My son John is the only consolation. He is handsome and straight. I want to be the architect of him. He is like a good dog; he reminds me of Trooper, the red setter I had before I went in the army. That dog was smart. When you wanted something he didn't understand, you could see his brain working to figure it out. He would whimper with eagerness to please. John is that way. The only danger is the Italian in him. When I see that moody bitterness, I want to beat him like Trina.
Blows are a currency which devalues fast. The more you spend, the less they're worth. I am proud to say I have only hit John three times. Never hurt him, of course; just a soft open-handed slap, a warning of what will come later if he resists. Just tuned him up a little. Never had to do more than that; he falls right into place.
Trina is more of a problem. I've hit her much more often than that. Its her fault. Half the time it works just as it does with John; she settles right down. The rest of the time, she's in one of those crazy Italian operatic moods. Falls on the floor screaming, Go ahead! Why don't you kill me! I don't want to live anyway!
John can't be permitted to see that. I'm too smart to get carried away. Dad always said, if you must get angry, let it be the rage of the fox. I end the discussion, walk away, find a way to get John out of the house. When he's down the block at a friend or over at his aunt Belle's, I look for Trina. In the early years, she was never expecting it. Now she watches for me, knowing what I will do. Runs away. It doesn't matter. I catch her by the wrist, throw her on the floor and kneel over her. Heavy slaps. Sometimes as I work I say, Do you want a black eye? Do you want John to see a black eye? Fuck you, she said once, and I landed one. It only travelled a short distance, but hard. What a shiner. Since then, it quiets her down. She doesn't want John to know, any more than I do.
I'm not sure what went wrong. If I had to marry at all, I went about it the right way. And I wanted a son, so I had to have a wife. You don't want to marry a girl from the neighborhood, with a meaty father who works in construction, or a powerful one who is in the Democratic club or in business. Someone who could step in. Dad always said to marry a poor girl with no family. Someone who will completely depend on you. From that point of view, bringing a wife from overseas was the right way to go.
Just probably not from Sicily. I got sentimental. I could have waited til after the war, stayed on a little while, and traveled. Maybe in the north of Italy, maybe in Switzerland, I would have found someone more docile. There were hundreds of thousands of girls available without visible means of support. Its the one time in my life I ever let my dick do the thinking. I married the one who could fuck like a bunny but fight like a wolverine.
Still, I'm twice her size. I whaled on her two or three times and now she behaves. Instead of fighting, she sulks. I can live with that. I have my other women. When I feel like it, I have Trina. Its not a bad life, and there is my son.
I had said we might go to the beach today but when I see the look on her face I decide to spend the day at Celine's. Celine is a former waitress who used to be my brother Charlie's mistress. After he married Belle she became mine.
I feel bad for John but the thought of being on the beach all day looking at Trina's lemon-sucking face is unbearable. Do you know you're starting to look like your mother? I say. You're becoming your mother. I wouldn't bring Elena here and she stayed in Sicily. We invite her for visits every few years but I make sure she goes back.
I'm not going to the beach, I say. I have some business to do. I have three muffler shops and some other stores, and I can always find an excuse to go out, any time of day or night. Of course, I don't have to tell Trina anything.
I didn't really want to go to the beach anyway, my wife says.
Oh, you're going, I say. I want the boy to have some sun. Take him to Jones Beach.
She looks like she is about to fight me so I raise my hand. I point at her. She knows that the pointing hand can deliver a slap in a hurry. She settles down and mutters, All right.
Now I feel good. I haven't been to Celine's in a week or two. I dress in a jacket and tie, put some cologne on, and go out. There is no hurry. I won't even call ahead. Celine is a Jew. She doesn't go to church and in fact never leaves the house on a Sunday. If I get there before dinner, I'll find her.
First I make a tour of the muffler shops. No special reason, just to let the employees know that I am watching them, in case any of them are thinking about cheating me. Then I go over to Kings Highway, to Battista's. Its still only ten thirty, and he's not open, but Battista himself is inside. He welcomes me with an eager smile and pours us both a shot at the bar. The whiskey goes down fierce and warm. I am a pillar among men, I think.
I survey my empire. I am worth about two to three million dollars today. The shops plus the real estate: I own some houses and apartment buildings. I just have to carve off another ten to fifteen million, and I'll be happy. It doesn't seem to be hard to get what I want from this whore Brooklyn. I twist her arm and Charlie, who is in the state assembly, tickles her feet.
I am feeling too good to think about danger, but at this point in my thoughts I owe it to myself to look for problems on the horizon. There are few. Charlie is the biggest one. My brother is the weak link. He is soft, easy-going, and lazy. Charlie may not go the distance. If he won't, then fuck him. I can do it myself.
If you don't believe my brother is weak, look at his wife Belle . He married her almost ten years after I brought Trina home. I already knew I had made a mistake, and I told Charlie, but did he listen? No.
Like me, he followed dad's advice, to a point. We got it in our heads one day in 1955 that we wanted to try out the whores of Quebec. We took a weekend and went up there, just the two of us. I told Trina it was business. John was only three and she was all wrapped up with him; it wasn't like we were doing it much anyway. Charlie was practicing law at the time and doing favors for guys over at the clubhouse. He didn't get elected to the assembly 'til the following year.
Charlie is sentimental. When we checked in at the Chateau Frontenac, he got started talking to the old girl at the front desk. She must have said "my daughter" to him three hundred times in five minutes. The daughter worked in the administrative office as a bilingual secretary. Charlie pretended he didn't like the room, went to the office to get a gander at the girl. Sexy little French brat with the wide cheeks and the sensual mouth. Blue eyes, dark straight hair to her shoulders. I got one look at her and knew that she would have Charlie's nuts in a box in her desk. I took him aside and tried to knock some sense into him. We came up here for whores, not virgins. I think you're making a mistake, but if you must take her to dinner, try to nail her and forget about her. I went off to the whorehouse but it was all spoiled. Charlie took Belle to dinner every night at the expensive tourist places: Petite Marmite, Aux Anciens Canadiens. We'd meet back in the room. He said he was thinking about inviting her to New York. I said, if you do, it better be as your mistress or I'm giving up on you. If you marry that girl, you'll prove you're not worthy of being my partner in the master plan.
I'm not an idiot, Charlie said. He went off and asked Belle to come to New York with him. When she figured out what the deal was, she said no. All the way home on the train, it was like someone had died. You just had a narrow escape, I said. The last thing in the world you need is to abdicate your pants to that bitch. She's not, Charlie said, she's very soft. Yes, I said, like a silk sheath over steel.
I tried to baby-sit him for a few weeks. He had Celine, I introduced him to other girls. But I couldn't watch him every second. He got away from me the third weekend and went to Quebec. He came back married.
It all happened so fast. I wouldn't talk to him, but he insisted on seeing me to ask what to do about Celine. I don't understand why you can't have a wife and a mistress, I said. I don't want to, Charlie answered me. I just want to be with Belle. You're a worse fool than I thought, I said. I had my eye on Celine anyway, so I said I'd take her off his hands. Charlie was very grateful. Celine was a bit weird about it but she got used to the idea.
I was right about Belle. She holds the leash on Charlie. Its embarrassing, especially for a politician; anyone who sees them together knows who is in control. He's so quiet, respectful and obedient around her. It makes me crazy to watch them.
Then he has the nerve to complain to me about his wife sometimes. She won't suck his cock. Charlie always liked a blow job better than sticking it in between a woman's legs. Celine gives the best. I said, if you want it that bad, just give her a taste of the hand, like I do Trina. He said, I could never do that. Then what do you need it from your wife for? There are plenty of other women would give it to you. In the dark a tongue is a tongue. I want Belle, Charlie says.
You idiot, I say, I told you not to marry her.
Dad always told us, marry a poor girl with no father, Charlie replies.
It was good advice for a harder man than you, I tell him. He didn't mean to entrust your dick and balls to a cast iron bitch. Its shameful to see.
I've ruined my mood thinking about Charlie and Belle. Now I feel angry and suspicious. Like a fox, I tell myself. I decide to circle around back by the house, to make sure Trina obeyed me.
I drive home and something is wrong. The Caddy is in the driveway, but there's no-one in the house. No note either. Where did she take John, not with the car? I go two blocks over to East Twenty-first, to Belle's. Her car is gone and no-one answers her door. Maybe Belle took Trina and John to the beach.
Hello, Mr. Chalfin, a voice says. I turn around and see Elora Menotti , the former schoolteacher. She is with her psycho son, the fifteen year old who thinks he's a rocket in space . They are carrying bags of groceries. Elora looks tired, not as beautiful as ten years ago, but still like she could give you a romp on the rug that would be worth the time. If the kid only weren't around. She's never more than ten feet away from him.
Belle left for Jones Beach about half an hour ago with your son.
I know I am about to break another rule of dad's: never wash dirty laundry in front of a stranger. But I can't help it, because I have to know.
What about my wife?
She wasn't with them.
I want to make up some story, some excuse, but I can't think of anything. Impossible to tell if Elora is aware of a problem or not. She seems to just mark time in between her boy's melt-downs and blast-offs. I raise my hat to her, get back in the car and go. Feeling speechless. I wish Trina was on the carpet right now, between my knees, quivering and trying to protect her face with her hands. She's trying to fuck me somehow. I don't see it clearly but there's something going on. I could ask my attorney, Sid, to roust up that p.i. he uses, have him watch the house next time I go out on a weekend.
She may just be moping around the neighborhood, killing time. She said she didn't want to go to the beach. I go home, but she still isn't there. I drive up and down Avenue P and the neighboring streets, but I don't see her. It wouldn't be prudent to ask anyone else. I don't want everyone to know I have no idea where my wife is.
The day is spoiled. I'm not sure whether I still want to go to Celine's. I return to Battista's; he is open for lunch now, and the place is jumping, but he clears a drunk off my corner stool and pours me another shot. I knock it back and a few things become clear. I will go to Celine's, fuck her and enjoy myself. Tonight, if I'm not satisfied with Trina's explanation, and maybe even if I am, I won't hold back. She'll be black and blue. Let her tell John a door hit her. And Belle will also pay. My wife has been running to Belle a little too often recently. Belle may own Charlie, but she doesn't own me.
Of course, I can't do anything in the open to my brother's wife. But I come up with a plan that makes me laugh. What's the joke, Mr. Chalfin? asks Battista, with his shit-eating smile. Private joke, I say, and leave.
Celine lets me in and makes her usual show of being happy to see me. I sit in the big armchair. My usual signal. She tries to get out of it. Bernard, I was just in the middle, I'm washing some things out.... They can wait, I say. She shrugs, smiles at nothing, and kneels in front of me.
I stay the afternoon, in the apartment which I pay for. Later, when I feel up to it, we go to bed, and I have her again. Then we lie there a while. She puts her head on my chest, as if she loves me, as if I love her. I pat her hair a few times, to soften her up. Then I say, I've invited Charlie to come spend next weekend with you.
Celine is stunned. I feel her body stiffen. You mean....
Yes, that's exactly what I mean.
She gets that whiny tone I hate. But Bernard, I'm with you now.
What the fuck does that mean? I imitate her girlish whining: 'But Bernard....'
I don't turn tricks, I'll never turn tricks, I stay with one man at a time....
I sit up with Celine in my arms and push her out of the bed. Not violent; I hold her tightly so she does not fall to the floor. I settle her on her knees and take her by the back of her neck. With my other hand I give her a light slap. Warning of things to come. Celine is not like Trina. She's docile, settles right down. I almost never have to hit her.
You can't do that to me, she whispers, but I know she is already defeated and that I will not have to do it again.
Of course I can, I say, as long as I pay for your apartment and the clothes that aren't on your back right now. If you don't want to do what I say, you can just go be a waitress again at Senior's.
She is hiding her face on my arm.
So when Charlie walks in here next week, will you show him a good time? She says something I can't hear.
What did you say? I ask.
That's my girl.
The next problem will be to get Charlie to do it. But I think I can. He's restless these days. Belle won't blow him and they haven't had a kid. He's probably really horny for a blow job and Celine gives the best. I don't think he'll fight me. I can sound him out without really being specific. If he's receptive, I'll set it up, and if he isn't, I'll trick him. Ask him to meet me at Celine's to talk business, then leave them alone. That would do it. Charlie can be such a jerk.
I want to call him right away to set the hook and start playing him into the shallow water. Maybe I can even get him over here tonight. I remember he's not in town. He can't be in Albany, its the recess. Then I remember: he went to D.C. with a state delegation this weekend. That fucking guy is meeting the President today.
Later, Celine just has to say: Charlie never hit me.
I want to slap her again, but blows are a currency that loses its value if you give too many. I say, Yeah, Charles is a saint. But I'm twice the man my brother is.
She doesn't say anything.
I take her by the wrist: Say it.
You're twice the man Charlie is.
You're damn right, I say.