JULY 1999 |
MICHAEL SCHIAVONE, a former U.S. soldier, is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine. Anderson lives in New Rochelle, New York and works as a bookkeeper.
LESS THAN SUPERMAN
He believed that his studying paid off, for early next day, Mark managed to score a 70 on his social studies test. His accomplishment made him feel renewed. Later that night, he displayed his test paper to his parents with pride.
Angelo decided to treat Mark to a Jackie Chan movie, and to some White Castle hamburgers and some Baskin and Robbins ice cream. Laura stayed home with her two younger sons. She told Mark and Angelo to have a good time, but warned Mark not to allow his father to eat too much.
Throughout the evening, Mark and Angelo laughed and patted each other on the back and told jokes. Angelo ate five hamburgers and a banana split, and drank two cups of coffee. With playful competitiveness, Mark devoured six hamburgers, gulped down two Coca Colas, and ate two banana splits.
On their bus trip home, Angelo said, "I had a good time, Mark, and I'm proud of you for passing that test."
After a pause, Mark asked, "When can we go on that hunting trip?"
"You and your hunting trip," Angelo chuckled, Yet then Mark heard his father promise, "I'll try to plan something, soon."
When they entered their apartment they both complained about their stomach aches. Laura loudly chastised both father and son: "You guys are so immature!" Mark went into his room, undressed, and lay on his bed beside Daniel.
From under his warm covers, and despite his stomach cramps, Mark finally fell asleep where a dream showed he and his father firing rifles at a group of snarling monsters. Angelo missed all of his shots and then ran out of ammunition; and Mark was scoring only a small percentage of hits. Laura stood behind Mark, advising him but Mark was disappointed because his father was not coaching him too. Then Mark heard Laura crying, and he slowly realized that he was no longer dreaming.
"My poor baby, my dear baby!" Laura cried in Italian, pacing about her kitchen.
"What's the matter, Mark?" murmured Daniel. Mark watched his small brother rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Then Mark turned his head toward his open door, staring now at his infant brother wrapped in a light blue blanket and cradled in his mother's arms. "Why is Mommy crying for baby Mikey?" asked Daniel.
"I don't know, Danny. Relax, and go back to sleep, everything will be all right. Mikey probably has a little fever. You know how Mommy gets when we're sick," Mark assured Daniel.
But then Mark heard his Uncle Joe loudly criticizing Angelo for not taking better care of himself and his family.
"Mommy and Uncle Joe are making too much noise," sighed Daniel.
A moment later, people began to trickle into the kitchen, some in their bathrobes. He spotted two policemen, who patrolled the area and always waved at Mark and Angelo, and his Aunt Sara; and the space continued to shrink. Mark smelled the odors of the crowd blending with the smell of the pastina soup that Laura had prepared earlier that evening. He heard his mother, as though she was repeating a mantra: "Please God, my poor babies;" and Mark wondered where his father was.
Seconds later, an ambulance siren seared through Mark's throbbing head, and seemed to heat the cool night air; and then all sound and time appeared to stop, except for the ambulance lights, surging through the parted, white, web-like window curtain, splaying rhythmic bursts of orange-red upon the blue walls of Mark's room and onto the grim faces which hung like photos suspended on wires in the kitchen. The ambulance attendants seemed to violate Mark's home, clattering and marching through the frozen crowd like angels of death, appearing to notice no one but the object of their mission, the dead or the dying, and rushing out of the modest home with their prostrate passenger covered under a white blanket.
Mark assured Daniel that all would be well; and he wanted to believe this himself.
"Don't worry about anything, I'll help you through all of this," Mark heard his uncle say; and his uncle's words somehow relieved Mark for the moment; and Mark again drifted off to sleep.
When Mark opened his eyes in the morning, he turned toward Daniel, and discovered his mother kneeling at the edge of the bed, seeming to sleep. Several beams of morning light radiated through the half-opened curtain, stripping a group of yellowish bars across her pale face, her uncombed hair, and her frayed, white flannel bathrobe.
"Your father's...not with us...any more. He's dead," she whispered to her son, With a strange feeling of disgust, Mark peered at her red-webbed eyes, her wet, pale face, and the long, white hand that stoked the blond hair of her six year old, sleeping son.
Mark's heart thumped like a wild man trapped behind a steel door. He laid his head back upon his pillow and forced himself to think about a series of possible scenarios in which his life would be pleasant despite the absence of his father.
Angelo's wake was three days long. Mark's relatives tried to talk him into attending, but Mark managed to avoid entering the funeral home, convincing everyone that he would get around to it in his own time. Each day of the wake he pinioned himself in his uncle's car, in the parking lot of the funeral home, sitting alone and feeling guilty and defeated.
On the day that his father was to be buried, Mark sat once again in Joe's car and stared at the door of the building. He saw his teachers and several of his neighbors and his relatives, all walking with in and out of the funeral home their heads down.
Then Mark saw his mother walking out of the building straight towards Mark. She leaned her soft, smiling face over the rear window of the white, Toyota Camry, and smiled. "Hi, Marco. How you doing, Figlio mio? Can I come in and talk to you?"
Mark opened the door and let his mother in. She caressed Mark's face with her right hand, Mark felt himself shivering in her warm, supportive hand. He tried to ignore Laura's black dress and the black shawl that covered her brown hair. Her funeral attire made him imagine his father lying dead in his cold, metallic coffin, dressed in his best, navy blue suit and his new, red tie and the dress shoes that Laura had just bought him for his birthday. His father's face looked shiny, waxy and hard. Mark's eyes lost water like two, leaking faucets,
"I'm worried about you, Mark, but I haven't had time to talk to you. You're my oldest son and I need you to help me and your brothers."
"I want to remember my father the way he was when he was alive, I don't want to see him laying in a coffin, dead."
"I know, Mark," Laura said, petting Mark's hair then leaning over and kissing him on his left cheek. The leathery seats squeaking under her weight whenever she moved. "I was younger than you when my father died. I was a ten year old girl, who barely spoke English, and the man that I loved and trusted wasn't there to help me anymore. He was my teacher, my fortress, and my sanctuary, Mark. And then he was gone. At first, I was angry and confused and I wondered why God decided to take my father away from me. But then I realized that my mother needed me to be strong and to support her."
Mark's throat burned when he finally spoke, "I'm not as strong as you are, Mom. Dad wasn't as strong as you, either."
Laura looked into Mark's eyes and clasped his hand in hers; she then said to her son, "Angelo was strong in his own way."
"You're just saying that."
"No, I mean it, Mark, I loved him. And he never let me doubt for even a second that he loved me," She paused, leaned back and sighed as a tear rolled down her cheek. "And always remember that Angelo will always be a part of you."
"Yes, I know,"
"Your father once told me that confidence begins with action, with taking that first step. The act of going in there," Laura pointed toward the funeral home with a sweep of her right hand, "and talking to your brother, Danny, and honoring your father, will make you feel much better."
Mark after a short pause, and while sniffing and fighting back his tears, announced, "All right...I'll try.
They climbed out of the car. Laura put her arm around her son's shoulders and guided him along the narrow path towards the funeral home.
* * * *