Monday, July 4, 2016
It wasn't until the end of July that Angelo was allowed to hang out with his friends again, and he was pacing like a caged tiger, waiting for 'Deo and Milo to come pick him up at his house. His mother had been keeping him busy doing chores but the idea of finally being released from his 'fifty years hard labor' was too distracting.
"Sit." his mother ordered.
Angelo gave his mother a wry look and said "I can't. It's all dad's fault."
"I sincerely doubt that the spanking you got last week is preventing you from sitting today, but if you need a refresher in order to feel the difference I'll be happy to help." she said, striding over to the oven and picking the longest, thinnest wooden spoon from her collection from the jar on the stove and wagging it warningly.
"No, mamma, thanks. I don't need a reminder." Angelo sighed.
"That's what I thought." she said, putting the spoon back just as a knock sounded at the door.
Angelo ran to the door, waving to his friends through the window. " 'Bout time you got here guys! Let's go!"
"Wait, Angelo!" his mother said.
"Yes, mamma." Angelo replied with a hint of asperity.
"Watch your tone with me." she warned.
"Yes, mamma." he said again, more politely.
"Go down the cellar before you leave and bring me up ten good sized potatoes, a bunch each of oregano and basil and two jars of tomatoes, please."
"Why didn't you ask..." was all he said before his mother picked a spoon at random.
"I'm going! I'm going! Sorry! I'm going!" he said, trying to cover his rear and the backs of his thighs as he sidled past her with his back to the table. "Guys, help me, huh? Won't take long if we all carry something." he said, keeping his eyes on his mother and opening the hallway door by feel.
She kept her eyes on her son, who kept his eyes on her, still managing to open the cellar door and find the light switch on the inside wall before slinking down the stairs with his friends close behind. Even with the light on, the cellar was dimly lit and to Milo's mind, wonderfully spooky.
"Whoa, what's that smell!?" Milo asked tactlessly.
Amadeo, who had finally gotten down into the Di Marco cellar a month ago, and had had the same reaction, albeit not quite so loudly, grinned while Angelo took a breath and began his narration.
"Uncle Pat and his buddies used to make their own wine." he said, gesturing to the room to the right at the bottom of the stairs which was filled with racks from floor to ceiling filled with wine bottles, before turning left. Milo noticed that the floors were dirt and slightly moist. "Dad figures the smell is caused by years and years of fermenting grapes and exploding casks seeping into the dirt floor. He said we could probably finish the floor in concrete at some point but he's not sure we'd ever get rid of the smell."
Just inside the door to the left at the bottom of the stairs, were three large, obviously homemade, wooden casks, each taller than 'Deo, who at 5' 10 3/4" was the tallest of them, and round enough that both Amadeo and Milo reaching around one would only be able to touch fingertips. To the left of the casks stood a positively medieval looking machine which also looked homemade and from the same wood as the casks. Milo immediately took hold of the iron handle on top and began to turn the mechanism which spun lower and lower into the vat.
"This is so cool!" he exclaimed. Angelo and Amadeo exchanged smiles.
"Those huge barrels there were homemade," Angelo said, pointing to the casks, "And there were bunches of other ones stacked along the walls. Some had been filled, and some were waiting to be filled but, the ones that were filled were leaking, so dad dumped the contents, built a bonfire and chucked them in because they were beginning to rot. Dad says these big ones are going too, but he just can't bear to break them up just yet. No idea why Uncle Pat kept them, unless he was going to use them in the oven."
"Oh! speaking of the oven! We're getting our new one next week! No more kindling and paper and stoking it at four o'clock in the morning to make sure it's hot enough to cook on for six!"
"Hey, that's great!" Milo said, following his friends. "What's this door?" he asked, pointing to an ancient door in the stone wall to the left of the wine press.
"That," Angelo said, opening it, letting in more light and fresh air. "Leads into the lower garden where Uncle Pat and his friends grew the grapes for their wine. There are no grapes there now, just some nut trees and stuff. It was like the grapes knew Uncle Pat died and didn't figure there was any reason to come back."
"Ange, I'm curious about something. How on earth did your uncle and his friends get so many different things to grow here? I mean, don't some of them need different soil and light and stuff?" Milo asked.
"Believe it or not, they actually had some dirt shipped in, and they made their own by mixing soil with rotted vegetables and horse manure."
Milo wrinkled his nose. "Yeah, I don't need to know that."
"You asked," Angelo said, grinning. "As far as light goes, that's why the garden tiers. Anyway, here is where we keep the vegetables, so if you'd... take... a bunch... of these potatoes," he said, handing the potatoes to Milo, "And Dae, if you'd take a few... jars... of tomatoes," he said, handing Amadeo mason jars containing home canned tomatoes, "And I'll get the oregano and basil." he said, taking two of the little bouquets that hung from hooks from the rafters for himself.
"Why do we get to carry the heavy stuff?!" Milo demanded, shifting the potatoes into the hammock formed by the hem of his tee shirt.
"Well," replied Angelo, "Someone has to close the door, and there's a knack to it, and I can't do that with an armload of potatoes or hands full of jars of tomatoes. Also, consider it my fee for showing you around the cellar."
Before Milo could complain, Amadeo chimed in, "It's worth it, Mi, believe me. He only showed you half of what's down here and you want to be in his good graces for him to show you the other side."
Milo grumbled but otherwise quietly carried the potatoes upstairs. After all, he thought to himself, he was doing it for Mrs. Di Marco, not Angelo, and he'd do anything for Mrs. Di Marco.
"Thank you, boys." Said Mrs. Di Marco with a smile. "Now, Angelo, if you would just peel the potatoes and cut them up, then put them in a pot of water for me, you can go out." she continued, turning toward the refrigerator to take out a jug of iced tea.
Angelo opened his mouth to protest but Milo kicked him on the shin from one side and Amadeo kicked him from the other.
"Ouch! What the heck!?"
Mrs. Di Marco turned to her son, recognizing the tone of pain and looking concerned, "What's wrong?"
"Sorry, mamma, bit my tongue." he replied with a smile at his mother who smiled back before going to the alcove for cups and a paring knife. He gave his friends an evil look and sat down to the table in front of the pile of potatoes.
"Mrs. Di Marco, if you have other knives we can help Ange get these done in no time." Amadeo offered, ignoring Milo's kick to his shin.
Mrs. Di Marco looked undecided at first and then nodded. "All right. I have plenty of knives. My mother in law was a gem and she believed in always having cook books, the proper knife for any occasion, and plenty of wooden spoons handy in case of emergency." she said with a smile at her son, who wrinkled his nose at her. She handed Milo and Amadeo paring knives. She then got to work peeling carrots and putting them in a bowl of water.
"Is this for lunch?" Milo asked.
"Nope, getting ready for dinner." Mrs. Di Marco said.
The boys all looked at the clock on the wall. It wasn't even ten o'clock in the morning yet.
"It's how I keep ahead of everything. Oh I can't wait for our new oven. Did Angelo tell you?"
"Yes'm," Amadeo and Milo answered, "Congratulations, Mrs. Di Marco."
"Thank you, boys. I'm going to miss this old clunker but it'll be so nice to be able to turn a knob and make a cup of tea or coffee that doesn't take an hour before the stove top is hot enough to cook on."
"Oh, Mrs. Di Marco!" Amadeo said, suddenly remembering and taking a note out of his pocket. "This is from Bethie, and mom wanted me to tell you she was going to call you later with some news unless you're going to be out, in which case do you think you can call her?"
Mrs. Di Marco smiled. "Of course. I'll call her right now. And thank you boys, for helping Angelo peel those potatoes." she said, giving her youngest a pointed look.
"Yeah, guys, thanks." Angelo said, blushing slightly as he tossed another piece of potato into the pan.
The woman picked up the phone from in front of the window where it usually sat and brought it into the living room, pulling it as far as the cord would go so that she could sit in an arm chair and make her call. The boys could hear the dial whirring and the faint chime as it went back to zero each time she dialed.
"So hurry up and let's get out of here before she finds something else for me to do!" Angelo whispered.
"Come on, what's a few little chores when we have the rest of the day to hang out?" Amadeo asked.
"I spent the last week at hard labor, and she kept me busy all morning! I want out! Now!" Angelo said, fairly hissing.
Their conversation was interrupted by Mrs. Di Marco's delighted cheer, which just as quickly died down.
"Ange! Chill." Milo replied, surprised at his innocent looking friend's vehemence. "Like Dae said, we have all the rest of the day. Cool it."
"You spend the week doing every dirty, nasty, smelly job it's possible to have on a farm from sun up til bedtime and then tell me to cool it!" Angelo growled. "You wouldn't last five minutes with Hilda while you were trying to clean out the fu..."
"Angelo!" Amadeo chided before his friend could finish that sentence.
"That fucoid hen house." he finished with a grin.
"What was that?" Mrs. Di Marco demanded from the doorway.
"Seaweed, mamma. It means shaped like seaweed." he explained quickly.
"Angelo... one minute, please Natie? Thanks." she said, covering the mouthpiece. "Angelo, I had a very interesting discussion with Mrs. Barkis at the grocery store last week. Would you like to hear what it was about?"
He did not, in fact, want to know what they'd talked about. "No mamma." he said, then quickly said "I mean, yes mamma, please tell me what you talked about?" when he saw the thunder clouds forming in her normally merry blue eyes.
Mrs. Di Marco leveled a dangerous look at her little boy. "She gave me a wonderful recipe, and if you keep up with the mouth I'll be more than happy to try it out. Would you like to know what the recipe is?"
"Yes, mamma." he forced himself to say. He, Deo and Milo had heard about Mrs. Barkis' 'recipe' for dirty mouths, but Angelo was afraid that if he told her he already knew it she might decide he was being fresh and be tempted to try it out on him.
"Dial soap. A nice mouthful of Dial soap that leaves a pretty coating on all of the teeth. And do you know what her children are allowed to rinse with?"
Angelo swallowed. He'd heard this story. He prayed that his mother wouldn't actually follow up on the threat. He shook his head, more to ward off the vision in his head rather than an indication that he didn't know.
"Listerine. Now, according to her, even words that you get away with, such as dang and darn are considered too close to the forbidden word, and those will result in a thorough mouth soaping. If that's what I have to do to you to keep your mouth clean then that's what I'll start doing. Understand?"
"Yes mamma." Angelo said, abashedly, digging with a little more force than necessary into the eye of a potato.
"Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes mamma." he repeated quietly.
"Ricorda che. Non mi tentare." she warned before turning back to the living room and continuing her conversation with her friend.
(Remember that. Don't try me.)
"Si mamma." he said in a near whisper. "F****** Jimmy and his f****** mother and her bull s*** bright ideas." he muttered derisively when she was out of earshot.
"Angelo!" Amadeo hissed, looking back over his shoulder to see if Mrs. Di Marco had heard.
"What're ya gonna do, Amadeo? Tell on me? Go ahead." he challenged with a snarl.
"Ange..." Milo said, disbelievingly, potato and knife forgotten.
"No, Angelo, I'm not going to tell, but I'm not staying here with you in this foul mood with your fouler mouth." he whispered, setting aside the paring knife he'd been using. He went to the sink and washed his hands. "I'm done here, Ange. In the meantime, I'm headed home. When you're in a better mood, of if you just need to talk, you can call me. Today, tomorrow, whatever, but I'm not staying here for this... whatever you call it. Later." he said, walking calmly out the kitchen door.
"Yeah," Milo said sadly, "I guess me neither. I don't know what's wrong, Ange but... call me if you need to talk, all right?"
"To you? Yeah, right." Angelo spat. "Whenever I need misinformation and wrong answers you'll be the first one I call."
Milo wiped his hands on the legs of his jeans and followed shortly after Amadeo, head down, footsteps dejected, sad that he apparently couldn't help his friend through whatever it was he was going through.
All but one of the potatoes were cleaned and cubed. Angelo threw away the last potato, took the pan to the sink and ran the water to wash them off, rinsing as much dirt and starch off as he could before the water ran clear. He left the pan in the sink, the peelings and knives on the table, and ran out of the house.
Angelo rambled around for a while, not having any specific destination in mind. The buildings became shabbier and shabbier, the remaining windows dirtier, boarded up doors with graffiti sprayed on them, cracked pavement. Some brave child had drawn a hopscotch grid upon which he jumped from one to 'home', where he found a can and kicked it as far as he could, watching as it sailed several feet before fetching up against the sagging wooden wall of a decrepit store.
"Yeah, it is! Benny! Hey! Where've you been hiding, man? Thought you got sick of us or something!" Carlos said, coming up behind Angelo and wrapping a burly arm around the slighter boy's shoulders. "Haven't heard from you since that night when you had to hang up right quick. Good to see you alive and kickin'."
"Beeeeeeennnnnnyyyyyyyyy! Decided to come and slum wit'cher friends? Welcome! Have a cig!" Steve smiled.
"Guys, I don't want a smoke, ok? Really. It makes me sick, you know that." he complained, pushing away the hand holding the smokes.
"Wha's up wi'chu Bennie? You're a real wet blanket today."
"I'm just tired." Angelo said softly.
"Well come on. Me, Parker, Ralph, Carlos, Bruce and Ethel have our scooters, we can ride around and see what's what. You get bitch seat behind Ethel!" he joked about the only female member of their little group. She was plain spoken, didn't take BS from anyone and had been known to deck people for messing with her. She was one 'seriously cool chick', and she'd been one of the guys for five years now. She also refused to let anyone ride behind her. Anyone who tried to sit on her red Vespa either got smacked down hard, or neutered, so no one tried.
Her brother Bruce rode a dark blue one. Seemingly the opposite of his very vocal sister, it was a major event anytime one of the guys could get him to say more than a couple of words. He seemed to prefer to ride along and look. He seemed to view talking as an annoyance. He did it infrequently and unlike his sister, very quietly. However, if anyone asked Ethel, which they tried not to, she was more than happy to tell them that he was certainly NOT silent at home.
Carlos had a sky blue Piaggio that he treated like a museum relic, waxing it almost constantly, looking for scratches or dings. The running joke was that he spent more time on maintenance than actual riding time.
Steve had a custom painted Lambretta that was his pride and joy. Some of the others joked that his scooter was a bicycle compared to theirs, but in a drag race his 'bicycle' blew the rest of theirs away. No one knew what he did when he tinkered with it but they all agreed he'd somehow stuffed an airliner engine into the little casing.
Parker and Ralph 'only had Honda's' but those Honda's were their babies and they wouldn't hear anything against them. "We can't all be rich, mammas boys who just ask for an Italian bike and get it as a reward just for blowing our noses." Ralph joked.
"Hey! Learning to blow my own nose was a major accomplishment! Do you know how nasty that stuff is? And it leaks through the tissue..." Steve complained.
"OHHHHHH! More than I wanted to know! Thank you!" Parker complained.
"Come on, whadda ya say, Benny?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'll go. I've been stuck..." he trailed off.
"Grounded by the rents, gotcha." Carlos said, and they all laughed at Angelo's blush at being seen through so quickly.
"You hadda hang up fast and we didn't see you for two weeks, we kinda figured it out." Ethel said matter of factly.
"Don't worry, bro, we all been through it." Steve said. "S'matter'a fact I'm supposed to be sitting in my room right now doing my summer reading. I just put the record player on with a stack under the arm. The next record automatically drops when the previous one is done so it's gonna be hours before the last one ends. If I'm lucky ma'll think I fell asleep reading and she'll leave me be til dinner." he boasted.
"So come on, Ben. Pick a place. It's your day today." Carlos said, grinning. "Your get outta jail celebration."
"I like the park." Angelo said shyly, afraid of his friends reactions. "I like to watch the ducks and the fish."
"The park is cool. I like to sit in the sun." Steve said. "It's a perfect day for it today."
"The water is really clean in the parks here, I noticed." Ethel said. "Anyone ever fish in these ponds? Or swim?"
"You guys got a playground." Ralph said with an embarrassed little grin, "I wouldn't mind goin' on the monkey bars."
"I'll go on the swings." said Parker, smiling.
"I like to lie on the grass and watch the ants." Bruce said softly.
"Bruce has spoken! That makes it official! The park it is." Steve said, hopping on his 'bike' and gesturing for Angelo to get on behind him. "Get on and let's go."
"Anyone have some change? We can get a day old loaf and feed the ducks. Get em fat enough and we can cook em for Sunday dinner." Ethel joked, throwing a leg over her Vespa and starting it up.
Angelo smiled. "Yeah, I have some change. Thanks, Eth." he said, gratefully. Jim, Dennis, Charlie and the other guys were pretty cool and easy going but they always got a good laugh at Angelo's fascination with the ducks and fish, and were rarely in the mood to sit and feed them.
They stopped at the bakery, picked up a couple of loaves of stale bread for a total of twenty cents and then headed for the park.
Everyone laughed when they got there, joking that the ducks recognized their meal ticket since the ducks swarmed up onto the grass in front of the bench where Angelo, Parker, Steve and Carlos sat, and began to open one of the bags.
"Nah, it's Pavlovian Conditioning." Angelo countered, concentrating on taking out several slices at a time, crumbling them and attempting to portion the pieces out evenly to the ducks who nudged and nipped the others around them in an attempt to fill their beaks.
"Hey, I thought you said your name was Benny! Who's this Pavlovian?" Ralph asked.
Angelo winced. He'd introduced himself as Angelo, and when asked his middle name had given it freely. For some reason these guys had fixated on the name Benedetto and had called him Benny ever since. He'd stopped a long time ago trying to correct them.
"Idiot." Angelo said, affectionately, "Pavlov was this scientist who would ring a bell and then give his dogs a treat or food. It got to the point that
any time the dogs heard a bell they'd start to salivate in anticipation of food."
"These are ducks, Benny. Duuuuuucks." Steve said, slowly, teasing his friend. "Not dooooooooggsss. Hear the difference?"
"Yes, Steve, I can see that they're not dogs." he assured him patiently, going along with the joke.
"My point being that these are duuuuuuccccks, and there are no bellllllsssss here."
Angelo groaned, not sure if his friend was still teasing or really didn't understand.
"The ducks see people sitting on the bench. The ducks see the people with bags. The ducks hear the rustling of the bag as it's opened. The ducks know that people sitting on the bench with a bag usually means that the people have food for them, so they rush the people on the bench. Pavlov's dogs." he said, as though that explained everything.
"OK, so what we got here is Benny-lov's Ducks." Carlos laughed.
"An' it's like Eth said, fatten em up and we can go hunting come November and have ourselves a nice fat duck for Thanksgiving dinner." said Parker, "Hey, for that matter, where're the geese these days? I could go for goose this year." he said, looking around for the geese who were obviously hiding that day.
"Those fish keep poppin' up and stealing the bread and we can guarantee a juicy fish course before the duck, whadda ya say?" Ralph asked.
"I got a thing about catfish." Carlos said with a shudder. "Things just creep me out with those feelers or whiskers or whatever they are, and those big bug eyes. Just can't bring myself to eat something that looks like that."
"I think the only fish here are minnows and goldfish." Ethel disagreed. "But I don't want to eat those either." she shuddered.
"Eel." Angelo offered. "Mom makes it around Christmas. She chops the head off, uses wire cutters to slice it down the belly then takes a pair of pliers, grabs the skin and peels it off like a rubber glove. It looks like snake. I just can't eat it."
"Know what I can't stand the idea of eating?" Ethel asked, "Lobster. Tell me those things don't look like huge, mutated spiders, and I'm just not into spider, mutated or not." she said, tossing a hand full of crumbs out to the ducks and laughing as they quacked and squawked at each other, flapping their wings and nipping with their beaks to chase other ducks away from the morsels they were sure were meant for them.
"Liver." said Ralph, wrinkling his nose. "Just thinking about it makes me wanna..."
"Just liver? I can do you one better. Haggis." said Parker, grimacing.
"For pity's sake, what on earth is Haggis?" Ethel asked, wrinkling her nose and twisting her mouth in distaste and still managing to look pretty. "Just the name sounds nasty."
"A specialty my mom makes a few times a year. It's chopped up sheep liver, heart and tongue, mixed with oats, suet, onions, and herbs. All of that is mixed together, stuffed into the sheep's stomach, tied closed and then boiled for hours. She only makes it for special occasions, but man, I'll tell ya, I run to the A&W, fill up on Papa burgers, then go home and tell her I'm not hungry. She says I'm not really Scottish if I don't love it. I told her I was born in Georgia and that makes me Georgian, and I'm happy with a streak o' lean and potatoes."
Bruce, who had been quietly lying on the grass, using a couple of sticks to herd ants toward a grasshopper carcass said, "Pickled pig’s feet."
Amidst groans and sounds of fake vomiting, Steven announced Bruce the winner.
"Nuh uh," Parker protested, "I'll put my haggis up against your pig’s feet and we'll have a contest. Since Steve has made himself judge and jury he can eat them and decide afterward which one is worse."
"I hereby declare a draw." Steven said quickly, an exaggerated look of horror on his face.
"Yeah, I thought so." replied Parker with a triumphant grin.
"Well whadda ya say, Bennie? Think the ducks are full yet? Where to next?" Ralph asked as he crumpled up one of the bread bags.
"Actually, Bennie, you really need to get home." came a familiar, calm voice.
Angelo's head once again twisted so quickly that Amadeo feared it would spin right off his neck.
The other boys, except for Bruce who still lay on the ground but was now focused on his friends, and Ethel, who had been leaning against her scooter, stood up and formed a barrier between Angelo and Amadeo.
"Benny, you know this joker?" Steve said, noticing the pallor of Angelo's skin.
"Need us to convince him to keep walking?" Parker asked, keeping his eyes on the strangely serene boy before them.
Amadeo cocked his head to one side and casually slipped all but his thumbs into the front pockets of his jeans. "Do you? Benny?"
Angelo didn't know which worried him more. Amadeo's very calm voice, or the fact that he'd called him Benny, like the others.
He knew Ethel wouldn't hesitate to punch out anyone she saw as a threat. Carlos and Steve weren't afraid of a scuffle if it came down to it. Ralph carried a switchblade in his boot and Parker carried around a cylinder of lead in his front right pocket in case of emergency. He wasn't much of a fighter but that little added weight to his fist gave his punches a little more 'oomph'. Bruce was slow to anger but as soon as he felt that he or one of his own were in danger he became a bear, attacking the enemy with arms and weight, wrestling and crushing his opponent. He reminded Angelo of Hoss Cartwright when Hoss had had enough of whichever imbecile was baiting him at the time.
"No, guys! No! This is Madeo. Amadeo. My friend I told you about? Remember?" he said worriedly.
The expression on the other's faces changed immediately. Steven smiled broadly and advanced on Amadeo with his hand extended. "Amadeo, man! It's a real pleasure to meet you! Name's Steven. Steve." he said, offering his hand to shake. Amadeo politely responded, shaking the other boy's hand solemnly.
Ralph and Parker also advanced with smiles on their faces and hands extended as they introduced themselves.
"Finally we meet the Great and Powerful Amadeo!" Parker said, shaking 'Deo's hand and clapping him on the shoulder at the same time.
"Stop hogging him, Macalister! Amadeo... 'Deo, welcome to the club. Name's Ralph. That there was Parker. Ethel there," he said, gesturing to the one girl, "Her brother Bruce, and Carlos there. Any friend to Benny is a friend of ours. Especially you, man. He talks about you all the time but we never saw you. We were startin'a think he was either ashamed of us or you were an imaginary friend." he laughed.
Ethel walked up to him, expressionless, head to the side, eyes narrowed but in contemplation rather than challenge. "Oh Dio Mio." she said quietly, keeping her hands to her sides.
"Pleasure to meet you, Miss Ethel." Amadeo responded just as quietly, with a polite nod in her direction.
The others looked at her in surprise, looking back and forth between her and her brother, whom they expected to get up and start chatting away to the new comer.
Bruce did get up but merely stood silently, watching the goings on placidly.
"It is very nice to finally meet you all," Amadeo said diplomatically, not mentioning the fact that Angelo had never spoken about them outside of the one conversation they'd had, nor that Angelo had been forbidden to hang around with them. "And I hate to break up the party, but An... Benny, is needed at home. We've been looking for him."
Steven said something next that greatly elevated Amadeo's opinion of the other boy.
"Ah, Benny! You didn't sneak out again did you?" he said, frustrated, "Jeez man, I keep tellin' ya your dad's gonna chain you up in the cellar and we'll never see you again. Not only that but if you keep doin' this people're gonna think we're corrupting you! You gotta stop it, man!"
Angelo bowed his head, embarrassed, and slid his hands into the back pockets of his jeans.
"Can we give you guys a lift back home? S'he been gone a long time?" Carlos asked.
"No, not very long, and he doesn't live very far away. We appreciate the offer though." 'Deo said with a smile. Angelo actually lived several miles away but 'Deo was sure that if a bunch of motor bikes came down their driveway the Di Marco's couldn't help but to notice and ask questions.
"Yeah well... Benny has my number. When he gets outta solitary this time you guys give me a call and we can hang out, 'K? He's a good guy but, man, I dunno..." Steve said with a slight shake of his head.
Amadeo extended his hand once again toward Steven and shook hands. "Thank you." was all he said before turning away from the group. He didn't say a word to Angelo who either would or wouldn't follow him as he pleased.
"Get goin, Benny. Hopefully we'll see you before the end of the summer." Carlos said as he and the others mounted their scooters, started them up and rode out, considerately keeping their speed down until they reached the road. With a final wave to the two boys they drove off.
Angelo finally caught up to Amadeo, head still bowed, trying to keep up with his friend's rapid pace.
"Dae! Slow down man! You're like ten feet taller than I am and I'm getting winded tryin'a keep up with you!" he panted, trying to diffuse the situation with a little humor.
Amadeo stopped dead in his tracks and put a hand to his forehead to scratch. He took a breath to speak and then closed his mouth, turned and continued on his trek.
"Dae! Talk to me!"
Amadeo stopped again and looked at his friend. "What do you want me to say?"
"I dunno, but don't just walk and ignore me! How bad is it? Is dad on the rampage? Do you need to call home to tell them you found me again? Am I deep in the sh** again?"
"No... Benny. Watch your mouth. No one is out looking for you. I had no idea you'd left your house. I just happened to be walking in the park when I saw you."
"You f****** lied?!" Angelo accused. "You said I had to go home! I coulda stayed with them?! You made me look like a jerk in front of them and no one was even looking for me? You a**h***!" Angelo said, turning back toward the park.
Amadeo caught up to his boy in three long strides and caught him by the arm. "I lied?! I'm willing to bet you didn't tell anyone where you were going again today. I'm willing to bet you counted on your mother assuming that you were out with Mi and me, and if I hadn't seen you here you'd have spent the day and gone home and told your folks about what a great day you had with us, am I right?" Amadeo demanded.
"I also doubt that you were going to go home and admit to your folks that you'd been hanging out with those guys again, especially after your father laid into you and told you outright not to! And you have the nerve to get mad at me? Ange, you put me in a really rotten position and I resent it!"
"What're you talking about? What did I do to you?"
"I'm in on your lie now. I think the police call it guilt by association. If someone asks what you and I did today I either have to tell the truth, which ends up with you with your butt in a sling, or I lie and cover for you, in which case if I get caught, my butt ends up on the line! I can handle a little prevarication, I don't mind stretching the truth a little to keep the two of us out of hot water, but to bold facedly lie is a different matter entirely."
"You can do it, Dae! You've done it before! Like when you told dad about what we did in the woods, remember?"
"I lied, plain and simple. I lied by omission. I mean, if I'd told our dads what we'd really been doing in the woods or exactly why we weren't wearing our watches, things might have gone a lot worse for us than it did. You still got spanked and I got grounded, but without those omissions, well, the stuff mighta really hit the fan."
"But you can do it, I know you can." Angelo said, nearly crying with combined guilt, anger and frustration.
"Ange," Amadeo began angrily, then, seeing the state his boy was in, he calmed down and began again. "Angelo. The problem with a lie is that you have to remember it. You never know when someone is going to bring up an incident again, ask a more specific question. The longer it goes on the harder it is to remember exactly what you said, and there's no way of knowing what the person you lied to will remember. You might be able to
get out of it by wrapping another layer of lies around the original one, but then the more 'facts' you add to your lie the more you have to remember. The lie gets bigger and bigger until it explodes in your face. Then despite your best efforts, you're in deep for lying, and even deeper for all the lies you added to it."
"So now, Angelo, I'm faced with either telling your parents what you did and being labeled the world's biggest fink for ratting out my best friend; or remaining quiet, sustaining your lie, and letting you get away scott free with stuff you were told outright by your dad not to do and which your own friends told you was wrong! And what I don't understand, Ange, is why? Why do you sneak out? Why do you insist on continuing to see kids your folks have forbidden you to see? Are you still looking for that thrill you told me about the first time? What is going on in your head?"
Angelo looked around to see if there were anyone else in earshot and noticed the mostly obscured gazebo several yards away. He went over to the gazebo and peeked in. Seeing it empty he gestured to Amadeo to follow. They could tell that someone had been in it recently because it smelled of tobacco, and a fresh layer of butts was on the ground, but they stayed and sat on the ledge anyway.
It took several minutes for Angelo to gather his thoughts but Amadeo waited patiently.
"I'm tired of being thought of and treated like a little kid." Angelo said in Italian. "I'm sick of my brothers being allowed to smack me when they think I'm being bad but I can't smack them when they're bad and believe me they're not perfect either but they're older so that makes them in charge when mom and dad aren't home and then they automatically take their word."
"I'm sick of everyone dictating rules to me. Do this. Don't do that. You can see these people but not those and it doesn't matter if you say those people are good I say no and my word is law. Don't say this or I'll wash your mouth out and she f****** says it right in front of you guys and makes me feel like I'm a G** d***** five-year-old and she doesn't care that I'm embarrassed cuz she wants for me to be embarrassed and ashamed. I mean, why doesn't she just f****** pull my pants down and spank me right in front of you while she's at it!"
"It doesn't matter how old I ever get, I'm always going to be nothing more than a baby to them. I'm old enough to do chores til my hands fall off but I'm not old enough to see certain movies. I can tell them what I'm feeling
but I can't just do it like an adult and just say it I have to be careful of how I say it and mind my tone and constantly worry that I'm gonna get spanked or have my mouth washed out or get grounded. I mean, dad just says what he wants and no one grounds him for saying something out of line, or threatens to wash his mouth out for saying it his way and not all polite and everything."
"And Johnny and Paulie are the same way! If they think it, they say it and no one spanks them! I mean, sometimes they'll get a whack but you know what I mean and mom doesn't threaten to wash their mouths out with soap in front of their friends and if Johnny and Paulie can smack me an' put me in the corner like I'm a f****** kid then I should be able to do the same thing to them and mom and dad should listen to why I did it and spank them for not listening to me! I'm not a little kid!" Angelo said, becoming more and more upset as he spoke.
"You're not a little kid." Amadeo repeated. Also in Italian, but in an oddly flat voice.
"No!" Angelo replied vehemently.
"No," Amadeo said, switching to English, "You're not a little kid, but there are things you do that your brothers don't. Hear me out." he said putting up a hand to forestall his boy.
"Your response to what you feel is being treated like a little kid is to run away without telling anyone where you're going, which you just got in trouble for two weeks ago, and again only a day or so before that."
"Your response to what you feel is being treated like a little kid is to run off with kids who your parents have forbidden you to hang out with because they encourage you to smoke, drink..."
"But I don't. I didn't! Not today!"
"Basta, Angelo." Amadeo said firmly, then continued when his boy quieted, "Yes, you may have said no and stuck to your guns today, but in the past you've allowed them to convince you to smoke, and you've stood by while they drank and threw rocks through windows, which you know is wrong, rather than walking away from it. I'm not saying you had to rat them out, but you stood by while they did it, and if the police had gotten there before you all left you'd have been arrested too, just for being there. I asked Gage. Don't worry, I didn't mention names. We just started talking about
your dad's renovations on the old stone works and the damages caused by people over the years." he reassured at Angelo's panicked look.
"And finally, your response to what you feel is being treated like a little kid is to cuss up a blue streak. Even if it's just to me or your other friends, it's still not cool, Angelo. Cussing is low, and a smart boy like you knows better but you still do it because it's a way to rebel, to defy your folks. Put all of that together Ange, and tell me that it adds up to rational, mature, adult behaviour which in turn could most likely cause your folks to think of you as a mature adult and stop treating you like a kid."
"No buts, Ange. Your brothers never go out without telling your folks where they're going and when they'll be home. Your brothers don't cuss, at least not where I've ever heard, and I certainly never heard your dad do it. Your mom used strong words that one time you told me about Rosalia, but not once did you say she cussed."
"I've heard your dad argue points with mine, and yeah, he says what's on his mind, but he does it in a diplomatic and respectful way. I never heard him force his opinion on anyone, or threaten or swear at anyone who disagreed."
"You're his sixteen-year-old son." Amadeo said, switching back to Italian, "And I love you, Angelo, very much, but sometimes you're tactless. You act impulsively and you don't think ahead about the consequences of your behaviour, and you will cuss if you think it'll help you make a point, as if the cussing will convince anyone of your point of view rather than make them just want to stop talking to you all together. The other guys don't say anything but none of them like it, and I try to make you stop before you start but you're so determined to be seen as an adult that you don't notice your own very childish behaviour."
"If it makes you feel any better, when my folks are out of the house and Terri or Carmie, or even Gabe are home, I have to ask their permission to go out and tell them who I'm with and where I'll be. It doesn't happen often at all but me and Con both have been swatted by Carm or Terri, and even our older brothers and sisters when they're there, because they're older and they're in charge when my folks aren't home. It's just the way things are. I don't always like it, especially when Terri gets it into her head that I need a smack, but they're in charge because they're older and more mature."
"Your brothers and sisters can smack you?" Angelo asked disbelievingly, in English.
"Yeah. I'm not saying they always do, just now and again when I get a smart mouth." he replied. "Even Con does it once in a while, but when I think he's pushing the big brother thing too far I just wrestle him down and leave the final decision up to my folks when they get home."
"But I can't wrestle my brothers, they'd flatten me." Angelo protested.
"So you watch your mouth, tell em where you're going, who you're going with, and leave a number. Don't just disappear. See the difference?"
"What about Steve and Carlos and the others. You met them, they're not bad guys, but dad won't let me hang out with them! I like them, Dae! They're my friends. They were my first friends."
"All I can do is go with you when you talk to your folks. Hold on!" he said, holding up his hands again. "Ask your parents politely if they have time to talk. Explain to them that there are things that have been weighing on you and you'd like to sit down with them and discuss them in a calm, rational manner. You can do that right? I mean, they're not like Jimmy's folks who just say 'This is the way it is, end of discussion.' Right?"
Angelo shrugged. "I guess."
"If you need me to be there while you're talking about your other friends, kind of as a character witness, I'll do it. I liked them. Of course they weren't drinking or spray painting the park or anything like that, but from what I saw, they were good people, and Steve was very level headed."
"Would you?" Angelo asked hopefully.
"Yes. Now, I can't guarantee that your folks'll change their minds about them, but if they do, and you can promise that you'll walk away if Steve and the others start to do anything illegal, it's possible they might say it's OK for you to hang with them. It's also possible that if they're all willing to hang with Milo and the others, they won't be bored and they won't drink or smoke or do anything else that the rest of the group isn't doing."
"I can't speak for Steve and the others, but it's possible they'll be all right with that set up. If they don't they don't, but they might. And I'm not your folks and I can't speak for them, but you have to at least give them a
chance. The thing is, Ange, whatever they decide, you have to do the mature thing and obey them because they only have your best interests in mind when they lay on the rules. When you begin to behave maturely, then they'll start seeing you as something more than a little kid. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yeah," Angelo said faintly. "I get you."
"OK, then. Are you ready to go home?"
"Dae? Are you gonna tell on me?" Angelo asked, frightened. "I don't want to tell mom and dad I outright disobeyed them. Dad'll kill me. No exaggeration, I won't be able to sit for a week, and I'm pretty sure that except for the trial I won't see the light of day until school lets back in. I... I told mom and dad I'd go back in September." he added hesitantly, looking up at Amadeo for his reaction.
"I'm glad you decided to give the school another try, Ange. I'm proud of you. But as far as what you did today, you have to own up to what you did. You can't in good conscience just get off free as a bird for breaking pretty much every rule your folks gave you. I told you once before that actions have consequences, and if you get away with it today you'll just keep doing the same things over and over again."
Angelo was quiet for several minutes as he once again gathered his thoughts. Then, in a low voice, again in Italian, the younger boy said, "Dae? I admit that bad behaviour should have consequences, but please, please don't tell dad or make me tell him. Please? Would you... would you be willing... remember what happened when I batted Hilda, what you said? That you'd take care of me yourself if I did it again? Would you... would you..." he trailed off, unable to speak aloud what he was thinking.
"Angelo..." Amadeo began, stunned at what he was sure his friend was asking him.
"Dae please think about it? Please? I'm not kidding, Dae. Dad'll toast me but good. I know he'll use the belt again this time! And I know I'll be grounded, and that'll mean no phone, no friends over, no going to anyone's houses either and the idea of being stuck in the house all summer, and only allowed outside to work in the garden or the barn... Dae... please. Please?" he said, looking up at the boy he loved so strongly from beneath his long lashes. "Take time to think about it if you need to but please think about it? I'm really sorry for what I did, I really am. You're right, it was immature, and I wasn't thinking before I took off. All I can say is that honestly, I wasn't looking for Steve and the others when I ran out. Not consciously at least. And I'll try really hard to watch my mouth from now on. Please, Dae?"
Amadeo sat for several minutes, hand to mouth, giving his boy's request serious thought. It was true. If Mr. Di Marco heard what his youngest had been up to today it was a surety that Angelo wouldn't be allowed to see anyone for the rest of the summer, and there was no doubt that Angelo's backside would pay a heavy price. Angelo had reassured Amadeo that his father didn't use the belt often, but it made an indelible impression, in more ways than one, for days afterward when he did. Amadeo's father had never used a belt on any of his kids as far as he knew, and he was grateful for that fact after Angelo had described what it felt like.
He didn't want Angelo to be grounded for the rest of the summer, but he wasn't sure if Angelo was only asking him to do it because he thought that a spanking from him wouldn't be as painful as a strapping from his father. If he did agree to do this thing, he knew he wasn't going to use a belt, but he did want to make sure his boy knew he'd been punished and why.
Angelo sat by, quietly, watching a variety of expressions pass over Amadeo's features as he debated the matter.
Amadeo seemed to come to a decision but then stood up and told Angelo to stay put. Angelo watched as 'Deo walked out of the park, and headed in the general direction of the Mom and Pop across the street where the kids bought Cokes and snacks to eat while they hung out at the park. Angelo doubted that Amadeo was going to buy snacks but did as he was told and stayed put.
About twenty minutes later Amadeo returned with two fountain drinks in paper cups, a hand full of napkins which he was in the process of stuffing into his pockets and a set expression. "Angelo. Before we go any further, tell me now. Are you sure about this? Because once I start... I don't want to do what you ask only to have you change your mind halfway and cry foul."
"I won't, Dae, I swear."
"You agree to do what I say, when I say, and no arguments. Yes or no. Tell me now."
"I agree, Dae. Whatever you say." Angelo agreed earnestly.
"Come on, then." he said quietly but abruptly, leading Angelo out of the gazebo and further into the surrounding woods.
The two boys walked quickly but quietly down some well beaten paths, and then veered off onto a less traveled route, then once again onto a path that was nearly nonexistent. They came out in a clearing with a circle of stones, and cold, charred wood in the center. Around the perimeter were fallen logs which had been pulled over to serve as benches. Amadeo put the drinks on the ground next to one of the logs and asked Angelo to sit beside him.
"We need to talk." 'Deo said.
"Dae, we already talked, and honest, I meant what I said."
"You say so now, but this is... this is a serious situation. We have to make sure that we're on the same page, so to speak. You asked me to do something... very personal. We need to talk about what you expect from my handling this rather than your father."
Angelo took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I... I don't know, just..." he hesitated, "I don't want a whipping, I don't want to be grounded all summer. I know I deserve it, and I know that's what'll happen if my dad finds out, but... Please Dae? I've spent half of my summer vacation grounded already and..."
"Do you expect me to go easy on you because of what we mean to each other? Because I don't plan to." Amadeo said.
At Angelo's uncertain expression he clarified, "I'm not going to use my belt, but I'm not going to go easy on you. I don't approve of what you did, you know that. I'm disappointed in you, Ange. I'm not your father but I understand how he feels, especially after what we learned about his brother's friend."
"The idea of anything like that happening to you... not knowing where you are... finding you like that... or worse, never finding you again." Amadeo stopped, unable to continue speaking about the grim picture that came to his mind. "Angelo Benedetto Di Marco, you mean everything to me, do you understand me? The idea that something could happen to you, that you could disappear, that we might never hear from you again or know what became of you... what if it were your mother who disappeared, or your father? One of your brothers? Me?"
"It's the same thing, Angelo. The fear, the uncertainty, the... guilt. The not knowing. It would eat at us every bit as much as it would you if the situation were reversed and it was one of us missing. Put yourself in your parent's place. My place. Think about it." Amadeo said, allowing his boy the opportunity to do just that.
Angelo bowed his head and began to wring his hands in his lap.
"So now Angelo, I'm going to ask you again. Are you sure you want me to handle this, because like I said I'm not going to hold back. If you're sure about this, if you agree to it, once I start I'm not going to stop until I think I've gotten the point across. I hate the idea of being the one to do this. I don't want to hurt you, but I do want you to learn to think before you take off. I want you to think about the consequences of your actions, about how the people you leave behind will feel if something happens to you."
Angelo looked up at Amadeo from beneath his thick lashes. "Will you love me again afterward?"
Amadeo sighed heavily. "For a smart guy you can be a real numbskull." he said, taking his boy's hands in his and gently detangling them. "I do love you! It's because I love you that I'm willing to do this for you rather than letting it get back to your dad. I just want you to learn. I want you to think. Do you understand me?"
"I understand." Angelo said in a faint voice.
"So you're going to do as I tell you? No arguments? No backtalk? No cursing?" he asked pointedly.
"I'll do what you say. I won't curse." Angelo promised quietly, licking his lips nervously.
"Stand up, Angelo." Amadeo directed softly.
Angelo did as he was told.
Amadeo began to unbutton and unzip his boy's jeans.
Angelo opened his mouth to protest but Amadeo hushed him, pulled the jeans down and then pulled his boy across his lap.
The younger boy felt pressure across his back as Amadeo leaned down over him for a moment, then gasped seconds later as he felt the first sharp swat
on his brief clad backside. He threw a hand back just in time to feel the size eleven sneaker come down a second time, rubber sole providing a sting that Angelo had never felt before.
"Hand away, little boy. Now." Amadeo commanded.
"No backtalk, no arguments. Hand away. Now."
Once Angelo's hand was clear, Amadeo resumed the punishment. The crisp sounds of the swats and the wails of the younger boy were the only sounds in the deep woods.
Afterward Amadeo rubbed his Angelo's back until he calmed and his breathing became more regular. He helped Angelo get up, carefully adjusted his jeans and then stood to wrap his arms around his boy.
"Imsorryimsorryimsorry." Angelo cried into the front of Amadeo's shirt.
"It's ok now, Ange. It's over, we're good. Just don't, please don't ever do this again. Please." Amadeo said quietly into his boy's ear. "I love you, Angelo Di Marco. I love you, and I can't bear the thought of losing you."
"I un-un-der-stand." Angelo replied, his breath hitching, "I-I'm sor-sor-ry Dae, and I-I-I love you t-too. Th-thank y-you, Dae." he said fervently.
Amadeo wrapped his arms more firmly around his boy and buried his face in the younger boy's hair, inhaling his scent. "You're welcome, il mio Angelo. Don't ever give me cause to do this again, ok?"
" 'K." Angelo hiccupped, resting his head against Amadeo's chest, hearing the faint sound of his heartbeat, and getting lost in the comfort of his man's arms. "'K."
Haggis is a kind of sausage made from sheep's heart, liver and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet (fat), and spices, which are then stuffed into the animal's stomach and simmered for approximately three hours.
Streak of lean/fatback - basically fatty bacon with just a little lean meat in it.
Oh Dio Mio by Annette (Terrible song, just convenient title).