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Summer 2007 Short Story II page

The Houston Literary Review is proud to offer our readers a second short story from another writer living in Massachusetts: Thomas Ward.
 
Tom Ward has spent more than twenty years as a Brookline Police Investigator (Drug Unit, Gang Violence Unit, Sexual Assault Unit, and Violent Crimes) working with the Boston Police, State Police, FBI, DEA, Custom, Secret Service, and the United States District Attorney’s Office.
 
Four Massachusetts Superior Courts have certified him as an expert witness in the field of Sexually Based Offensives. Tom graduated cum laude from the University of Massachusetts with a B.S. in Public and Community Service and summa cum laude from Western New England College with an M.S. in Criminology.

He spent more than three years investigating and eventually interrogating a serial child rapist. Tom spent hours discussing the crimes committed as well as delving into the serial rapist's childhood.

Tom written a short story collection, a screen-play, and is currently working on his second novel. He lives in Westwood, Massachusettshas



 

Painting by Donna Kuhn
 
That particular Tatoo
by Thomas Ward 

The Bunker Hill Public Housing Project sprawled less than one-half of a mile from the National Historic Park sight, where the 221- foot granite monument of the same name stood. I had never been there but I could see the peak of it from my bedroom window. The Mystic River Bridge a mammoth rusted structure spread across my horizon and cast a perpetual shadow that at a very young age followed me everywhere I walked, ran, or crawled. I constantly felt the vibrations and heard the hum of traffic hovering off the rusted monster as one of my moms boyfriends would whisper its coming to get you.

Jackie Dwyer, God rest his soul, told me it reminded him of the sound of the helicopters in Vietnam. He sometimes ran around the projects saluting everyone, “PFC Dwyer reporting for duty, Sir.” Jackie was a tunnel rat that one chilly night high on coke and whisky flew off the second span of the Mystic.

I lived in one of the eleven hundred units of the Bunker Hill Projects. This one morning I sat, as I always did, Indian style on the low back, brownish corduroy sofa. Cigarette burns and stains from various unknown and known donors marked it and mixed with the odor of the soiled throw rug at my feet, which I would never step on, made up the entire livngroom furnishings.

I vacantly watched the Zenith black and white television with my green plastic bowl filled with Captain Crunch and Pepsi resting on my lap using my spoon to eat the soggy mess. I stared at the flickering screen; a TV talk show called Paul Benzaquin. I remember he wore a beard but that’s about it.

The kitchen, which won the award for the most disgusting space in the apartment followed closely by the bathroom, was stacked with discolored and broken pots, pans, and dishes. The sink had developed some sort of yellow smelly foam that had oozed along the linoleum counter and mingled with the empty vodka, beer bottles, cockroaches, and one of the many overflowing ashtrays. Someone, at sometime had tried to fry up some sort of meat but failed and this uncovered substance still decomposed in a pan on the once white stove. I kept my cereal, bowl, spoon, and Pepsi in my closet.

I heard the metal front door slam and the sound climbed throughout the hallway. I jumped off the couch and ran, balancing my bowl with both hands, not wanting to leave a trail of spilled Pepsi leading into my room.
I pressed up against the concrete wall of my bedroom closet, being as still as I could possibly be while spooning in the last bits of the soggy cereal.

The apartment door flung opened, no key required. The badly smashed door made of solid housing project steel would barely shut now. I suddenly realized I had forgot to turn off the TV.
He creped in hunched over in his drug-induced funk and coughed forcefully. He knew where I hid; my options were limited, either inside of the junk filled closet or under my unmade Army surplus bed. He did not speak but rather murmured in his nauseating tone. I wanted to open the door, step out, and kick him as hard as I could. “You…lit al piss ant,” He blabbered. “Skip’n scho...ol…a…gain.”

After his tiptoeing around my room, he turned, faced the closet, cupped his hands around his mouth, and whispered something like, “Ahhhh.” I glimpsed through the crack in the door he had made several days ago when he threw me into it. He appeared more disheveled today than usual. I saw the red and gray of his eyes leering in at me. His long stringy black hair fell over his pointed face and partially covered his small ears. I watched him unbuckled his belt, rip it out with one hand, and allow the dull brass buckle to dangle to the floor. He bent and grabbed his stomach as if he needed to puke.

He followed his routine, folded the worn out brown leather belt, and repeatedly snapped it. He staggered and eventually stumbled back onto my bed. He sat there with a stupid look on his face, mouth wide open and eyes sagging. I prayed to the Holy Mother he would pass out and die.

I thought about bursting out of the closet and dashing out of the apartment or I could slowly open the door and tiptoe out, make my way into the hallway, run down the three flights of cement stairs, and run across the asphalt courtyard to temporary safety.

I waited and listened to his labored breathing, waiting for a snort and a snore. I hate this one by far the most, Paulie piece of shit. Years later, I learned his last name, Woldski -- Paul piece of shit Woldski.
Paulie liked to sleep this I knew. Paulie liked to shoot dope this I knew. Paulie liked to hit me hard. He loved to drop his pants and show me... I hated him the most of all for sure.

I snuck out the closet and ran towards my door. He kicked me down and jumped up laughing and spitting all over me. “You stu...pit lit’l ...”

I pushed myself across the green linoleum floor into the corner and squashed myself into a ball. Paulie stood tall, over six feet, but looked like a giant to me then, well me being only nine. He unzipped his pants, dropped them to the floor, and just stood there saying, “… look at me… you... lit el piss ant.”

I could smell the filth off him, the booze and cigarettes stench that mixed with his rancid body odor. Why I asked myself would she let him in here. Why would she?

He decided to boot me in the side of the head. I welcomed the kicks from his slippery smelly loafers.
She came home from work at six-thirty. Paulie the piece of shit had collapsed on the couch. She brought home two-six packs of Budweiser and an Italian sub, half for me.

She still looked beautiful to me then, yet so sad, hopeless, so completely lost. We sat at our small circular wood veneer table that was plopped near the kitchen and shared the sub, loaded with pickles and tomatoes while Paulie the piece of shit snored away three feet from us. Why did she let him in here?
She looked at the welts on the side of my face and head and then picked the tomatoes and pickles pieces off the wax paper and in some sort of pathetic gesture placed them in front of me. She tapped out the last of her Marlboro’s.

“Jeanne’s picking you up… tomorrow,” she mouthed, stood, balanced, and walked over to the couch to search Paulie for cigarettes.
“Yeah, I know…Auntie Jeanne does every Saturday, mom.”

Her head bobbed as she pulled out a crushed pack of cigarettes from Paulie’s back pocket, “Auntie…yeah.” Her body shortly quivered as she stumbled back to her chair. She lit a cigarette, dragging on the end, and talked out of the side of her mouth as she exhaled, “Tell Brendon I…send…my...”

I nodded through a cloud of silvery smoke. I thought about the ritual of hers telling me to send love to her brother, my Uncle Brendon as in the notorious Brendon Lydon. I often dreamed he appeared, floating through the concrete wall, and beat Paulie to death.

She placed her head in her hands with the still smoldering cigarette, and mumbled something. I cleared off the table and stuffed the trash into the teeming bucket next to the broken refrigerator.

My Aunt Jeanne would not, under any circumstance pick me up here, no way no how. She won the battle to get the hell out from between these red brick walls, cloth-line covered asphalt courtyards, and nothing could get her to come back.

Jeanne married a guy from Charlestown, Scotty Marshall. He had been a hockey star at Boston University and played minor league hockey before blowing out his knee. I knew the story well. Scotty moved them to Peabody, about twenty-miles north of here, so she told me. They have two boys, both younger than me, but she never brings them to Walpole State Prison to visit Brendon. It’s always just her and me.

My mother would walk with me to the trolley station and I jumped on the streetcar to Cambridge where Jeanne picked me up in her assortment of new Ford’s from Jim’s car dealership. She always made an effort to kiss me on the forehead. She never asked me about my mother, ever.

The prison drive took us a little less than one hour. I sat in front next to Jeanne as she talked and told me things about her boys and how some day I would get to meet them and maybe even sleep over.
The prison sat deep in the woods and had a huge wall of concrete and rusted bobbed wire encasing it. This unadorned castle became the home to the worst most violent criminals in the state and to my Uncle Brendon. I had never seen him outside of prison.

Jeanne would always park in the furthest possible spot, take in a deep breath, and say, “Ok Daniel let’s go.” She always called me, Daniel.
My eyes would grow larger as we approached the entrance of the prison. I dreaded walking through the front door, and the series of metal grates, and then my aunt and I would be separated …searched. “Hey, kids bring shit in here,” The guard would say to me.

One guy would look at me, shake his head, and say, “You’re what I call job security, kid do.” Another would always remark that I smelled like ‘shit’ and I did. But, I never said anything about it to Jeanne. I never said a word to anybody about anything, ever.

On that particular Saturday, Brendon met with us in a room with other inmates and other people, including other kids. Before this, we had always sat across from him, divided by a thick plastic wall with a small circular hole in the middle. That day I sat with him, Jeanne, and three correctional officers.

“No contact,” The guard with the thick black moustache said to us. Brendon did not acknowledge the man in the least, but glanced at Jeanne and leaned down and patted me on the forehead.
“Lydon,” the moustache-man yelled.

Brendon cleared his throat and nodded to Jeanne. She displayed the saddest of sad smiles.
At thirty-one, my uncle had served nine years of a life sentence for Manslaughter and Armed Bank Robbery. He had long brown hair, a baby face of sorts, and Popeye size tattooed forearms that attached to his Hercules size tattooed arms and chest. He kept sighing and sniffling, folding and unfolding his arms across his chest. He’d crack his thick knuckles and squeeze his hands together. We sat in otherwise silence for quite some time but I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all, in fact I felt safe, very safe.

Brendon had a tattoo of Jesus on his left forearm, a Shamrock on his right forearm, a huge multi-colored Crucifix on his left arm, and a devils head on his right arm that would look back at me if I stared at it.
The windowless-room, with shiny linoleum tiles turned into a very loud place, with kids running and sliding over the floor, people laughing, crying, talking, and this one guy sang a song I had never heard before.

Jeanne broke the silence. “Scotty’s being considered for the BU Hall of Fame.”
Brendon just looked at her with his elbows resting on his knees.
I sat with my hands folded on my lap, staring at him, and he winked at me.
I jumped when the loud speaker announced, “Fifteen minutes.”
“I quit smoking,” He said and nodded.
“Brendon that’s great.”
“How are your boys?” He asked and looked around the room.
Jeanne looked at me, smiled, and whispered in my uncle’s direction. “I’m not bringing them in here, Bren. I’m not.”
He nodded and spoke out of the side of his mouth. “I never asked you too.”

I didn’t move. I didn’t make a frown or a face. I simply sat there in my private little space all safe and sound.
“Ten minutes,” the moustache man yelled as he looked over at us.
Brendon leaned back, rubbed his neck with his left hand, and messed up my hair with his right.
“I spoke with your lawyer,” Jeanne said quickly. “She thinks-
He lifted up his index finger to his lips and Jeanne immediately stopped talking.
“Five minutes,” The moustache man said as he strolled by us again.
Jeanne stood, shook her head, sighed and with tears rolling down her cheek she whispered. “You were a better than, Scotty…You were better than all of them.” She dropped her head into her ring-covered fingers.
He glanced at her and then at me. I turned and leaned towards him and he patted my hand and winked. “See you next week, Danny… my man.”

She practically pulled my arm out of the socket as we sprinted across the parking lot. She cried the entire way home. Her eyes were red and swollen by the time she walked me onto the streetcar in Cambridge on my way back to the projects.

I sat alone as the trolley rattled along, stop after stop the metal wheels would make this ungodly squeal. I got off at the Rutherford Avenue Station and walked the rest of the way home, about a quarter of a mile, the overhead street lamps flickered as the evening traffic slugged along. No matter the weather or the time, I walked very slowly.

That night brought a cold wet wind in off the Atlantic inlet, the kind of wind that bit you, stung your face, and completely soaked through my gray-zip-up hooded sweatshirt.

I walked through the courtyard, through the broken door entryway, and I climbed up the concrete stairwell. I could hear the ruckus from behind my jarred open, banged up metal apartment door. I stopped and watched as the streams of smoke seeped out into the hall.

My life changed when Brendon came home the following May. The States Court of Appeals had overturned his sentence. I will never forget Paulie’s panicked scream when he heard Brendon had been released. The coward pissed his pants as he ran out the door crying, “Oh shit, no no no”. My mother snapped to attention, cleaning and scrubbing, washing and folding, chain smoking cigarettes and joints. She even threw away that decaying corduroy covering and tossed a big piece of blue soft- cotton material over the sofa.

Brendon arrived in a cherry red 1972 Cadillac Eldorado being driven by, Richie Healy. There were men and women who hugged Brendon welcomed him home, and told him how much they all missed him.
Brendon told me he’d sleep on the sofa and would never kick me out of my room. He told my mother to shut-up when she kept insisting he take the bedroom. He did store his stuff in my now spotless closet in my sparkling clean room with my clean-sheeted bed.

Brendon’s first act of business was to walk me down to Saint’s Michael’s Grammar School, introduce me to Father MacAvoy and set up a tutor for me, who turned out to be a living Saint, Sister Anna Patricia.
Brendon and Father MacAvoy talked quietly and Brendon handed him a wad of cash, the most money I had ever seen. The short white haired priest who appeared to me at the time to me very elderly and spoke with a broag promised Brendon that I would be educated. Father MacAvoy turned out to be a man of his word.

Brendon stayed pretty much around the courtyard for a time, doing pull-ups and chin-ups from the metal poles that secured the cloth line that crossed the center of the broken asphalt yard. The only person he allowed inside the apartment was Richie Healy. They’d whisper together at the kitchen table, drink coffee in the morning, smoke cigarettes, and have beers at night. Richie, a freckle faced redhead who hardly spoke beyond, ‘hey kid’, to me and never spoke to my mother.

One day after school, I came home to find Brendon sitting out front on the stoop in a torrential rain. He nodded and told me to get up stairs. I seized this opportunity, for some reason, to dig around through his stuff he kept in my closet.

He had an old shoebox filled with photos of people I had no idea who they were and places I had never seen before. Then there were photos of my mom and Jeanne and Brendon.

I heard him come through the door and closed the top on the box, slid out of the closet, and jumped into bed.
He peeked in. “Do your homework, kid.”
“I don’t have any.”
“What the hell kind of school doesn’t give kids homework? Read a book.”

Things were fine for a while but started to change the more and more Uncle Brendon went out, coming home late or early in the morning. The police would come around and ask him questions. Other guys would meet him in the courtyard. Money suddenly appeared along with a new television, new sofa, and new bed and a desk for me.

One Saturday afternoon he and I walked down to the ocean and just sat there. He asked me, “Did you ever go to Jeanne’s house?”
I shrugged and smirked. “Sort of,” I said.
“What’s that mean, sort of?”
“She picked me up over in Cambridge.”
We walked together, by the old dilapidated factories that sprawled along the Atlantic inlet waterway. The July sun beat down on us as I followed my uncle along an old rail trestle bridge. When we reached the middle of the wooden trestle bridge, we stopped. My uncle took off his shirt, sneakers, and socks. I saw that particular tattoo for the first time. A chill ran throughout my body.

He stood there at the edge of the bridge; I recall vividly the smell of the oil soaked beaten beams rising off the form that stretched across the span of the bridge. When I looked down, I could see the dark blue water of the inlet moving out to sea between the beams. “You swim?” He asked.
“Can I swim?”
He leaned down. “Can-you-swim?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

He smiled for the first time in memory. “Damn right.” He dove and made a perfect entry into the water, popped up, and yelled up to me, “Don’t dive. Jump and hold your nose.”
I stood there looking down at him in the dark blue water, his arms out stretched.
I bent at the knees, pinched my nose, and jumped.
I popped up like a mad alley cat and started flaying around; bobbing up and down, gagging, and Brendon grabbed me. “Close your mouth.”

He held me up by my waist as he treaded in the water. “Relax…just relax, Danny boy.”
I did. I felt my shoulders drop and my breathing slowed.

“Pretend you’re a dog. You ever see a dog swim?”
I nodded and swallowed a mouthful of salty water.

Brendon laughed again as I spit the water out all over his chest. “How do they swim, show me.”
Within ten minutes I swam the doggie paddle, around and around with Brendon barking and howling.
My lips were blue when Brendon and I eventually swam to the rock covered shore.

We stood there in the heat of the day and I stared at that particular tattoo. He looked down at it then looked at me for a while. We simply stood there until I asked him, "Can you take me to the monument?"

"Sure Danny-boy…you and me."