Marianne Leone

A WOMAN OF POISE, MYSTERY AND ALLURE

Leone Illo sm 6
Illustration by Pat Singer

            On the first weekday morning of summer vacation, Christina met Patsy at the entrance to Nonantum Park. They made final checks on their outfits. Both were wearing white shorts and a pink ruffled sleeveless top. Neither Patsy nor Christina were disturbed by their unplanned twin outfits. Instead, they were comforted by the sameness, as if they were still wearing their Precious Blood school uniforms, members of a powerful club. Together they surveyed the treeless expanse of the park cordoned off by a chain link fence ripped in several places and offering an easy escape for cherry bombers during police raids. There was a prison yard-like square of cracked cement with two basketball hoops missing nets on either end, and a small concrete recreation building where the little kids could make potholders and key chains when the recreation director bothered to show up. Feral-looking children swarmed over the four available swings, jostling and elbowing for turns. Most of the older kids were sprawled in the stingy shade offered by a few skinny maples at the far end of the park. That was the sweet spot, the destination that would provide an infinity loop of possibilities for fun.

       Patsy pulled out her lipstick and slathered on some Frosted Bubblegum Pink without looking in a mirror. Christina watched her with admiration. It was a skill she hadn’t acquired yet but one she hoped to perfect this summer.  That very morning, Christina had luxuriated in bed, going over her plan to reinvent herself as a person of poise, mystery and allure in time for freshman year next September. She was gaining confidence on the allure front, since Dennis Dempsey’s off and on interest seemed promising, but poise and mystery would take all summer to attain. There were plenty of hints for becoming poised in her June copy of ‘teen magazine, (“Summer ’63!”) and she had decided to add mystery to the mix. Becoming a woman of mystery would be the most difficult because she was by nature a blurter, always volunteering too much information and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. 

       Just before the noon deadline for meeting Patsy, Christina’s fresh mouth had almost curtailed the visit to the park. Her mother Rita listed all the things Christina had to do before she could go to the library (her alibi for the park):  pick up her room, dust the parlor, dry mop the hall. Christina informed her mother in her haughtiest movie queen voice that maybe slavery was still legal in Italy, but in this country, Lincoln freed the slaves a hundred years ago. The convenient arrival of her Aunt Connie had averted full-scale war. Connie, heavily pregnant, huffed in carrying her snotty toddler, Dommie Boy. Rita hissed “Take ‘im!” jerking her chin. But Christina, skeeving his leaky nose and grubby little paws, had pretended not to hear. Rita bit her hand, glaring and then scooped up the baby, nuzzling the rolls of his moist-looking neck. Connie collapsed into a kitchen chair. “Don’t have kids, honey,” she said to Christina, smiling to show she was kidding. Christina looked at her and saw a pretty face, now almost unrecognizable, puffy and blotchy with heat. Her eyes traveled down to her aunt’s looming belly, taut and distended, her swollen ankles. Christina felt equal parts irritation and pity. In this way she was the same as her mother and father, who often sighed and clucked over Connie and Big Dommie’s ongoing dramas. Big Dommie worked for Christina’s father, Joe, at the bar and she heard occasional muffled rantings from her father behind the bedroom door about what a mammaluc’ Big Dommie was, how he blew his pay on bookies, how he gave away drinks at the bar, how his poor sister had ruined her life. Connie and Big Dommie were fallen idols. Once, they were Cinderella and her prince and together threw a radiant light that drew Christina like a magic spell. Christina, dressed in her own pink princess gown and matching bonnet, had scattered rose petals down the nave of Precious Blood Church as a three-year old flower girl at their fairy tale wedding. Christina’s father hated the wedding. Connie had been eighteen at the time, sixteen years younger than Joe. Joe didn’t like Big Dommie, a callow, swaggering, handsome boy exactly the same age as Connie. Christina had loved Big Dommie, who took her with them for rides in his souped-up car and for ice cream at Howard Johnson’s. At six, she wanted them to adopt her so she could bask forever in their reflected glory. Now she felt like someone who had had a narrow escape from a house made of candy hiding the evil hungry witch inside.

       “I won’t, Christina said.

       Connie, already distracted, unpacking the log of provolone she brought for Rita, looked at Christina.

       “What?”

       “I won’t. Have kids,” Christina replied as if her hand was on a bible and she was taking a solemn vow. Connie laughed, and Christina saw her opening. She raced out the door, leaving Rita and Connie to their clucking housewifely concerns. Christina ran all the way up Derby Street toward the promise of romance until she was gasping like a woman in the throes of passion, or at least the ones she had read about over and over in everything from the sublime Wuthering Heights to the trashy True Story magazines she got from Connie. Christina wasn’t reading romance for its literary value, though; she wanted instruction in the ways of men.

      Patsy smacked her lips, finished with the lipstick, and squinted across the park. She needed glasses but refused to wear them.

       “ANGIE!” She began waving frantically at the group under the trees. Christina saw the orange-peroxided hair of Angie Vasolo in the distance, glinting in the sun like the helmet of a Norse invader. 

       “Is that Angie Vasolo?” Christina asked, trying to keep the quaver out of her voice.

        “Yuh. She’s my third cousin, on my mother’s side.”

        “I thought public school had two more weeks,” said Christina.

       “She probably skipped,” Patsy answered, a glow of pride for her cousin’s daring in her voice.

Angie was sixteen and had been kept back. She went to Wizzie, Wiswall Junior High, where she commanded a gang of ninth-grade tough girls, who were to be avoided at all costs in case you looked at them funny by mistake and wound up wearing a cast on your arm. Eye contact was the worst. Eye contact resulted in the dread “what are you lookin’ at, girlie” challenge that never ended well. Christina had had just such an encounter with this same Angie once when she took a detour to avoid an overly frisky police dog on her usual route home. Angie had been making out with Jimmy Halloran in the doorway of the Hibernian Boxing Club and Christina stood on the sidewalk staring, mesmerized by the way Jimmy’s hands seemed to be everywhere at once, like some kind of magic trick you’d see on the Ed Sullivan show. Angie, moving with the stealth of a panther, thumped her on the chest and pushed her over. “What are you lookin’ at, you fuckin’ little skank?” Christina sat on the ground catching her breath, too dazed to cry.

       Now, remembering that humiliation, Christina dug into her pocketbook and pulled out her oversized sunglasses and put them on. Maybe Angie wouldn’t recognize her. Patsy looked at the sunglasses with approval.

       “Where’dja get those?”

       “Liggett’s. They’re just like the ones Jackie Kennedy wears.” Patsy was already heading through the gates of the park.

       “Rose isn’t here yet,” Christina stalled.

       “Well, where is she? I’m not waiting for her,” she flung over her shoulder at Christina. “I’ll wait for her here,” Christina ventured, but at that moment Rose emerged from the recreation building. She was waving two red, white and green potholders and calling to them.

       “Look what I made!” she said as she ran up to them.

       “You were in there makin’ potholders with the little kids?” Patsy said, incredulously. “Put those away, for Chrissake, what’s wrong with you?”

        “What? They’re for my nonnas,” Rose said, hurt. “They’re in the colors of the Italian flag!” Patsy just shook her head and kept walking. Rose and Christina followed. Rose looked crushed. “They’re nice,” Christina mumbled. She took the potholders and shoved them in her pocketbook. “I’ll hold them for you.” She pictured the nonnas, over the moon at the gift: “You made-a? For me?” The hugs and kisses, the gathering into their old, doughy arms. She couldn’t remember the last time she had made her mother happy like that. Everything she did disappointed Rita. It wasn’t her fault! What was she supposed to do? Stop reading? Become ignorant, like her mother? Put a kerchief on her head and move back to Italy and squash grapes with her feet, like Lucy in that embarrassing I Love Lucy episode?

       “Hi, Angie,” said Patsy. Rose and Christina hung back. Angie looked them up and down. “Lemme try those on,” she said to Christina, offhand, cobra-still.  Christina handed the glasses over. Angie showed no recognition of Christina; she had been as meaningless as a fly Angie had once batted away. Angie put them on and turned to Frankie, the leader of the pack, playing cards a little distance away. Christina saw for the first time that Dennis Dempsey and Danny Grillo were among the boys flipping cards in some incomprehensible game.

        “Whaddaya think? Frankie!” Angie called in her foghorn voice. Frankie looked up, annoyed.

       “You look like a bug.”

       “Kiss my ass, Frankie.” Angie took off the glasses and held them out for Christina, turning her back on Frankie. Dennis caught Christina’s eye and jerked his chin at her in recognition. Her heart fluttered in return, and she blushed as if he had offered her a sonnet. Dennis went back immediately to the game, crowing in triumph as he laid down a winning card.

       The afternoon wore on. The boys moved from cards to knife throwing.  Patsy brought out her transistor radio and Angie showed them some dances she knew: the stroll, the mashed potato, the monkey and the twist. Patsy seemed to learn the steps at once and so did Rose. An idiot could do the twist. It was the stupidest dance Christina had ever seen, bar none. She pretended to turn her ankle after the first dance and sat down on the grass, covertly watching Dennis. Angie never looked at Frankie, not once, but she seemed to be dancing only for him, writhing, shaking her shoulders and lifting her chin, her mouth open, inviting. The boys, including Frankie, seemed absorbed in their game, yipping and shouting insults at each other. Then on some secret signal Christina couldn’t decipher, Frankie stood up and Angie stopped dancing in the middle of a song. They walked off together without a backward glance taking some of the glow of the summer afternoon with them.

          There was some more dancing after Angie left, but without the danger and excitement of her presence, the girls eventually sank to the ground and the day began to dwindle into boredom. The metallic tinkle of the ice-cream truck galvanized everyone into action. The little kids ran over first, then Patsy, Rose and Christina, and finally the rest of the boys. Christina found herself beside Dennis in a cluster of kids. “You goin’ to the Paramount on Sunday?” Dennis asked Christina. “They’re showin’ The Terror.”  Danny stuck his face between them, his face contorted into a monster’s mask. “BWAHAHAHAHA”, he howled.  Rose poked him shyly and told him to stop, he was scaring her, which propelled Danny into a full-blown Boris Karloff impersonation. Rose kept begging him to stop, although it was clear to anyone watching that this exchange was the highlight of her day. Encouraged, Danny moved on to Bela Lugosi and tried to bite Rose’s neck. Her bleats of delight were breaking the sound barrier. Christina, digging in her purse to avoid looking at Dennis, told him she would probably go to the Paramount. Inside she felt the spreading warmth of rising joy. He was asking her for a date! Wasn’t he?

“Got an extra quarter I can borrow off you?” Dennis asked.

       Christina handed it over, feeling that the moment was somehow tarnished. As far as she could tell, no romantic hero ever said “got an extra quarter I can borrow off you?” Dennis mumbled that he was caddying tomorrow and would pay her back. Christina couldn’t stand the crush of kids another minute. She mumbled, “I gotta go,” and squirmed out of line. Rose called after her, but Christina pretended not to hear and kept walking. She hoped her sudden departure would mark her as a woman of mystery and make Dennis wonder about her. She turned the corner and sneaked a look back at him. He was already halfway through his Rocket Pop, his lips rimmed blue; there was no resemblance whatsoever to Heathcliff. With his prominent ears wiggling as he sucked his pop, he was a dead ringer instead for Alfred E. Newman.

       

“I am possessed of the dead,” said sultry Sandra Knight as the Baroness Ilsa in Boris Karloff’s creepy old castle shrouded in mists that might or might not be evil spirits. The Terror turned out to be more boring than terrifying and most of the audience at the Paramount Sunday matinee, comprised totally of kids, were throwing popcorn at each other and keeping the ushers busy shushing them instead of watching the movie. Christina, however, was enthralled. She shivered as she imagined herself possessed of the dead, or as the nun-drilled grammarian part of herself corrected, possessed by the dead.

         Christina sat with Rose, Patsy and Mary Agnes, who were more interested in the boys, including Dennis, sitting directly behind them. Danny Grillo had already been  sanctioned by the usher-guards for unrelenting fart noises. The ushers, gangly older teens, were more officious than prison guards and overzealous in their mission to keep order during showtime even when a grade Z movie was playing. Just as Jack Nicholson, the dashing Napoleonic soldier, drew the undead Baroness Ilsa into his arms, Dennis snaked his hand around Christina’s neck, causing her to shriek and bolt from her seat. The usher ran down the aisle and passed his sentence.

       “Okay, you. You’re outta here.”

         “Me?” Christina squeaked. Dennis jumped up.

        “Leave her alone, asshole! It was my fault!” 

       The usher swept his merciless stare over to Dennis.

            “You, too. Outta here.” 

       Rose issued a protest, faint enough to escape the bulldog radar of the usher, but strong enough to demonstrate friend loyalty. Patsy and Mary Agnes were too busy lobbing popcorn back at the boys behind them to notice Christina’s expulsion. Christina glared at Dennis and followed the usher up the aisle, her eyes on the dusty flowered carpet. Dennis straggled behind her. A hail of jujubes pelted them, like rice at a wedding.

        They reached the lobby. “Want some Junior Mints?” Dennis asked, as if sensing her black mood. “No,” replied Christina. She was still furious at missing the romantic/scary part of the movie, although “leave her alone” kept reverberating in her brain, a thrilling echo of courtliness, if you left off the “asshole” part.  She considered the Junior Mints. He did still owe her for the Rocket Pop. She looked through the smeared lobby doors at the still-bright afternoon and walked out. Dennis followed, as she willed him to, silently. She felt powerful, defended, the royal recipient of candy tributes.

        Her new shoes were killing her, but that was just a minor irritation, the price of walking with Dennis, who after a while began walking beside her, not behind her. The foot pain was worth it; the white patent-leather shoes perfectly matched her new red and blue polka-dotted sundress. They were headed up the wide boulevard toward the park, an unspoken pact. Again without words, they both turned into a Brigham’s along the way; Dennis bought Christina a double-scoop black raspberry cone, and a double-scoop chocolate chip for himself. As they reached the side streets, black-clad nonnas fanned themselves on porches, nodding sleepily after their midday dinners. Christina began walking a little faster, distancing herself from Dennis; some of these old sentinels knew her mother, though their hooded hawk eyes showed no recognition. Christina was sure her presence was noted, and with an Irish boy beside her, disgraziata. None of it, the expulsion from the movie, the pinching shoes, the nonnas’ unvoiced disapproval, could dim her swelling excitement: she was on a date with destiny.

       The park looked transformed, its shabby edges softened by a low-rolling fog. They had it all to themselves, a miracle befitting this magical day.

       “Let’s take off our shoes and run through the grass,” Christina said. Dennis looked dubious.

       “There’s dog shit.”

Christina took off her shoes, ignoring Dennis. Her feet had become identical pain pockets and she almost moaned aloud at the sweet relief of wiggling her toes in the cool grass.                                                                                      “You’re just chicken!”

Christina threw out the challenge as she began to run, her shoes dangling awkwardly from one hand, the other clutching the ice cream cone. The inevitable happened a few minutes later: the ground came up to meet her with astonishing speed as she stumbled and fell. When she scrambled to her feet after a dazed few seconds, her left breastbud was smeared with black raspberry ice cream and her new sundress had grass stains on the skirt. Her shoes were somewhere in the grass, flung aside. Dennis was laughing so hard he was doubled over, gasping for breath.

       “Too funny!”

Christina froze her features into a Baroness Ilsa mask and came toward Dennis, zombie-like.

       “I am possessed of the dead.” Christina made her voice flat and other-worldly, like Sandra Knight’s in the movie. She kept advancing toward Dennis, who kept laughing.

       “I am possessed of the dead,” she repeated. Dennis continued to laugh, but now it sounded a little forced. Christina walked toward him like a zombie, an eerie smile on her face.

       “I am possessed—“ Dennis stopped laughing. His face now registered alarm. Christina burst out laughing. Really, he was as easy to scare stiff as Vinny.

    “I got you! I got you!” she screamed. “You were SCARED! YOU—“

Dennis grabbed her and kissed her, hitting the side of her mouth and stepping on her martyred toes in the process. Christina tried belatedly to turn her involuntary cry of pain into something resembling passion, as befitted her first ever non-family kiss. She broke away and looked around for her shoes.  She suddenly just wanted to be alone in her room, thinking about what just happened. As if to underscore her decision, there was a low rumble of thunder in the distance.

       “I gotta go,” she mumbled. Dennis handed Christina her shoes. The tips of his fingers grazed the tiny bump that was her left breast. “You got—“ indicating the ice cream stain. Christina froze.  Both avoided looking at each other. “I gotta go home,” she said again. They went their awkward, separate ways. All the way home, Christina’s heart thumped along with her loosened shoes in a clacking, shivery metronome of joy and terror.  She relived the kiss, and now it was perfect: Dennis hadn’t missed her mouth, hadn’t stepped on her toes; instead the kiss was a mutual pledge of undying love and had taken place in a shimmery garden free of dog shit.

 

In the morning Rita the slave driver volunteered Christina to babysit for Dommie Boy, while she and Connie went shopping. Christina stood in the hall, her arms folded across her chest. She would keep Dommie Boy from electrical outlets and falling on cement, she informed Rita, but she drew the line at actually touching him. Rita feigned shock.

       “What kinda mother you gonna be someday? Huh? You no touch? Hah! When you were a baby I chew the food and put inna you mouth!”

       Christina squeezed her eyes shut to blot out the deadly image, put her hands over her ears, and screamed. Rita smiled. She enjoyed Christina’s tantrums, as predictable as the laugh track on the Lucy show, as dramatic as the firecrackers they set off when the Sons of Italy paraded the Madonna del Carmine bedecked with dollar bills down Adams Street.  Connie appeared at the door, shepherding Dommie Boy, who raced inside, more blur than boy. She looked at Rita, puzzled, when she saw Christina standing with her hands over her ears. Rita shrugged and said “Eh,” her all-purpose comment, this time signifying “See what it’s like to have a girl?” Connie kissed Dommie Boy, panting with the exertion of bending down, uncomfortable at the idea of Christina babysitting, but even more desperate for a few precious minutes in the company of an adult.

       “You be good,” she said to the toddler.

       “We’ll be right back,” she reassured Christina, who wasn’t reassured.

       “We bring you cannoli,” her mother added. They left in a hurry, before Dommie Boy, whose face was already darkening, threw his own tantrum.

        “I’m NEVER having children,” Christina yelled after them. “I HATE cannolis!”

       Her outburst had stopped Dommie Boy in his tracks. He looked up at her with wonder, as if she were some mythic goddess of rage. Christina looked at Dommie Boy and sighed. She took his sticky little hand and led him over to the couch. She turned on the television.

       “Wanna watch cartoons?”

 Her goddess moment was over. The cartoon-watching lasted five minutes, if that. Dommie Boy squirmed off the sofa and Christina turned off the television. She turned on the radio. Skeeter Davis came on, singing “End of the World.” Christina serenaded Dommie Boy, who paid no attention at all when she sang, “Don’t they know it’s the end of the world ‘cause you don’t love me any more.” Christina sang it to the end, anyway, liking the sound of her own voice, though Dommie Boy started babbling nonsense when she did the speaking part. After an hour of steering Dommie Boy away from potentially lethal dangers like the sculpted glass candy bowl on the coffee table and the stairs to the cellar, Christina heard Rose calling her at the screen door. Christina yelled for her to come in. She had finally distracted Dommie Boy by letting him bang on Rita’s already battered pots and pans. He sat on the kitchen floor adding more dents to the colander with a wooden spoon, hammering away like a miniature tinsmith.

       “Where were you yesterday?” Rose asked. “Angie and Frankie had a big fight after the movie! It was horrible! You missed it!”

She noticed Dommie Boy on the floor and melted.

       “Awwww,” she said. “C’mere,” she added, scooping him into her arms and kissing him. Christina shivered reflexively. Rose couldn’t wait to get married and be a mother and become an indentured servant. Rose was insane.

        “I have big news,” Christina said. “But I can’t tell you now,” she added indicating Dommie Boy. “But it’s big. My whole life has changed.”

       “TELL ME,” Rose yelled, almost dropping Dommie Boy.

        “I can’t. Not right now,” Christina said.

Rose sniffed and handed Dommie Boy to Christina.

       “I think he did something.”

Christina received the toddler as if she were dismantling a bomb. She sat him on the floor, telling him to bang the pots. Rose kept looking at the door. She seemed anxious to go.

       “Well, if you’re not comin’….”  Rose edged toward the door.

       “I’ll tell you later. I’m not kidding. It’s big. My life is forever changed,” Christina said.

Rose looked at Christina, her brows beetled.

       “This something you wanna read me again from Withering Heights?”

       “No, no, this is a real thing that happened to me. So real,” Christina reassured her.

Rose moved closer to the door, saying that she didn’t want to miss when Frankie and Angie first saw each other after the big fight. The screen door slammed. The kitchen rang with the clanging of the colander. Christina stared at Dommie Boy, absorbed in destroying the pots and pans. A viscous teardrop of drool swayed to the rhythm of the brain-numbing beat.

       The morning dragged on. Christina ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and gave one to Dommie Boy, who now wore the jelly like bruises blooming on different parts of his face. He found a way to pound the sandwich along with the pots and pans and little blobs of sandwich paste were scattered over the kitchen like buckshot. Christina finally heard the familiar nervous clatter marking the return of her mother and Connie. She bet they felt guilty for saddling her with Dommie Boy, who now smelled worse than pecorino romano. But her mother wasn’t at all guilty for wrecking Christina’s morning. She dropped her bags on the counter and yelled at her for not changing Dommie Boy. “I gave him a sandwich!” Christina screamed in her defense. They even forgot to bring her cannolis. She hated her mother, the slavedriver witch who only loved her porky brother Vinny.

       Christina stomped upstairs to her room for a final check on her outfit (the same sundress from yesterday, Day of the Kiss, now miraculously spotless thanks to Rita) and hair (a perky ponytail that didn’t make her look like Sandra Dee, as she had hoped.) She dabbed some “Evening in Paris” behind her ears. Her toilet complete, she raced back down the stairs and out the door to meet again her Fair Love, the private name she had given to Dennis. The name was never to be spoken aloud even under threat of torture. Maybe if they got married someday she would say it to his face. When she got married, it would be different from when Rose got married. Rose had planned everything already, down to the color of the bridesmaid dresses and the wedding favors (candy-coated almonds wrapped up in pink mesh like her bridesmaids’ dresses). When Christina married her Fair Love, they would elope to a place where they could gallop together over the moors. Christina’s steed would be black. Her hair would turn black to match her stallion and it would stream out behind her in the wind as she rode.

       She arrived at the park too late to see the reunion between Frankie and Angie. Rose met her at the gate and told her they had made up the night before so there wasn’t really a reunion. They had just walked in with their arms around each other. The big news was that Angie had three hickeys. Christina didn’t care about the lovebirds, and she didn’t know what a hickey was. She was craning her neck to see if Dennis was there, in the usual cluster of boys. He wasn’t. Rose and Christina walked over to the spot where Patsy and Angie were huddled, discussing something so serious they had to whisper even though the boys were way over by the fence playing cards and weren’t even looking at them.

       “C’mere, c’mere, c’mere,” Patsy hissed, beckoning them over. “Angie’s gonna tell you somethin’!”

Angie was lounging on the grass looking sleek and satisfied. There were two greenish bruises on her neck. Rose sat at her feet in a listening posture like the RCA dog in the advertisements. Christina dropped beside her, careful of her sundress. Angie sat up and took a long look at both of them. She shook her head.

       “Nah. Yis are too young,” she said.

Rose protested that she was only a month younger than Patsy. She pointed to Christina.

       “She’s the youngest,” Rose said. “She’s a whole year younger than the rest of us.”

Christina stared at Rose with disgust. Was there no end to her betrayals? Rose felt the stare. She looked guilty, at least.

       “Well, you are still only thirteen,” she said.

Angie overcame her scruples after a second or two and told them the big news: she and Frankie had gone all the way. Christina and Rose knew right away that this meant Angie and Frankie had had sex. Angie smiled down at their shocked faces from her new lofty place as a woman, a grown-up, a person who had intercourse with a man. Rose spoke first.

       “Is…is that why you have those,” she whispered, pointing to Angie’s neck. Christina hoped not. She never saw bruises on her mother’s neck and she knew for a fact that she and her father had sex, even though she didn’t like to think about it. Still, there was no denying the barnyard noises that sometimes came from behind her parents’ closed bedroom door on nights when Christina was up late reading. Was this neck sucking some new vampire component? Maybe only teenagers got bruises. Maybe Angie was possessed of the dead. All her nerve endings lit up at once and Christina suddenly had to stand up, then sit down again. She felt like slapping her own face to calm herself down.

Angie laughed.

       “I can’t even show you where the other one is,” she said.

       “It’s on her ass!” Patsy whisper-shrieked. Rose and Christina inhaled sharply, their eyes huge. Christina felt queasy, and the world tilted off its axis a little.

       “But,” she blurted, “weren’t you embarrassed to take your clothes off in front of him?”

Angie looked at Christina with something like pity.    

        “We were so hot we couldn’t wait,” she said, like she was ordering fries to go.

       “Hot?” Christina said.

Angie’s lip curled.

       “Oooh, hot! I get it. I didn’t hear you,” Christina said before Angie could rank her out for being stupid. Angie just looked at her like she was Dommie Boy, an annoying toddler not worth answering. Patsy dared to ask what they were all thinking:

       “What if you get pregnant?”

Angie shrugged, then told them she was okay with that, it would get her out of the friggin’ house and out of school for good. Christina thought about telling Angie about how boring it was to chase a toddler around all day, more boring than school, but she noticed that Dennis had arrived and was playing the knife game with the other boys. She got up while Patsy, Rose and Angie were discussing their dream weddings and walked over to where the boys were playing. She smoothed out her sundress. She hoped Dennis would see it and remember yesterday, the Day of the Kiss.

       They were sitting in a circle throwing a knife into the dirt. They looked like cavemen or dangerous young primates. Christina thought they would probably like it if she told them they looked like apes, instead of being insulted. A few of them would even jump up and start beating their chests and butting heads.  As she drew closer, she knew they noticed her, but they pretended she wasn’t standing there. She heard mumbling and fragments of words, dirty-sounding words like “finger fuck,” and “tits.” Then, “what tits?” and an idiot falsetto laugh. She pretended not to hear and said “Hi, Dennis.” Some of the guys mimicked her, calling out a high-pitched, girly “Hi, Dennis.” She wished she had never come here. What was wrong with her? Why didn’t she know she shouldn’t have come over here, so close to the boys-only circle? Only Angie could walk right up to the boys and not be mocked. Dennis ignored her and concentrated on his turn at throwing the knife. He missed and swore under his breath.

       “Whoa. Don’t get all excited ‘cause your girlfriend’s here,” Frankie said.

        “She’s not my girlfriend,” Dennis muttered, not looking at Christina.

There was nothing left to do but turn around like someone possessed of the dead, as she stumbled toward the giggling future brides a million miles away across the park.

 

Bio:

Marianne Leone is the author of JESSE, A MOTHER’S STORY (Simon & Schuster). Her essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, Coastal Living, Post Road, Bark Magazine and elsewhere. She played Joanne Moltisanti (Christopher’s mother) on the Sopranos for three seasons. She is married to actor Chris Cooper. Marianne is a first generation Italian American and her latest memoir MA SPEAKS UP (Beacon Press) is about her immigrant mother, who came to the U.S.to escape fascism and an arranged marriage.

 

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