Minions of the Moonby Richard Bowes
Kevin Grierson has a Shadow with a mind of its own. It likes thrills, it likes power, it likes the rush of drugs and danger. From the suburbs of Boston to the streets of New York, from the false glamour of advertising to the dark glamour of hustling and drug-dealing. Grierson's Shadow keeps him walking the edge of destruction and madness. Then a simple robbery goes… See more details below
Kevin Grierson has a Shadow with a mind of its own. It likes thrills, it likes power, it likes the rush of drugs and danger. From the suburbs of Boston to the streets of New York, from the false glamour of advertising to the dark glamour of hustling and drug-dealing. Grierson's Shadow keeps him walking the edge of destruction and madness. Then a simple robbery goes horribly wrong. With the help of a flawed saint named Leo Dunn, Grierson struggles to banish his Shadow, and succeeds. Temporarily. Years later, sober and settled, at peace with his world, Kevin Grierson meets his Shadow again. And this time it won't go away.
This new edition of the Lambda Literary Award-winning novel includes a brand-new Grierson story.
At the age of 57, Kevin Grierson is the owner of an antique toy shop in Greenwich Village and primary caregiver to his ex-companion, George, who is dying from AIDS. But this current-day setting is merely the final path in Kevin's troubled lifelong search for peace, contentment, and redemption. The road that led him here was a tortured and twisted journey marked by addiction, promiscuity, and the age-old battle of good versus evil.
Born into a Boston Irish family with a long history of dysfunction, alcoholism, and the occasional doppelgänger, Kevin's only love and support comes from his great aunt Tay, who, like Kevin, is keenly aware of the Faileas -- also called the Shadow -- who haunt certain members of the family. By the time he reaches the age of 14, Kevin has hustled more than a hundred men at the local Y and given full rein to his own Shadow -- a bigger-than-life identical twin and alter ego by the name of Fred, who reflects the darker side of Kevin's humanity.
After the death of Kevin's alcoholic mother and a bust at the Y, Kevin's uncle sends him off to a military school with the hope that some discipline will straighten the boy out. But instead it only serves to strengthen Kevin's sense of isolation, particularly after his beloved aunt Tay dies. When Kevin falls in love with a rich and perverse young woman named Stacey, who introduces him to the world of amphetamines and gives him his first taste of sex with a woman, his life begins a frantic downward spiral. His connections to a crazed and addicted psychologist leave Kevin running from very real demons as well as those who haunt the dark tunnels of his mind. When his chemical addiction escalates to include downers and alcohol, Kevin hits his lowest point ever, waking up naked in a strange room with a dead man and no recollection of what happened.
The one bright spot in Kevin's miserable life is a young boy named Scotty and the boy's mother, Sarah Callendar, the widowed wife of Scott Callendar. But even this oasis is tainted by Kevin's guilty knowledge that Scott Sr. met his fiery death in a motorcycle crash after Kevin provided him with a dose of drugs that pushed him over the edge.
Through it all, Fred the Shadow flits in and out of Kevin's life, sometimes welcome and sometimes not, occasionally providing solace but more often creating mayhem. When Kevin finally seeks to sober up with the help of a kindhearted man named Leo Dunn, he tries to banish Fred from his life. But Fred isn't that easy to shake, and he appears not only to Kevin on occasion but to others as well. As Fred continues to live the life of depravity Kevin is trying to avoid, Fred's rapidly deteriorating image serves as a haunting reminder to Kevin of what the future may hold. Complicating the picture even more is young Scotty's apparent connection with his dead father, which provides the lad with both supernatural experiences and amazing insight.
With its powerful and often heart-wrenching look at the human struggle to carve out an identity and find forgiveness for our sins, this gripping coming-of-age story straddles the line between being a dark fantasy and a disturbingly realistic peek into the frightening realm of schizophrenia. Reminiscent of the existential moral debates and sinister forces inherent in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Minions of the Moon is a truly unforgettable and moving look at both the best and worst in humanity.
- Lethe Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.61(d)
Read an Excerpt
Sunday dawned blazing hot. Matt and the kid on the streetcar had faded as tricks and dreams do by light of day. Still, they left me aware of my Shadow. I hadn't slept well. The same wise man who compared my double to a Silent Partner had told me he was like an embezzler stealing my soul bit by bit.
That Sunday morning, I went by George Halle's apartment to take care of his mail and make sure the place was still intact. A quick look around was all that I could stand. Wooden louvers shaded the windows, cut the sound of the far West Village to nothing.
My memories of the place were wondrous. Over the past couple of decades, George and I had been lovers, business partners, friends, and, finally, patient and caregiver. The furniture is old, modern stuff from the forties. The art is American illustration and cartoons. Polished and mellow, the rooms awaited the return of George, who had now been taken off life support.
Ducking out of the place, I locked the door, walked down to the street, and stopped. George's block stood empty except for a scavenger. His garbage bags half full of bottles and cans, he rummaged in the trash with his back to me. He was gray haired and about my build. But his face, when he turned, was not mine.
The incident made me decide to stick to public places. Over on Hudson Street with a whole afternoon to kill, I idly cruised amid clusters of guys and women sauntering back from brunch, the gay Sunday service.
For the first time in years I seriously considered my early past. Ironic that it took Ozzie Klackman and my Shadow to do it, since antique toys and books, the compost heap of childhood, are my business. Those things, however, are nostalgia, memory in costume and party hat. Real recollection, as I was about to find out, is something else.
Memory, the word itself, evokes for me an image of bright lights and green grass, a night game at Fenway Park in, maybe, '48 or '49. If so, I am four or five, up way past bedtime, dozing against my uncle Mike, the cop. Suddenly everyone stands up and he lifts me onto his shoulder.
I see figures in gray, running. Then out of the left-field darkness sails a white ball. At third base, a man in white, his back to me, takes two steps to his left, nabs it, pivots, and fires. The catcher, his scary mask abandoned, comes up the line toward third, catches the ball, crouches, braces, tags the sliding runner. The game ends. The crowd roars in triumph, able for a moment to forget that they are Red Sox fans and thus doomed.
For the rest of the afternoon, as fragments, disjointed, incomplete, drifted from my subconscious into my awareness, I thought of the ball flying out of the darkness into the light. As I walked away from George's I recalled this line of a poem:
FOUNTAINS IN SUMMER
It evoked images of sunlight on green leaves and my mother leading me by the hand in the Boston Public Garden. My guess is that I was about three.
No trip downtown at that time was complete without a visit to the Swan Boats. So, at some point we must have floated on the shallow pond under low bridges with a Boston University undergraduate pedaling away in the great white bird at the back. But for the moment I couldn't say for sure. Nor could I remember more of the poem or where I had heard it.
On that summer day fifty years later, I walked north and east, unaware of my destination until I arrived at the Sixth Avenue Flea Market. In those aisles of jumbled tchotchke and kitsch, sprawling through empty parking lots and garages, trawled by every boomer who somehow forgot to get invited to the Hamptons for the weekend, Warhol once assembled his million-dollar cookie jar collection.
My eyes refused to focus on tarnished brass door knockers and plastic place mats with pictures of Italy. Then a couple turned and smiled and seemed to share their smile with me.
She, it appeared, was a young part-Asian woman, blue eyed and black haired, slim in a green silk blouse. He, I realized, was misshapen. But his face was delicate, his smile beautiful. Turning, he replaced something on a table.
A damsel and a dwarf, I thought as they moved away. I should have been able to spot my Shadow's hand. But right then, all I was aware of was what he had put back on the table. Amid a collection of distressed Humpty Dumpty magazines, coverless copies of The Pokey Little Puppy, was my face on a decaying dust jacket.
Actually, it was just a drawing of a little boy in a striped jersey and shorts. An Eton cap perched on a blond head almost as big as his trunk. Eyes wide with wonder, he stared at an Indian chief in full regalia. The title was Go West, Jelly Bean!
Others modeled before and after. But for several books, I was Jelly Bean. In truth, JB was sort of featureless. He was Everykid back in 1950 when they thought that meant a white boy.
The books weren't quite up there with Dr. Seuss or Curious George. But more than a dozen titles got produced between the late forties and late fifties. If you were a child then and read, you probably had a Jelly Bean or two and may remember the gimmick, the running gag.
Jelly Bean never spoke. But this silent kid had so vivid an imagination that he turned into whatever attracted his attention. You knew just by looking at the cover, for instance, that he would end up as an Indian chief. He could only be brought back to himself by his parents' call of "Jelly Bean, where are you?"
Always there remained some evidence of his shape shifting, like the streak of war paint left on his face at the end of Go West. His parents, however, never caught on.
Dealing in antiques, I had encountered better copies of Go West, had bought them, sold them, even mentioned my connection with them to friends and customers. But that afternoon, almost like Jelly Bean, I found myself trapped in the thing that had hooked my attention. I became my own six-year-old self on a glorious spring weekend I spent dressed as an Indian chief.
"You buying or dreaming?" the dealer asked. "Ten dollars."
Being treated like a civilian aroused my professional pride. "For this beat-up copy? A first edition, preserved by some lonely maniac for forty-eight years in a state of mint purity, will fetch ten. Maybe."
So he backed down. But not all the way. Because he had spotted my weakness, I paid four dollars for something I would have said was only worth a buck. "I can get you all of that series," he called, going for the kill as I escaped.
A block east of the market is Madison Square Park. On a reasonably sound and isolated bench, I examined my find. The cover had two names, Helena Godspeed Hewett and Max Walter. Mrs. Hewett created and wrote the Jelly Bean books. I had a single memory of a big woman in a huge hat who pretended to adore kids, but was obviously annoyed when I asked if the foxes on her stole were kittens.
Max Walter's name evoked a lot more. I remembered him sitting at his easel, pencils in hand, sketching me, saying again and again, "It's perfect. Just one more minute, Kevin." He was catching Jelly Bean's look of goggle-eyed wonder Max's goatee was what held me. He was the only person I'd ever met with a beard. It fascinated me that it moved right along with his mouth when he spoke.
Max's wife, Frieda, and my mother were friends. The two of them sat in the studio drinking wine, talking. "What's great about Sandra," my mother said, "is that with her you don't need a second opinion. She's so two-faced. I'm surprised she's never run into herself."
Max and Frieda laughed. Uneasily, I wondered if people often met themselves. "Okay!" Max told me, chin and beard wagging. "Take a break, Kevin." I walked over to the window. Max's studio was on the top floor of a house in Jamaica Plain. In the distance were the Arnold Arboretum's acres of trees, hills, and ponds.
But I stared at a weed-filled lot right across the street. There, two chains of boys and girls, aged five to ten, faced each other with hands linked, playing red rover. I watched as one small boy ran at the opposite line, threw himself on a pair of joined hands, and bore two kids almost to the ground. But he couldn't break their grip and he had to be on their side. I wanted so much to be down there.
With her uncanny timing, my mother brought over a glass of ginger ale and distracted me. "See what we have now," she said. I turned back toward the room and there was a feathered headdress, moccasins, a fringed vest and pants, a tomahawk, a bow and quiver of arrows. She pointed to an array of bright tubes. "War paint!"
The headdress went on even before I shed Jelly Bean's stupid clothes. On that glorious day, they let me go outside in my regalia. Down I went, two flights to the street. And there I stood on the porch with my arms folded in front of me. The game across the way came to a halt. The kids approached slowly. Before they reached me, I turned silently and marched back into the house.
All that day and the next, they called outside for the real Indian to come out and play. I would show myself at the window. On my breaks I'd go downstairs and walk among them. I said nothing. I thought that if they knew I was just an ordinary kid, they would ignore me. I wanted to play, but I didn't know how.
The next time I remember modeling for Max, it was cold out, the trees were bare. But I wore a bathing suit and stood under a bright light. The book must have been By the Sea, Jelly Bean! which came just after Go West! It's the one where Jelly Bean gets taken to the beach. By then, Helena Godspeed Hewett had gotten the series down to a dull routine.
At the sitting, the costumes, even the uniforms, were a pain. It was raining. No kids waited to ask for the real marine. My mother sat without talking much. Things had begun to change for her and me. For Frieda too. She had just had a baby. I was fascinated.
Then Max said, "Okay Kev, take a break. Let's get into the sailor suit next." Bored and tired of this game, I began to whine. I guess my mother was bored too. Sighing, she put down her glass and started getting me changed.
Turning to protest, I saw Frieda and her child and was oblivious to anything else. Frieda and Max were bohemians. She nursed in the studio. The baby, her eyes wide and unblinking, was attached to her mother's breast. In perfect harmony, the breast bobbed gently to the rhythm of the baby's mouth. An instant later, the tiny throat would swallow. The baby kept one hand curved in the air, fingers splayed as if she were maintaining her balance on an invisible high wire.
I don't know how long I stood. But at the same moment I realized two things. Max was sketching intensely and I was naked. Betrayed, I tried to hide myself. Max said, "The end of innocence."
That was the last time I had to model for Jelly Bean. It was also around then that my mother got married again. My father had died in the war and I never saw him. My childhood playmates were my mother's friends, actors and artists, poseurs and lallygaggers. As time went on they drifted away. My mother's smile would disappear if I asked about them. Above all else, I wanted that smile.
One last memory of my mother and Frieda remains. It happened at the very end of their friendship, in high autumn, in the Arboretum beside a pond just off the road.
I believe my mother and Frank had just gotten married. That means we had moved to a house in Dorchester near my grandmother's and I was the new kid in Sister Gertrude Julia's third grade at Mary, Queen of Heaven School.
Frieda and my mother talked behind me as I fed a flock of mallards that had paused on their way south. With the accuracy and blindness of childhood, I knew that my mother was angry, but did not yet connect this with her drinking. She said in too loud a voice, "I thought with my father gone it would be different. But nobody wants me to be happy. They don't want me to live like everyone else."
"Of course they do, Ellen," said Frieda, and I knew that my mother was arguing without anyone arguing back. I wished as hard as I could that I would turn and find my mother smiling.
"People are jealous about Frank and me."
"Not at all." By their voices, I could tell that my mother and Frieda were walking slowly up to the benches by the road. "Just rest for a minute, El."
That's when a hand lightly touched my neck and I turned. Two figures sat about thirty yards away with their backs to me. My mother's querulous voice was indistinct. But that mother was just a Shadow.
Right beside me was my real mother. Instead of showing anger, she had a wonderful conspiratorial smile at the joke we were playing. Off we went, the two of us, on a walk around the pond, both watching our feet churn the leaves, turning suddenly each to catch the other's eyes and laugh.
When we had circled the pond completely, my mother led me to the bench. She and her Shadow merged. Frieda seemed tired, concerned. But my mother winked at me, reached out her hand for mine. If it was a dream, I must then have awakened.
That was as much of my past as the beat-up copy of Go West, Jelly Bean! would give me. Looking around Madison Square Park, I saw an impersonal space, somewhere for office workers to eat lunch on weekday afternoons. Standing up, strolling toward Fifth Avenue, I thought again of the line fountains in summer.
As if it were an invocation, my Shadow appeared before me. In a dirty white jacket, ragged jeans, and old sneakers, he crossed my path heading south on Fifth. With him were a bunch of kids with the marks of the street on their faces and clothes, each a bit skinnier than seemed possible.
Before my Shadow's eyes could meet mine, my heart gave a little warning kick and I stopped. He was as thin as any of the others. His cheekbones showed, his belt gathered in his pants. He had a three-day growth of beard and a wild, tangled mane touched with gray. My own hair is going back in what I hope is a graceful silver halo. He wore no glasses. Mine are gold rimmed, perfect for a twinkly little dealer in old toys.
Not wanting to get too close, I stopped at a pay phone and dialed my answering machine. Once or twice the caller had hung up and I wondered if that was Matt. One call, quite peremptory, was from an important client who wanted to discuss an auction to be held the next day. Then came a message from Addie and Lauren reminding me that dinner was at their place at eight. Dinner is a regular Sunday thing, half a dozen old friends entertaining each other.
Nothing from the hospice about George. His sister and family were on duty that day. It would all be over soon. I was unable to think past that.
Hanging up, I watched my double and his vagabond band pass through the crowds browsing the bookstores around Eighteenth. Trailing discreetly down to Washington Square, I thought of a reason to stop by my shop rather than follow them into the park.
Half Remembered Things is in the middle of a block of Italian bakeries and butcher stores just off Sheridan Square. We're closed Sundays during summer, but out front stood a forty-plus couple with their arms intertwined. She wore a tolerant smile, he a look of quiet rapture.
Something in our display window had grabbed him. That was the last one George had been able to do. It had been up for a couple of years and I knew we would never change it. With my help, he had put together a boy's bedroom circa 1955, one with everything other kids always seemed to have and you never did, like the rotating night lamp on which a rocket ship floated forever toward the rings of Saturn.
The fifth-grade geography text lay open on the desk to reveal the Scrooge MacDuck comic book inside. On the shelves, beside the lead marines in full dress, the junior football and the windup tin robots, Lone Ranger and Tonto bookends enclosed The Arabian Nights, The Boy's Book of Pirates, Dave Dawson with the Flying Tigers, The Martian Chronicles.
Roller skates, a cap pistol, and a Lionel yard engine lay on the floor near an interrupted Monopoly game. A Davy Crockett hat hung on the post of the bed, which was made up with Howdy Doody sheets and a Hopalong Cassidy blanket. On the foot of the bed, a Little League baseball with busted seams was nestled in a worn third baseman's glove.
When George Halle and I opened this place, Carter was in the White House. More lucky than smart, we despised the yuppie '80s. But we were in place when all the financial managers in New York decided to buy back their childhoods at inflated prices.
As a business person, I should have crossed the street, found out what the guy liked so much, given him my card. Instead, I waited until the lady dragged him away before going over and slipping the book through the mail slot. The first thing Monday, a place would be found for Go West on the bed near the baseball. Together, the book and the ball were the story of my life as a kid.
That done, I headed back to Washington Square. In my mind was the idea that it was better to encounter my Silent Partner now in a public place than to be taken by surprise when I was alone.
Walking, I remembered my mother after her remarriage, after Frieda and Max and Jelly Bean, bringing me to a department store photo shoot as a favor to a friend. She had promised me that this would be the last time. They had a whole bunch of us, babies, a girl my age and another around eleven who were sisters, and their big brother Steve, who told me, "I'm going to be a freshman at BC High next year." I was awestruck. He had to be" twelve at least.
The girls and babies and a couple of the mothers went to one of the two dressing rooms. Steve scooped up the sample clothes, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "Let's go, Kev," before anyone could think to go with us.
"This modeling stuff is stupid," he told me as we shed our jackets. "I gotta do it to save for tuition. BC has a great baseball team. You know about baseball?" I nodded yes because I had seen games. "I was in Little League three years. I'm starting Junior CYO ball. Third base. The ball comes on like a bullet. I'm working on my throw to first."
Reaching over to his discarded clothes, he took a scuffed baseball out of a pocket. "This is just Little League size but I can throw a curve. Kind of." He showed me the grip. "What position do you play?" I didn't know what to tell him. "You should play third." Pulling on a sweater, he asked, "You talk, Kev?"
Hypnotized, a smile plastered to my face, I said, "Yes!" And he laughed. All that day, between people adjusting our clothes, brushing our hair, between waiting and posing and changing and waiting again, he explained to me about playing third base.
"The important thing is that you stop it getting by you," he said. On a break, he bounced the ball toward me and I couldn't lay a hand on it. "No, you gotta move as soon as you see it come off the bat. Get in front of it. Once more."
When the shoot was over and we were parting in the lobby, he reached into the pocket of his jacket. I could see from his face that this tore him. "Here, Kev. You're gonna play, right?"
I nodded as hard as I could and reached out for the baseball. "What do you say?" my mother asked. I managed to croak out a thank-you. Steve waved and disappeared in the forest of adults. Maybe all he wanted was someone to listen to him talk baseball. Maybe too he was a good kid and smart enough to sense another's aching need.
On that blazing Sunday, years after Steve, I took a seat in Washington Square Park and watched the show. There is poignancy spiced with danger when summer's more than halfway gone and those attitudes that haven't wilted have gotten extra sharp.
The fountains threw jets into the air. Dashing through the spray were small, dark children, a large copper dog, a spacey white kid with a red kerchief on his head and his pants rolled up. Stretched out on the stairs leading down to the water, young people in gym bodies sunbathed with their heads thrown back.
On the circular plaza around the fountain, kids black and white and Asian circled on skateboards, bikes, roller skates. Along the raised outer rim of the plaza, dealers and trade tattooed and strung with pet snakes lounged. On the walk around the plaza, a police car sat with its windows open and its radio spitting static.
On the benches beyond the walk, I sat amid German tourists, undercover narcs, teenage hicks from the suburbs, and ancient Italian couples. In the sonic wash of rap and wheels, of crowd noise and the fall of water, I breathed the perfume of mown grass and piss and meat incinerating on shish kebab carts and waited to see what my Shadow would do.
Beyond a fence near the north side of the park, small children swarmed over the free-form jungle bars and slides. Parents, nannies, au pairs stood by. All this was a long way from my first and only playground.
Curtis Park in Queen of Heaven parish in Dorchester in Boston had jungle bars, slides, seesaws, and a brick building with rest rooms and the offices occupied by Charlie, the crippled caretaker. But mainly it was a big open space that was dusty ball fields in summer, a skating pond in winter.
That was where my Little League ball got me into a game with some kids from my third-grade class. We played off to the side on a diamond marked out by stones. The game was tossing the ball up and hitting it and lots of pushing and yelling and nobody ever caught anything. Then one day, Murph came by and took over.
A couple of summers later, the magic baseball was long gone. But its work was done. Hands in jean pockets, dirty and triumphant in the late setting sun, we strutted from a sandlot game, a gang of desperados in black high-tops. One by one kids reached their houses and peeled off until there was only Murph and me.
The Murphys were a dozen kids ranging from age four to twenty, a drunken, truck-driving father, a wispy-thin mother and her retarded brother who all lived in vast disorder at the corner of my block. All the male kids were called Murph by their friends. The one I knew was Jimmy, a crucial eight months my senior and the toughest kid in the fifth grade at "Queena Heaven" parochial school.
We reached his house first, lingered for a while. "And when he tries to tag me, he falls down and you run all the way home." Murph was doing a play-by-play of the game. I was laughing hysterically. Then Murph's mother yelled from inside and he said, "See you, Grierson." We only used last names.
"See you, Murph." No guys on earth are tougher than ten-year-olds. The streetlights came on and I was all alone. I wanted to hurry home, yet didn't want to go there at all.
As a child, I was expert above all else in navigating by the double star of my mother and her Shadow. I was never certain which one would be around. On that particular night, I heard the Shadow's voice, sharp and mean. "I beg your pardon. You brought this up!"
I froze for a moment. Sometimes my mother's Shadow talked to herself. Those were the worst times. Then I heard Frank say, "Ellen, for Christ's sake!" And I relaxed a little.
My stepfather never got the hang of my mother and her Shadow, never even understood that there was something to be learned. Frank and I kind of passed through each other. But he had his uses. With Frank to keep her busy, the Shadow would leave me alone. "You were so pie-eyed, you were "
They shut up when they heard me come in. "Kevin," said the Shadow. "Where the hell have you been?"
"Down at Curtis."
I tried to get past her, but she blocked the way. "Who were you there with?" The Shadow's eyes, wide, unblinking, bore right into me.
"A bunch of guys." It did no good to lie. "Murphy...."
Both my stepfather and the Shadow snorted. They disapproved of the Murphys in general and Jimmy in particular. "A bunch of drunken Irish trash," she said. Of course, we were Irish and the two of them drank quite a bit. Why the Murphys' Irishness and drinking were bad was a mystery deeper than any concerning the Blessed Virgin or Resurrection. "I don't want to see you with that crowd anymore," said the Shadow as I hurried upstairs. Then she and Frank went back to arguing.
What they didn't understand was that Murph was more important in my world than both of them put together. I just had to hope that next time I went out, my mother would be the one there when I got home. Or at least that the Shadow would forget what she had said.
I only went inside the Murphys' a few times. But Murph was fascinated by my house, with just the three of us living in it, by my room so well stocked with toys, and by my mother. I remember her appearing carrying a tray with glasses of milk and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We were scuttling over the floor directing a column of metal tanks and cars through a mountain of animals leaking stuffing. Murph looked up at her with an expression of adoration.
Of course, he wasn't there those times she stayed in her room and nobody could come by because any sound was too much. Or the times when the Shadow was up and angry, which I didn't want anyone to see.
Sometimes my mother and Frank would go off together and I would stay with my grandmother and grandaunt Tay who lived up the hill. Those times I loved. My mother's mother and aunt, with their white hair and soft brogues, were always exactly the same as my earliest memories of them. And my mother's Shadow, which seemed to fear nothing else, stayed clear of Aunt Tay.
On some occasions, like when I ran into the house on a dead of winter day with the sun silver behind clouds and iron snow on the ground, with my shoes squishing and my pants frozen to me, I was just as happy my mother wasn't present. While skating, I had stepped on thin ice and gone up to my waist in the water.
The Shadow did not bother to emerge from the bedroom and find out what I was doing. So I dashed upstairs, changed, and got back outside. My mother would have had me in pajamas and bathrobe drinking hot soup as soon as she saw that my skinny legs had turned blue. As it was, all I had to fear was the terrifying slow breathing from the closed bedroom.
My stepfather was the sales manager for a company that did business with the city. My grandfather had been in politics, and my uncles still were somehow. So the marriage made a kind of sense.
The reason Frank never learned to deal with my mother's Shadow, I discovered, was that he didn't have to. When things got bad, he left on business. When they stayed bad, he left for good. It was just my mother and her Shadow and me in the house. I was eleven years old and hung out with Murph in Curtis Park a lot.
That summer I remember a pair of bums, one an old guy maybe thirty, the other a lot younger. Both were filthy, their sneakers held together with tape. Bums and kids have a lot in common. They are powerless, without homes of their own, left to conduct private lives in public places. As my friends and I watched, the older guy drank from the water fountain, made a face, and spat. "Tastes like rust." The younger guy, seeing us, put two fingers to his mouth like he had a cigarette. "He wants a smoke," said the old bum. "You kids got some butts?"
About that time, a cop car appeared and the two guys faded. Maybe because it was on the same day, or maybe just in the same summer, I connect those vagrants with a night I stayed out really late. It's almost magic the way you can lose all thoughts of home. It was pitch dark.
Coleman and Leafy and Mackie and Murph and myself were now old enough and, with allies, numerous enough to show up after supper and hold onto one of the dusty diamonds in the park. The game started in twilight and held us entranced. We had three bats, I remember, a pale one with Ted Williams's engraved signature, a kid-sized Little League item and one that looked like a club and was dark wood and scarred, like something long lurking in the lower depths of baseball.
Smaller kids played, other guys' little brothers. But they were in the outfield. I was the shortest kid our age and I was at third. Stuff could sail way over my head but nothing got past me. Once I tripped and tore my jeans and cut my knee, and a couple of my fingers got mashed on a foul tip, but I couldn't feel it.
We played nine innings and people were watching. The score was close, something like 17-15. But we were ahead and Charlie, the park keeper, had already flicked the lights on and off three times, which was the five-minute warning and meant that if we could hold on we had won.
They had guys on second and third. A big kid named Billy Healey who thought he was tough was up and he was mad because people were yelling things about his mother. Murph was behind the plate. Mackie was pitching. Healey swung and the ball hit the bat. It was on the ground, bouncing wildly. As I moved forward, it caught a pebble, jumped up, and bit me on the left shoulder.
But it came down in front of me. I pounced and trapped it with my bare hand. As I did, something moved on my right. Some kid named Greg who had an actual Red Sox cap was run ning home. Murph behind the plate was yelling at me and I tossed right from where I had caught the ball.
Murph got it in his glove and Greg was still coming. Murph ran up the line to make sure he didn't get past and stuck the ball right in his nose, which bled. Then there was a lot of pushing and yelling. But the lights went out and we had won.
Walking home, kids dropped out as usual until there was just Murph and me. He had the great dark bat and a glove slung over his shoulder and his hat still on backwards. "I can take what my old man's gonna dish out standing on my head because we won."
Punishment at the Murphys' was a given. Mr. Murphy whacked kids at random. Once, not noticing I was a guest, he had even clipped me. Knowing what to expect almost seemed attractive. That night, adrenaline carried me all the way home. Our house was silent. My stepfather and mother's divorce had gone through. The light was on in the living room. I let myself in quietly.
I could have sworn my mother was asleep on the couch. Her form was there. But as I put my foot on the stairs, the Shadow appeared at the kitchen door and said, "Kevin!"
And I was so scared that I wanted to vomit and piss. She had a half-empty glass in her hand. Her eyes were wide, curious. Like I was a bug and she was a bird. Outside of that, the Shadow's face was blank. That expression didn't change. "I thought you were kidnapped. I just called the police."
Now, my mother would have called some other kids' mothers and pieced together what had happened to me. But her Shadow didn't do stuff like that. "I thought some stranger took you in his car, did something bad," she said very evenly. Then, "You're filthy. Get into the tub. Now."
From upstairs, I heard her get on the phone and say, "Terribly sorry to disturb you, Sergeant," in a weird, remote voice.
On the second floor, the door to her room was open. The bottles and jars from her dresser lay smashed on the floor. Clothes were everywhere, thrown around, all of them torn, slashed. A bright red stain spread where nail polish had spilled on the rug.
In the bathroom, everything from the medicine chest had been broken in the sink. The tub was full of lukewarm water. Locking the door, getting in the bath, I had to be careful how I stepped because of broken glass where the mirror was smashed.
The water stung my scraped knee, my mashed fingers. I heard the Shadow in my room. Things were getting broken, ripped. "On my own," she yelled, "I could go where I wanted. Do what I wanted. Without that runt." I was too scared to face her.
Then it seemed another voice was speaking, softly pleading that she be quiet. It seemed maybe my mother was awake. But when I crept out wrapped in a towel, it was only the Shadow and me. I stood and looked at the wreckage of my room, all my clothes and toys in a pile on the floor "All this junk goes out tomorrow." She said this coldly, staring me down. "Stop crying."
"I got soap in my eyes."
Somehow, being a kid, I fell asleep. I awoke in the morning to the sound of weeping and quiet voices. More cautious than the night before, I listened to make sure that it was my grandmother and grandaunt. Then I heard my mother, not her Shadow. In a choked voice she told them that she wanted to kill herself. They said she shouldn't let me hear.
Shortly afterwards, the house got sold and my mother and I went to live with my grandmother and Aunt Tay. Around them, she kept her drinking quiet. And her Shadow kept its distance from Aunt Tay.
At the same time, her brothers got to meddle in my life. Uncle Jim brought me to his war buddy, Moxie the barber, for crew cuts long after I decided I didn't want them. That fall Uncle Bob enrolled me in his alma mater downtown. The school was cold and merciless, I barely skidded by.
Uncle Mike signed me up for swimming classes at the Y. At the physical, he joked with another boy's father as I waited in a line of scared, sullen kids in our underpants. At the Y, the kids were tough. Tricks they showed me made it hard to concentrate on the Aeneid.
One spring evening in my junior year, I passed Curtis Park on my way from the MTA station to my grandmother's. In the supper hour dusk, the place was almost empty. A lone figure perched on the jungle bars smoking a cigarette.
By then Murph had turned sixteen and dropped out of school. I had found a sympathetic barber and imagined I was coming into my own. We didn't even nod as I passed..
That afternoon, I'd clone my first modeling work in years for a guy with a camera who had seen me in Park Square. I sat on a couch in his studio gulping a double scotch while he patted my bare knees and talked about Rimbaud. On the walls were nude pictures of other young guys. I felt real cold and jumpy but very adult.
Going up the hill to home, I chewed gum to mask the booze. As I came in the front door, my mother stood on the stairs and looked right in my eyes. "Kev, it's after six, where have you been?"
For a moment, my heart went cold. But it really was my mother Her smile was tired, sweet, like we were fellow truants. I remembered that day when the two of us kicked leaves behind her Shadow's back.
Right then, I would have told her what had happened to me. But things about myself confounded me so much that I couldn't find words. That's when a voice whispered, 'We can do this standing on our head.' And I heard myself say, "School play. Rehearsal. I told you."
If I was an expert navigator, my mother had limned the heavens. She knew I was lying and I knew she knew. But instead of making her mad, the lie made something go out in her eyes. Unable to stand seeing that, I went past her and up the stairs.
At the time, I thought that she had gotten a whiff of the booze. Much later it occurred to me that she had caught a glimpse of my Shadow, was more aware of him than I was. All I know is that for the remaining time she lived, we trod carefully around each other.
In Washington Square Park, I awoke from my memories and looked around. The place is a playground of the demimonde. Street and aristocracy mix, kids from nice families dress down to mingle with hustlers and runaways.
As I watched, my Shadow crossed my line of vision. He prowled the plaza around the fountain, gazing intently, like he was cruising for drugs or sex. It seemed he took no notice of me as he spoke to a group of dazed, sun-soaked kids with matted hair and a pet ferret crawling over their bare shoulders.
I stood up and found myself facing the damsel and dwarf. On second meeting, it was obvious that the blue-eyed Asian damsel was a boy in drag. The dwarf was a dwarf. But the angelic smile he flashed as he handed me a worn piece of drawing paper was junk-blank and unfocused.
On the sheet was a sketch of an enraptured putto. It took a moment, but I jumped when I recognized Max Waiter's work and myself. What looked like wings were, in fact, my mother's hands resting protectively on my shoulders. Before I could wonder how my doppelganger had gotten hold of the sketch,I saw a file card and a scrawl much like my own: "This should be an illustration from the book old Helena never got around to writing, It's the Sistine Chapel, Jelly Bean!'
Despite myself, I grinned, which hadn't happened too often recently. On the card, in that same hand, was the poem I'd been trying to remember. It read like sampler verse but, as if a tape in my head had been jogged, a blocked memory began to run.
My mother and I were in the Public Garden and she was taking me to the Swan Boats. Maybe I was three. I let go of her hand and ran a few paces ahead. Then I heard her say, "Get away from us !"
I turned and saw my mother and another woman who looked just like her. Except the other's face was mean, angry. For a moment, she stood staring at us and then seemed to disappear. My mother took me by the hand and we sat down beside a fountain that had turned green with age and weather. After a moment, my mother told me, "There's something Aunt Tay taught me when I was little." And she recited,
PRAISE ORCHARDS IN AUTUMN
WARM KITCHENS IN WINTER
WIDE MEADOWS IN SPRINGTIME
AND FOUNTAINS IN SUMMER
We were quiet for a while. Then, like she knew that trying to change the subject would do no good, my mother said, "Kevin, I don't want you ever to be frightened of me. No matter what you see that one do or what she says, I love you with all my heart. Remember that."
'Don't say I never gave you anything,' murmured a familiar voice. When I looked up, my Silent Partner was already walking away with kids trailing after. Again I noticed how thin he was. There was nothing to him but his ragged clothes. In Africa, they call AIDS the slim disease.
This, I realized, was his way of showing me how deeply he is embedded in my past. Knowing him, I understood he wanted us to get back together. I wished him all the things we could never have: long life, calm seas, and prosperous voyages. I wished him far away and knew that wasn't going to happen. My continued existence is a tribute to the moderate life. With him around that would not be possible. He disappeared into the crowd.
The fountain was on across the way when I got home. Stuyvesant Park shows up a lot in movies. That's odd, since with iron fences, the Friends' Meeting House, the statue of old one-legged Peter, and the flowers planted around the fountain by the ladies from the Episcopal church, it looks like something from a more quaint and quiet town.
The police academy is in my neighborhood. At the end of my block, cadets in overseas caps, cop shoes, and paramilitary outfits flowed in clumps down Second Avenue. At a bad time in my youth I'd had to wear a uniform almost like that, and I can still get angry at the memory.
In my silent apartment with Caldecott prints on the walls and the air conditioner on, I examined the drawing and the note. Now that I had started, there was no way for me to stop remembering.
It was going to be a while before I had to go out. Music is evocative. I put disks of Glenn Gould's Bach and a Thelonius Monk solo into the CD player and went back to when I was sixteen and heard them for the first time.
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