Some scenes are hard to write. This was one.
“He walked. Past the old mills, past the stoops, past the troubles that weren’t his own; out of the light of downtown into the darkness of the worker’s ghetto, along the paths he had played on, had run along trailing Del Williams, shouting. Across the dividing line from the ghetto to the newer, brighter, nicer neighborhoods, the divide between torn pants and broken shoes, leaking roofs and dirt lawns and pale blue seersucker Sunday suits, iced tea on the patio and green trimmed lawns lined with perfect flowers; from childhood to manhood; across that divide that had defined his entire life, each step shedding the Chris Foleys, Charlie Adams, Bill Wallinskis of the world, the present woes cast upon Ironton like a curse; losing the heat, the noise until there was only his shuffling steps along the broken sidewalks; walking till there was only Martha; turning, blindly taking a block at a time, surprised to find himself at their old school, then turning again past the bus stop, each house a marker deeper into his past, deeper into the days when he and Martha walked hand-in-hand, she shouting out hellos to all, he stumbling in an amazed and embarrassed joy that she was with him; stopping at corners, smiling into his astonished face, he wordless in crazy happiness, thrilled as she wrinkled her freckled nose and brushed that red, red hair from her face; stunned at the lightness he felt, a lightness that even the cold shadow of the ghetto could not dampen; walked along the familiar route from the school to her house, which then seemed to shine, but now resting before its dark ridge behind, was dark and hollow, especially the shaded windows of the second floor where they lived; walked now out of the light into a shade, feet leaden, a sensation that confused him because he wanted to hurry, to run to her side, but instead walked as if he was leaning into a head wind.
Finally home, the street silent and blinking with fractured light of a broken street lamp, the ancient, damaged shed and red hand mark flashing in and out of sight; even here the writhing troubles of Ironton seethed.
His damaged shoulder sagged as he leaned to open the heat-swollen front door, snapping off a creak that pried open the silence of the hallway.
The last few days had been bad for Martha, pain rising then ebbing, the heat drawing life from her body leaving it in soaking sheets.
Yet, she smiled. Each morning. Each afternoon when he came home. And at night when the weight of him slipping into the bed woke her briefly, her eyes unfocused, then closing in pain.
“How’s my girl?” he asked softly as he kissed her; he dried her face with the clean cloth nearby.
He didn’t expect an answer. Sometimes her sleep was so deep and her breathing so shallow he leaned back startled, and expecting the worst, checked her pulse, only to breathe again when he detected one.
Her eyes popped open, then the right one closed.
“Catch the bastard yet?” A dry creaky voice.
The question drew a laugh from him. He kissed her. “No. Not yet.” Tears formed at the corners of his eyes. “We will.”
“Hurry up, damn it. I want to be around to read about it in the paper.”
“Frank, I dreamed of you. Of you and me. Us playing, teasing, standing naked in the dark, your shining skin against mine, the salt of your sweat on my tongue…” She stopped, motionless. “I loved your hands on me, fingers probing, you inside, me licking you, all those dirty little things the priests told us not to do, the things that would condemn our souls…” Three or four short, ragged breaths. “It’s a wide world, Frank. And I followed you…”
He pulled himself in, chest collapsing, shoulder sagging, voice a hollow breath. “No, sweetie, Martha. No. I’m here.”
“I saw you clapping the day I graduated. Standing alone for so long, clapping and cheering, I could feel you.” A pause, she brushed her fingers across her lips. “You took me to the park and sprinkled rose petals on my belly. And they stuck to everything…” A coughing laugh. “And when you were done my tits were so hard and I was so wet. No one can use that park anymore, Frank. No more. Never.”
“You chased him away. My dark companion. But he comes back and I have to push him off. You gave me that strength, to push him away.”
This time when she fell silent, her head rolled to one side and she seemed empty.
“Don’t go,” he wimpered, broken.
He wiped her face with the cloth again and she turned her head to him. “Don’t be scared. Look at me. Let me see your eyes. That’s my strength, Frank. Your eyes. Always.” Silence. Then a whisper. “Romeo’s a-travelling to Mantua. Fetch him.”
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You might also like to read the three Frank Nagler Mysteries.
The Frank Nagler Mysteries are: