The impact a mother can have from the grave.
|Dario combed his hair back and gazed at the face in the rusting bathroom mirror, straightened his tie and considered the surroundings did not match his reflection. The new navy blue suit, Joseph A. Banks, accented his blue eyes set deep in an olive face. He passed his hand back over wavy black hair and raised one eyebrow.
“Damn, you’re hot, Dario.” He turned and walked into the bedroom. The bed looked unmade for weeks, which was the case. The white chenille spread languished at the base, the red bottom sheet lost its grip on one corner, and the blue blanket twisted over the footboard. A pile of dirty clothes fell out of the closet. Time for laundry, he thought. Dario cocked his head at the smelly collection and remembered the cleaners did laundry. I’ll drop that off tonight. He knew it was time for a house cleaning. He could ask Mrs. Delmonico to come over before the weekend, before he brought another girl back from a club. Not that the girls ever noticed, but his mother would.
“You bring a nice girl, ‘like I was,’” she snuck in, “you should have a nice home.” Dario could not remember the house being dirty with or without girls when his mother ran the place. Leftovers entered their Tupperware receptacles before they cooled, dishes landed in dishwater before the last bite was swallowed, vacuuming occurred on Tuesday and Friday mornings at 6:30 a.m., dusting on Wednesdays at 7 a.m. Saturday morning he had joined his mother for shopping, then put all the cans and jars away in cabinets never knowing the smudge of a fingerprint. All the living room furniture wore custom plastic covers. When his mother died, Dario laughed at the discovery of mold beneath the cushions.
He kicked the dirty clothes into the closet. With his hand on the cool brass knob, he closed the door. A precious place, the closet. His only refuge as a child, the only place where a mess could be a mess indefinitely. He once played in his closet, and talked to his imaginary friend. Four walls where he could do no wrong.
Dario took his hand off the knob and started across the room. His mother probably turned over in her grave when she looked down and saw the condition of the house now. He knew it was a kind of retribution to let things go, but he could not seem to stop himself.
Thinking of his mother’s comment about “nice,” he admitted it might be time to look for a truly nice girl. Best man for many of his college friends, he considered hiring himself out for the duty. However, he couldn’t turn off the goal of a one night stand. Other kinds of women were much easier and the thought of someone like his mother made his knees weak.
He took Sherry, a blonde accountant in his firm, to the wedding of a college friend last weekend. She was laughing and teasing at work, but at the wedding she became the picture of genteel Southern femininity, her dress a sleeveless blue silk matched her eyes, her manners and speech polished with the slowness of fine breeding. His buddies chided him and slapped him on the back with glances indicating she was a good catch. The groom’s mother said they made a lovely couple which caused Sherry to blush and Dario to gulp down his champagne in one fell swoop.
He was feeling the last of one too many bourbons when they left the reception at midnight and he sincerely wanted to take Sherry home. If she hadn’t figured this out already, she certainly did when he put his hand on her knee. She indicated where to turn for her place. Expecting an invitation inside, he was half out of the car when she said. “Thank-you for a lovely evening. I’ll see you at work on Monday. I can see myself in.” Her tone was soft, the Southern lilt flowing across the car like a ribbon of smoke. He watched her walk up the steps to her townhouse, turn the key and go in, not looking back once. He was stunned. Nursing a hangover on Sunday morning, he called her. A cool voice informed him she had plans for the day and, once again, she would see him at work on Monday.
It was now Thursday and he had yet to pass her in a hallway or on the way to a restroom, which is how they originally met. The Accounting Department was on another floor and short of presenting himself in that myriad of cubicles, he would have to call. He considered, then decided she was too aloof, too capable, too something. Besides, she was blonde.
He walked over to the dresser, scooped the change off the top into his pocket, picked up his wallet and allowed one glace to the small package. Wrapped in sliver and white like a wedding present, it boasted a red velvet bow covered with dust. It remained where his mother left it over five years ago, just before she died. His eyes roved to her picture, taken when she was a sexy twenty something. His mother wore a red dress with white polka dots, cinched at the waist and flowing out to a full skirt emphasizing shapely legs. The V neck and wide collar accentuated ample breasts and a slender neck. Dark hair hung to her shoulders and flipped under. Her face was turned back to the camera, as though she’d been walking away and someone yelled at her to come back.
Certainly not the woman he remembered. Mom was plump, her face a mixture of lumps and lines. She dressed in one of a few black dresses she rotated every three days. Her hair was a crinkled mass of black and white, the white becoming more predominant until she put something on it. Then the white roots would grow out, causing Dario one of many kinds of embarrassment when she joined him at a school function. Like high school graduation. She’d gone out of her way that day and worn stockings. Unfortunately, Dario noticed when he sat with her, she didn’t shave her legs and he could actually see the black hairs matted underneath.
“Bye, Mom.” Dario picked up his briefcase and went downstairs, ignored the dishes piled in the sink and the garbage bag by the front door, to say nothing of the beer bottles lined like soldiers next to the green corduroy recliner. At least the house just smells like beer, he thought, not smoke. He yanked open the sticky front door, kicked the aluminum screen, spun around, turned the deadbolt and was down the steps in front of the house next door before the screen door crashed.
“Don’t you be lettin’ that screen door slam!” He could hear his mother yelling after him as he ran to school. He had slammed it every morning, and she had yelled every morning. Now, he wondered. What if he hadn’t slammed it? Would she still yell? Was it like the tree falling in the forest? Not that the point was worthy of consideration. He was in trouble with his mother from the moment he awoke to the moment he went to bed, no matter what he did.
The Baltimore morning was drizzly and damp, the mist clinging to his eyelashes. The cobblestones of Fells Point glistened in their hues of gray and brown and he stepped with some care over their uneven surface. The smell of brown sugar wafted across the harbor from Domino Sugar and made him think of gingerbread cookies. He could still see them coming out of the oven, cooling for a minute, then snatching one. He always bit the head off first, the warm, moist ginger tickling his taste buds.
“Dario,” his mother admonished, a cigarette hanging from her mouth, “you should let them cool. These are for the church and that will be your very last one. Why do you always bite off their head?” She accompanied this with a frown and a hand on one hip. “Do that again and I’ll…” Dario learned to dash out the door before the threat finalized.
The ritual played in his brain as he walked the eight blocks to a financial investment firm downtown. He shook his head. Here he was twenty-eight years old and still thinking of his mother’s gingerbread cookies. He passed other people he saw regularly on his short commute and waved a “Good Morning” to them. There was Tommy who just passed the thirty year mark at the bread plant, Patsy who worked at the market deli for about the same length of time, and Georgie, a friend from school that now barely got by as a janitor. The tugboats were heading out and he waved to the one closest to the waterfront, surprised to see Patrick at the wheel, another childhood friend. He figured Patrick must have gotten a promotion to be at the con.
Occasionally, he found himself a few paces behind another sharp dresser. Maybe someone like himself, who went to college and worked in a white collar business. Or, someone completely unlike himself, who moved to “trendy” Fells Point to fix up a townhouse and be one of the new gentry. He was never quite sure about them and paced himself to stay the same distance behind or ahead.
As he neared the Aquarium, Dario looked across the Inner Harbor where seagulls soared over the USS Constitution. The smell of the Patapsco River, a rich blend of seaweed and fish, mixed with diesel exhaust. And urine, he noted as he pass a wet spot on a building wall.
Dario squinted at the dim morning sun struggling through the haze to light the Inner Harbor. It broke through as he came around the Aquarium and sent a dagger of sunlight off the water straight into his eyes. He fumbled for his sunglasses. A pain unwound itself from a pinprick to a whirling dagger in seconds. It started off his right shoulder, took a right at the center of his neck, arched over his skull and wrapped tendrils around his forehead in a vice. He dropped the briefcase, grabbed his head and staggered to the wall of the Aquarium. He squeezed his eyes shut and put both palms to his temples.
“No,” he whispered as he sunk to the pavement. “Not now. Go away.” He sat, dizzy with pain, hearing the click of other people’s shoes like gongs in a Chinese temple.
The pain, now sure of itself, came in waves. It reinforced the tightness around his forehead as though something repeatedly pulled on a rope at the back of his neck. Quiet. He would just stay here and be quiet.
“Dario? That you, boy?” The voice came out of an echo chamber and Dario felt it reverberate around his brain. He dared not open his eyes, but knew it was Peter, a beat cop. The image in his mind was of a doughy face, under a crop of gray hair, a bit too long for regulation, sticking out from the wheel hat. Dario visualized him walking over and squatting, his belly, suffering from too many brauts at Camden Yards, barely contained in the blue uniform. Once one of Baltimore’s finest, now Peter prevented the homeless from harassing downtown workers. The personable cop found himself an unwitting participant of yet another Baltimore political scandal ten years ago and his career never recovered.
“You all move on now. He’ll be fine. Just got him a little headache. That’s it. Move on out.” Dario heard the whispers as people passed, but was barely cognizant beyond the wish Peter transport him to a dark hole. Although the summer morning was still cool, he felt a trickle of sweat run down his forehead and lodge in his right eyebrow. He noted Peter’s hand on his shoulder and a river of warmth under it, as though Peter poured hot water through his body. He breathed. He breathed again, this time deeper, praying the hand would stay.
“You want me to call 911?” Peter’s voice was soft, the words barely riding on the air delivering them.
“No,” Dario whispered, his lips hardly parted . He dared not engage his vocal chords and send resonations through his head. “In my briefcase. Get the Butalbital. He heard the clasp open, the pop of a pill bottle, then felt a pill roll into his waiting hand. He slipped it between his lips and swallowed.
“You take your time.” Peter’s hand moved to Dario’s head. “These headaches. This is the second time I’ve seen you with one.”
Dario nodded imperceptibly. Time slowed. The voices outside were white noise, distant. He heard conversation, probably about him, but found it incomprehensible. After a few moments, the pain eased its grip and now prickled needles into his brow. Peter moved his hand down to Dario’s shoulder. The relief was palpable and his body started to relax, releasing one muscle at a time. The sharp pains in his temple receded like a wave spent on the beach. He slumped against the wall.
“Shit, Peter. That was a bad one.” He opened one eye to the cop, feeling like he’d been in a fight and wasn’t sure who won.
“You seen the doc?”
“Yeh. They say it’s tension mixed maybe with a kind of migraine. Like what tension do I have?” Dario straightened himself up, but decided standing could wait a bit. “Great job, great girlfriends, money. Just these headaches. I’m better now.” He struggled to get up. Peter helped him to his feet and handed him the briefcase.
“I don’t remember you having them as a kid. Did you?” Peter looked at Dario, removed his cap, wiped his sleeve on his forehead and replaced it over salt and pepper hair. Dario looked into the gray eyes set in a pockmarked face, the nose too big, the moustache too small, the lines running like small craters on either side of his mouth. This was the cop who more often than not, got him out of trouble and ran interference with his mother.
“No. Just since Mom died. Weird, huh?”
Peter looked at the ground in a glance, then back up. “Dario, your mother was a good woman, not saying she wasn’t. Had a lot bringing you up alone, working at the factory. But, sometimes, I thought she might’ve forgotten you were a boy, not a man.”
Dario looked at Peter and wondered if the cop knew what life was like at home. If he knew how his mother chain smoked herself into cancer, went to church almost every day, wore black all the time, and talked about his father as if the man planned to get killed in Vietnam rather than come home and marry her.
Peter never met his grandparents from either side, her parents so shamed by the pregnancy; they bought her a house in Fells Point, on the edge of Little Italy, and told her to stay there. She was their pride, their only child. Once, after several glasses of wine, she told Dario her mother had a “female” problem and the Catholic family had to do with just her and all their hopes were pinned there. When his mother died, Dario went to the home in Little Italy, having had it pointed out to him, hoping for a reconciliation only to be told by an elderly lady that the Balduccis were deceased and she owned the house.
In middle school, Dario met several of his cousins and started making his own friends, busy when his mother wanted to do something. She must have resented him for it, although he was oblivious at the time. She must have felt abandoned yet again.
“So,” Peter interrupted Dario’s thoughts, “you best get on to work. Don’t want to waste all that college education!”
“Thanks Peter. See you later.” They shook hands and Peter headed to Fells Point.
Dario looked at his watch. Twenty minutes gone, although it seemed like hours. He walked over the bridge by the Power Plant, behind the Inner Harbor and into downtown. Taking the building’s entrance steps two at a time, he whisked through the revolving door, greeted the security guard and pushed the elevator button, peering at his hazy reflection in the brushed aluminum door.
“Hey, Dario! Do you look better blurred?” Tommy O’Donnell stood beside him. “Sort of like having three beers and the women just look better and better, huh?”
Dario laughed, the sound echoing in the glass and metal interior of the lobby. “Damn, Tommy, I’m so good looking, blurring could only make me better!”
The elevator doors opened and the two stepped in. “Are you dating that redhead? Or, is it the blonde accountant now? What’s her name? Sherry?” Tommy asked.
Dario shook his head, smiled and looked at the lights reflecting the changing floors. “No, I just can’t seem to get it right.” He certainly could not admit his failed conquest of the previous weekend. “Thought I’d look for a brunette. What’s your love life doing?”
The elevator opened on the twelfth floor and the two stepped out. “Kind of in the trashcan,” Tommy admitted. “Thought Kelly was the one, until she decided to marry Calvin.”
“Hm.” Dario gave the universal male approval. “Beer after work?”
“Yeh. Meet you here at six o’clock?”
The two parted and Dario walked to his “Assistant to the 5th Vice President’s” office. After a quick check in with his boss, he began phoning clients before attending a boring staff meeting, relieved only by the dynamite new financial analyst sitting across the board room table from him. He stared at her lush dark brown hair, the tendrils escaping from her French twist curling seductively down her long neck to the collar on the grey silk shirt beneath her deep grey power suit jacket.
The afternoon alternated between creating a way to meet her and analyzing a company sure to go down the tubes. At five forty-five, mentally whipped, he went in search of Tommy and crossed paths with the buxom distraction from his otherwise non-descript day.
“I’m sorry.” He pulled his fingers through his hair, one lock falling back onto his forehead. “I’m Dario Balducci, the token Italian,” he smiled what he knew was a charming smile. “I don’t think we were properly introduced today.”
“Sophie Cappenada. I remember you from the meeting.” Sophie’s suit was well-tailored, revealing, but not provocative, the blouse hiding anything interesting. She was close to his height and smiled straight at him. Women generally did not do that, and it unnerved him a bit, forcing him to keep his gaze on her eyes, rather than her chest.
“Nice to meet you, Sophie.” Something twinged in his neck and he grimaced, but managed to change it to a smile. “You look like someone…..” He went to reach for her hand which had not been proffered, and she turned to walk away, glancing back.
“Nice to meet you, too.” There was nothing particularly sexy in her walk, Dario noted, although her legs were awesome. The skirt was not too tight. The jacket hung over her hips just enough to hide all but the most blatant of female strides. She was not flirting with him.
Dario steeled himself not to stare at her receding figure, but couldn’t rip his eyes away. Tommy strolled up.
“Forget it, Dude,” Tommy laughed. He took Dario’s chin and turned it toward him. “She’s been warned off by the entire female staff. I think you may be the fifth guy to hit on her today. The rest of us are holding out for tomorrow.” Tommy grinned, his freckles and short red hair in stark contrast to Dario’s complexion. “How about that beer?”
“Yeh, right. Let me just lock up.”
The two men walked through the damp dusk of a clearing sky, the seagulls screaming, to a small pub off the Inner Harbor. The McDonalds across the street smelled of French fries and mixed nicely with the KFC on the other corner.
Neither wanted to talk about their dismal love life and work was too boring, so they stared companionably at the bottles behind the bar. The bartender brought two beers and a bowl of peanuts.
“I gotta try again.” Dario spoke for the first time, popping two nuts in his mouth.
“Good luck. Rumor has it she’s engaged or a lesbian or something.”
“They spread lies like that to be left alone.”
Tommy looked over at him. “So, is it the challenge or are you just anxious to have your face planted in the mud?”
“I don’t know. Something about her makes me want to try. See you tomorrow.” Dario shoved his stool back, left money on the bar and walked out, leaving Tommy to stare after him.
At home, Dario shed his jacket and tie and went upstairs. He took his mother’s picture off the dresser and stared. Now, he was sure. Sophie looked just like her with dark hair, deep brown eyes that hinted of mischief, a trim, but nicely proportioned physique with the emphasis on top. And those legs.
Something squeezed between his shoulder blades and he felt the muscle tension crawl up his neck. “Aaaaaa!” He stumbled to the bed just as the vice arrived at his temple.
He concentrated on the pain, willing it to go back. He thought of Peter and pretended the cop sat next to him, his hand on his forehead. Time passed until he either passed out or went to sleep. He was never sure which. When he woke, it was dark outside and he was on the couch, not the bed. What did he do when the pain started? He couldn’t remember a thing except the pain. The clock said 10:00 p.m. He finished undressing and hit the mattress, asleep before he could pull the covers up.
The next morning, he showered, dressed and decided to eat out. He grabbed a bagel and orange juice at the Fells Point Bakery. It was warmer than the day before, the June heat and humidity coming swelling each day. Opening his office door, he determined to find Sophie sometime during the day. He knew her division. A reason would present itself. Such things always did.
Deep into analysis of a new client’s requirements, he heard a voice from his office door.
“Dario, isn’t it?”
“Uhhhh, yes.” He looked up and saw his mother. He blinked. A knot tightened his right shoulder. Sophie stood there with a folder full of papers.
“Are you okay?” She walked in and looked down into his eyes. “My God, you are white as a sheet! I’ll get help!”
“No, no.” He held up a hand and leaned back in his chair. “It’s okay. Just a headache that comes on every now and then.” The throbbing made it hard for him to hear and harder to speak. “Did you need something?”
“My boss suggested we work on this client together, and I needed to stretch my legs. So, thought I’d make a personal visit. You sure you’re okay? Why are you looking at me like that?”
Dario tried to pull his eyes back into his head and squeezed his temple with his fingers. “Sorry, you really remind me of someone.” His golden opportunity stood directly in front of him and he could hardly talk.
“Must have been someone you really hated.” Sophie smirked. “Do you have time tomorrow morning? Maybe about 9:30? Here’s some info to get you started.” She dropped a folder on his desk and it sounded like a boulder crashing through a tin roof.
“Yeh,” he pressed his temple again and looked down at the calendar. “9:30 would be great.”
“Okay. Tomorrow. You’re sure you’re okay?”
“Yeh, thanks, I’ll be fine.”
When she left, Dario got up and closed the office door. Someone he hated? He returned to his desk. He’d loved his mother. He took a deep breath. The pain was receding. At least he hadn’t blacked out this time.
Dario stopped at Scala’s Italian grocery on the way home for a container of Mrs. Scala’s homemade spaghetti sauce and a chilled bottle of Chianti. He walked in his kitchen, a hodge-podge of themes from the past. The chipped porcelain sink sported rust water stains. The wire towel racks hung loose from their moorings on the wall. The stove was the latest thing in 1962 and now two of its four burners managed heat. The avocado green refrigerator hummed like a giant bumble bee. He looked back at the garbage bags put the beer bottles by the recliner in it and took it out to the curb. This felt good for some reason.
He went upstairs, changed into shorts and a T-shirt, then loaded all the dirty clothes into two laundry bags. He called the neighbor boy, Danny, and said he’d give him two bucks to run it to the cleaners. The doorbell rang within 30 seconds.
Back in the kitchen, he located some Dawn under the sink, left by Darlene, that girlfriend who insisted on “cleaning him up,” and did the dishes. Why did women always think they had to help him along? Clean his house, tell him what kind of clothes to wear? Tell him how to live?
With the kitchen now open enough to cook, he boiled the pasta in one pan, heated the sauce in another and opened the bottle of wine. He assembled the feast in a large bowl and grated Parmesan cheese over it. The rich tomato sauce mixed with the cheese overcame the lingering smell of beer. He opened the front door for some fresh air, scooted up the same chair he’d sat in all his life and looked across to where his mother once ate her meals. He took a bite, relishing the fresh tomato sauce with fresh basil and oregano, He looked out through the front door screen, a remembered conversation coming to mind.
“Mom, why did we never leave here? Why did you stay when your family was so mean to you?”
“It was safe.” His mother took a drag on the cigarette and exhaled the smoke to Dario’s left, the cloud expanding to the living room. “There were riots. The Inner Harbor was rundown houses and homeless people in the Sixties.” Dario could hear her grating smoker’s voice and how it made him think her throat was made of sandpaper. “My father and the other men got up on the roofs in Little Italy with guns to keep the rioters out. I’ll never forget that. You don’t mess with Little Italy. I don’t know anywhere that safe, so here we are.”
Dario had heard the story of the riots many times when he was small. He knew if he left his bike outside for the night, it would still be there the next morning.
“Mom, I’ve met this woman who is so much like you.” A sip of the Chianti brought Mom more into focus and he noted her hair needed coloring again. A cigarette dangled from her lip. She took a drag, then went into a coughing fit. Dario waited for her to contain herself.
“Well,” his mother said, her voice raising an octave, her finger waving, “she better be just like me. That’s what I told you, remember?” She glared at him, screeched the chair back and stood over him. “I mean, who is going to take care of you, get you out of trouble, cook for you, clean for you? You don’t know how good you got it.”
“I remember Mom.” The spasm in his shoulder hesitated a second before traveling on to his neck.
“You know what happens to little boys who don’t do what their mother tells them.” Now, she was leaning over him, yelling.
“Uh-huh.” Dario knew his mother wasn’t there, but he could still hear her voice. “Jesus will punish you!” A long finger pointed at the crucified bleeding Jesus over the front door. A streak of pain climbed up the back of his head. He pushed back the chair so fast, it fell.
“Don’t you forget, Dario!” came behind him as he backed to the couch. The pain arrived from a great distance, it seemed, as though on the reins of a far away handler, until the grip on his forehead was absolute. Blackness ensued. When he opened his eyes, his body was soaked with sweat and he lay on his bed, upstairs. The room appeared ransacked. He sat up, looked around, then swung off the bed and staggered downstairs. All was in order. Danny, his mission to the cleaners complete, played in the street.
He went back up to the bedroom to survey the damage. Books littered the floor. Drawers hung open with their previous contents draped on the bed, a chair and the floor. Clothes hangers hung askew in the closet, their burden discarded. The dresser was swept clean of all its items including his mother’s picture, which lay broken in its frame in the corner. Only the small, perfectly wrapped package sat there.
Dario picked it up, sat on the bed and turned it over in his hands. He knew what was in it, and had for the five years since his mother died.
“Dario,” she said. “This is my wedding ring that I never got to wear. I want you to give it to the right woman. She should be just like me and take care of you just like me. Do you understand? You two live in this house so I can keep an eye on the both of you.”
“Sure, Mom” was his reply, not really caring who she thought he should marry and not realizing she would be dead in three months.
He squinted now, as though seeing something he wasn’t quite sure of. The conversation didn’t end there, he remembered now. She continued to lecture on the hardships she endured on his behalf, what she gave up in not marrying, how unfair it was his father died in Vietnam. Dario was so lucky to have her and all the sacrifices she had made for him. And, he thought, she wanted him to marry someone like her?
It wasn’t the first lecture. He always sat quietly through them, hoping if he did not speak, she would hug him, maybe even say she loved him. Mrs. Delmonico hugged him his whole life, always saying he was such a good boy. He thought of her heavy arms and the warm bosom that smelled of baby powder. However, his mother was not the affectionate type and most lectures ended with a slap on the back of the head, which Dario took as disgust. He squeezed the box, crushing it in his hands.
There’d been other headaches, other belts across the back of the head. The words resounded now in his skull. “I take the best care of you, and look what you do to your poor mother. You should act like a man.” He winced in anticipation of a flying ashtray, then relaxed when he realized nothing was coming.
Dario blinked, the headaches and memories melding together. How could he have forgotten her rage at him? The screaming, vases and dishes flying across the room. Her pointing at Jesus on the cross that hung over every doorway, over every bed, as if Dario was on a personal vendetta to shame the Lord. He’d run and hide in his closet where, for some reason, she never ventured. Maybe that’s where she wanted him. Out of sight, out of mind. Under control, but in her possession.
He pulled the ribbon on the package. Picking the wrapping from the box, then taking the lid off, he dropped the gold band into his hand. It was inscribed with the date his father was to come home from Vietnam.
“No more, Mom. No more.” He picked up his mother’s picture, together with the wedding band, walked downstairs and out the front door to the marble steps. The moon was full, the air fresh from an early evening shower. A raven cawed from the roof across the street. He trotted down the steps to a grate in the gutter.
He debated. The ring might be worth something. It was a tie to his father. The father whose fault it was he existed. The father without whom his mother would not have been burdened with a small child. The father….he let his thoughts trail off realizing his mother had placed so many faults at his father’s feet. The rest lay at Dario’s.
He almost dropped the ring through the grate. He looked at the picture in his other hand. He had lots of pictures of his mother somewhere in the attic, but this one she insisted he have on his dresser.
A stray dog ran past and startled him. The picture slipped from his fingers. The brace in the back of the frame caught and it dangled on the grate, swaying precariously. Dario reached down and retrieved it. He straightened up, feeling somehow relieved. He could control his life. All the muscles in his back relaxed, as though a wire holding them snapped.
He walked back in the house and looked at the kitchen clock. It was only 9:30. He picked up the glass of Chianti and took a big swallow. Some changes were in order.
He called his boss. “Hi Greg, this is Dario.”
“Hi there! What’s up?”
“I need to take tomorrow off. Something serious happened in my family. I want to put the house on the market and check out some other places to live.”
“Wow. Something drastic?”
“No, not drastic, but it needs to be done right away.” Dario paused, wishing he could tell Greg the whole story, but decided to keep it to himself.
“Oh, I have a meeting with that new woman, Sophie. I think she might be better off with Lori. Better match of assets for the client’s portfolio.” Dario stared out the front window watching the lights of passing cars.
“Okay. I’ll take care of it in the morning. Dario, you sure you’re okay? Nothing I can do to help?”
“No, I just opened a small package and it had a big surprise that I knew about all along. I’ll be fine. And thanks, Greg.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line. Dario hoped Greg wouldn’t ask too much more and realized, belatedly, his last statement made no sense at all.
“Gotcha, Dario. See you on Monday, then?”
“Yep. Good night.”
Dario hung up the phone and even though it was not yet 10:00 at night, he felt like the sun should be rising. His shoulders loosened, his heart felt like a helium balloon and he wondered if he could fly. Instead, he gazed at the lofts under construction inside an old factory across the harbor. He could live in one of those. Something modern.
He shook his head, the realization of his mother’s control from the grave appalling him. And now, how little it took to free him and it was sitting right there on the dresser all the time in a small, gift-wrapped package. Thoughts of Sherry swam across his mind, her slow, lilting words, and her inviting remoteness.
He wondered if the bakery was still open. If they had gingerbread cookies, he was going to buy a bunch and eat all the heads.