My boy Timmy P, one of my oldest and closest friends in the world that I grew up with in White Plains, just sent me a copy of his first short story. It is with great pleasure that I debut it here on Westcheddar. Enjoy…
“CRAVING AND AVERSION”
by Timothy Daniel Pellegrin
From somewhere up above, we must have looked like one of our little gods with mad arms and legs, destruction-dancing. boom-Boom boom-Boom 3 hearts like pounding battle drums. I was the red and white heaving furious virgin belly….the never-been-in-a-fistfight bleeding white-boy swinging mad in that center which sits between compassion and ass.
My father had been working at the local shelter for homeless men for 5 years. My father, once a young man sitting at seminary school graduation feeling his swirling fear of women fall like old skin, his new skin soft and hungry for all things God. This was a blooming of his soul nurtured by a kiss from the Holy Spirit Itself, because his deepest joy and meaning were to be Dad and Love. He became an ecstatic husband, and a father of six, and a lawyer (to assure life included changes of scenery for us). His desire to serve the Lord through the Church was like a little candlelight he protected for thousands of outside days, so as we kids grew up and out, he enrolled in Deaconate School. Four years later he became the Deacon of the family parish. A natural man of grace and humility, he delighted in the fact that Deacons were “waiters” at the very beginning, serving Jesus and His disciples at the Last Supper.
The last person to yell spit into his face was probably a grade-school nun. As I stepped in to the shelter that night, the guy they call Frog was ending that, head tilting left to right like an inquisitive dog, my father’s face firm and straight ahead. I can picture him in that moment, and I like to; his eyes and shut mouth were saying “you’re a sad clown right now, and in a way I hope you do.” Our contradictory natures are colorful.
I am not opinionated, I usually see the good in you, I laugh easily and love to take walks…and I got hot as hell right here BOOM! I threw the pans of food I was carrying onto the floor and rushed this scene that shook me and shoved Frog from his side, which made him lose his balance but not fall. I did not step between them and square up to Frog, eye to eye, like Deacon’s young strong sperm incarnate; I just wanted to break it and create space as soon as I could. There were men approaching the scene as I did, so hands caught Frog just before he hit the wall, and arms and mumbled pleas kept him contained as he slowly walked towards me.
The men in the shelter respected my father. He worked overnights, so it was his duty to wake the guys at 6am each morning. Where most staff would hit the switch and bark words alarm-like, my father turned on the lights and sang happy birthday to the sun in his choir-trained baritone: “good morning to you, good morning to you, good morning gentle persons, good morning to you”. They knew he knew, these souls deserving of gentle beginnings.
“I hate when you sing that song”, a visitor once complained.
“Why”, my father asked.
“Cause it gets stuck in my head all day”, the guy replied as he walked to the showers whistling it.
Respect isn’t the right word; they appreciated him. And so they weren’t going to let Frog attack, even though Frog was a feared man. Many damaging nights behind bars and a few very visible scars—and eyes that slowly chewed me, spit me out onto my father, and turned away from us.
I used to be hooked on mate`, a tea native to South America that is highly revered and deeply entrenched in the histories and cultures of countries such as Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil. Gauchos have a long tradition of drinking it because it energizes and staves off hunger. “Mate no tiene piernas”—mate has no legs, and so they would share a gourd of this ancient, bitter, life-giving addiction at the end of a long day by passing it around the circle. My supplier was Libia’s groceria, a bodega that sat on the edge of the town’s projects. I walked out of Libia’s with my 6 dollar kilo of Rosamonte Especial this cold winter dusk and just locked eyes with this dude for no reason other than he didn’t look away and neither did I. Like the cold wind blew the bolt down, locked. He was staring and I held him and then I was staring. I know this world of exchanges well because I am someone who looks at eyes, and there is an animal quality about it that is very sensitive to time. A casual glance maintained becomes a look, which quickly morphs into some perceived challenge or act of aggression. If you don’t want problems, you look away.
“What the FUCK you lookin at, white boy?”
There were three of them—all about my size. And I knew right away their veins were full of fire and I was in trouble. As the curious one finished his question he stopped walking, and the others followed suit. My momentum and direction coming out of the store were to the left, which was the same direction they were walking, so when they stopped I was suddenly very close to them. It all happened so fast. They turned and faced me and created a hostile, breathing wall.
“You got a fuckin problem FAGGOT”, the same guy asked me. My heart is now pounding, my mouth got a shot of metal and I could feel the burning red in my face. I was scared; taut wires ready to fall back. I made a decision in that brief moment though…that this was it, the rage adventure that I often daydreamed about and created scenarios around and wanted the way I wanted to try anal sex with my nervous girlfriend. Craving and Aversion in one. And yes, my fetal mind did let it become Fight or Faggot—a poisonous word for all of us.
“No, I don’t have a problem, what’s your FUCKIN problem”, challenged a vibrating mass of mess. A fist came flying from the left and I saw it coming, was able to pull my head back to avoid it, and smashed that dude’s nose with knuckles full of panic. My breath left me, and became cloth that slowly wrapped him as he twisted and fell. For a split second we were all frozen in time, the spinning world brought to a halt like an ancient seamstress who stabs her calloused thumb with a needle and stares at the absurdity of the droplet of blood.
The other side of that split second was the start of the pounding of my head and face. They were both on me and I cocooned my head with my arms as best I could but they were hurting me. Fear and anger—those muddy pillars of this world—served me like gas on a flame and I threw both my arms upward with all my might and caught both of them enough to send them back a little and create space. They came right back, though, and I just got out of my mind swinging wild for the fences trying to keep them off me but murderous mad too. I felt bone on bone a couple times before I took a hit in the ribs that dropped me fast. I was done. On the ground. Bad. I was that hurt human animal you see in movies reduced to instinct, big-eyed and desperate and dragging. They started with the stomps and kicks, rear back kickball kicks, kicked my consciousness into oblivion; episode over. At least it was for me.
Something or someone peripheral flashed into that last frame…this was my first thought when I was able to think back on what happened.
I woke up in an ambulance. I opened my eyes just enough to see an EMT sitting next to me, who told me I was ok and generously reported that the other guys didn’t look much better. Confusing. We reached the local hospital and I was treated for a broken nose, some badly bruised ribs and a couple gashes on my face. Cops said a passerby called 911, and I forced a report through a mangled mouth. I was held overnight and hobbled out of that hospital as quickly as I could the next morning, wanting to be alone in fresh air, but not before I noticed my later-round foes in the room next door looking like final-bell Rocky Balboa only silent and defeated.
Two weeks later I am walking into the same hospital, walking into a room where my father lay with a broken jaw. My brothers will be out for blood, and I’ll have to join them, but I’m more sad about the fucking world than anything. It was that guy Frog from the shelter, my father tells me. He was playing a radio after quiet time so my father asked him to turn it off and he popped up, seemed high on something, cracked him across the mouth, and said something like “you gonna talk to me like that when I saved your pussy ass son?”
Frog saved me?
Or was it Mary, my friend and favorite co-worker who showed up to shift each early morning with her huge lips meticulously outlined and painted, tapping the top of her head to secure the wig of the week and bringing smiles to the tired room. Mary’s father was a gambler, and when he was fixin to win somethin he used to put pennies in his shoes and walk out the front door backwards for good luck. Mary’s from North Carolina, and she was always telling me these southern-style gems.
It was around Christmas time and Mary had cooked what amounted to a feast for me to take home for the family, pans of fried chicken and cornbread and mashed potatoes. On top of our Mother’s groaning-good food we hardly put a dent in it, so one late evening I brought it over to the local shelter where my Father worked.
No doubt, Frog stopped the beating. But Frog has a taste for violence. And big ass eyes.
Mary has a taste for grease and butter and can somehow use anything to protect her own.
Who most saved me? My Father, who decided it would be a nice thing to work at the local shelter?
I don’t believe me being out would have necessarily stopped those guys right away. A few more kicks could have meant a different story.
My love, I hope you stay nervous…I don’t think I would really like it anyway.