Poughkeepsie, p.9
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       Poughkeepsie, p.9

           Debra Anastasia
 

  Livia reverently opened the locket to reveal the faded image of a handsome man in a military uniform.

  “We were married for sixty-two years before he passed,” Bea said. “I still can’t take a deep breath without smelling his scent.” Her face filled with strength, rather than tears. “We had a good life. He always made me laugh. Loving him was a wonderful way to pass my time here. And someday we’ll be together again.”

  Livia closed the locket carefully. “He’s a handsome man.”

  Bea nodded.

  Cole began the mass. As the familiar service proceeded, Livia saw that the actual priest did only the most essential of the acts. He let Cole lead prayers and give the sermon. Cole did a magnificent job of speaking to a crowd that had already learned most of life’s cruelest lessons.

  Cole took his place behind the pulpit, and Livia could almost see him trying to ignore her presence.

  “Welcome, friends and visitor.”

  He was doing a poor job of it.

  “Tonight I would like to talk about faith in the unseen. Here, in God’s house, we have many physical reminders of our faith—our statues, the pews and stained glass, and the very peace we feel here. We have things we can touch, feel, and see. Faith isn’t a surprise here. It’s expected. We’re covered by faith in our church, like a well-used blanket.

  “Faith is much harder to feel when we’re far from our rituals and must rely only on what we can fit in our hearts. Trials and tribulations rarely happen in church when we’re surrounded by other believers to bolster and encourage us. Sometimes we’re in a store, struggling to understand how the checker could be so slow. Sometimes we’re in a hospital, grasping the hand of a loved one.” Cole looked at Bea, who nodded.

  “And sometimes we’re just a little child inside when someone in power takes more from us than they ever have a right to.” He dropped his eyes for a moment.

  Livia watched as Bea shot a look of concern to some of the other ladies present. Cole had revealed a tiny bit of himself on the pulpit, and judging from the reaction, he didn’t do it often.

  “These are the times when God whispers to us,” he continued. “We have to listen carefully to his important guidance. Sometimes that guidance is to just endure. And that’s when our faith has to hold us up.”

  Livia continued to hold Bea’s hand as Cole concluded his thoughts. When he prayed for the departed, the length of the list became almost comical, until Livia heard Aaron mentioned and felt a squeeze from Bea. Each name is attached to a heart here.

  Cole seemed truly holy as he recited the words. “I leave you peace. My peace I give you. Now let us all offer one another the sign of peace.”

  Livia watched the parishioners greet those next to them, then hold up their hands to wave at others around the room. Livia looked around. Sweet Bea in her wheelchair was one of easily sixty people in the sanctuary. Livia was overwhelmed by their quiet kindness. Cole had a roomful of family now.

  Livia stood. Waving the peace was a tradition she had every intention of breaking. Cole looked at her with a suspicious eyebrow cocked.

  Livia started with Bea. “Peace be with you.”

  “And also with you, Livia,” Bea said as they shook hands.

  Livia walked to the front pew and began methodically offering her hand and words to each person. At the second pew, Livia changed her sign of peace into a hug. In her peripheral vision, Livia could see Cole now going through the pews on the opposite side, hugging these people he loved. When each person had been thoroughly hugged, Cole and Livia met in the middle.

  She looked at his face, hoping beyond hope to find softness there. “Peace be with you, Cole,” she began. “But I think you already have it. You’re covered by the prayers of these wonderful people.”

  Cole nodded. The softness was still there.

  “Peace be with you, Livia,” he said. He leaned down to her ear as he hugged her. “Maybe you’re more than I thought you were.”

  Livia hugged him back. It wasn’t forgiveness, but it was enough for now.

  When mass was over, the congregation socialized for a bit, launching mostly into discussions about what a great job Cole had done. Some of the men offered Cole pointers or suggestions like they were his football coaches.

  “I saw some construction going on up there,” Livia said to Bea, gesturing up to the loft.

  “Oh, that’s for our new church organ,” Bea said eagerly. “The old one was taken out of here about twenty years ago. Dry rot, you know.”

  Livia nodded and smiled as Bea continued. “An anonymous donor sent Father Callahan all the money to cover it. We can’t wait to let Martha have a chance at it.” Bea pointed to a small woman with the thickest glasses Livia had ever seen.

  “It’ll be here tomorrow morning, but will probably take all day to put together.” Bea looked happily at the empty loft.

  “How are they going to get it up those tiny, twirly steps?” Livia wondered aloud.

  “Just like anything, dear. Piece by piece. The right people get the right tools and turn a jigsaw puzzle into something that makes beautiful music.” Bea looked at Livia knowingly.

  “The right people with the right tools. Of course.” Livia smiled.

  She hugged Bea and excused herself. It was time to escort the parishioners back whence they came. Livia walked out to the car to find the driver’s seat reclined all the way back and Kyle curled in a happy ball. Livia banged on the window like a landlord looking for rent.

  “What!?” Kyle looked disoriented, then really irritated.

  “Come help me again.”

  Livia watched as her sister scowled, then began to move. Kyle slammed the car door shut and unleashed her foul mood. “Oh, for crud’s sake. This is the most ridiculous song and dance in the middle of the flipping night. Why can’t the priest go to the old folks’ home instead of dragging all these wrinkly bags and bats around like a set of droopy balls?”

  Livia patted Kyle’s shoulder condescendingly. “Look at that! You did all that complaining without cursing. That’s a good girl.”

  Kyle grumbled as she helped with the reverse trip. When they were down to the last lady, she looked over at Kyle and said, “Oh, I forgot my purse. Could you be a little sweetie and go get it for me?”

  Kyle smiled, took a deep breath, and stomped back toward the church. “Don’t blame me when a giant bolt of lightning torches this place,” she announced to Livia as she passed.

  When Livia walked in a few minutes later to see what had happened to Kyle, she stopped in her tracks. Kyle and Cole faced each other in the center of the room, staring intently and oblivious to everything else.

  “Kyle? Hey, did you find the purse?” When her sister said nothing, Livia approached them and took the purse from Kyle’s hand. Still no one said a word, so she left to return it to its owner. When she came back, Livia found her sister and Cole standing the same way, lost in one another.

  “Kyle, we’ve got to get going.” Livia felt like an intruder.

  Her sister’s eyes swam in Cole’s. “You go on ahead,” she said. “I’ll get a ride.”

  “Ky, this isn’t a frat party. It’s an empty church. Where’s this ride coming from?” Livia asked.

  “I’ll make sure she gets home,” Cole said, his eyes never wavering from Kyle’s face.

  Livia reached into her unresponsive sister’s pocket and retrieved the car keys. As she left the church, shaking her head, she heard Cole saying Kyle’s name again and again. It was like he’d just discovered fire, and Kyle was the main ingredient.

  9

  Livia’s Stupid Father

  Livia’s stupid fucking father.

  Chris grabbed a piece of gum and slid his beer can behind his right leg. He glared into his side mirror as he saw John McHugh step out of his police car. This is the last thing I need at one o’clock in the damn morning.

  Chris waited until his electric window was all the way down before he looked at the top of John’s head. Chris loved how t
he truck made him superior to everyone else. Even the soccer moms’ Suburbans looked wimpy next to The Beast.

  John stepped up onto the truck’s running board to be even with Chris’s face.

  Chris adjusted his leg in a way that he hoped concealed his beer can. He tried to remember where the hell his hunting rifle was. Did I just throw it in the back or lock it in the truck box?

  “Hi, Mr. McHugh.” Chris watched as John shined his flashlight in the truck bed and then carefully took in the contents of his cab.

  “It’s Officer McHugh, Chris.”

  John’s face was alarmingly close, and Chris tried not to breathe. Fucking pig. What a lame-ass job. Why’d I have to drink beer tonight? Should’ve gone with vodka, can’t smell it on my breath.

  “Sorry, sir.” Chris put on his best altar boy face.

  “Do you know how fast you were going back there, son?”

  Fast enough to get the fuck away from bitchy, skank-ass Hannah.

  “I’m sure too fast, Officer McHugh, or you wouldn’t have stopped me.” Chris spoke into his chest so the beer smell wouldn’t get in front of the cinnamon gum. He hoped he seemed remorseful.

  “Fifty-six in a thirty-five, Chris. This is a residential area. You need to slow down,” John said.

  “Sorry, sir. I have a lot on my mind since Livia dumped me.” Chris tended to get weepy when he drank, and it had never been useful until this moment. He stifled a smile as his eyes filled with tears.

  “All right, Chris. You’ve had a tough time. I’ll let you get by with a warning tonight. But it’s the only warning I’ll give you.”

  I should give you a warning. Your freaking daughter’s whoring it out to homeless men. “Thank you, Officer McHugh. I’m sorry. I’ll drive slower from now on.” Or just buy a fucking radar detector.

  John leaned back a bit and the red and blue lights from the cruiser danced across his face. “Tell Mrs. Grandma and your family I’m wishing them well.” He nodded and stepped down from the truck.

  “Thank you, sir,” Chris said. “Can I ask you a question? How’s Livia doing?”

  “She seems a little sad, but that was some stunt you pulled in front of my house. Stay away from her, Chris, unless she asks you to come back.”

  Chris nodded. He knew not to push Livia’s dad.

  He waited for the excruciating amount of time it took John to get back in his car, pull the cruiser away from the curb, and kill the lights. I swear they take a long fucking time just to rattle you. Bastards.

  Chris’s phone came to life in the console. He instantly hoped it was Livia calling and wanted to kick himself in the nuts when he saw it was Hannah. He sent her to voice mail and grabbed his now disappointingly warm beer. Chris couldn’t believe how cocky Hannah had gotten since his breakup with Livia. He scratched his scalp through his crackly, gelled hair and grew angry all over again as he remembered his evening with Hannah.

  “Chris, I’m not sure I want to go through with this,” she’d pouted.

  “Hannah, you and I have been screwing around for four and a half years. You pick now to get shy?” Chris was further frustrated that she’d waited until they were both pants-less to mention her displeasure.

  “I don’t know. I think maybe you should get tested—for STDs and worms and maybe lice.” Hannah reached for her discarded panties.

  She had fluttered her eyelashes in a way she seemed to think was coy, but she looked like a cow getting branded. “Since Livia’s humping hobos, who knows what you’ve got.” Hannah giggled at her unintentional alliteration.

  “Screw you, Hannah.” Chris had suddenly felt very naked.

  “Livia’s like Meals on Wheels, except she’s on her feet. And she hands out her pussy instead of meals. She’s Pussy on Feet.” Hannah had to stop buttoning her jeans to laugh.

  Chris had felt revulsion wash over him. Hannah had been so much more desirable when she was his piece on the side. “That’s not even funny, you stupid slut.” Chris found his tighty-whiteys and put them on.

  The word slut had sobered Hannah and her face clouded over. “You know what, Chris? You’re just not doing it for me anymore. I mean, you lost your fiancée to a homeless man? What kind of catch are you? I wouldn’t screw you now without at least three condoms and a bucketful of Lysol.”

  Chris had left Hannah’s apartment through the front door instead of sneaking out the back like he usually did.

  And now he sat in the wake of John’s departed police car with no fiancée or piece of ass on the side. There had been a time when Livia needed him so much. How many times did she thank him for keeping track of her cell phone and the oil changes on her car? And yeah, he was young, he wanted his dick to wander free once in a while, but Livia was his. His responsibility. Christ, she didn’t even have a mother—he couldn’t dump her in the past even when he had wanted to because he didn’t want her to melt down.

  The phone in Chris’s hand demanded his attention again. Dave.

  “Talk at me,” he answered.

  “Hey, you stupid bastard. How’s it hanging? Lonely, I bet. Talk about going from hero to zero, man.” Dave delivered his insults under the guise of brotherhood. It was a thin guise. “‘Pulling a Chris Simmer’ is going to be legend for a long time to come. Losing your chick to a homeless man? I think I’d rather find out my girl was into other girls. What are you up to? Want to hang out?”

  “No. I’m busy. Fuck off.” Chris seethed. He was about to hang up when Dave said something else.

  “So I guess Livia’s new boyfriend’s dead or something,” Dave added.

  Chris listened.

  “I usually see his crazy ass slumped at the train station on my dinner break.”

  Chris took a jab of his own. “You paying for a good butt-fucking, Dave?”

  Chris heard a nervous laugh that he liked. It reminded him he was still top dog.

  “No, dude. I save up my pennies and go down there with a few of my work buddies. We whip the change at him. Ten points for a headshot and five points for limbs. I’m up to one-eighty. He never even flinches or looks up. I bet he could take a hell of a beating. Anyhow, he hasn’t been there in a while.”

  Chris ended the call with Dave still yammering. He liked the idea of a good beating. Why hadn’t he thought of it himself? If any other dude had moved in on Livia, he’d have met him in an alley with The Equalizer. Chris reached under his passenger seat to stroke the miniature baseball bat. Maybe if the hobo met The Equalizer, Livia would come back to him. That would fix everything, really.

  10

  Not Sorry You’re Here

  LIVIA SENSED LIGHT ON her eyelids. She opened them, blinking and trying to focus. Her neck was creaky and stiff like a dried twig. She seemed to have a bruise on her butt—from the gearshift? As the cramped pain became more pronounced, Livia remembered she’d waited for Kyle in the parking lot. Bad enough she had dragged her sister to a drug den, so she wasn’t leaving her in the middle of the night with a pseudo-priest who might or might not be friendly.

  As Livia tried to avoid thinking about how her feisty sister was getting along inside a Catholic church, the huge front doors flung open. Kyle rushed out, looking as if she had every intention of stalking home half dressed. Livia tapped the horn. Kyle turned, but didn’t even look grateful that Livia was still there with the car.

  Kyle got to the car door before Livia could find the automatic lock button, so they played a few cycles of Kyle trying the handle while Livia simultaneously tried to unlock the door. Finally, Livia held up one finger to signal her sister to slow the hell down. Kyle bounced up and down like she was standing in a pile of hot coals. Livia locked, then unlocked the door to allow her incensed sister inside. As she entered, Kyle lashed out at anything and everything she could reach, including Livia.

  Livia struggled to grab her sister’s flailing arms. “Kyle, whoa. Ouch! Damn it, calm down. Your freaking boob is hanging out. Pull yourself together.”

  Kyle bit her lip and ignored her sister.
“Damn him. Damn him to hell,” she seethed, glaring at the church.

  Just then Cole emerged. He too was half-dressed—barefoot and bare-chested. His eyes found the car and locked on Kyle with a gaze that spoke of tremendous, shattering loss. It was as if she’d been swallowed by a fissure in the earth.

  Livia looked back at her sister. “What the hell happened?”

  Kyle looked at Cole with a matching desperate stare. She shook her head and finally slid her bra back in place to cover herself. “Leave. Drive.”

  Livia hesitated. The scene before her seemed so raw. Leaving had to be an insult, a mistake.

  Kyle looked at the car floor. “Livia, if you’ve ever loved me, even a little, you’ll take me away from here. Please, I’m begging you.”

  Livia had never heard Kyle beg for anything. The big sister in her took over. She started the car, slammed it into reverse, and made for the exit. As soon as they no longer faced Cole, sobs wracked Kyle’s body. Livia felt reflex tears on her own cheeks, her body’s reaction to Kyle’s deep pain.

  Livia watched in her rear view mirror as Cole punched the Our Lady of the River welcome plaque mounted next to the door. It shattered around his hand like a mirror.

  Just as Kyle choked out, “I hate him,” Livia saw Cole fall to his knees. He looked like a man kneeling in front of his captor, waiting for the whip.

  A few minutes later, Livia stopped for a red light and had a horrible, crawling feeling. “Did he hurt you?” she asked.

  “No. No. Not in the way you’re thinking. Far from it.” Kyle still breathed in little sobs, but she seemed to be calming.

  Livia felt relief in every part of her being. If I’d been right outside while Kyle was being hurt…Livia shook her head to clear it. “Are you going to tell me what happened?”

  Kyle seemed to start and stop four different sentences before settling on, “No. I think I need to be alone with this.”

 
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