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The Boston Globe selected Revere Beach Boulevard as one of its Top 100 Essential New England Books and author Richard Russo called it "...a great novel - ambitious, heartfelt and oh-so skilled."
"A great novel-ambitious, heartfelt, generous, and oh so skilled." (Richard Russo)
"Merullo invents a world that mirrors our world in all of its mystery. And he does it in language so happily inventive and precise and musical, and plots it so masterfully, that you are reluctant to emerge from his literary dream." (Joan Smith, The Washington Post Book World)
"With both affection and insight, Revere Beach Boulevard plumbs the depths of what for most of us is a lost and, for many, a never-known America." (James Polk, The Philadelphia Inquirer)
It was a Revere night, the night the life I been holding together all these years started pulling apart. A nice Revere night near the end of August, with salt in the air and garden smells floating over to us where we sat, and the sky above Proctor Avenue lit up with a light that was like paradise breaking open and pouring down all over you.
Before the phone call came that would take my life and turn her inside out like the sleeve on a jacket, I was sitting in the yard with the woman I been husband and wife with forty-nine years, the woman who was the other half of my body. We were waiting for the moon to come up over Patsy Antonelli's roof. Big, she would be coming up. You could tell by the light between the houses that she would be coming up big on that night, the full circle of her, the full, perfect face.
"Do you have any pain, Lucy?" I asked my wife.
And she said "No," quiet, in a voice that meant Don't keep asking, Vito. So I didn't.
A little bit of a breeze knocked loose two leaves that were already gone yellow, and they came twisting down through the dark on top of our yard, and it was like somebody whispering two words you didn't understand, a threaten or a promise, you couldn't say which. The two of them landed in the lawn, maple, and shook there a little bit, like Lucy's fingers.
The moon on that night, she was an opera in the sky. We looked up to hear it, Lucy and me, and the color of peaches was pouring down between the houses, catching in the windows of Jimmy Haydock's house upstairs. Every time you looked the song was changing: the almost red of the wet meat around a peach stone; then the almost yellow of a new pine board; then the almost white, still wet, of an old woman's eye--God's flag waving on the pole everywhere.
It was the kind of moon you only saw in Revere, a place that was squeezed off to the side, between a big city and the beach, and crowded with houses--and even then only once or two times every summer. It was a Revere night, and being alive in it I had a happiness in my body like a person doesn't feel that much anymore when he gets old. I looked at Lucy out of the side of my mind, and running right behind that happiness come something else. Maybe we wouldn't have no more nights like this, was what that something else was all about. Maybe now, me and Lucy, we were up to the number of nights God counted out for us, long long time ago. You were suppose to try not to be sad about it, but such a sadness took a hold of me then that I wanted the time to freeze solid right where she was. God, I wanted to say, this minute here is good enough for people like us. You can slow the movie down now; you can stop him right here.
But what God wants to happen is what happens, that's all. The moon, the sun, people's life pulling apart. Try stopping it.
Still, sometimes you want to. I believed in God, sure I did, but even so it didn't come out right in my mind why people had to suffer the way they suffered if there was a God up there watching out for us. Why did things so hard you couldn't think about them happen to good families? Why was there a new trouble every time you opened the paper? If I was a smarter man maybe I would know the answer, but I didn't know, and didn't pretend I knew. I just waited for what was gonna happen next, like everybody, and did the best you could in the meantime.
"Do you have much of the pain tonight?" I asked my wife again, because I couldn't stop myself.
And she said, "No, Vito," quick, so you knew it wasn't the truth.
After we sat there a few more minutes in the yard we heard Patsy Antonelli's screen door squeak on her hinges, then Patsy burping with his ulcer, then the sound of the little license plates on his dog's collar. A minute later the phone rang in our kitchen, you could hear it. And when she stopped there was just the crickets snoring, and Patsy telling Jupiter in a big big voice--like Jupiter was going deaf, not him--how she was the best dog in the world, how much he loved her, how they was never gonna be another dog like her, no matter how old she was now and what she couldn't do the way she used to.
And right then out our back door came the nurse's voice--"Mister Victor, for you-oo!"--the angel of the end of the world, bringing a message.
I touched Lucy on the hand and walked across our lawn into the house, Mister Victor now, on the top of all my other names. The phone we had was the old-fashion kind, black, because I don't believe in buying every new thing. She sat in the hall like a baby on her back on the white lace cloth Lucy made with her own hands, on the clear maple table I made with mine. And when I picked her up the plastic was cool like a bottle against your fingers.
"Uncle Vito," the voice said against my ear. "Alfonse."
So the stomach started going a little bit, all the past. "How you been, Capitano?" I made myself ask him, happy, just like I was talking to anybody.
"Good, Uncle.... How's Aunt Lucy? She in pain?"
"Try askin her," I said.
In the phone there was an empty space I did not like all of a sudden. Something in the wire, something like trouble in the end of Alfonse's voice.
"Why don't you come over for dinner Sunday and make you aunt happy?" I said, to fill her up. But a space like that, she isn't filled up so easy.
"I'm at the station."
The stomach going. The heart. Another little minute with nothing inside of her because Alfonse worked nights and never called us from the station twice in twenty years.
"Uncle, we have Peter here ... downstairs."
"He's okay. We picked him up a little while ago in front of Saint Anthony's."
"For what, you picked him up?"
"He's a little bit drunk, Uncle."
"A little bit drunk? How? He's not a drinker, Peter."
"Tonight he is. He was making a little noise in front of the church. Somebody called the station."
"A little yelling. Calling out for Father Dom. In front of the rectory."
"What yelling? Dommy called the police instead of me?"
"The new housekeeper called, Uncle. Father Dom was out someplace, he doesn't know about it.... Peter's upset, calling your name, saying things."
"My name he's callin?"
"Yours, mine, other people's. I'll send a cruiser right up."
"No, I'll come. Lucy doesn't need now a police car in front of the house."
"I'll have them meet you a little ways down the street then, near the school."
"No, I'm comin. Five minutes, tell him."
I put the phone back where she went and stood a minute trying to get the breathing muscles to work the way they always worked. The nurse was wiping the sink with a dish towel instead of the sponge, listening with both ears about my family. I tried not to show nothing. I tried even to smile at her when I walked by, but the muscles in my face they went stiff on me, and the smile came out a phony.
In the yard the Madonna was lit up, like always. The moon was shining down on the bocce court. And Lucy was sitting there like the statue of a woman in a wheelchair waiting for her husband to come tell her a lie.
"Who was it Vito?"
"Is Peter in trouble?"
"No," I said, too sharp. Because she had caught me by a surprise, asking that way. The second after I said it I leaned down to her with my hands on the front of my legs, and in the moonlight the skin on her face was like an old gray shirt hanging over a forehead and cheeks and chin that was made outa marble. "He has the tickets for the Holy Name Breakfast," I said. "I'm gonna go pickem up." And inside I was telling myself it was the right thing, not to give her no more pain--which is how people do it when they lie: First they lie to themself, and then they lie to the other person.
"Can't he bring them by?"
"He's at the station....I want to take a ride, get a cigar. Do you care if I go?"
Across her face then flew something I seen many years ago, when I lied to her the one other time. And for a minute it was a different Lucy there in our yard, Lucy-not-forgiving-me again. Bucket of cold water against your skin.
But we been married a long time, me and Lucy. We been through things it would be hard to talk about now, and still loved each other just the same, and so it passed right away, the bad feelin. I kissed her on the forehead where it didn't hurt too much, and left her sitting there in that light.
Vito made two beeps of the horn when he was going out the driveway, to say that he loved me. And when he was gone I made my mind quiet and felt myself mixing in with the music of the neighborhood: The pulley on Ellie Haydock's clothesline was whistling and stopping and whistling, because she had taken her three boys to the beach all day like a good mother and then made supper for her family and was late with the laundry; and Patsy Antonelli was banging his screen door again the way Vito didn't like, and the bang and the whistle were carrying all up and down the double row of yards between Mountain Avenue and Proctor Avenue while the crickets made their note. Every once in a while a car went passing by quiet in front of the house, and now there was a police siren. There used to be a hospital a little way up the street, and I remembered how Joanie and Peter used to get afraid, hearing the sirens the ambulances made, going there. "That's just the sound the angels make when they sing," I used to tell them, so they wouldn't worry. The police car went away toward Broadway now, leaving just the regular Proctor Avenue music, quieter, and in the middle of that soft symphony I let myself be quiet, too. And I thought: Alive, Alive, Alive.
Matilda walked out onto the back steps and came across the yard for me.
She pulled the blanket up so it covered my shoulders, and she turned the wheelchair a little bit so I could look at the Holy Mother instead of Patsy's house. She moved Vito's chair next to me and sat down like a part of the family--which I didn't mind. She was doing things for me now even my own daughter wasn't.
"Do you need to be changed, Missus?"
"Do you have much pain tonight?"
That night I had almost no pain, and I told her so. I told her my mother always said God took away the pain sometimes right before a person died, to give them a little rest before they did the work of climbing into the other world.
And she said, "You're not dyin on us yet, Missus."
"Not yet," I told her. "I have some little job to do still."
"You let me worry about the jobs, Missus. You clone your share of jobs in your time."
No, I thought. There was still something left to do. One small job holding me like a baby holds on to your finger, and I didn't know what it could be. For a little while we sat there, side by side--a Negro in my yard, welcome as family--and let the breeze blow across our ankles and our wrists, and we watched the moonlight making shadows over the tomato plants and over the boards of the bocce court.
After a while Matilda said, "Your boy's in a little trouble tonight, Missus. I heard them on the phone, saying it."
And I nodded my head like I knew it, because in my body somehow I did, and because I was ashamed to show I had a husband who wouldn't tell me things. There was nothing wrong in the way Matilda said it. She had a son with a good heart who was in trouble too. I sent a prayer up to Saint Anthony for him and for Peter, and the two of us sat there another ten minutes not saying anything, just feeling what it felt like, having a son of your own body who couldn't swim right in the rough ocean of this world. And when her little rest was over, Matilda stood up and fixed the blanket on my bony shoulders, said she'd come back out to get me in ten minutes, asked did I want anything.
"Sure," I told her. "I want to play bocce again with my husband."
And out from her big brown body came a laugh to make the saddest person on earth happy again--bubbles of laughter that lifted up into the air above our yard and floated away down Proctor Avenue like silver balloons.
I drove down Proctor Avenue to Broadway, turned from Broadway onto Pleasant Street, parked there, and went up the steps of the police station with my old knees sore and somebody stirring soup in my belly. The way things were changed now, even in Revere, you could no more just walk up the steps into the police station and talk face-to-face with a real person there. You opened the front door now and found a little squeezed hall, six foot square, that smelled like scared men sweating. On your left was a window with the molding not mitered too good, and a sign on the plastic glass in English and Spanish and what must be Vietnamese or Cambodian--because there are a lot of those people living here now--telling you this was not the right place to come pay the parking tickets.
I said my name into the glass--Vittorio Imbesalacqua--but before the officer could answer, Alfonse came out of an office in the back and disappeared again. A minute later the lock snapped in the hall and, carrying a look on his face that wasn't steady, he walked out. He put his hand on my arm.
"Let's go around the block, Uncle," he said. "Let Peter sober up a little."
"He's that drunk?"
"He's just upset, that's all. Ashamed. Another little while and you can take him."
Outside, the Pontiac rested at the curb with the engine off and the headlights sending two white tunnels down Pleasant Street. Alfonse went over and shut them without making a big fuss.
We were not really nephew and uncle but something else, close as family. When Lucy and me were first married, Alfonse's father and mother used to live in the house behind our yard on Tapley Avenue, but the father was N.G., a no-good, a man who went with other women in Boston and didn't care who knew. The wife was a good wife, Carmellina, pretty as anything.
But that was the past now, Tapley Avenue, another life. Carmellina out in the garden on her hands and knees trying to make a few vegetables grow there in the shady yard she and her husband bought for themselves when they first moved to Revere from the North End. Like they were moving to paradise.
I tried not to remember it.
Side by side we went down Pleasant Street in the alive darkness. The moonlight was caught in the leaves of the old trees, and cars were parked asleep halfway up on the curb, and television voices were floating out through the screens of people's front doors. On that side of Broadway you could smell the salt from the ocean very strong, and see the fog starting to come in--smoke from God's cigar that He left in an ashtray out on the sea. A cat ran across in front of us, soft, quick, not black. And me and Alfonse we were walking through all that, through a Revere Massachusetts night, past the fronts of houses with fences guarding the small yards, the two of us talking little bits of get-ready.
"Did you tell Aunt Lucy I was asking for her?"
"I told her you were coming for dinner Sunday, so now you have to."
When Alfonse smiled it was like a lighthouse showing up the sadness in his face: nobody around who he could really call his father. His mother gone now, his wife. Before the lighthouse went out again, you could see the boy there playing on the other side of the fence, Tapley Avenue, and it was like a knife in you.
We walked, not talking about the main thing still, though in both of our minds we wanted to.
At the corner opposite the Irish church, Alfonse went in the store a minute and came out again with a box of the small cigars we liked, and we smoked while we went, two grown-up men making talk about the mayor and the Holy Name and not looking at each other in the eyes.
"The city changed on us," I said, because paper cups and scratched-off lottery tickets were laying in the gutter, and you could hear the sound of police cars in the air half the time, and I wasn't getting used to having things like that in the city of Revere.
"Uncle, you have no idea."
"All the new people moving in," I said, but he didn't make no answer. All the new people weren't in jail now; my son was.
At the next corner, Alfonse blew out a line of smoke and looked at me finally. "Uncle."
"I have something that's hard for me to tell you."
"So what? I'm not made of paper. Say."
"Peter's got himself in a jam."
I looked down the street towards East Boston and watched two people walking there, ghosts holding hands. Stoplights going yellow and red, lamps in the upstairs windows where the priests lived, on Beach Street a bus engine coughing. "It's not just drunk then," I said.
"I'm not talking about tonight. Tonight won't show up on his record or in the papers, don't worry." Alfonse blew smoke off to the side and pretended to be looking around with his policeman's eye to see if everything was all right. But everything wasn't all right. Not in this place and not in a lot of other places. And inside of us we both knew it.
"You know Eddie Crevine from Mercury Street," he said.
"Creviniello, used to be. Sure, who doesn't?"
"Crevine now. You know who he is, right?"
"Who he is and what he is, so what?"
"Peter is mixed up with him."
"With this Eddie?" I said. But once I heard the name I understood everything clear as I understood how to get in the car and drive back to Proctor Avenue. It wasn't something you lived in this city sixty years and didn't understand.
We were on Pleasant Street again. I went along slow, with the cigar burning down in my fingers, and after another few houses I rose up the courage in myself enough to be able to say. "What kind of trouble?"
"To this Eddie?"
Alfonse looked at me a minute then away.
"How much? How did you know this?"
"I can't say how I know it, Uncle, because it involves a source, someone who feeds me information, and I have to keep that person secret, even from you. I have one or two things I can try, but I can't really talk to Peter anymore, you know that."
"Best friends don't talk with each other no more in this world? What, he said something to you?"
"Nobody said anything. It just happened, that's all."
But I couldn't make no sense out of this just happened. The worry was going inside my head like a train, new cars hitching on every minute--Peter, Lucy, Eddie Creviniello, the secrets I kept all my life and the trouble they caused me. I told Alfonse, "We'll have a talk, me and Peter," but the voice I said it with wasn't the voice my body usually made.
We went along by the last few houses that way, and then with his thumb and middle finger Alfonse shot the cigar in the gutter and asked me, finally, "One favor, Uncle."
"Don't let him know it was me who told you."
"Sure," I said. But inside I was thinking: Even the police, they're afraid now.
I squeezed Vito's shoulder with one hand, left him with Lieutenant Calichman at the coffee machine, and in my office tried to focus on the Arrests and Incarcerations printout that would be sent to the Journal in the morning and be in all the stores next week for everyone in the city to see. Near the bottom of the list was: IMBESALACQUA, PETER. Drunk and Disorderly. Saint Anthony's Church, 6:42 P.M. Arresting officers Palermo and Quinn.
I took a pencil and drew a box around his name, ran one diagonal line through the box, and scratched my initials beside it. That simple.
It was the type of small favor I'd done hundreds of times since joining the force. Everybody did it. If the offense was minor, and if you knew the offender--or his brother or wife or cousin or mother or uncle or girlfriend--then it was just the decent thing to do, that's all. On that night, though, there was some hesitation in my hand. I could feel the animal of addiction walking circles around my life again--not interested in me at all, only the people I loved.
I rocked back in the chair, glanced at the framed picture on my desk and then away, across the office and out the dark window that looked down onto Pleasant Street. Vito's car there, a woman pushing a stroller through the tree shadows and moonlight. Someone laughed quietly at the booking desk, and I glanced at the picture again, then away. Sally had said to me once--the one and only time she let me into the small room where she played out the drama of her last two years on earth--that there was addiction, and there was logic, and the two didn't ever mix. "That's why you can never help me, Mister Logical," she said.
I thought about that now, about what Vito must be saying to Peter in the downstairs cell, about all the lives I had seen the beast consume. Alcohol, heroin, gambling, sex, cocaine. If you did not have the urge in your blood it seemed like only a weakness--addiction--which was a kind of soul conceit, a way of fooling yourself into thinking that you, with all your hidden problems, were just naturally holier than the people whose problems were out in the open. I sat there with the ordinary night business of the station going on drowsily around me, and I tried to step over to the other side of the straight, logical tracks my life ran along, and I stayed a little while in that territory, chasing a good answer.
Posted March 30, 2000
The coastal suburb of Revere is only a 20 minute subway ride north from Boston but it is a world of its own,with old residents molded by its ways and newcomers striving for a better life in America and both groups struggling to understand one another as they get on with their lives. This working class community provides the setting for author Roland Merullo's exploration of the human heart and the forces that bind family members to one another and long time residents to a particular place. The elements of good literature and surprisingly, a 'noirish' crime drama are combined in a way that reminds me of the skilled, stylized, 1940's Hollywood treatments of unlucky people fated to play out the steps, predetermined by fate, that would inevitably lead to their doom or deliverance in a shadowy black and white world,indifferent to their trouble. In this novel, Peter Imbesalacqua, the son of the family whose lives provide the framework of the story, is the main protagonist. At the age of 40 he has reached a crossroads of life where past mistakes and bad luck combine to provide a four day trial by ordeal which he must either confront or lose all that he holds dear. The story is chronicled by an elderly priest, a friend of Peter's father, who resides in the community and is familiar with all of the players. The story is not resolved until the very end, one of the best treatments of suspense, outside the genre, that I've come across. I recommend the book as a 'good read.'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 28, 2000
I found this novel to be one of the better works that attempt to search the human heart and determine the often unknowable motivations for personal behavior. The bonds of family and community are rendered visible and shown to be among nature's strongest forces. The book combines the elements of literature, crime/drama and suspense for a wothwhile read. I look forward to the forthcoming completion of the planned 'Revere Trilogy.'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 16, 2000