Authors: Peter Blauner
Tags: #Hard Case Crime
AFTER SEEING WHAT
my father did to Larry, all I wanted to do was come home and have a quiet night with my family. But it was like trying to sit down to a normal meal after looking at the inside of somebody’s stomach.
Almost as soon as I walked in the front door, with Larry’s smell still on my hands, I got into a fight with my wife.
“I have a surprise for you,” she said.
“Holy shit! What is it?”
“What do you mean, ‘what is it?’ It’s a fucking couch. What does it look like to you?”
Twice I walked around this thing. It took me about two minutes each time. It was enormous. All done up in peach with these soft brocade pillows and a fringe hanging off the end that reminded me of the shawl my mother used to wear. It looked like the type of thing you’d lie down on before you died.
In fact, if Larry DiGregorio had any luck at all he would’ve been lying on a couch like this instead of the back-alley Dumpster where we’d left him.
“Where’d you get this thing from anyway?”
“From Spartz, two weeks ago,” said my wife. “They just delivered it.”
My face fell. “Why’d you go there?”
“What do you mean, why would I go there?” said my wife Carla, who was five months pregnant and had a voice that made the neighbors pull their windows down. “It’s a fuckin’ furniture store.”
At the same time, both of us seemed to realize our two kids were in the other room, playing with the computer. Carla put her hand over her mouth, like she was ashamed of what she’d just said.
“I thought we were going to wait a while,” I said, trying to lower the temperature a little. “Save some money, so we could afford one of those nice Scandinavian couches Dave D.’s gonna be getting in.”
“I already went by Dave D.’s and he didn’t have nothing I wanted,” Carla whispered. “Everything he’s got is made out of tan leather. It’s like a fuckin’ furniture store for fag bikers. I wanna wear leather, I’ll go ride a motorcycle. I wanna sit on the couch with my baby, I don’t sit on leather. Especially in the summer when it gets all sticky and I wanna wear shorts.”
I looked at her stuffed into her mother’s striped Capri pants and purple halter top, and wondered what had gone wrong with our lives.
I’d started going with Carla back in high school. I’d had a couple of other girlfriends before her, but neither was Italian, so my father and Teddy poisoned me against them. “You shouldn’t have outsiders around the house!” Instead they asked me to take out Carla, who was Teddy’s niece. Right away, we hit it off. There was a special connection between us. Psychosis I think is the word. She was the only girl in my grade who wore tattoos and motorcycle boots. The two of us were the class misfits. It was her and me against the world.
But then I went off to college and things changed. I started reading books and hanging out with a different crowd, people who were going into the kind of professions where you negotiated with a telephone instead of a crowbar. And Carla stayed home in Atlantic City and became more like her uncle’s niece. Right then was when we should’ve broken up. But when I came back to town on Christmas vacation sophomore year, Carla took me for a walk on the Boardwalk and told me she was pregnant. And that was all she wrote. We were stuck together even though we didn’t belong together anymore. It was nobody’s fault.
“You shouldn’t have gone to Spartz,” I told her.
“You should’ve waited. By summer, maybe one of those contracts would’ve come through for me, and we could’ve gone to Ikea and redone the whole living room.”
“But I can’t stand to wait,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “I’m already dead on my feet from carrying this baby around.”
“It would’ve just been a couple of more months.”
“That’s what you always say. There’s always a break just around the corner. But you know what your problem is, Anthony? You only talk to people you already know. It, it’s ... what’s the word I want?”
“It’s retarded,” she said. “You talk to the same people, you go to the same places, your life’s in a rut. You’re not going anywhere.”
“Oh that’s not true,” I said, taking off my jacket and checking the sleeves to make sure none of Larry’s blood got on them. “I’m always trying to get out. Don’t you see me working morning, noon, and night trying to get out and make a name for myself?”
“You’re only doing that to get away from me,” she said, changing tack.
One minute I was hanging out with the same people all the time. The next I was trying to get away from her. I couldn’t win with Carla. I guess we were just clawing at each other because we were unhappy and didn’t know what else to do.
“You still should’ve waited,” I said, kicking one of these little green Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle dolls the kids left lying on the floor like claymore land mines. I’d finally saved enough to afford some toys and already they were out of date. “We could have had something modern in the house.”
“Instead of what?” Carla was starting to raise her voice and her belly was beginning to shake.
“Instead of the kind of thing your Uncle Ted and Aunt Camille have.”
It was a low blow but Carla took it better than I expected. She went over and stroked the end of the couch like it was a new cat she’d just let in. And what made that worse was that our walls already smelled from cats.
“Well maybe if you’d go work for my uncle full-time we could afford something nicer,” she said softly.
“I’m not gonna do that,” I muttered.
I was already in too deep with her uncle. When my father first gave me the sixty thousand dollars to go to college and start my business, he didn’t tell me it came from Ted. Now the debt was hanging over my life like the Goodyear blimp.
“So how much is this going to cost us anyway?” I asked, giving the couch a little kick on the side.
“Just forty-five a month.”
“Oh.” I felt like I’d been kneed in the groin. “What’re you telling me? What’re you doing to me? I’m gonna have to make payments on a couch I don’t want?”
“Maybe if you’d come with me just the once, we could’ve picked something out together,” she said. I saw water forming in the corners of her eyes.
This was a couch we were talking about. The whole thing was crazy. We both knew we were broke because I wouldn’t go work for her uncle full-time. So she went and bought a couch that we couldn’t afford. In retrospect, I think this was what’s called a cry for attention.
“You don’t make no fuckin’ time for me anymore,” she said. “Oh, ‘Go right ahead, Carla. Get whatever you want. Anything you want is fine. Just don’t bother me.’”
“Yeah . . . but I didn’t want . . .
I was looking at this couch. In that moment, it became a symbol for everything that had gone wrong in my life. A fat, lumpy, lifeless hulk. It made me think of her uncle and my father and Larry lying there in the alley and us in this house that smelled like a cat even though we didn’t have a cat and how I felt hemmed in by everything. If I’d had a gun right then, I would’ve shot that couch.
Meanwhile, my two kids playing with the computer in the other room were yelling at us to keep our voices down.
“Shut up, what’s a matter witchooo?!!”
I realized I hadn’t been in to see them since I got home. So I gave Carla the time-out sign and stuck my head in. The two of them were sprawled out in front of the Macintosh, for which I was already paying a hundred fifty dollars a month on an installment plan. Rachel with her long black hair and her sallow face, looking as mournful as the Madonna at the age of seven. I could already tell she was going to grow up to be a worrier. Always concerned that everybodyelse is okay. Little Anthony, who was five, was more like me. A hustler, a fast-talker, constantly looking for an angle to beat the odds. His big drawback in life was that he was born deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other. But instead of giving up, he went along with all the special classes and hearing aids, and basically he was going to be fine, except for occasionally mispronouncing words.
They were playing a game called Sim City that allowed you to create an entire planet on the computer screen. With a keystroke, you could build a neighborhood or start a natural disaster.
“Daddy, Anthony’s wrecking the economy again,” Rachel complained.
I still don’t know how I got lucky enough to have two kids who were so much smarter than me. “Come on,” I said “Enough of this bullshit. Let’s play The Dirty Dozen.”
“The Dirty Dozen” was just an excuse to wrestle the way I used to with Vin in the backyard. My kids forgot the computer and jumped on me. Rachel got me on the floor and started slapping my stomach. Anthony climbed onto my head and tried shoving one of those miniature Ninja Turtle dolls up my nose. Probably the same one he’d been keeping in the neighbor’s cat’s litter box.
“Sm-ELL Mich-EL-ange-LO!!” he yelled with that way he has of overenunciating. “Smell Michelangelo!!”
I think, looking back on it, that was the happiest I was ever going to be. Only I didn’t know it at the time.
But then I heard my wife’s voice calling.
“Anthony, come out here again. We were discussing something.”
I hugged the kids and went back out, noticing a little rust-colored stain on the back of my left pant leg. I hoped it wasn’t from Larry. Glancing back at little Anthony, I realized he had the same kind of Bell Tone hearing aid that fell out of Larry’s ear.
“You don’t like this couch—tough shit,” Carla was saying with her arms folded over her chest. “Next time you come with me when I’m gonna get something for the house, instead of hanging out at the club.”
“What do you think? I like being there? It’s my business.”
I thought of Larry lying there with his wig and his jacket unbuttoned.
“Oh yeah, what about all them girls you’re bringing there? You think I don’t know about that?”
“The live entertainment’s all your uncle’s idea. I just help count the money until we get some concrete work coming in. In case you hadn’t noticed, there hasn’t been a crane up in this town in a year.”
And then there were all the bills to think about. In the next few years, there’d be more special schools for Anthony and probably psychiatrists for Rachel with the way she was going. Plus the fifty-five thousand dollars we owed on the mortgage and the sixty thousand I owed her uncle. I looked at the couch and the rust stain on my pants and I shuddered a little inside.
“Listen, Carla, I just gotta get out of here awhile, get some air.”
“We are discussing something.”
“I know, but I just have to get out.”
It was all starting to get to me. The couch. The baby in her stomach. Larry in the Dumpster. I felt like the walls were closing in on me.
I looked around for the hundred-dollar khaki windbreaker I picked up from Macy’s last year at the Hamilton Mall. I found it under little Anthony’s toy helicopter with a yellow crayon mashed into the back.
“I’ll be back in a little bit,” I said, putting the jacket on over my suit pants.
Carla’s eyes never left my face. “Anthony,” she said in a high quavery voice. “I know you. And I know your mind hasn’t been in this house for a long time.”
“Carla, honey, that’s not true. Everything’s going to be fine. We can talk about it when I come back.”
But the truth was that I’d been feeling trapped for years and now I was beginning to think there might be no way out.
I saw Carla looking down at the Disney World ashtray onthe table like she had an idea about throwing it at me again. It already had two chips in it.
“Shut up, will you?!” I heard little Anthony yelling in the other room. “I can’t hear myself think.” He must’ve had the hearing aid turned up too loud.
“But where you going?” Carla asked. “I wanna talk to you.”
“I’m going to see my father.” I almost tore the zipper off my jacket as I was raising it.
“I thought you already saw your goddamn father tonight,” she said. “What the fuck’s the matter with you?”
“Well, I’m seeing him again. I’d rather be with him than take this kind of abuse from my own family.”
Carla’s cheeks were all red and her nose was swelling. “You better be going to see your father. Otherwise I’m gonna go over to Uncle Teddy’s house, borrow his Ruger and you’ll find something else waiting for you when you get home besides a fucking couch.”
“Oh yeah? You’re gonna shoot me when I come in the door? Very nice. Who’s going to look after the kids when they take you away?”
“Anthony, don’t go,” she said, crying so hard it sounded like water rushing into a cove. “I feel like I don’t know you no more.”
For a second, I stopped by the door and looked at her. I was thinking about the way it used to be too. How we met on the Boardwalk one night in the summer after we’d both had fights with our parents. I remembered how we took off our clothes and went swimming in the shallow part of the ocean. Carla had long black hair then and it just kind of floated on top of the water. You could see the moonlight in the little ripples and once in a while, one of Carla’s breasts would break to the surface like the sea was offering up something good to the sky. We were playing a game. Seeing which of us had the nerve to go further out. But each time the tide pulled away, we’d hold hands so one of us wouldn’t get taken off to drown alone in the middle of the ocean.That was a long time ago, though.