Authors: Mary Beth Keane
“Why’d you have this in your bag today, Anne?” They were idiots, she thought. Each one more idiotic than the last. They had no brains for nuance. They had no conception of a way of thinking that was different than their own. “Your husband. He left this at home?” They assumed
Brian was at work, but Brian wasn’t at work. He was at the garage not a mile away from Food King, hoping the mechanic there could squeeze six more months of life out of his Chevy. He’d left the gun where he always left it when he was off duty—on top of the bookcase in the family room. Yes, he was supposed to be wearing it but he couldn’t be bothered. He was in Gillam. Why would he need it? Anne would have had it back on the bookcase without him ever realizing it was gone.
In the fluorescent light of the hospital corridor, in full view of any person who might happen down the hall, they unstrapped her from the gurney and lifted her onto a hospital bed. Someone rolled her over and someone else tugged down her pants until she could feel her bare behind was exposed for the world to see. She began laughing. They told her to be still so she wagged her behind a little to show them she didn’t care. Someone pushed a needle into her and she noticed she was sobbing. She didn’t remember that she’d stopped laughing. She turned her face to the mattress so they wouldn’t see. Now the sheet under her face was damp and would stay damp until they changed the bedding or moved her again. Someone put thick socks on her bare feet.
When they moved away from her, she figured she had two or three minutes. Maybe less. It all depended on what they’d given her. The cop was hovering around the nurses’ station, the attending physician was with another patient—so she summoned all her strength and stood from the bed. It felt as if they’d attached lead weights to her wrists and ankles. She had a lead anchor strapped to her chest. She moved down the hall and had the same feeling she’d had as a kid trying to run in water. Right. Left. One. Two. Working hard but not getting anywhere. She’d grown up swimming at Killiney Beach, the stones in the water there rattling around inside the waves like bones in a bag. Diving under, you risked getting pummeled. Her mouth was hanging open and her lips were dry.
One foot in front of the other she made it to the end of the hall and slipped out through the swinging doors. They still had her shoes, her coat, her bag, but at home she had more shoes, she had another coat. When she reached the lobby, she put her hand on the reception desk for a moment to catch her breath, and the attendant didn’t even notice she was there. When she stepped outside there was a cab waiting, and she had just enough strength left to open the door and collapse onto the smooth bench seat, the most comfortable seat she’d ever sat upon. It was warm in the cab, and the driver caught her eye in the rearview as if he’d been waiting for her. She knew then that everything had turned around since the supermarket, and now the world was falling over itself to win back her favor.
“Gillam,” she said. “One-se-ven-one-one Jeff-er-son Street.” She said it slowly, as if speaking to a child. She knew she wouldn’t be able to repeat it. She closed her eyes and slept.
It was Francis Gleeson’s face she saw next. His stubbled jaw was different from Brian’s. He had a nice face, really. Not as handsome as Brian’s but nice enough. Dependable. A big Irish head like a cabbage. He was holding her tight. She wanted to ask him about the sound of the waves in Galway, if it was the same bag of bones as in Dublin. He’d tried to talk to her about Ireland once. Early, early, early on. Lena Gleeson was spilling over in those years between the breasts and the belly and the wet-mouthed babies hanging from her. But now Anne wished she’d been kinder. He was carrying her easily, and just as if he entered her house any day of his life, he continued past the threshold, all the way upstairs, and laid her on her bed. She decided if he tried to rape her she’d just let him and deal with it later because she didn’t have the strength to fight. She tried to tell him there was money for the cab in her wallet, but her mouth didn’t work. And she had no wallet. Her feet were so cold.
Peter thought he and his mother might be able to keep the whole thing from his father if they thought it out and worked together. She hadn’t told him what to do, but he figured they had time; he knew his father wouldn’t find it unusual to come home to her asleep upstairs. But then, after carrying his mother up the stairs, Mr. Gleeson didn’t go home like Peter expected him to. “Your mother’s resting,” he said, and asked if Peter would like to go over to his house for a while. Kate wasn’t home but Peter could watch a movie with Natalie and Sara. When Peter refused, Mr. Gleeson just sat down on the Stanhopes’ porch step and waited. Peter couldn’t remember if he’d turned off the car ignition or if it was still up there idling in the Food King parking lot, still ticking off the top one hundred hits of 1990. Then the police officer who’d been asking Peter all those questions at Food King showed up; he’d headed straight to 1711 Jefferson Street as soon as Anne was discovered missing from the hospital. Mr. Maldonado was outside taking down his Christmas lights even though it was after dusk by then, and Peter watched him look over at Officer Dulley in his navy uniform.
Officer Dulley and Mr. Gleeson talked on the lawn, and when Brian finally came home, Peter watched from the window as they spoke to him, and then stepped aside as he rushed into the house and swept his hand back and forth, back and forth across the top of the bookcase. Mr. Smith phoned to make sure Peter was okay. As soon as he’d gotten home and told his wife everything that had happened, his wife had reprimanded him for dropping Peter off, for leaving him alone when it would be dark soon, what a thing for a boy to cope with by himself. “Slow down,” Brian Stanhope said, stretching the phone cord as far away from Mr. Gleeson and Officer Dulley as possible. “Now say all that again, would you?”
For the next few hours there were dealings at the adult level that Peter couldn’t quite follow. His father noticed him sitting on the staircase
in the dark, listening, and sent him to his room, but he returned not two minutes later and listened more. Mr. Gleeson and his father were in the same precinct again, Peter gathered, like they’d been for a few years when they were rookies, but now their precinct was in Manhattan, the Two-Six, near Columbia University. He remembered now. Mr. Gleeson had a brogue that was different from his mother’s but they both said “Brian” like “Brine”—blending the syllables into one.
“Brian,” Mr. Gleeson said, “no one wants you to get jammed up.” Officer Dulley’s expression confirmed this was true. His father raised his voice, “I was at home! I was off duty!” Mr. Gleeson pointed out that, in fact, Brian had not been at home. In fact, he was at the auto shop on Sentinel and now he was up a fucking creek. Mr. Gleeson sounded both angry and disgusted, and for the first time Peter wondered if Kate’s dad was his dad’s boss. He tried to remember how the ranks went. His dad was a patrolman. Mr. Gleeson was a lieutenant.
“Get organized, Brian,” Mr. Gleeson said. “You have to
,” he said, jabbing the side of his own head as he said it. Peter tried to peer around the banister to see his father’s face where the weak light from the corner lamp found it.
Once, when Mrs. Duvin told Peter he had to get his act together in front of all the other kids, he felt his face burn and was afraid he would cry. He prayed his father wasn’t crying, but he couldn’t see his face, only his knee, the leg of his pants. They were quiet in there for a long time. Then, without warning, they seemed to decide something. Officer Dulley handed his father a gun that Peter realized was his father’s own gun. His father shoved it into the waistband of his jeans.
His mother slept and slept.
Nineteen ninety-one arrived, winter break ended, and Peter went back to school. On that first school day of the new year he made himself a
good breakfast. He packed his lunch. He brushed his teeth. His mother came downstairs as he was rinsing his cereal bowl but she didn’t speak to him at first. Instead, she opened the window over the sink and closed her eyes to meet the blast of cold air that rushed in. “You’re exactly like him,” she said after a minute, still with her eyes closed.
“Like who? Like Dad?” Peter said. He knew she didn’t mean it as a compliment.
“Like Dad?” she mimicked, exaggerating his expression without looking at him, making her face dopey and stupid, like she was performing for an audience she hoped to make laugh. “Like Daaaad? Like Daaaaaaaaaaaaaad?” He calmly took his backpack from the peg by the door and fitted it over his shoulders. He felt lonely all of a sudden. Everything in their house was lonely: the dark china cabinet filled with fragile things no one ever touched, the fake plant sitting next to the sofa, the crooked window shade, a silence so violent he wanted to clap his hands over his ears. The bus honked outside.
“Bye,” he said.
She made a wave in the air like she was swatting a fly.
“Did something happen to your mom?” Kate asked when they’d taken their seats on the bus.
“No,” Peter said.
“I thought I heard my parents talking.” At school, none of the kids said anything, not even Chris Smith. Peter could tell Kate, he knew, but he didn’t know what he’d even say. His mom took pills now. That was new. He could tell Kate that they’d shown up by the kitchen sink on New Year’s Day. That there were two big amber bottles and she took one pill from each with a huge glass of water. Then she sort of leaned over the sink for a minute and groaned. Sometimes his father picked up the bottles and held them up to the light, shifted the contents a bit like he was counting how many were inside. “Is Mom sick?” Peter had asked one evening.
“Who? Mom?” his father said. And didn’t answer.
She returned to work the same week Peter returned to school. She’d taken her leftover vacation days at Christmas, and everything that happened fit neatly into that two-week frame. No one mentioned Food King, or the ambulance, or Mr. Gleeson carrying her inside. But after a few weeks, Peter could feel something new stirring, a shift in air pressure, a tilt in a direction he had to reorient himself toward. Breakfast, school, homework, playing—the days and weeks looked mostly the same as they always had. After Mass on Sundays they still slipped out the side door while the other families stood around and talked out front. Now they bought their groceries at the more expensive store two towns away and whenever they left, his mother would stand by their car for a minute to study the receipt with a downturned mouth. But that wasn’t it. Ever since the New Year, it was as if what they were saying to each other—he and his mother and his father—was not really what they were saying to each other.
His mother seemed better. When the amber bottles were near empty, two full ones replaced them. On Valentine’s Day she left a heart-shaped chocolate on his dinner plate and one for his father, too. One evening she shared a joke she heard at work—three surgeons walk into a bar—and his father had smiled. Still, he seemed always on the verge of saying something and then at the last moment changing his mind. She sensed it, too. Some nights when he didn’t say much, she’d jump up and fill his plate with seconds before he was quite finished with firsts. She’d go to the freezer and get ice for his drink. She’d never been like that before. “I’ll do that,” she’d say when he started to clear the dishes, and he’d let her do it, retreating to the sofa. Later, when Peter would come down from his bedroom to tell them he’d finished his homework, he was going to bed, he’d find them on opposite ends of the room, his dad staring at the TV, his mother flipping through a magazine, glancing over at him every time she turned the page.
And then one morning while he was getting ready for school and his mother was getting ready for work, Peter ran downstairs to see if there were any clean socks in the dryer and almost slipped on a glossy pamphlet at the bottom of the stairs. The pamphlet seemed to be about a golf course in South Carolina. His father used to golf, Peter knew, or at least he’d purchased a set of clubs in hopes of learning. He’d promised to show Peter one day when he got tall enough. The man on the cover of the pamphlet had just hit a ball and was smiling as he watched it sail away. On the inside there was a picture of a man and a woman on what looked to be a date. There were lists of numbers and prices. Studios. One, two, three bedrooms. Seasonal rentals or year-round. Peter was the one who took in the mail most days, but he didn’t remember seeing it. He put it on a table in case it was important, hunted down socks, and returned to his bedroom. When he was fully dressed, he looked out his bedroom window and watched his dad shovel out his car after a surprise March snowstorm. He watched his dad turn the shovel over and tap the icy windshield with the edge of the handle. The ice fractured into shards and he removed a glove to pry them off one by one, flicking them onto the driveway. Every once in a while he’d shade his eyes with his hand and look off down the length of Jefferson.
He doesn’t want to be here, Peter thought. He wants to leave. The idea landed lightly and easily, and as soon as Peter noticed it there, everything that hadn’t quite made sense made sense again.
He heard his father stomping snow off his boots on the mat outside, and then the squeal of the rubber weather strip on the bottom of the door as he entered the house. When Peter went down for breakfast, the pamphlet was gone.
But weeks went by and nothing happened. Spring came. Baseball season began. His father said that it was high time Peter went to a real game.
He’d get the list of home games and decide on a date. The tulips pushed up along the side of the Gleesons’ house. The days were warmer and Peter and Kate got off the bus each day with their uniform sweaters tied around their waists. They began practicing for graduation. Kate had been paired with John Dills for the processional. There were more boys than girls in the grade, so Peter and the second tallest boy had to walk down together. They’d be off to high school soon and then things would speed up. A driver’s license. A job. College. Freedom. And in the meantime, it would be fine if things stayed exactly as they were. And for a few weeks, things did.