Sunday, September 11, 2016

Chapter 46

Music class was an eye opener.  All of the boys had decided to take it even though it meant losing a study period for some of them.  A sacrifice they were willing to make for what Jim called an easy A.


Amadeo it turned out, had a respectable baritone though he would on occasion lose his focus and slide slightly off key, something that Ms. Mastroiani assured him he could overcome with practice, in which case she had a lovely solo for him.  Jim was, unsurprisingly, a bass, which he used frequently to crack his friends up while speaking.  Eddie, Charlie, Felix and three other boys that none of them knew had lovely mid to low soprano voices which thrilled the teacher no end and made a few of the girls a little jealous.


When she called Angelo up to audition so that she could find his range and put him in the right place when the choir sang, he nearly ran.  Milo grabbed his friend's sleeve and gently pulled him back.  "Don't worry, just sing, like, Mary Had a Little Lamb or something. Chill."  he whispered.


"Come on now, I only drink blood on Tuesdays." the four-foot-tall, sixty something, salt and pepper haired woman said with a smile.  "Just sing a little something for me. Don't worry about staying on key right now, we can work on that during the year."


Angelo hesitated a moment, taking a step backward into Amadeo.  'Deo bent down, not nearly as much as he'd used to, he noticed, and whispered, "Just close your eyes, and pretend you're in your cellar painting, you can do it." before giving Angelo a little shove back to the front of the group.


Ms. Mastroiani didn't frown or growl, she didn't rush him or brush him off.  She simply stood there with a friendly smile and waited patiently.


Angelo took a breath as though to sing, then let it out slowly.  He squared his shoulders and took another breath.  Nothing came out.  He closed his eyes as Amadeo had told him to do, imagined himself in his barn with the radio playing as he worked on his bicycle, took a breath and began to sing.


"They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway," he didn't try to sing the chorus as well, thinking that that would be too much.
 "they say there's always magic in the air.
 But when you're walkin' down that street,
 and you ain't had enough to eat,
 the glitter rubs right off and you're nowhere.

"They say the girls are something else on Broadway,
 but looking at them just gives me the blues.
 'Cause how ya gonna make some time,
 when all you got is one thin dime?
 And one thin dime won't even shine your shoes."  He waited for the teacher to stop him but when she remained silent he continued.

"They say that I won't last too long on Broadway,” He sang, beginning to get into the song and forgetting that he had an audience.

"I'll catch a Greyhound bus for home, they all say.
 But oh! They're dead wrong, I know they are,
 'cause I can play this here guitar,
 And I won't quit till I'm a star on Broadway."

"Oh, they're dead wrong, I know they are,
 'cause I can play this here guitar,
 and I won't quit till I'm a star on Broadway."

"I'm gonna make it, yeah.
 I'll be a big, big, big man.
 I'll have my name in lights,
 Everybody, everybody's gonna know me, yes,
 All up and down Broadway.
 Ohhhhh yeah!"


He finished with a smile and opened his eyes, surprised to find an utterly silent group of people and a thoughtful teacher in front of him. He blushed bright red and turned away with the thought of running home, never to be seen again, perhaps donning a mask and living in the darkest part of his cellar where no one would see the new, perpetual red of his face, when the applause broke out.


"Way ta go!" someone shouted.


"Ange, that was... great!"  someone else said in his ear, putting an arm around him, effectively preventing him from running.


"Wow!" was the response from several different voices.   One disgruntled sounding voice muttered "Son of a b****."


When the applause stopped finally, and Angelo's complexion was somewhere back to its normal shade and he was no longer contemplating a life of solitude in the darkness of the cellar, Ms. Mastroiani gave a friendly, sideways smile and said, "Tenor.  You'll be in the middle between the soprano's and the basses."  she said, pointing to a spot between Amadeo and another boy he didn't know.


Amadeo leaned in toward Angelo while the next person was being auditioned and placed and said, “You said you couldn't sing."


"No," said Angelo with a laugh, “I asked if you'd ever heard me sing.  There's a difference."


"Don't mess with my head, brat." he whispered.  "The way you made it sound was like you croaked like a frog. That was... beautiful."


Angelo shrugged.  "If you ask my brothers they'll tell you I do croak like a frog.  They're constantly yelling at me to stop singing."


The last word, despite his low voice, rang out in the sudden silence.  He looked around to see Ms. Mastroiani giving him a look and he blushed again.


"Mr. Di Marco.  We would not have been able to hear your lovely singing if the rest of the students hadn't been respectfully quiet.  I ask that you return the consideration. That goes for you too, Mr. Rossi."  she said, not unkindly but firmly.


"We're sorry, Miss."  the boys said contritely.


She nodded acceptance of the apology and gestured for the girl who was trying out to continue.


With strict instructions to return on Friday at three for their first rehearsal, Ms. Mastroiani waved them off, with a final little smile for Angelo, who grinned and blushed.  He hated that he seemed to have no control over it lately but he felt good as he left the auditorium.


Art class was next, between Music and Social Studies.  When Angelo arrived he immediately sat with Dennis, Charlie and Milo, waving at a few of the guys he knew from the wrestling and track teams, who smiled and waved back.


Mrs. Christoff selected several of the wrestlers and asked them to accompany her to a large box on her desk.  "I'd like you boys to please deliver one each of these to every student here, thank you."  she said with a smile.  She picked up a bag and followed along as each item was delivered.


There was something about the tall, slender woman that Angelo immediately liked.  Was it was the fact that she was the physical opposite of the short, stout, brown eyed Ms. Mastroiani?  Was it the sparkling grey blue eyes, or the greying hair done up in a bun that somehow resembled a fountain, a playful style for an older woman. Was it her smile which seemed very similar to the music teacher's, kind and wry at the same time.  He had no idea, but he knew he liked her immediately.


He was surprised when Walter plonked a piece of rock down in front of him.  It was approximately 6" x 6" x 5", smooth and a dusty looking, slightly mottled grey.  He knew it wasn't marble but he had no idea what it was or what the teacher had in mind for them to do with it. Seconds after the rocks were placed in front of the students, Mrs. Christoff placed a small packet next to it.  When they were all done, she went to the front of the class and smiled.


"Don't worry, I haven't gone off my rocker."  she said with a straight face.  The students groaned appreciatively.


"I thought we would try something new this semester.  We'll still be drawing and painting, but I thought it would be fun to try sculpture as well.  We'll be using different mediums which should make it a little more fun than just picking up a pencil and drawing stick figures."  she grinned.


Dennis blushed.


"What you have before you is a block of soapstone.  It's very soft and easy to carve.  The little packets contain the tools with which you will do the carving.  Soapstone is sensitive, so if you use too heavy a rasp you can leave marks in the surface.  Unless it's something you mean to do in your sculpture, and believe me I'll know if they're there on purpose or not, then you can usually smooth them away with sand paper.  Just remember, the harsher the sand paper, the more chance you have of leaving more marks on the stone.  Vy ponimayete?"


"What?!" asked one student loudly, blushing fiercely when she realized not only that she'd said it aloud but how she'd said it.


Mrs. Christoff only smiled and said, “It means, do you understand? One of the few phrases I learned from my husband."  she joked.


"Yes, ma'am."  chorused the class, including the still red faced girl.


"Very well then.  Your first assignment will be to turn that little block of stone into anything you like... except a block of stone."  


Some of the students groaned and Mrs. Christoff laughed.  


"It can be almost any shape you want to make it, but be careful, it is soft, and it does chip easily, so if you make a mistake you might be able to glue the piece back on but it'll show.  Don't try to make anything too intricate.  I realize that for most if not all of you, carving in stone is a new experience.  There is no wrong way to carve it.  However, I will not accept a pebble as a completed work either."  she joked again.  "You'll have all week to work on it since I expect you to take it home as homework from this class.  It doesn't have to be completed by Friday next, but I'd like to see that some progress has been made. Vy ponimayete?"  she said again with a grin.


"Yes, Mrs. Christoff!"  the students chorused.


"My ponimayem."  She corrected, “It means, we understand.  Can you say it?"


"Me ponymim." was the closest that some of them were able to manage.  Mrs. Christoff smiled and praised them for trying.


"All right then kiddos.  You can get started now.  Look at your stone and see if you can see a picture in it.  Draw your picture once you have it, to scale, and then use the picture as a blueprint for what you want to sculpt.  That might work for some of you, it might not work for all, just do what feels right and you can't go wrong.  Start now."  she said, turning on the radio to a local pop station, which made all of the kids smile.  Then she went to her desk to work on a block of her own.


Angelo sat for several moments, looking at the stone one way then the other, first cocking his head one way, then another, then turning the stone.  With a little nod he opened his packet of rasps and began to carve away the edges.  Despite his care a chunk came off of the corner he was working on.  He nearly forgot himself and dropped one of the many forbidden words but he bit his tongue instead, emitting a little gasp rather than the word that pressed against his front teeth for release.


"Did you catch yourself?"  asked Mrs. Christoff, standing and walking over to him with a concerned look at his hands, checking for blood.


"No ma'am.  I bit my tongue."


"As long as you're all right then." she said, "Continue."


Angelo frowned.  Now that the edge was broken off like that he had to come up with a different idea, so once again he went to work, smoothing edges and jagged surfaces.  By the end of the class he had a nearly perfect round stone.


"That's very good for one hour’s work, Mr..."


"Di Marco, ma'am."


"You're not done are you?"


"Oh no, ma'am, not hardly!  I mean, no ma'am, there's still more to go."  he blushed.


Mrs. Christoff smiled, then clapped her hands to get the student's attention.  "Time to pack up kiddos!  Work on it again for homework. There's no such thing as perfection so don't drive yourselves crazy. Have fun with it and have something to show me come Friday.  You can go to your next class as soon as you're packed and your space is cleaned up."


"So how was your day?"  asked Joshua when he son walked through the door later that afternoon.


"It was amazing, dad.  At first I was really scared and didn't want to go into the school at all, but it turned into a really great day."  he said 
with a smile.  "How was yours?  You're home early." he said, glancing at the clock over the kitchen table.  Normally his father wouldn't be home until for another hour or more, depending on the day.


"We had an accident at the site." his father said wearily.  "Gas leak."


"Dad!  Was anyone hurt?"  Angelo asked, looking his father over for injuries.


"We lost Scheffy and Gus."  he said, referring to Louis Scheffield and Gustav Molina, two of the construction workers.  "Apparently Scheffy nicked a gas line behind the wall when he was cutting.  The measurements were off.  Somehow the main had been turned on although it wasn't supposed to have been.  No one admitted to turning it on or knowing how it had been.  Only the electricity was supposed to be on. The Fire Marshall guessed that the vapors were caught between the walls and leaking out through the cuts.  Gus lit up a cigarette."


"It was an accident, dad."  Angelo said, trying to reassure his father and thanking the powers that be that his father had been spared.  "Was anyone else hurt?"


"A few others got caught on the periphery of the blast but only sustained minor injuries.  It was just those two..." Joshua said with a shudder, not wanting to think about the remains.  "We shut the gas off, called the fire department, police and ambulance.  We pretty much had things under control by the time they got there."  


"A wall of the building is gone, and part of a floor.  They have to decide now whether to make the repairs or if I have to start searching for a new site.  I just got off the phone with New York.  They're sending one of our contractors down here to check out the damage, rather than have a local do the report."  


"Dad, they don't blame you, do they?  You can't possibly be blamed for this."  Angelo said, suddenly worried for his father who looked more tired and worn out than he'd ever seen him.


"No, Angelo, they don't blame me, but they're obviously not happy."  he said tiredly.  "It's just been a long day.  I had to call Scheffy's and Gus' wives.   Gus's wife just had a baby."  Joshua said, his voice choking slightly.  "I'm going to go take a nap, Ange.  Would you start dinner so that mamma doesn't have to do it when she gets home from her ladies group?"


"Sure papa, anything in particular you want?"  Angelo asked, ready to braze an alligator if that's what his father said he was hungry for.


"I'm not hungry, hon,” Joshua said, surprising Angelo with the endearment he hadn't used since Angelo had been around five years old, "Right now I just want to sleep."


"Sure, papa.  You rest.  I'll take care of everything."  Angelo promised, watching, concerned, as his father stood from the kitchen table and walked the few steps to his room like a ninety-year-old man instead of one in his late forties.  


As soon as his father had closed his bedroom door Angelo began casting about for something to make for dinner. He didn't think he'd have to make anything too complex because he had the feeling that no one was going to be particularly hungry that night.  


He set the table for five just in case John and Paul came home for dinner, refilled the water pitcher and emptied out an ice tray into it before putting it back into the refrigerator.  He filled a pot with water and put it on the new electric stove, shuddering a little as he realized how close they'd come to having a gas stove, and that something like that could have happened in their own home if they'd been able to afford a gas hook up.  He made a promise to himself never to have a gas stove and never, ever to smoke again, no matter how frustrated he got.





Dinner at the Di Marco home was, as expected, quiet.  Mr. Di Marco, who had come out of his room an hour ago to take a hot shower only to return to his room directly afterward, declined to come to dinner, saying that his stomach was bothering him.  The others picked listlessly at the spaghetti and meatballs that Angelo had made and managed to only slightly burn, since his mother had come in the door and caught it just in time before the food could burn past the edible stage.


The boys helped with the cleanup, Angelo drying and putting away the dishes his mother washed, Paul cleaning the table and stove top and John sweeping the floor and porch.  He also cleaned up the clothes his father had dropped on the bathroom floor.  A big NO in the Di Marco home, but no one was going to point that out to Joshua.  He took them onto the enclosed front porch where the washer and dryer stood beneath the stairs that lead to the upstairs apartment and put them in with a little extra detergent and fabric softener, since they still smelled charred.


When he went back into the house he asked his mother if she minded if he went to visit his girlfriend Heather for a little while, to which his mother replied in the affirmative with an injunction to her son to be home by ten, latest.


Paul also asked to be allowed to visit his girlfriend.  He was also allowed, with the condition that he be home by nine.


"Mamma, may I go over to Amadeo's for a little while?"  Angelo asked.


"No, Angelo, it's getting late and it's a school night."  she replied, unwilling to let her youngest, who had a tendency to wander, out at night.


"But mamma!  It's only just after six!  If I ride my bike I can be there and back before seven thirty, eight latest.  Honest!"


"Angelo."  his mother said calmly, eyebrows rising just slightly as she looked at her youngest who seemed to have regressed to a ten-year-old.


"Sorry mamma."  Angelo said contritely.  "Please may I go over, just for a little while?"


"Did you finish your homework?"


"Yes ma'am."


"Including writing those words and their definitions one hundred times each?"


Angelo's eyes grew large.  He'd forgotten about that, and his father had been too upset about the incident at work to even address it.  "Yes ma'am, that's why supper nearly burned."


Julia didn't bother to mention that Angelo had a bad habit of forgetting dinner on the stove anyway, so homework was no excuse.  Instead she said,  “Did you write out a formal apology to Mr. Adams for disrupting his class?"


"No ma'am.  Mr. Cobrane told me I have to do that in person.  He didn't say I had to write one out too."  he said quietly, wondering if his parents would adopt Charlie's family's tradition of continuing a spanking at home if he was spanked at school.


"You know how we do things in this family, Angelo.  If you have to make an apology in person you also have to do it in writing, especially if it's to an adult.  Now have a seat and do it, then you can call 'Deo. I want to see it before you put it in your bag and if I don't like it you'll have to do it again, so make it good."  his mother said, going to the highboy beside the living room door and taking out a pen and pad of paper.


"Yes mamma." he said, obediently sitting before the pad of paper and pen at the now clean kitchen table.  He considered his words carefully.


He finished the first letter in less than a minute.


"I'm done mamma."  he announced.


Julia tore the first piece of paper from the pad, rumpled it up and tossed it into the waste basket.  Wordlessly, she pointed to the blank page and then to him, before turning to get a pitcher of iced tea from the refrigerator.


The second draft took slightly longer and met with the same results.


He let out a soft sigh of frustration and began the third draft, making sure to take longer writing it so that it seemed as though he were putting time and effort into it.


'Dear Mr. Adams,

I'm sorry that I behaved badly today.  However, I felt that you were treating us like children, and talking to and treating us as though we were eight instead of teenagers and it really bothered me.

That doesn't excuse my behavior.  Whatever the cause of my actions I could have responded differently.  Perhaps I could have raised my hand and asked, in a respectful manner, why you wanted us to sit where you had placed us.  Or perhaps I could have asked you, politely, after class was over.

What I did was impulsive and rude, and I'm very sorry.

Sincerely,

Angelo Di Marco'


"Mamma, I'm done."  he announced.


"No you're not.  I haven't even read it yet and I can tell you that it's inadequate.  Try again."


"But mamma!  You didn't even look at it!"


"That's true, Angelo.  Let me see it."  she said calmly, holding out her hand for the paper.


He handed it over, slightly mollified until she handed it back to him less than fifteen seconds later.  "Write it again, and choose your words 
carefully this time."


"But I did!"  he protested.


"Angelo, it took me less that ten seconds to read that and it was not a proper apology.  So write it properly this time, and put more thought into it."


Angelo huffed in annoyance.  "Can you give me a hint?  What did I say that was wrong?  What can I say instead?"


"If I tell you what to say then it will be an apology from me and not you, and I'm not the one who disrupted his classroom with a childish prank.  Now get to work, young man."  she said firmly, gently tearing the last draft off of the pad.


He propped his cheek on his fist and scowled down at the blank piece of paper before him.


'Dear Mr. Adams,

I'm sorry we behaved like children, but you treated us like kids and we responded in kind.  You are, in your opinion, dealing with children after all, so I'm not sure why you found what we did so unexpected.  The only difference is that we're teenagers and not second graders, which is what most of us felt like, being separated from our friends that way, and which is why we did what we did.

As the person who started it, I heartily apologize.  I was impulsive and what I did was wrong but I believe that you, as the adult, could have handled things differently as well.  Please keep in mind that we are nearly adults, and if you want us to behave as adults then we deserve to be treated as adults.

Please accept my apology as I am truly sorry for my actions.

Sincerely,

Angelo Di Marco'  

He signed with an angry flourish, nearly tearing the page with the tip of the pen.  He was sick of having to write copy after copy of a letter he didn't feel he should have to write in the first place.


"I'm done mamma."  he called, barely disguising his feelings.


Julia took the new page, read it impassively, put the page on the table, then turned toward the stove to remove the largest of her wooden spoons from the crockery pot in which they were stored.


Angelo jumped up from his seat between the wall and the table and put them between himself and his mother, eyes wide and hands up in supplication.


"I'm sorry!  I'm sorry!  I don't know what you want me to say!  I'm sorry!  You always tell me to tell the truth but now you're getting mad at me for doing it!  Just tell me what you want me to say and I'll say it! I'm sorry, mamma!"  he said frantically, preparing to run into the bathroom and lock himself in there if she advanced on him any further with the dreaded spoon.


"What is going on out here?"  asked a grumpy Joshua as he emerged from his bedroom, effectively blocking his son's retreat.


"Don't worry, Gio.  I'm taking care of it."  Julia replied, her voice low and tight.


Joshua took one look at his wife's slitted eyes and compressed lips and knew that his son had finally broken the last straw on the camel's back. His wife loved their children with a passion and rarely smacked them. Even when she did she was calm and rational while doing it.  The look on her face right now was neither calm nor particularly rational, and the tone of her voice was giving him the shivers.


"Angelo?"  Joshua asked.  Entire questions stated clearly in the one word.


Angelo licked his lips.  "It's nothing, papa, really.  I just... I just... I was..."


Julia calmly picked up the last two pieces of paper and handed them wordlessly to her husband.


"No, mamma!  You don't need to do that!"  Angelo said, trying to keep the panic from his voice as he went back around the table and closed the distance between himself and his mother.


Joshua read both notes, nodding.  "I remember now, yes.  Mr. Barnes called mamma and she called me.  It seems that the problem now is that you've forgotten what an apology is?"  he asked, arching his brows.


"No, I do papa, honest.  I'll do it right this time, honest."  Angelo said, trying to sidle behind his mother who was having none of it.  She took him by the arm just above his elbow and held him firmly.  


"I've got this Gio.  You've had a rough day, go rest.  Dinner is in the refrigerator if you decide you're hungry."  she said.  "Don't worry, I won't kill him.  I'll just maim him a little, all right?" she asked, smiling tightly.


Joshua nodded, placed the pages on the table and walked back into his bedroom, once again closing the door quietly.


"Vieni con me, adesso." she said quietly, pulling him toward his room with a grip like iron which gave him the choice, either follow, or lose an arm.  He chose to follow.
(Come with me, right now.)





*********

NOTES


"On Broadway", 1963, The Drifters


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