Jack thinks.
The snow covers everything. It covers the abandon cars and the abandon buildings, the sidewalk and its cracks. The city, Delleto imagines, is an adjectiveless word, a book of white pages. He steps off the curb into the gutter and the street is empty for as far as he can see. He starts walking.
Jack disappears into empty pages.
Paul Keater has a room above Wagon Wheel Bar where the loud rock music shakes the rats in the walls til 2a.m. The vibrations travel through the concrete floor, up the bed posts, and into the matress.
Slowly Paul's eyes open. Who the hell is he fooling. Even without the loud music, he would not be able to sleep, anyway.
Soft red neon from the Wagon Wheel Bar sign blinks into his room.
Paul Keater sits up, sighs, resigns himself to another sleepless night, swings his legs off the bed. His x-wife. He thinks about her frequently. He went to a phycologist because he loved her.
Dump the *****, the doctor said.
"I paid him eighty bucks and all he had to say was dump the *****." He laughs, shakes his head.
Paul thinks about *******, looks around the tiny room, and spots a clear plastic case containing the baseball cards he had collected when he was a boy.
He walks to the dresser and puts on his Giant's baseball cap. Paul sits down on the wooden chair by the sink. Turns on the lamp. The card on top is ***** Mays. Holding it in his hand, it is perfect. The edges are not worn like the other cards.
It was his tenth birthday and his dad had taken him to his first baseball game and his father had bought the card from a dealer.
Oblivious to the loud rock music filtering into his room, he stares at the card.
Fondly, he remembers.
It arrives unobtrusively. His heart begins to race faster.
Jack Delleto rolls away from the cracked wall. He sits up and drops his legs off the bed.
Jack Delleto thinks about mountains.
When he cannot sleep he thinks about climbing up through the fog that makes the day obscure, passing where the stunted spruce and fir tees are twisted by the wind, into cold brilliant light. Once as he climbed through the fog he saw his shadow stretching a half a mile across a cloud and the world was small. Far down to the east laid cliffs and gullies, glaciated mountains and to the west were the plains and cities of everyday life.
The army coat is draped over the back of the chair. In the pocket is his notebook. Jack stands and takes the notebook from the pocket. When he sits in the wooden chair he opens the book and slides the pen from the binder.
When he finishes his story he makes the end into the beginning.
"I want a captain in a truck." The 10 year old boy with the brown hair tells his mom. "I want it NOW."
His blonde haired mom wearing the gold diamond bracelet nods her head at Jack Delleto. Jack looks up at the clock on the wall. It is only 9a.m. After four years of college Jack has a part time job at K.B. Toy store. "We're all out of them," he tells her for the second time.
"Honey," Blondie tells her boy, "they're all out of them."
"How about a sargeant in a jeep?
"OK, but I want a missile firing truck , too."
Delleto turns to the display case behind the counter. Briefly, he studies his black eye in the display case mirror and then begins searching the four shelves and twenty rows of 3 inch plastic toys. He finds the truck. His head is aching. He finds the truck and puts it on the counter in front of the boy.
"Sorry, we're all out of the sargeant," Jack tells the pretty lady. The aching in his head just won't go away.
"Mommy, mommy, I want an ATTACK HELIOCOPTER, MOMMMEEE, I WANTAH TTTAAANNNK..."
Jack Delleto leans over the counter resting his elbows on the glass top. The boy is staring at the man with the black eye, at his bruised, unshaven face.
"Well, we haven't got any, GODDAMED TANKS. How about a , KICKINTHE ***."
Finally the boy and his mother are quiet.
"My husband will have you fired."
She grabs the boy by the hand. Turns to rush out of the store.
Jack mutters something.
"MMOOOMEEE, what does..."
"Oh, shut the hell up," the pretty lady tells her son
The assistant manager takes a deep drag on her cigarette, exhales, and crosses her arms to hold the cigarette in front of her. Susan looks down at Jack sitting on the stool behind the counter. He stands up. "Did you tell some lady to blow you?" She crushes the cigarette out in the ashtray on the shelf below the counter. "Maybe you don't need this job but I do."
"Sue, there's no smoking in the mall."
"Jack, you look tired," the cubby teenager tells him, "and your eye. Another black eye."
"I was attacked by five women."
'Oh, I see, in your dreams maybe. I see, it's one of those male fantasies I'm always reading about in Cosmo. You're not boxing again, are you Dell?" Sue likes to call him Dell.
"I go down to the gym to work out. Felix says I've got something."
"Yeah, a black eye." Susan laughs, opens the big vanilla envelope, and hands Jack his check.
She turns and takes a pair of sunglasses from the display stand. "You 're scaring the children, Dell ." Susan steps closer looks into Dell's brown eyes and the slips the sunglasses on his face. "Why don't you go to lunch."
It's noon and the mall is crowded at the food court area. Jack gets a 20oz cup of coffee, finds a table and sits down.
"Go over and talk to him. " Susan says. Jack turns his head , looks back, sees the Indian walking towards his table.
"Hello, Kathrine," says Jack Delleto.
"My names not Kathrine, it's Kathleen."
Jack pulls the chair away from the table, "Have a seat Kate."
Her eyebrows form that delicate frown. "My names Kathleen." As soon as she sits down she takes a cigarette from the pack sticking out of her pocketbook. "I had to leave. I told the baby sitter I'd only be gone an hour. Anyway you weren't much help."
"So why did you come over to talk to me?"
"You were alone, the bar full of people and you're alone. Why?"
"I like it that way. You've seen me there before?"
"Yeah, sitting by the pin ball machine staring at the wall, and sometimes, you'd take out your blue note pad and write in it.
What do you write about? Are you goin to write about me..."
"Maybe. How many kids do you have?"
"Just one. A boy, and believe me one is enough. He'll be four in June," Kathleen smiles but then she remembers and abruptly the smile disappears from her face. "Sometimes I see Anthony's father in the mall and I ask him if he'd like to meet his son, but he doesn't.
Kathleen draws the cigarette smoke deep into her lungs, tilts her head back, and blows the smoke towards the skylight. Suddenly caught in the sunlight the smoke becomes a gray cloud. " I didn't want to marry him anyway, I don't know why he thought that."
She hears the scars as Delleto talks, something sad about the man, something like old newspapers blowing across a deserted street. She hears the scars and knows never, never ask where the scars came from.
As Jack walks towards the bank to cash his check, he glances out the front entrance to the mall. It is a bright, cold day and the snowplows are finishing up the parking lot plowing the snow into big white hills. That is the fate of the big white pup plowed to the corner of Cookman and Main buried deep in ***** snow. At that street corner when the school is over the children will play on the hill never realizing what lay beneath there feet.
The snow must melt; spring is inevitable.
His pup will be back.
The 19 year old light heavyweight leans his muscular body forward to rest his gloved hands on the tope rope of the ring. He bows his head waiting to regain his breath as his lungs fight to force air deep into his chest. Bill Wain has finished boxing 4 rounds with Red.
Harry the trainer, gently pulls the untied boxing gloves from Red's hands. "Good fight, he says, patting Red on the back as the fighter climbs through the ropes and heads to the showers. Harry hands the sweat soaked gloves to Felix who puts one glove under his arm while he loosens the laces on the other 12ounce glove. He makes the sleeve wider.
"Do you want the head gear?" Felix asks.
Jack Delleto shakes his head and pushes his taped hand deep into the glove.
The old man takes the other glove from under his arm, pulls the laces out, and holds it open. Without turning his head to look at him, Felix tells Harry, "Make sure Bill doesn't cool down. Tell him to shadow box. Harry walks over to Bill and Bill starts shadow boxing.
Jack pushes his hand into the glove. "Make a fist." Jack does. Felix pulls the laces and ties it into a bow.
Felix looks intently into Delleto's eyes. "How does that feel?"
"You look tired."
"I am a little."
"Are you sick or is it a woman."
"I'm not sick."
A big smile forms across the face of the former welterweight champion of Nevada. The face of the 68 year old Blackman is lined and cracked like the old boxing gloves that Jack is wearing but his tall body is youthful and athletic in appearance. Above Felix's eyebrows Jack sees the effect of 20 years as a professional fighter. He sees the thick scar tissue and the thin white lines where the old man's skin has been stitched and re-stitched many times. As he gives instructions to Jack, Felix's brown eyes seem to be staring at something distant and Jack wonders if Felix has chased around the ring one time too often his dream.
"And get off first. Don't stop punching until he goes down. You've got it kid and not every fighter does."
Jack and Felix start walking over to the ring.
"What is it I've got?" Jack Deletto wonders.
Felix puts his foot on the fourth strand of the rings rope and with his hand pulls up the top strand and as Jack steps into the ring, "You've got, HEART."
In the opposite corner Bill Wain waits.
"Will he be alright?" Harry asks.
"Bill's tired, " Felix replies, then he tries to explain. "It's not about money. I'm almost 70 and I want to go out a winner." Felix pauses and the offers, he can hit hard with either hand."
"Yeah, but at best he's a small middleweight and he only moves in one direction, straight ahead."
"Harry, I love the guy," Felix puts his hand on Harry's shoulder, he's like Tyson at the end of his career. He'd fight you to the death but he's not fighting to win anymore."
Harry puts his hands in his pocket and stares at the floor. "Do you want me to tell him to go easy." Harry looks up at Felix waiting for an answer.
"I'm tired of sweeping dirt from behind the boxes of wax beans and tuna fish. I'm sick of collecting shopping carts in the rain. A half way decent white heavyweight can make a lot of money. It's stupid for a fighter to practice holding back. Bill's a winner. Jack'll be alright."
Felix hands the pocket watch to Harry so he can time the rounds.
Bill Wain comes out of his corner circling left.
Jack rushes straight ahead.
Felix winks at Jack Delleto and whispers, "The Jack of hearts."
The front door of the Wagon Wheel bar explodes open to Ziggy Pop's, "YOU'VE GOT A LUST FOR LIFE." Jack Delleto steps over the curb and vanishes into the dark doorway.
"HEY, JACK, JACK DELLETO," The lanky bartender shouts over the din.
Delleto makes his way through the crowd over to bar. How the hell have you been Snake?" Jack asks.
"Just great," says Snake. "You're lookin pretty ****** good for a dead man."
"Who told you that? Crazy George?"
The bartender points across the room to where a man in a pin stripe suit is swinging to and fro from a wagon wheel lamp attached to the ceiling.
"Yeah, I thought so. Haven't seen Crazy George in a year and he's been telling everyone I'm dead. I'm gonna have to have a long talk with that man."
Snake hands Jack a shot of tequila. The men touch glasses and throw down the shots.
How's the other George? Dell asks.
"How's Tommy? You see him anymore?"
"What about Robbie?"
Snake refills the glasses. "He's livin in a nudist colony in Florida, he has two wives and 6 children."
Jack looks across the room and sees Bob O'Malley trying to adjust the rose in the lapel of his tuxedo. Satisfied it won't fall out O'Malley looks up at the man swinging from the lamp. "Quick, name man's three greatest inventions."
"Alcohol, tobacco, and the wheel," Crazy George shoots back.
O'Malley smiles and then jumps up on the top of the bar and although he is over six feet and weighs two hundred pounds, he has the dexterity and grace of a ballerina as he pirouttes around and jumps over the shot glasses and beer bottles that litter the bar.
Wedding guests lean back in their chairs as strangers fearful of his gyrations ****** their drinks off the bar. Bob fakes a slip as he prances along but he is always in control and never falters. Forty three year old Bob O'Malley is Jim Brown who dodges danger to score the winning touch down.
When Bob reaches the end of the bar he jumps to the floor, pulls two aluminum lids from the beer box, and with one in each hand he smacks them together like cymbals.
Some guests clap. The bemused just stare.
In the back of the room sitting at the wedding table the father of the bride leans over, whispers into the ear of his crying wife, "If I had a gun I'd shoot Bob."
The bride raises a glass of champagne into the smoke filled air and Bob takes a bow but then heads towards the kitchen at the other end of the room.
" Hey, Bob," Jack Delleto shouts to the groom.
O'Malley stops under the wagon wheel lamp and turns as Delleto steps into the circle of light cast onto the floor.
"Congratulations, I know Theresa and you are goin to be happy. I mean that." Delleto offers his hand and they shake hands.
"Thanks, Mr. Cool."
Jack takes off the sunglasses.
"TWO black eyes. Your nose is bleeding. What happened?"
Dell takes the handkerchief from his back pocket, wipes the blood dripping down his face. "It's broken."
"What happened?" O'Malley asks again.
"He turned pro."
"Yeah, but he's nothing special. Hell, he couldn't even knock me down."
O'Malley shakes his head. "Dell, why do you do it? You always lose."
"If you don't fight you've already lost."
"Put the sunglasses back on, you look like a friggin raccoon."
Dell smiles. The blood running down his lips."Thersa's beautiful, Bob, you're a lucky guy."
"Thanks Dell." O'Malley puts his hand on Dell's shoulder and squeezes affectionately. Bob looks across the room at Theresa. "Yeah, she is beautiful." Theresa's mother has stopped crying. Her father drinks whiskey and stares at the wall.
O'Malley looks away from his bride and passed the archway that divides the poolroom from the bar and into the corner. With the lamp light above his head gleaming in his eyes Bob seems to see a ghost fleeting in the far distant, dark corner. Slowly, a peculiar half smile forms uneven, white, tombstone teeth. A pensive smile.
Curious, Dell turns his head to look into the darkness of the poolroom, too.
At night in July the moths were everywhere. When Dell was a boy he would sit on his porch and try to count them. The moths appeared as faint splashes of whiteness scattered throughout the nighttime sky, odd circles of white that moved haphazardly, forward and then sideways, sometimes up and then down.
Sometimes the patches of moths flew higher and higher and Dell imagined the lights those creatures were seeking were the stars themselves; Orion, the Big Dipper, and even the milky hue of the Milkyway.
One night as the moths pursued starlight he saw shadows dropping one by one from the branches at the tops of the trees. The swallows were soundless and when he caught a glimpse of sudden darkness, blacker than the night, he knew the shadows had erased the dreamer and its dream.
His imagination gave definition to form. There was a sound to the shadows of the swallows in his thoughts, the melody and the song played over and over. Wings of shadow furled and unfurled. Perhaps he saw his reflection in the night. Perhaps there are shadows where nothing exists to cast them.
"Do you hear them, Bob?"
"Hear what?" Bob asks.
"All of them."
"All of what?"
"Shadows," Delleto candidly tells his friend, then, "Ah, Nothin."
O'Malley doesn't understand but it does not matter. The two men have shared the same corner of darkness.
Bob calls to Paul Keater. Keater smiles broadly, slides the brim of his Giant baseball cap to the side of his forehead. The two men disappear through the swinging kitchen door.
"Hello Kate." Jack Delleto says and sits down. She has a blue bow in her hair and make up on.
"My names Kathleen."
She fondles the whiskey glass in her slim fingers. "Hello, Dell, Sue thinks Dell is such a **** name. Kathleen takes a last drag on her cigarette, rubs it out in the ashtray, looks up at him, "What should I call you?"
"How about, Darlin?"
"Hello, Jack, DARLIN," her soft, deep voice whispers. Kathleen crosses her legs and the black dress rides up to the middle of her thigh.
Jack glances at the milky white flesh between the blue ***** hose and the hem of her dress. Kate is drunk and Dell does not care. He leans closer, "Do you wanna dance?"
"But no one else is dancing."
"Well, we can go down to the beach, take a walk along the sand."
"It's twenty degrees out there."
"I'll keep you warm."
"All right, lets dance."
Jack stands up takes her by the hand. As Kathleen rises Jack draws her close to him. Her ******* flatten against his chest. He feels her heart thumping.
The Elvis impersonator that almost played Las Vegas; the hairdresser that wanted to be a race car driver; the insurance salesman with a Porche and a wife. Her men talked about what they owned or what they could do well.
And Kathleen was impressed.
But Dell wasn't like them. Dell never talked about himself. Did he have a dream? Was there something he wanted more than anything?
Kathleen had never meant anyone quite like Dell.
She rests her head on his shoulder. "What do you what more than anything? What do you dream about at night?"
"Come on," she says," what do you want more than anything? Tell me your dreams."
Jack smiles, "Just to make it through another day." He smiles that sad smile that she saw the first time they met. "Tell me what you want."
Kate lifts her head off of his shoulder and looks into his eyes. "I don't want to be on welfare the rest of my life and I want to be able to send my son to college." She rests her cheek against his, "I've lived in foster homes all my life and every time I knew that one day I'd have to leave, what I want most is a home. Do you know the difference between a house and a home?"
"No. not at all"
Her voice is a roaring whisper in his ear, "LOVE."
The song comes to an end and they leave the circle of light and sit down. Kate takes a cigarette from the pack.
Dell strikes a match. The flame flickering in her eyes. "Maybe someday you'll have your home."
"Do you want me to?"
Kate blows out the match.
"Can you take me home?" Kate asks slurring her words.
Kathleen and Jack walk over to where the bride and groom are standing near the big glass refrigerator door with Paul Keater. When Paul realizes he is standing next to Jack Delleto he rocks back and forth on the heals of his worn shoes, slides his Giants baseball cap back and forth across his forehead and walks away.
O'Malley bends down and kisses Kathleen on the cheek and turns to shake hands with Dell. "Good luck," says Dell. Kathleen embraces the bride.
Outside the bar the sun is setting behind the boarded shut Delleto store.
"That was my Dad's store, " Jack tells Kate and then Jack whispers to to himself as he reads the graffiti spray painted on the front wall.
"TELL YOUR DREAMS TO ME, TELL ME YOU LOVE ME, IF YOU LOVE ME, TELL ALL YOUR DREAMS TO ME."
An old man comes shuffling down the street, "Hello Mr. Martin, " Jack says, "How are you?"
"I'm an old man Jack, how could I be," and then he smiles, "ah, I can't complain. How are you?"
"Still alive and well."
"Who is this pretty young lady?"
"This is Kate."
Joesph Martin takes Kathleen by the arm and gently squeezes, "Hello Kate, such a pretty women, ah, if I was only sixty," and the old man smiles.
Kathleen forces a smile.
The thick eyeglasses that Mr. Martin wears magnifies his eyes as he looks from Kathleen to Jack, "Have fun now, because when you're dead, you're going to be dead a long, long time." And Martin smiles.
"How long? Delleto inquires.
The old man smirks and waves as he continues up the street to the door leading to the rooms above the bar. He turns to face the door. The small window is broken and the shards of glass catch the twilight.
Joesph Martin turns back looking at the man and young woman who are about to get into the car. He is not certain what he wants to say to them. Perhaps he wants to tell them that it ***** being an old man and the upstairs hallway always smells of ****.
Joesph Martin wants to tell someone that although Anna died seven years ago his love endures and he misses her everyday. Joesph recalls that Plato in Tamaeus believed that the soul is a stranger to the Earth and has fallen into matter because of sin.
A faint smile appears on the wrinkled face of the old man as he heeds the resignation he hears in his own thoughts.
Jack waves to Mr. Martin. Joesph waves back. The mustang drives off.
Earth, O island Earth.
Joseph pushes open the door and goes into the hallway. The fragments of glass scattered across the foyer crunch and clink under his shoes. The cold wind blowing through the broken window touches his warm neck. He shivers and walks up the stairs. There is only enough light to see the wall and his own warm breathing. There is just enough light like when he has awaken from a bad dream, enough to remember who he is and to separate the horror of what is real from the horror of what is dreamt.
The old man continues climbing the stairs following the familiar shadow of the wall cast onto the stairs. If he crosses the vague line of shadow and light he will disappear like a brown trout in the deepest hole in a creek.
By the time he reaches the second floor he is out of breath. Joseph pauses and with the handkerchief he has taken from his back pocket he wipes the fog from the lenses of his eyeglasses and the sweat from his forehead.
A couple of doors are standing open and the old man looks cautiously into each room as he hurries passed. One forty watt bulb hangs from a frayed wire in the center of the hallway. The wiring is old and the bulb in the white porcelain socket flickers like the blinking of an eye or the fearful beating of the heart of an old man.
When he opens the door to his room it sags on ruined hinges.
Joesph searches with his hand for the light switch. Several seconds linger. Can't find it.
Finds it and quickly pushes the door shut. He sits down on the bed, doesn't take his coat off, reaches for the radio. It is gone.
Joseph looks around the room. A small dresser, the sink with a mirror above it. He takes off his coat and above the mirror hangs the coat on the nail he has put there.
Hard soled boots echo hollowly off the hallway walls. The echoes are overlapping and he cannot determine if the footsteps are leaving or approaching.
The crowbar is under his pillow.
He grabs it. Holds it until there is silence.
He lays back on the bed. Another night without sleep. Joseph rolls onto his side and faces the wall.
Earth, O island Earth.
Tangled in the tree tops a rising moon hangs above the roofs of identical Cape Cod houses.
Jack pulls the red mustang behind a station wagon. Kathleen is looking at Dell. His face is a faint shadow on the other side of the car. "Do you want to come up?" she asks.
Kathleen steps out of the car, breathes the cold air deep into her lungs. It is fresh and sweet. Jack comes around the side of the car just as she knew he would. He takes her into his arms. She can feel his lips on hers and his warm breath as the kiss ends.
They walk beneath the old oak tree and the roots have raised and crack the sidewalk and in the spring tiny blue flowers will bloom. The flowers remind Jack of the columbines that bloom in high mountain meadows above tree line heralding a brief season of sun and warmth.
"Did you win?" Kathleen asks as she fits the key into the upstairs apartment door. The door swings open into the brightly lit kitchen.
Dell, leaning in the doorway, two black eyes, looking like the Jack of Hearts. "It doesn't matter."
Crossing the room she takes off her coat and places it on the back of the kitchen chair. When Kate leans across the kitchen table to turn on the radio the mini dress rides up her thigh, tugs tightly around her buttocks.
The radio plays softly.
Jack stands and as Kathleen turns he slips his arms around her waist and she is staring into his eyes like a cat into a fire. His body gently presses against the table and when he lifts her onto the table her legs wrap around his waist.
Jack kisses her. Her lips are cold like the rain. His hand reaches. There is a faint click. The room slips into darkness. It is Eddie Money on the radio, now, with Ronnie Specter singing the back up vocals. Eddie belts out, "TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT, I WON"T LET YOU LEAVE TIL..."
When Jack withdraws from the kiss her eyes are shining like diamonds in moonlight.
The buttons of her dress are unfastened. Her arms circle his neck and pull him to her *******. "Don't Jack. You mustn't. I just want a friend."
His hands slide up her thighs. "I'll be your friend, " says Jack.
Her voice is a roaring whisper in his ear. "*** always ruins everything," He pulls her to the edge of the table as Ronnie sings, "O DARLIN, O MY DARLIN, WON'T YOU BE MY LITTLE BAABBBY NOOWWW."
They are sitting on a couch in the room that at one time had been a sun porch.
Now that they have gotten *** out of the way, maybe they can talk. Sliding her hands around his face she pulls him closer.
"Jack, what do you dream about? You know what I mean, tell your dreams to me."
"How did you get those round scars on your arm?" Dell wonders.
"Don't ask. I don't talk about it. Do you have family?"
"Yeah. A brother. Tell me about those scars."
My ****** foster dad. He burned me with his cigarette. That's how I got these ****** scars.
And when I knew he was coming home, I'd get sick to my stomach, and when I heard his key in the door, I'd *** myself. And I got a beating.
But that wasn't the worst of it.
When they didn't beat me or burn me, they ignored me, like I didn't exist, like I wasn't even there. And you know what, I didn't hate him. I hated my father who put in all those foster homes."
Spring. All the windows in the apartment are open. The cool breeze flows through her brown hair. "You're getting too serious, Jack, and I don't want to need you."
"That's because I care for you."
The rain pounds the roof.
Jack Delleto sits down on the bed, caresses her shoulder. "I hate the rain. Come on, give me a smile. "Kathleen pulls away and faces the wall.
"Well, I don't need anyone."
"People need people."
"Yeah, but I don't need you." There is silence, then, "I only care about my son and Father Anthony."
"What is it with you and the priest?" You named your son Anthony is that because he's the father."
"You're an *******. Get out of here. I don't love you." And then, "I've been hurt by people and you'll get over it."
Then silence. Jack gets up from the bed, stares at her dark form facing the wall. "Isn't this how it always ends for you?"
The room is quiet and grows hot. When the silence numbs his racing heart, he goes into the kitchen, opens the front door and walks down the steps into the cold rain.
"Anthony," Kathleen calls to her son to come to her from the other bedroom and he climbs into the bed, and she holds him close. The ghost of relationships past haunt her and although they are all sad, she clings to them.
On the sidewalk below the apartment window Jack stops. He thinks he hears his name being called but whatever he has heard is carried off by the wind. He continues up the dark street to his Harley.
High in reach less branches of the old oak tree a mockingbird is singing. The leaves twist in the wind and the singing goes on and on.
The ringing phone. The clock on the dresser says 5 a.m.
"Who the hell is this?"
"Jack, I'm scared."
"Kate? Is that you?"
"Someone broke into my apartment."
"Is he still there?"
"No, he ran out the door when I screamed. It was hot and I had the window open. He slit the screen."
"I'll be right over."
"How hot is it?" Kathleen asks.
The bar is empty except for O'Malley, Keater, a man and a woman.
"98.6," says Jack. The sweat rolls down his cheeks.
"Let's go to the boardwalk."
"When it's hot like this, it's hot all over."
"We could go on the rides."
"I've got the next pool game, then we'll go."
"It's my birthday."
"I bought you flowers."
Laughing, Paul Keater slides the brim of his baseball cap back and forth across his forehead.
Jack eyes narrow. He starts for Keater, Katheen steps in front of Jack, puts her hands on his shoulders. She looks into his eyes.
"Who are you Jack Delletto? What is it with you two? But as always you'll say nothing, nothing." As Jack tries to speak she walks over to the bar and sits on the barstool.
"It's my birthday," she tells O'Malley.
When Bob turns from the horse races on the T.V., he notices her long legs and the short skirt. "Hey, happy birthday, Kate, Jack Daniels?"
Filling the glasses O'Malley hands one to Kathleen, "You look great," he tells her.
"Jack doesn't think so. Thanks, at least someone thinks so."
"Hope Jack won't mind," and he leans over the bar and kisses her.
Kathleen looks over her shoulder at Delleto. Jack is playing pool with a woman wearing a black tight halter top. The woman comes over to Jack, stands too close, smiles, and Jack smiles back.
The boyfriend stares angrily at Jack.
When Kathleen turns back O'Malley is filling her shot glass.
Jack wins that game, too.
"Daddy," the little girl with her hands folded in her lap is looking up at her father. "When will the ride stop? I want to go on."
"Soon, Darling, "her father assures her.
"I don't think it will ever stop."
"The ride always stops, Sweetie." Daddy takes her by the hand, gently squeezes.
When the carousel begins to slow down but has not quite stopped Kathleen steps onto the platform, grabs the brass support pole. The momentum of the machine grabs her with a **** onto the ride, into a white horse with big blue eyes. Dropping her cigarette she takes hold of the pole that goes through the center of the horse. She struggles to put her foot in the stirrup, finds it, and throws her leg over the horse. The carousel music begins to play. With a tremble and a jolt, the ride starts.
Sitting on the pony has made her skirt ride well up her legs. The ticket man is staring at her but she is too drunk to care. She hands him the ticket, gives him the finger.
The ticket man goes over to the little girl and her father who are sitting in a golden chariot pulled by to black horses.
"Ooooh, Daddy, I love this."
"So do I," The father smiles and strokes his daughter's hair.
The heat makes the dizziness grow and as the ride picks up speed she sees two of everything. There are two rows of pin ball machines, eight flashing signs, six prize machines. All the red, blue and green lights from the ride blend together like when a car drives at night down a rain-soaked street.
Kathleen feels the impulse to *****.
"Can we go on again?" The little girl asks.
"But the ride isn't over, yet."
Kathleen concentrates on the rain-soaked street and the dizziness and nausea lessens. She perceives the images as a montage like the elements that make up a painting or a life. She has become accustom to the machine and its movement. The circling ride creates a cooling breeze that becomes a tranquil, flowing waterfall.
The ponies in front are always becoming the ponies in the back and the ponies in back are becoming the ponies in the front. Around and around. All the ponies galloping. Settling back into the saddle she rides the pony into the ever-present receding waterfall.
You can lose all sense of the clock staring into the waterfall of blue, red and green. Kathleen leans forward to embrace the ride for a long as it lasts.
Just as suddenly as it started, the ride is slowly stopping, the music stops playing.
Coming down off the pony she does not wait for the ride to stop, stumbles off the platform and out the Casino amusement park door. "****, *******," she yells careening into the railing almost falling into Wesley Lake.
She staggers a few steps, sits down on the grass by the curb, hears the carousel music playing and knows the ride is beginning again, and all of her dreams crawls into her like a dying animal from its hidden hole.
And it all comes up from her throat taking her breath away. A distant yet familiar wind so she lies down on the grass facing the street of broken buildings filled with broken people. From the emptying lot of scattering thoughts the mockingbird is singing and the images shoot off into a darkening landscape, exploding, illuminating for a brief moment, only to grow dimmer, light and warmth fading into cold and darkness.
"Your girlfriend is flirting with me," Jack Delleto tells the man. "It's my game."
The man stands up, takes a pool stick from the rack, as he comes towards Jack Delleto the man turns the pool stick around holding the heavy part with two hands.
There is an explosion of light inside his head, Delleto sees two spinning lizards playing trumpets, 3 dwarfs with purple hair running to and fro, intuitively he knows he has to get up off the floor, and when he does he catches the bigger man with a left hook, throws the overhand right. The man stumbles back.
His girlfriend in the tight black halter top is jumping up and down, screaming at, screaming at Jack Delleto to stop, but Jack, does not. Stepping forward, a left hook to the midsection, hook to the head, spins right, throws the overhand right.
The man goes down. Jack looks at him.
"You lose, I win," and Delleto's smile is a sad, knowing one.
"It's too much," and Jack looks up from the two lines of white powder at Bob O'Malley. "I'll never be able to fall asleep and I hate not being able to sleep."
" Here," Bob takes a big white pill from his shirt pocket.
Jack drops the pill into his shirt pocket and says, "No more." He hands the rolled-up dollar bill to Bob who bends over the powder.
"Tom sold the house so you're upstairs? O Malley asks, and like a magician the two lines of white powder disappear.
"Till i find another place," Jack whispers.
Straightening up, O'Malley looks at Dell, "I know you 're hurting Dell, I'm sorry, I'm sad about Kate, too."
"Kate had a kid. A boy, four years old."
Jack becomes quiet, walks through the darkened room over to the bar. Leaning over the bar he grabs two shot glasses and a bottle of Wild Turkey, walks back into the poolroom. He puts the shot glasses on top of the pin ball machine. "We have a winner, " the pin ball machine announces. Dell fills the glasses.
"Felix came in the other day, he's taken it hard," Bob tells him.
Bill Wain knock down four times in the sixth round, he lost consciousness in the dressing room, and died at the hospital."
"I heard. What's the longest you went without sleep? Jack asks.
"Oooohhh, five, six days, who knows, after awhile you lose all track of time."
They take the shots and throw them down.
"I wonder if animals dream," Jack wants to know. "I wonder if dogs dream."
"Sure, they do, " O'Malley assures him, nodding his head up and down, "dogs, cats, squirrels, birds."
"Probably not insects."
"Why not? June bugs, fleas, even moths, it's all biochemical, dreams are biochemical, mix the right combination of certain chemicals, electric impulses, and you'll produce love and dreams."
Jack Delleto goes into his room above the bar, studies it. The light from the unshaded lamp on the nightstand casts a huge shadow of him onto the adjacent wall. Not much to the room, a sink with a mirror above it next to a dresser, a bed against the wall, a wooden chair in front of a narrow window.
The rain pounds the roof.
The apprehension grows. The panic turns into anger. Jack rushes the white wall, meets his shadow, explodes with a left hook. He throws the right uppercut, the overhand right, three left hooks. He punches the wall and his knuckles bleed. He punches and kicks the blood-stained wall.
At last exhausted, he collapses into the chair in front of the open window. Fist sized holes in the plaster revel the bones of the building. The room has been punched and kicked without mercy.
The austere room has won.
The yellow note pad, he needs the yellow note pad, finds it, takes the pencil from the binder but no words will come so he writes, "insomnia, the absence of dream." He reaches for the lamp on the nightstand, finds it, and turns off the light. Red and blue, blue and red, the neon from the Wagon Wheel Bar sign blinks soft neon into his room. The sign seems to pulsate to the cadence of the rock music coming from the bar.
Taking the big white pill from his shirt pocket, he swallows it, leans back into the chair watching the shadows of rain bleed down the wall. The darkness intensifies. Jack slides into the night.
The rain turns to snow.
With each step he takes the pain throbs in his arm and shoulder socket. His raw throat aches from the drafts of cold air he is ******* through his gaping mouth and although his legs ache he does not turn to look back. Jack must keep punching holes with his ice axe, probing the snow to avoid a fall into an abyss.
The pole of the ice axe falls effortlessly into the snow, "**** it, another one."
Moonlight coats the glacier in an irridecent glow and the mountain looms over him. It is four in the mourning and Jack knows he needs to be high on the mountain before the mourning sun softens the snow. He moves carefully, quietly, humbly to avoid a fall into a crevasse. When he reaches the top of the couloir the wind begins to howl.
"DA DA DUN, DA DA DUN, HEY PURPLE HAZE ALL AROUND MY BRAIN..."
Jack thinks the song is in his head but the electric guitar notes float down through the huge blocks of ice that litter the glacier and there standing on the arête is Jimi, his long dexterous fingers flying over the guitar strings at 741 mph.
"Wait a minute, " Jack wonders, stopping dead in his tracks. The sun is hitting the distant, wind-blown peaks. "Ah, what the hell," and Jack jumps in strumming his ice axe like an air guitar, singing, shouting, "LATELY THINGS DON'T SEEM THE SAME, IS THIS A DREAM, WHATEVER IT IS THAT GIRL PUT A SPELL ON MEEEE, PURRPPLLE HAZZEEE."
Slowly the door moans open.
"Jack, are you awake?" her voice startles him.
"Yeah, I'm awake."
"What's the matter, can't sleep?"
Jack sifts position on the chair. "Oh, I can sleep all right." He recognizes the voice of the shadow. "I want to climb to a high mountain through ice and snow and never be found."
"A heart that's empty hurts, I miss you, Jack Delleto."
"I'm glad someone does, I miss you, too, Kate."
There is silence for several minutes and the voice comes out of the darkness again.
"Jack, you forgot something that night."
"What?" The dark shape moves towards him. When it is in front of him, Jack stands, slips his arms around her waist.
"You didn't kiss me goodbye."
Her lips are soft and warm. Her arms tighten around his neck and the warmth of her body comes to him through the cold night.
"Jack, what's the matter?" She raises her head to look at him, "Why, you're crying."
"Yeah, I'm crying."
"Don't cry Darlin," her lips are soft against his ear. "I can't bear to see you unhappy, if you love me, tell me you love me."
"I love you, I do," he whispers softly.
"Hold me, Jack, hold me tighter."
"I'll never let you go." He tries to hug the shadow.
The dread grows into an explosion of consciousness. Suddenly, he sits up ******* in the cold drafts of air coming into the room from the open window. Jack Delleto gets up off the chair and walks over to the sink. He turns on the cold water and bending forward splashes water onto his face. Water dripping, he leans against the sink, staring into the mirror, into his eyes that lately seem alien to him.
Someone approaches, Jacks turns, looks out the open door, sees Joesph Martin go shuffling by wearing a faded bathrobe and one red slipper. Jack hears Martin 's door slam shut and for thirty seconds the old man screams, "AAHHH, AAAHHH, AAAHH."
Then the building is silent and Jack listens to his own labored breathing.
A glance at the clock. It is a few minutes to 7 a.m. Jack hurries from his room into the hallway. They pass each other on the stairs. The big man is coming up the stairs and Jack is going down to see O'Malley.
Jack has committed a trespass.
When the big man reaches the top of the stairs, the red exit light flickers like a votive candle above his head. The man slides the brim of his Giants baseball cap back and forth across his forehead, he turns and looks down, "Hello, Jack, brother. Dad loved you, too, you know." An instant later the sound of a door closing echoes down the hallway steps.
Jack Delleto is standing in the doorway at the bottom of the steps looking out onto the wet, bright street.
"Hey, Jack, man it's good to see you, glad to see you're still alive."
Jack turns, looks over his shoulder, "Felix, how the hell are you?"
The two men shake hands, then embrace momentarily.
"Ah, things don't get any better and they don't get any worse," shrugs the old man and then he smiles but his brown eyes are dull, and Jack can smell the cheap wine on the breath of the old boxer. "When are comin back? Man, you've got something, Kid, and we're going places."
"Yeah, Felix, I'll be coming back." Jack extends his hand. The old fighter smiles and they shake hands. Suddenly, Felix takes off down Main Street towards Foodtown as if he has some important place to go.
Jack is curious. He sees the rope when he starts walking towards the Wagon Wheel Bar. One end of the rope is tied around the parking meter pole. The rest of the rope extends across the sidewalk disappearing into the entrance to the bar. The rattling of a chain catches his attention and when the huge white head of the dog pops out of the doorway Jack is startled. He stops dead in his tracks and as he spins around to run, he slips falling to the wet pavement.
The big, white mutt is curious, growls, woofs once and comes charging down the sidewalk at him. The rope is quickly growing shorter, stretches till it meets it end, tightens, and then snaps. Now, unimpeded by the tension of the rope the mutt comes charging down the sidewalk at Delleto. Jack's body grows tense anticipating the attack. He tries to stand up, makes it to his knees just as the dog bowls into him knocking him to the cement. The huge mutt has him pinned down, goes for his face.
And begins licking him.
Jack Delleto struggles to his knees, hugs her tightly to him. Looking over her shoulder, across Main Street to the graffiti painted on the boarded shut Delleto Market...
FANTASY WILL SET YOU FREE
To Tommy, Crazy George and Snake, we all enjoyed a little madness for a while.
"Conversations With a Dead Dog..."