Excerpt 10, Ch. 4, The Archangel of Hamilton Beach, a novel

4. The Queen of Ugly

Seven years passed. Teresa had recently turned thirty-five. Frances and Linda were both in high school and still supposedly “best friends”. Michael had graduated and still worked at Grenelli Collision, and, strangely, Linda had become Michael’s girlfriend while he was still in high school.

Eventually, as I’d gotten older—and stronger in Alison’s friendship, though I’d never told Alison of the so-called “doctor” visits—I gained the ability to tell Teresa No more!  Whatever illness I’m supposed to have I’ll live with. I may have even had the courage, at some point, to tell Teresa I was going to ask the school nurse about the treatments. I was surprised but thankful when the “doctors” miraculously stopped coming to the apartment.

I hated sixth grade, and all the other grades, as much as I had hated Sister Razor Blade’s kindergarten class, except for Alison (who now went by Al), of course. And it got worse when Al zoomed past me in school. Her father Andy had made her take a test which proved her to be a genius, though she didn’t like that label. She preferred the word advanced. The schools called her gifted. Andy had hired a slue of private tutors for her. It was some new thing they were doing with what they called whiz kids, and Al graduated high school while I still fought the battle that was grammar school. I had always known Al was smart but never realized it was that serious. When she told me she couldn’t go to school with me anymore, school became a real hell.

It was a cold Saturday afternoon in March as I sat alone on my bed, with Teresa passed out on her bed in her room. Nobody else was home. I dug in between the mattress and box spring for the black and white composition book I used for a diary. Sitting cross-legged on the bed, I opened my diary and reached over for my new Bic ballpoint pen in the nightstand drawer. Today’s my birthday, I wrote. I’m twelve. I know Michael’s the only one who will remember. I love him so much. I hope we can always live together, far away from Teresa and The Thing. We would never have to be separated. Ever.

I stopped writing. Someone was in the room. I looked up. Frances. She stood there, watching me, then, in a fast moment that moved in slow motion, she pounced on me and snatched my diary right out of my hands.

“What are you doing?” I yelled. “Give me that!” But she was already gone. “Give it back to me!” I yelled and ran after her. She raced toward the bathroom. I darted across the living room and jumped on her from behind. She pushed me hard, and I fell back against the living room wall. She ran into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her. I heard the lock catch. I threw myself at the door and pounded my fists on it. I pulled on the doorknob, shaking the wooden door on its hinges.

“Open the door!” I screamed over and over. “Open it! I hate you!”

A few minutes later, the latch clicked, the doorknob turned, and the door flew open with a force that sent me back against the wall. Before I could move, Frances pushed past me, through the kitchen, and out the apartment door, laughing her high-pitched cackle and yelling, “Linda’s gonna love this!”

Linda? What is she doing? I clung to the wall, frozen. There was no way to stop her. She was fat, but fast, and she already had too much of a head start. She was going to show my diary to Linda. I slid down the wall onto the floor.

Just then, Teresa’s bedroom door opened. I pulled myself up, still leaning. Teresa appeared, in a bright pink bathrobe with a cigarette hanging from one side of her mouth. Her voice scraped my entire body like fingernails on a blackboard.

“What’s going on out here?” she said, squinting through the smoke. “What’s all the lousy noise about?”

I kept my eyes on the open bathroom door.

“What are you doing? What’s the matter with you?”

“Leave me alone,” I said. “Please go back to bed.”

“Don’t tell me to go back to bed! Don’t you ever tell me what to do! You hear me?”

“Yes, I hear you.” I’ve heard you from the day I was born, I thought but didn’t say. I kept staring into the bathroom until she gave up and disappeared back into her cave, then I slid down to the living room floor again and stayed there a long time, until I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. I jumped back up. Frances was back already?

“Hey, Shorty. How ya doin’?” Michael, in his work clothes, Yankees cap, the faint scent of his English Leather cologne still with him since he’d gone to work that morning, and, of course, the ever-present cigarette between his fingers.

“What are you doing? You okay?” He sounded like his usual cheerful self, except for the pulsating veins on either side of his forehead, usually a sign of trouble.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” I said.

“You sure, Goofy? You look kinda funny.”

I didn’t want to know what he meant by that. “No, I’m fine,” I said. “Um, did you see Frances outside?”

“No, thank God. Why?” He bounced over to the couch and sat down. By now, Teresa had reappeared and was staring at Michael with her usual begrudging look. He ignored her.

“Um, she just left here a little while ago,” I told him. “I thought maybe you saw her.” I stayed propped up against the wall, trying not to slide down again.

“Nope,” he said. “Why? Does it matter?” Even though he was sitting, he kept moving as if restless.

“No, it doesn’t matter,” I said. I realized Michael would have been driving up the block with Frances running in the opposite direction. The wind outside blew right through the walls and into my bones. I didn’t know if I had stopped hugging myself, or rocking or shaking. No wonder Michael had said I looked funny.

“Oh, here,” he said, and jumped back up and into the kitchen. Teresa took the opportunity to steal his place on the couch. He returned to the living room with a package about two feet long and wrapped in red paper.

“Here’s your birthday present.” He poked my stomach with it, though his smile turned down when he glanced over at Teresa.

“Here,” he said. “Take it, will ya? You want your birthday present, don’t you, ya little goofball?” He smiled again.

“Yeah, I want it,” I said. Boy, did I want it. But the image of Frances and Linda shuffling through the pages of my diary flashed inside my head, and turned around in my stomach.

“Aren’t you going to open it, Shorty?” he asked. “You don’t look too excited.”

“Oh, I’m excited. I’m very excited.” I knew my smile was crooked because I could feel my face all twisted up. I tore open the thick red paper and stared at the cardboard box for a minute, confused. Then through the cellophane I saw what it was—a fishing pole, in two pieces in the box, and just like Michael’s but brand new with a shiny, dark green chrome reel. I wished we could run right then with it to Hamilton Beach.

“You like it?” he asked with a big smile. He put out his cigarette in Teresa’s ashtray and took out another one from the crumpled Camels pack in his shirt pocket and lit it.

I nodded. I wanted to say thank you, but couldn’t make any sounds.

“Hey, kid, what’s wrong? Are you crying? Don’t you like it?”

“I love it,” I blubbered out. “It’s the best fishing pole in the world.” I sounded as if I had just turned two, not twelve.

END OF EXCERPT 10 FROM CH. 4, The Archangel of Hamilton Beach

Excerpt 9, Ch. 3, The Archangel of Hamilton Beach, a novel

Later, when I awoke, the bedroom was dark except for the streetlight streaming in from behind Saint Michael the Archangel on the wall between the two windows. I thought about Alison and how she had stood up to Sister Rosalind Basil, The Razor Blade. Alison was the only thing that made the thought of going back to that class the next day bearable. I watched the Archangel on the wall, the light behind him, feathery wings, sword held high, stepping on the serpent, then fell asleep again.

Later, I awoke to a dark room. Pretty soon I heard my favorite sound again, the one I waited for every day—the squeal of the gate and Michael bounding up the hallway stairs, the kitchen door opening, then slamming shut. The kitchen cabinet opened, banged shut. He’d be looking for something to eat, like a bear in a campground. I smiled at the thought. When he was home, home to stay for the night, it was as if Teresa and her doctors didn’t exist. I was safe for a while, the only time I smiled, though now thinking about Alison was having that effect on me, too.

Michael appeared at the door of the bedroom, carrying a half-eaten banana with a brown-spotted peel in one hand and a bowl of cheap cornflakes with milk in the other.

“Hey, Shorty,” he said. He sat down on the bed next to me. “Grenelli paid me today. I got some more milk. You want some? I got you a Mr. Goodbar, too, but eat the cereal first.”

“Okay,” I said. The last thing I had eaten was those few bites of the second peanut butter and jelly sandwich he’d made me, when the doctor had called.

“Here,” he said. He threw the candy bar on the bed and shoved the bowl of cereal at me. “Eat this. I’ll go get another one.”

I picked up the candy bar as he jumped up and flew out the doorway. As I sat up and balanced Michael’s heavy bowl of cornflakes on my lap, I could hear him banging around in the kitchen getting himself more cereal. I spooned up a cornflake and sucked the milk off it. My stomach insides were raw. I chewed the cornflake slowly before swallowing it. Then, I picked up another one. Michael bounded back into the room and fell back on the bed next to me, his warm, solid leg up over my skinny one still under the blanket. He dug his spoon into his cereal and crunched a mountain of flakes between his teeth. The veins on either side of his forehead moved up and down as he chewed.

“So, how you doin’?” he asked me through crunching flakes. “What’s this about you being sick? What’s wrong with you, anyway?”

Teresa had told me countless times that if Michael ever knew about my sickness he’d go away forever because then he would know I was bad and he wouldn’t love me anymore. The truth was I had no idea what was wrong with me.

“Oh, I’m not sick anymore,” I lied. I sucked the milk from another cornflake, trying to act as if it were true. The sucking made a lot of noise.

“Then why’d she say the doctor was coming tomorrow.” More crunching of cornflakes and bulging veins. His cereal bowl was already almost empty.

“Oh, but the doctor’s not coming anymore after this time,” I lied some more. “I guess he just wants to be sure.” I tried to sound as if the doctor stuff didn’t bother me. I hated lying to Michael. It made the cornflakes and milk start moving back up my throat.

“He wants to be sure of what?” He clanked the bowl and spoon down on the nightstand, still chomping the last mouthful of cornflakes.

“Oh, he just wants to be sure I’m not sick anymore.”

Michael’s eyebrows scrunched together the way they did when something didn’t make sense to him. I handed him my bowl of cornflakes.

“How come you didn’t finish your cereal?”

“I’m full.” Another lie.

Michael shook his head, gobbled up what was left in my bowl, and plunked it down on the nightstand next to his own.

“Well, Shorty, I’m tired,” he said, opening his shirt. “You ready to hit the old sack?”

I was.

END OF EXCERPT 9, CHAPTER 3. The Archangel of Hamilton Beach

The Archangel of Hamilton Beach, Excerpt 8, Chapter 3,

3. As the World Turns My Stomach

 

 The rain and thunder and lightning had stopped, and a bit of afternoon sun shone on the raindrops clinging to the clothesline. I finished hanging out the clothes and sheets and went back to my room (I didn’t fall out, though I was still a little dizzy and my stomach woozy). I put on the bed a clean sheet from the laundry I’d done a few days before.

When I was finally done, I climbed back into the bed I shared with my brother. I held on to Michael’s flannel shirt and dug my face into it. I rocked back and forth, back and forth, the way I always did when I was in bed alone. It felt good when I rocked. The steady rhythm got me through whatever was going on. In the rhythm, no one could hurt me. I was about to drift off to Hamilton Beach when I heard the high-pitched squeal of the front gate outside the apartment house. The Archangel was again too late to rescue me, but it was better than him finding out about my treatments.

I climbed out of bed and crept slowly past Teresa and into the kitchen. My stomach was still woozy, and the living room moved around me in waves. Michael came through the kitchen door, with Sal right behind him.

“Hey, Shorty,” he said. “How you doin’?”

“Fine,” I said. That was what I always said.

“Come on, Meathead,” Michael told his best friend. “Let’s grab something to eat before I have to go to work.”

“Okay, I’m starving,” said Sal.

“Want a sandwich?” Michael asked me.

“Um, okay,” I said, as I always did, never wanting him to wonder why I wasn’t eating. Even though my stomach was usually a mess, I knew he worried about my eating enough, and the less explaining I had to do, the better. In fact, the only time I really ate was when Michael made me something. He was getting the peanut butter down from the cabinet when I heard Frances pounding up the hallway steps outside the kitchen door.

“Sounds like You-Know-Who,” Michael said. “She’s probably got her snobby little friend Linda with her—you know, my boss’s daughter.”

“You mean the rich one?” asked Sal.

“Yeah, conceited, too,” said Michael.

Sal laughed.

“Though, I have to admit, she’s the best lookin’ of all Frances’s stupid friends,” said Michael. “In fact, she’s probably the best-lookin’ girl in the whole school. Ya know what I mean?” He laughed.

“Yeah,” said Sal, smiling. “Nice body, nice long blonde hair.”

Frances and Linda came through the door.

“Oh, making sandwiches?” said Frances. “We’ll have one, too. Want a sandwich, Linda?”

“What kind?” asked Linda.

“Looks like peanut butter and jelly,” said Frances.

“No, thanks,” said Linda. “I hate peanut butter.”

“What is this, a restaurant?” asked Michael. “Make your own freaking sandwiches.”

“Oh, thanks a lot,” said Frances. “You’re so rude.”

“And you’re so fat,” said Michael.

Sal laughed.

“Shut up, Michael, and drop dead,” said Frances. “Danny, what are you doing? Holding up the wall?”

“No,” I mumbled. “I’m just standing here.”

“And how come you can make him a sandwich, but you can’t make me and Linda one?” Frances asked Michael.

“’Cause he’s just a little kid,” said Michael.

“You make me sick,” said Frances. “You act like he’s so helpless.”

“Bug off, will ya?” Michael said. “You’re already busting the seams in that uniform, anyway. You don’t need a sandwich.”

Sal shook his head, smiling.

“Drop dead!” yelled Frances.

Teresa shuffled into the kitchen, empty glass in hand, a lit cigarette between her fingers. I slid onto the edge of a chair at the table.

“What are you two yelling about, now?” she said. “You’re giving me a headache.” She dragged herself to the cabinet over the sink and pulled down another bottle of scotch, though it was only half full. She poured it into the glass she was holding.

Michael mumbled to himself, “Maybe if you didn’t drink so much you wouldn’t get so many freaking headaches.”

“You shut up and watch your language,” she yelled at him. “I don’t need to hear that out of you. You got no respect for your own mother.” She moved back into the living room, glass in one hand, bottle in the other.

Michael shot a glance at Sal who shot one back at him. “Here,” said Michael. He handed Sal a sandwich. “See if that milk’s in the fridge.”

“Okay,” said Sal.

“Here, Danny,” said Michael. “Sit down and eat this.”

“Not too much in there,” Sal said, and shook the milk carton and gave it to Michael.

“Here, drink this,” Michael said. He poured what was left in the carton into a plastic cup and plunked it down on the table in front of me.

“How come he gets the milk?” asked Frances, her hands on her hips under her navy blue school uniform.

“’Cause he’s the baby. That’s why. Sit down, Sal. Hey, Shorty, move over,” Michael said and sat down next to me.

“You’re right, Frances, it doesn’t seem fair to me, either,” Linda said.

“Nothing’s fair around here, don’t you know that, Linda?” said Frances in a sing-song voice. “Little Daniel here gets everything, we slaves get nothing.”

Michael was about to answer her when Sal piped up, “Hey, when we’re done eating, Mike, you wanna play some stickball?”

“Nah, I told you, Meathead. I gotta work. Not everybody around here gets to sit around and do nothing but eat.” Michael continued chewing his sandwich and stared at Frances who opened her mouth and showed Michael the chewed up bread and peanut butter inside.

“You’re disgusting,” said Michael.

Sal, the peacemaker, glanced over at her and tried not to laugh. “So, how’s it going workin’ at Grenelli’s Collision?” asked Sal.

“That’s my father’s shop,” Linda added with her nose in the air, its usual position. She sat down at the table.

“Yeah, right, and I gotta be there in half an hour,” Michael said.

“He can’t be late or my father will fire him,” Linda said.

Michael scrunched up his face at her. She turned away from him and looked at Frances.

“Hey, it’s boss-A you got a job working there, anyway,” Sal said. “Geez. You’re only twelve.”

“I know but I need money, and the only way I’m gonna get any is to work for it,” said Michael. “I’m gonna buy me a car.”

“Yeah, I know, Mike!” said Sal.” “Wow! A car! When you gonna get one?”

“Not yet, you meathead, but I will. You wait and see. I’m gettin’ me a ’57 Chevy. Black. Beautiful.” Michael smiled as he always did when he talked about his car. He took a big bite of his sandwich. “Yeah, I’m glad Grenelli’s giving me a chance,” he went on. “I think he likes me.”

Frances and Linda looked at each other, then both rolled their eyes, pursed their lips, and shook their heads.

“Grenelli said he’d help me when the time comes,” Michael said. “Yeah, that’s why I gotta keep this job. I wanna learn all I can, so when I get my car I’ll be able to put it together myself.” He took another bite of his sandwich. “And some day, I’m gonna have my own repair shop. You wait and see,” he said.

The phone rang. Michael and Frances both scrambled to grab the yellow receiver from the wall. Michael picked it up.

“Drop dead,” Frances said, pushing him and running back to the refrigerator before Michael could push her back.

“How about cream cheese?” she said to Linda. Linda lowered her mouth, turned her head, and blew air through her pursed lips. She did that a lot. I guessed she didn’t like cream cheese. But, from what I could tell, there wasn’t much Linda did like.

“Hold on,” said Michael to the phone. “Ma, it’s for you,” he called into the living room. “The doctor.”

I shut my eyes tight and lay my half-eaten sandwich down on the table. I heard the shuffle of Teresa’s slippers as she moved past me into the kitchen. I heard her pick up the phone.

“Yeah?” she said.

“Danny, what are you doing?” said Michael. “Eat your sandwich.”

I opened my eyes, blinked a lot because they were stuck closed, and picked up the partly-eaten sandwich and held it up to my mouth.

“Tomorrow, one o’clock,” she said into the phone. “Okay.” She hung it up and pointed her finger at me.

“The doctor. Tomorrow. One o’clock,” she said. “You hear me?”

I nodded. Tears forced their way up to my eyes. I couldn’t let them spill over, not with Frances and Linda there.

“How come he has to see the doctor so much?” asked Michael. “What’s wrong with him?”

“I told you, he’s got a condition,” said Teresa. “Born with it. He knows what it is. Don’t you?” She shot me a look, eyes squinting. I nodded again, still fighting the tears. I put my sandwich down. My throat had closed.

“But he’s okay, right?” Michael asked.

“He’s anything but okay,” stuck in Frances, laughing. She jabbed Linda‘s arm, though Linda wasn’t laughing and shot Frances a look.

“He’ll be just fine,” Teresa said. “As long as he keeps seeing the doctor.”

“Oh,” Michael said. “Well, I gotta go.” He stood up and checked his pocket for his Camels.

No please, don’t go, I wanted to plead, but didn’t. “Where are you going, Michael?” I asked.

“I just told you. I gotta go to Grenelli’s.” He looked over at Linda. “I mean Mr. Grenelli’s.” His face broke into a big smile. “I gotta go to work. Remember?”

“You should be glad he lets you work for him,” Linda told Michael who pretended not to hear.

“Yeah,” Frances butted in.

“Shut up and mind your own business,” Michael told Frances.

Sal chuckled.

“Michael, can I go with you?” I said, trying not to sound desperate. I knew he’d say no, but inside I was crying.

“Danny, you know you can’t go to work with me,” he said. “It’s too dangerous.”

“I’ll stay out of the way. I promise.”

“Sorry, Shorty, Mr. Grenelli wouldn’t like it,” Michael said and shot Linda a quick smile. “I’ll see you later when I’m finished. Okay, Shorty? Come on, Sal.”

I watched them leave, with Frances and Linda trailing behind them, against Michael’s protests, and heard them all pounding down the staircase. I slid from the kitchen and through the living room. I could see that Teresa was sprawled on the couch with her glass and bottle of scotch nearby.

Not wanting to disturb her, hoping she’d fall asleep if she wasn’t already, I dared not look close enough to know for sure. Creepy organ music from another of her usual afternoon soap operas, As the World Turns, played loudly in the background, with the guy’s weird voice saying, “Join us again tomorrow for another half-hour of drama on As the World Turns.” I crawled into bed under the covers and rocked myself to sleep as I always did.

END OF EXCERPT 8

Excerpt 7, Chapter 2, The Archangel of Hamilton Beach, a novel

ARCHANGEL PIC SaintMichaelArcAngel----archangel-michael[1]“Hey, you,” she yelled. “The doctor’s here.”

I squeezed my eyes shut. Silent tears slid down my cheeks and onto my lips. I could hear him coming into the apartment. I peeked out the open door of my bedroom and watched as Teresa hushed the fat doctor in and pointed to her bedroom. I had never seen him before. He was new. I got confused because he looked like a priest. He had on one of those black dresses they always wore when they were walking around the rectory next to the church, near the school.

I could hear them talking and laughing in her room. Then, they came back out, and the priest-doctor had put on and was buttoning up the same dingy white coat with the brown stain that I had found on the floor of Teresa’s closet. She carried the doctor’s black bag for him. The doctor, a smile on his sweaty face, shook his head. He gave her a handful of paper money, which she put into the pocket of her robe. Then she handed him the black leather bag.

“He’s in there,” she said, pointing to my room with the fingers holding her cigarette. “Come on in. He’s all yours.”

I grabbed Michael’s flannel shirt, ran under the bed, and curled myself into a ball with the shirt wrapped around me. I shoved my head under the headboard up against the wall. Please, Archangel, no more. Please, I prayed. My mother’s black and gold slippers sloshed into the bedroom and stopped next to the bed. The doctor-priest’s black shoes stopped, too.

“Come out of there, you,” she yelled. “Don’t waste the doctor’s time. Or mine, either.”

I clutched Michael’s shirt, digging my fingernails into my arms until it hurt. If I just thought about the pain from my fingernails cutting into my skin, I wouldn’t have to think about the rest of it. Teresa’s bathrobed form knelt down on the dusty floor beside the bed. Her hands appeared, then her face, now turning red.

“Come on, now, you,” she said. “The doctor’s a busy man and doesn’t have time to argue with sissy little boys like you. Do you hear me?”

“No more, Ma, please, no more,” I begged.

She bent down lower, her face straining and redder. “Now, you listen to me, you filthy little thing,” she said. “It’s not my fault you were born with this evil in you. It’s God’s punishment. That’s why you need your treatments. They’ll help you. I told you that.”

The room was dark as night. Again, the thunder cracked, and I jumped and bumped my head up into the bottom of the bed. Then, my body froze.

Teresa screamed at me, “Come out here right now!”

Blood, from where my fingernails were digging deeper and deeper, ran down my arm and beaded up on top of the dust on the floor. Lightning sliced the room with a flash of light. “Archangel, is that you?” I whispered.

Black pants and the stained white jacket appeared. Two hairy hands touched the floorboards. “Come on, little Danny baby,” said the man. “I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m here to help you, just like your mama says.”

His breath smelled like Teresa’s—scotch and cigarettes. The sweat from the fat man’s face dripped onto the floor, making a ball of wetness on the dust.

“You little brat! You come out of there right now,” she screamed, “or I’ll tell your brother. Do you hear me? And if he leaves…. Well, don’t blame me, Mister. Now, get out here and get your treatment or that’s just what’s going to happen. I’m giving you one more chance. Or you can kiss your precious brother goodbye.”

“No!” I cried. “I’m coming out. I’m coming right now. I’ll get my treatment. I promise. I’ll be good. Please don’t tell Michael about me.”

“Then get out here, right now!” she yelled.

I didn’t want her to hit me. I let go of my arms full of bloody marks dug in with my fingernails. I slid slowly across the dusty wooden floor, one leg at a time, toward the edge of the bed frame. The doctor stood up. Teresa reached down and squeezed my arm right where it was bleeding. I yelled and she shook me, pulling me to my feet. When she let go of my arm, it stung like needles. I still gripped Michael’s shirt in one hand.

“Now you do whatever the doctor here tells you, you hear me. You’ve already wasted too much of his time. And mine, too!”

I nodded and watched her leave the room, slamming the door behind her so hard the wall shook. The man in the stained white jacket smiled. Sweat dotted his face.

“Now,” he said, “how are we feeling today?”

His strong smell turned my stomach. “Not too good,” I mumbled.

The rain pounded the fire escape outside the bedroom window, and thunder rumbled from far away.

“Sit here,” he said, pointing to the bed.

I sat down, crying and bleeding.

He opened the black bag and pulled out a small, brown bottle of pink and yellow capsules. He put one of the giant-sized pills into my hand.

“Take this. It’ll make you feel better.” Then, he poured some of Teresa’s scotch into a small glass and said, ”Here, drink this. It’ll make it go down easier.” After all the doctor visits, it had never gotten easier.

I put the pill on my tongue and drank the awful-tasting liquid, fire burning my throat, up to my head which got instantly fuzzy. My temples clamped up as if in a vice, and my stomach turned immediately.

“Okay,” said the priest in the stained white doctor coat. “Take off your clothes.”

I unbuttoned my good yellow shirt, remembering when I’d put it on that morning for my first day of kindergarten, before I met Alison. Somehow, having met her made the doctor treatments worse. I pulled off my pants and bent down to take off my shoes.

“Come on,” said the doctor. “Hurry up. Everything. Take off everything. Your underwear, too.”

I crunched my eyes shut and pulled off my underwear. Archangel, where are you? I thought. The rain outside kept pounding. The thunder kept rumbling. The doctor, smiling through his sweat, pushed me up onto the bed, and tore back the covers.

“Lay on your stomach,” he said, “so I can give you your treatment.” He laughed and reached over and turned on Michael’s radio on the nightstand. Sam Cooke was singing about what a wonderful world this would be…. It was one of Michael’s favorites, because, he said, he also didn’t know much about history or geography, like the song said.

I crawled onto the bed. The room had gotten hot and stifling, and I could barely catch my breath. I watched the doctor pull one of his cold, hard instruments out of the black bag. I felt his big, hot hand on me and then the icy steel of his instrument. I groped around for Michael’s shirt and smothered my face into it, swallowing my screams and gripping his shirt as I inhaled Michael’s smell.

“Here, Goofy,” my brother said, laughing, “let me show you how to rig a pole.”

The orange sun shone down into the gently moving dark water at Hamilton Beach. The sunlight twinkled on the ripples in the water as the weight from Michael’s line plopped down where he’d hurled it.

“Get me one of those weights,” Michael said, pointing to his tackle box. “A small one.” I picked the smallest weight in the box. He was sitting on the sand. I placed the fishing weight into his hand. He grabbed it.

“Hey, good job, Shorty. That’s perfect,” he said, smiling and squinting up at me with the sun in his eyes. “There might be hope for you yet, little brother.” He laughed. “Hey, you wanna learn how to cast a line?” He smiled at me and stood up. “Here, let me show you.”

My face tingled from the hot sun, as I watched Michael cast his line over and over, smiling and squinting at me all the while.

 

“Go wash yourself!” Teresa’s voice stabbed in, and Hamilton Beach disappeared. I didn’t know how much time had passed.

“Your brother will be home any minute,” she was yelling. She kept pushing my leg hard, over and over. “It stopped raining,” she said. “Go hang the laundry out, before it starts again.” Then she left the room.

The bedsheet was sticky, and there was a reddish-brown stain on it like the one on the doctor’s jacket. My blood. When I moved my head, the pain moved with it, heavy, pounding. I tried to sit up. The dresser, the windows, the Archangel picture on the wall, all moved to one side, then back again. The priest-doctor was gone. I fell back on the bed.

“Get up! You hear me?” Teresa yelled in from the living room. “Don’t make me come in there!”

I sat up again, slowly. I held onto the blanket. My body shook in cold shivers. I threw up on the floor in front of the bed.

“What are you doing in there?” she yelled again. “Get moving now, and go hang out that laundry.”

“Okay,” I mumbled but doubted she had heard me over the music on the television, and a man’s voice saying, “This has been As the World Turns, brought to you by Friskies cat food….”

I stepped over the mess I’d made on the floor and, holding on to the nightstand, and then the dresser, moved toward the door. As I passed the mirror, my face looked back at me, pale with dirty tears that had dried on my cheeks. I slid past the dresser and out the door, into the living room.

“Would you hurry up, you dummy. What’s the matter with you?” She was sitting on the couch, remote control in one hand, glass in the other.

“I threw up,” I said, holding onto the wall and looking down at the big faded flowers on the living room rug.

“You’re so pathetic,” she said. “Well, get it cleaned up. Don’t think I’m going around cleaning up after you.”

“I’ll clean it,” I said.

“Well, do it now, before you make me sick. And take that sheet off the bed, and put on a clean one.”

I knew if I tried to walk to the bathroom, I’d fall. So I got down on my hands and knees and crawled across the dusty pink and red rug. I heard the sound of ice rattling as Teresa poured more whiskey into her glass.

“Now what are you doing?”

“I’m dizzy,” I said, still looking at the rug.

“Well, don’t block the television,” she said. “Hurry up.”

I made it into the bathroom and locked the door. Then I crawled into the bathtub, turned on the hot water, and stuck the rubber plug in the drain, relieved to be alone. With the soap and washcloth, I washed the stickiness and dried blood, and scrubbed my face, then lay back in the tub. As I tried to feel better, the little white tiles on the wall began to move in and out, then out and in.

When I closed my eyes, I could still see the tiles, except now they were black instead of white. I lay there for a while, letting the hot water soak into me. I leaned my head back into the water. It drifted into my ears so that I couldn’t hear anything, not the voices on the TV, not the ice clinking in Teresa’s glass, only the water in and out of my ears. It was cool now at Hamilton Beach. Michael was rigging my fishing rod.

I didn’t know how long I stayed there. After I got out of the tub and dried myself, I brushed my teeth a hundred times with tons of toothpaste. I thought of how much Michael liked it when I brushed my teeth.

Then, I remembered the throw-up I still had to clean up and the stained sheet I had to change. My body felt weak, as if I could slump to the floor and sleep there forever. The tiles were still moving and blurring in and out like little blank white stop-signs. I didn’t know how I would get the mess cleaned up, change the sheets, and get the wet clothes from the basement hung outside. I wondered if, when I reached out to the clothesline attached outside Teresa’s bedroom window, I’d fall out.

END OF EXCERPT 7, CHAPTER 2

$2.99 (on Amazon)

The Archangel of Hamilton Beach

The Archangel of Hamilton Beach, my novel, Excerpt 6, Ch. 2

[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.

“Daniel?”

Teresa was up.

“You here?”

“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]

$2.99 on Amazon  The Archangel of Hamilton Beach

The Archangel of Hamilton Beach, formerly Two Shores, Excerpt 5, Chapter 1

The Archangel of Hamilton Beach, formerly Two Shores, Excerpt 5, Chapter 1