[AUTHOR’S WARNING: This chapter depicts an unfortunate scene of abuse of little Danny by a Catholic priest disguised as a doctor. While the scene is not graphic, it is disturbing, but the only scene of its kind in the entire book. If you prefer, you can skip from the top of page 36, after “He’s in there” to the top of page 40 (“Here, Goofy,” ….” as Danny slips into the secret world in his mind, where he’s fishing with Michael).
[The above caution is verbatim from my novel.]
2. Escape to Hamilton Beach
When Michael disappeared from my view, I sat down and ate part of the sandwich he’d made for me and drank some of the milk. The kitchen smelled like cigarettes. The garbage in the pail leaned against the wall and trailed up it. Some flies buzzed around. I wondered if they thought the yellow daisies in the faded wallpaper were real. I also wondered where Teresa—my mother—was, probably asleep in her bedroom, or drunk, or both.
I tiptoed through the living room and into my bedroom. She must be in bed, I thought. I always hated to wake her up. I went to the closet to get Michael’s flannel shirt that I had hidden there that morning, the shirt he always wore when he took me fishing at Hamilton Beach. I picked it up and held it, taking in my brother’s smell. I took some paper and a pencil from the drawer of the nightstand and sat on the bed. I drew a big boy, then a little boy. They were smiling. Then a stick and a string in each of the boys’ hands. They were going fishing at Hamilton Beach.
Teresa was up.
“Yes, Ma. I’m here. Guess what? There’s a girl named Alison at school who has dark eyes. And Sister Razor Blade, I mean Sister Basil is ugly and mean.”
I moved slowly into the living room. She was standing there in her black bathrobe, pouring scotch into a glass with one hand and clicking the remote control box with the other. She sat down on the couch. With her full lips, dainty nose, and long, thick eyelashes, Teresa’s habits seemed to have no effect on how pretty she was. Too bad it was only on the outside.
“I hate this television,” she mumbled as The Edge of Night, one of her regular soap operas came on, with its weird organ music.
“Take the sheets from my room down to the basement and wash them,” she said. “Leave the sheets on your bed, though. The doctor will be here in a little while.”
I froze. I had hoped the doctors wouldn’t have to come anymore. I had prayed to God to take away whatever Teresa said was wrong with me. I had even prayed to Mary. But they weren’t listening. I started to wonder if God and all the saints felt the same way about me as Teresa did, that I was no good.
“Get moving,” she said, “before the doctor gets here.”
Stepping into Teresa’s room always had the same effect on me. It smelled like liquor and cigarette smoke, and the pink-flowered wallpaper closed me in. The white plastic crucifix on the wall over the bed and the blue and gold statue of Mary standing on the dresser both seemed to be watching me, even though their heads were down and eyes closed, as I pulled the sheets from the bed.
I opened the closet door. On the floor, under Teresa’s red nightgown something black bulged out. I bent down to see what it was, though I didn’t want to know. I touched the housecoat and lifted it up slowly. A black leather bag. The doctor’s. What’s that doing here? I thought. Next to it on the floor was what looked like the doctor’s white coat. There was a brown stain on it near the pocket.
“Hey, you,” Teresa yelled from the living room. “What’s taking you so long? Get down to those washing machines, now before one of the idiots in this hateful building beats you to it!”
I moved the housecoat back over the black bag, and gathered up the load of clothes and sheets. From the top of the dresser, the Virgin Mary, in her blue and gold robes, reached out to me with both arms. I ran out of the room, dragging the laundry past Teresa on the couch, through the kitchen door, and down the hallway steps, then down more steep, narrow steps behind the staircase.
The basement was dark and cold. Quiet. Peaceful. I dragged the sheets to the washing machine under the window and watched a spider weave its web on the crumbly wooden sill over my head. I stood on the dusty wooden stool caked on top with powdered detergent that looked like snow, and scraped my foot across it, so the flakes fell like more snow to the cement floor. I loaded the heavy sheets into the open round door of the washing machine. I struggled to turn the big knob until it clicked.
I looked up. Outside the window, one by one, nickel-sized drops of rain had begun to drop down onto the ground and onto the dusty window over the washing machine, then came a rumble of thunder which made me jump. If Michael ever found out about the doctors, he would go away forever—that was what Teresa had told me. Good thing the doctors always left before Michael got home, though it didn’t seem to matter if Frances was there. The thunder cracked, sounding as if God were splitting the Empire State Building right down the middle. I jumped again and yelled, and ran up all the stairs back to the apartment. I thought of Alison and was glad she couldn’t see how scared I was.
Teresa was still watching The Edge of Night. A woman in a hospital bed was saying, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” to a man standing next to her bed, looking out her hospital room window. Teresa emptied the bottle of scotch into her glass.
“Now,” she said. “Go in your room and wait. The doctor should be here any minute. You can get back to the laundry when he’s done with you.”
I moved into my room and then stood, looking up at Saint Michael the Archangel with his armor and shield and huge white wings, standing on top of the snake’s head.
[End of Excerpt 6]