It started with a phone call. From a guy named Tony. I knew him because he dated my friend Marcie. Anyway his brother was going to be in town for the Thanksgiving Holiday and he thought we could all go out. I was living in Allston at the time. Tony was a thick- bodied Italian guy from the North End. His brother Jude was a dancer who had moved to New York. He was in a production of Grease I think that it was when Brooke Shields played Rizzo but I am not certain.
“Marcie, I am not going to be the beard for Tony’s gay brother.”
“He’s not gay, I swear. He just a dancer”
“What do you mean a dancer?”
“He was a premature baby and their mom fussed over him and didn’t let him play sports. They gave him dancing lessons. He was on Star Search. “
“Look, Tony doesn’t want Jude to be stuck with his Grandma and Ma so I got to go
over to the house if I want to see him. But if we have a date for Jude then I don’t have to sit through ‘she’s too skinny’. ‘Have you seen Gina Delollio she the girl for you Tony’ right in front of me. “
“She just might be the girl for him.”
“Do it for me please?”
“But you owe me.”
“You can leave whenever you want.”
“Swear on your curling iron, slut.”
That is how it began. We went to Bennigan’s for drinks. Jude wore a faded bomber jacket and a day’s growth of beard. He was cute like an Italian Shawn Cassidy. He drank draft beer.
“Ladies” Tony pulled his coat off two seats he had been saving for us.
Marcie gave a little giggle. She had over-curled her hair and tied a huge bow around it.
She wore a white dress with pink dots all over it. In the eighties I only wore black. I had on a black turtleneck mini dress, a man’s suit jacket and heels. We drank margaritas and thought we were sophisticated. After twenty minutes Marcie and Tony started making out.
“You want to go outside.”
In the parking lot:
“I hate that fucking noise. You can’t get to know a lady.”
“Look you don’t have to do this. I have a lot of gay of friends.”
“Who said I was gay. You got to be gay because you are a dancer let me tell you missy Mr. John Travolta he is not gay, Baryshnikov he dates all the models in New York.
Dancer’s have stamina.”
“Show me a little…”
We danced in under the streetlight. He did a Gene Kelley thing around the pole. He moon-walked and spun. I laughed. He picked me up and put me against the rough brick wall and kissed me.
He called the next day and asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. I met him by the T in the North End. We got a slice.
“That’s good you fold the pizza you eat like an Italian that’s good.”
He told me he was studying singing with an opera coach so that he could become a principle. Now he was simply in the chorus. I teased him about the show Fame.
“Fame I want to live forever baby remember my name.”
“Naw, who wants to live forever?”
He was different than the artists and musicians I usually dated. They were mostly brooding. Jude had a palpable anger. He was intense. He posed a lot in ways that I would think were funny now but at the time I found his “moves” sexy. We went to a kid’s park near my house and went on the swings. He pushed me and goaded me to go higher.
He pushed and pushed until the swing buckled in air. I was suspended. I had not felt the loss of gravity since I was a child. He caught me and kissed me for the second time.
It was getting late and I invited him back to my place. I rented Saturday Night Fever and we ate Szechwan Taste.
He stayed the night and we had sex. It was not as good as I thought it would be. It was rough and angry. I wanted the intensity, for my body to be the vehicle for overcoming pain. It was as if nothing could break. I wanted to suspend gravity and be caught. Instead I felt like was being erased.
It was a long night. He had his gym bag with him. He put on sweats to go meet Tony and the guys. He left his leather jacket and his pants at my house. He said he would be back.
He said he would call.
I called Marcie. “Like a Virgin” on the answering machine was all I got. I waited. I smoked my secret stash of cigarettes. The stale ones I kept for when I was drunk. I smoked them all. I took a bath and cried. Not at the loss of him but for what I thought
I lost. It was then that I noticed the bruises coming up. The hickey on my neck, the thumbprints on my arms and thighs, a bite mark on my chest. I soaked.
The phone rang in the morning. It was Tony.
“Tony, what you want to come get his stuff. I throw the stuff out the fucking window. I will tell you one thing your brother has no balls. He can’t even call himself. Fuck him
“Hold up, Sweetheart.”
“Don’t sweetheart me.”
“There’s a reason.”
“There is no reason. He better be dead that is all I can say.”
“He is dead.”
“He had a heart attack.”
“A heart attack.”
“About a half an hour about leaving your place. We were at the gym. He was tying his shoe he just fell over and died.”
There was quiet on the other end of the line.
“I have his jacket.”
“There is a wake tonight at Galleto’s Mortuary.”
I hung up.
He was dead. He hadn’t stood me up. I was sick to my stomach from smoking and staying up all night. I looked like crap. It never occurred to me not to go to wake.
I was raised Irish and Catholic. You go to wakes. You pay your respects. I had to find a scarf to cover the hickeys on my neck. I dumped the little drawer where I kept my accessories onto the bed and began riffling through it. Just as suddenly I stopped and stared out the window at the first snow.
Outside Galleto’s snow fell into the out stretched hands of a life sized plastic Jesus.
It was lit from the inside. The bulb was near the sacred heat so that red glow bled into the white skin. The heat melted the snow on the chest and it glistened, wet. The line to get in the funeral parlor went for about a half a block. There were two wakes going on Augustine Quinzani was on the left and Jude was on the right.
I went for the sixties retro Jackie O look. Wrapping the chiffon around my head and neck. I pulled the sleeves down over my wrists and wore heavy black tights. One lock of red hair on my forehead marked me as different. Not from the neighborhood.
Old friends met in line. They talked about family. How it was all a terrible thing. When I got to the foyer someone asked me if I was from dance class and I just nodded.
“A terrible thing.”
The foyer of the Galleto’s was painted with murals of Italy. Fake marbles columns framed the entrance to the viewing rooms. On small pedestals were televisions, each playing an endless loop of a performance. They started with community auditions when he was four and then a cable access show when he was eight. The interview with Ed McMahon was next and then finally Dance Fever with Danny Terrio.
The waves of noise from the TV and the crowd washed over me and I felt like I was going to pass out.
I realized that there was a group of guys staring at me. Staring and pointing and laughing.
One of them came over to me and said: “You coming home with me tonight or what?”
“I isn’t got no bad heart. I weighed ten pounds when I was born.”
“I could handle you sweetheart no problem.”
“What’s a matter I like art.”
It was a nightmare. They thought I killed him. I heard them say, “Yeah that is the good fuck.” I wanted to kill Tony for telling them. The line just kept creeping forward towards the casket. This was pink fake marble. There were about a thousand white roses everywhere. Next to the coffin were Jude’s Mom and Dad and Tony and Grandma and a weeping girl with a black lace veil over her head. I realized for the first time that I would be meeting his parents. What could I say?
I knelt down on the red cushion and looked at Jude. He wasn’t the person I remembered. His hair was parted in the middle. The body in the coffin was clean-shaven. I had beard marks on my skin. He was dressed in a white tuxedo. The ruffle shirt had blue trim. He was wearing a gold ring with a blue star Safire on his pinky. His lips were painted slightly red. I looked at him and made the sign of the cross.
When I stood up I shook hands with his mother. All I could say was, “I’m sorry.”
At the end of the line Tony introduced me to Donna. She was his girlfriend for five years. They had decided to take a break when he went to New York. He had left her without telling her. She would not let go of my hand. I was looking for Marcie but she was late as usual. She would have been late to her own funeral. I really needed someone in my corner. I went to the ladies room.
The ladies room had a planter with a fake bunch of plastic grapes in it. The walls were cement. There were three stalls and a very small mirror. When I came out of the stall Donna was waiting for me.
“Did you fuck him?” she spit at me. “Did you fuck him to death Bitch…I am going to fuck you up right now.”
“Hold on this is not the time to talk about this.”
“You fuck my boyfriend then he is dead and you don’t want to talk about it. I don’t think I want to talk about either.”
She started swinging. Well my dad was a golden gloves boxer, a feather -weight but fast. We often play boxed from the time I was a child. I simply reacted the way I had been taught. She swung I ducked she hit her fist into the cement wall. It looked like she broke it she came at me again. I blocked with my forearm and punched. There was a loud snap as my fist hit her nose. I t felt wet she double over. There was blood.
I slipped out when she was down. I had to get out of there. I wrapped the scarf around my hand and wiped up the blood. The hickey on my neck was exposed. I could hear squawking from the bathroom. Someone must have found her. I pushed my way through the crowd and found myself in front of Augustine Quinzani’s coffin. I knelt down. He looked like a kind man. I said a little prayer “If there is a god please help me out of this one.” I stood up and saw an exit sign to the left of the curtain. A couple of old guys were smoking cigars by the fire exit. I went out passed them and down in the back alley past a dumpster. It was a dead end a ten-foot chain link fence. I had two choices climb over or it go back in.
I threw my pumps over the top and got a toe- hold. When I swung my leg over the top the stockings got stuck. I was attached to the fence by my crotch. I ripped it and dropped. I made footprints in the fresh snow. The bloody scarf hung on the chain link like a flag. I slipped my shoes back on and tried to smooth my outfit. Heading for the train I heard a familiar: “What the hell happened to you?”
“Marcie. I am so glad to see you.” She looked like she fell in a vat of Madonna.
“I got into a fight at the wake.” I said.
“No shit.” She laughed. “Can you blow it off?”
“I thought you’d never ask.” We walked down the alley to the car.
“At least he wasn’t gay.” Marcie winked.,“And he didn’t stand you up.”
By: Noreen Sullivan