The Fat Girl
Colin Morra, in a rage, reached across the bar, picked up a full bottle of whiskey, smashed it against Frank Ricci’s forehead, and killed him. Frank was his best friend for almost twenty years. He saw Frank’s chin hit the rim of the ancient alcohol-stained and cigarette-burnt wooden bar; his body slid off the bar stool, then continued slumping to the floor. Colin stared pop-eyed at what just happened and dived down to prevent Frank’s head from hitting the floor. Sitting in a puddle of whisky, blood, and broken glass, Colin cradled Frank’s head in his arms and rocked up and back, crying rivers of tears, snot running out of his nose. Frank stared at nothing through lifeless eyes, blood running out of one ear. Yells of “call 911,” “call the police,” and “holy shit” rang through the bar. Some customers ran out thinking it was best for them not to “take a meeting” with the police.
The E.M.T. arrived, lifted Frank off Colin’s lap, placed him on a gurney and slid him into the ambulance. The police arrived immediately after. One wordlessly lifted Colin off the floor dripping with whiskey, glass, tears, and blood, tied his arms behind his back with a plastic strip, walked him to the waiting squad car and gently, with one hand holding the top of his head, placed him in the back seat. The other policeman stayed behind to take statements. The fight was over a woman.
Colin and Frank grew up together in a working class/out-of work-class Irish/German/Italian section of Brooklyn. It’s an insular crime-free neighborhood. Blacks and Hispanics enter at their peril. Five years ago two men came into the area to sell drugs, one is still in a coma and the other walks with a noticeable limp due to the loss of a kneecap. Most of the area is made up of small one-family and two-family attached homes, clad in worn-out aluminum siding, built before anyone can remember, old and rundown thirty years ago. They have small front and back yards that were cemented over after grass refused to grow in such a depressed environment. The front areas of many homes display “Madonna and Child” plaster statues, American flags, black M.I.A. flags and the ubiquitous garbage can. The neighborhood has one of the highest rates of men and women in the armed forces, not due to any all-inspiring sense of patriotism, but because it’s the only means of employment for many young people.
There are many four story walk-up apartment buildings in the area of the same vintage and condition as the private homes. Inside, the vestibules are all decorated with broken mailboxes and doors with smoked, decorated glass that was last seen in your granny’s house. Many staircases are painted the same brown lacquer. The rest of the hallways were never painted in any resident’s lifetime. If you are a fan of linoleum you’ll find it here as a stair runner. The rents were deservedly low except in the cases when the government paid it all. Most of the people in the area who had jobs worked in construction, non union, “off the books”. The highest one could aspire to was a city job that some obtained by doing odd jobs for the local politico—some of the jobs were considered very odd by other’s standards, but everyone has to eat. In this neighborhood everyone smiles and looks the other way.
Colin’s mother was a waitress and worked all hours, leaving him on his own. His father went out for the proverbial “pack of cigarettes” when he was six and no one saw him again. Frank had both a mother and a father at home. What the father did to put food on the table, no one knew, including Frank. His mother worked at night as a cleaning woman in an office building.
Colin and Frank met in third grade and ran in the streets together along with the Gallo Brothers (Gary & Larry), Jimmy Conner, Zack Burke and Donny Sutton. They are still friends today. Colin has quiet, unassuming looks, black hair, a baby face and is a natural born follower. Frank is tall, thin, with a faced scarred by his former acne. All of them were undistinguished in every way. They got into their regular quota of street fights, petty theft (not in their own neighborhood), and vandalism. In other words, they were regular neighborhood boys. School played a very marginal role in their lives.
In eighth grade Stephanie Zukowsky transferred into their class. She was instantly the butt of all jokes and the object of derision. All of it directed openly. It was to be expected in this situation. Number one, she was the new girl, number two, she was fat, number three, nature’s natural cruelty burns brightest at this age. The girls joined in, happy not to be the victim. Stephanie bore this with the outer crust of one who was inured to it from experience. She kept to herself as she had no choice. She was a good student.
Frank dropped out of school his junior year to help out at home, and Colin, seeing no reason for the need of a high school diploma, followed him. They both took the neighborhood’s usual path, low end, low pay, construction jobs, spending their free time (which they had plenty of) in Muldoon’s with their friends drinking whiskey and beer and betting on sports games. They were well on their way to replicating their parents’ lives. A favorite bet was on the basketball tournament, where they pooled their money. The winner gets all and the one with the most losses must do a humiliating deed. The N.C.A.A. quarter finals were on, the bets were made, and Frankie decreed that the humiliating deed of the loser would be one date with Stephanie Zukowsky.
“Is she still around?” Someone said, to much laughter.
“Yeah, yeah I saw her walking down the street last week fatter than ever.” More laughter followed, everyone put up their money and placed their bets.
Colin lost and had to take his punishment. He had to bring her to Muldoon’s on a date so that his friends could watch his embarrassment.
Colin put it off as long as his buddies allowed, but he knew he had to pay up. “I might as well get it over with,” he thought. He couldn’t take the constant razzing. He bit the bullet and called her. “Hello, Mrs. Zukowsky? Is Stephanie there? I’m an old friend from school. Tell her Colin, Colin Morra.” A few seconds later “Stephanie, hi, it’s Colin Morra. Do you remember me from school?”
“Sure I do. What do you want?”
“Well, I thought maybe we can go out some time.”
“You want to take me out, like on a date?” She answered suspiciously.
“Yeah, a date.”
“Where would we go?” She asked, very much on her guard.
“How about Muldoon’s?”
“It’s O.K. and the food ain’t bad.” He said
“When?” She asked, still suspicious.
“How about tomorrow night at eight?”
“Well, O.K.” She answered in her wary voice.
“I’ll meet you on the corner in front of your house, O.K.?”
“O.K.” She answered, “But don’t stand me up for a joke”
“C’mon, would I do something like that?”
“Maybe,” she answered.
“I’ll see you tomorrow at eight for sure. You got my word,” he said and hung up with a big sigh.
In a leather jacket, jeans, and a knit hat pulled over his ears he waited in the cold. She came out of her building bundled up in a fake fur overcoat; it made her look like a short bear. When she smiled, her cheeks puffed out and her eyes closed to slits just like in high school. “Hi Colin.”
He echoed the “hi” with a tone of resignation. She had the same tight curls and short cropped hairdo and when she turned he could see the bristles of hair on the nape of her neck before it was stopped at the border of a crease leading into a short mound of fat. She was as unappealing as he remembered her. They walked silently four blocks to Muldoon’s.
Taking a deep breath, he opened the door for her and they entered the dimly lit beer-smelling bar. He saw his pals sitting on the bar stools slapping each other on the back, having great howling laughs at his embarrassment. He steered her to the rearmost table, the one partially hidden from the room. They took off their coats, and sat facing each other. She leaned over the table and said with a sneer. “What a bunch of assholes. You still hang out with those moronic pricks?”
“They’re ok, don’t pay any attention to them.”
“I don’t know why you asked me out, but whatever the reason, I’m glad you did. You were the nicest guy in the class. You never joined in calling me names.”
He just nodded, not knowing what to say to this compliment. “What do you do now? You got a job or what?”
“Well,” he stammered, slightly embarrassed, “I do some part time construction work, non union, and some odd jobs here and there.”
“You know Colin, I watched you in school, you were very smart, you shouldn’t have dropped out, you could have graduated, and maybe even gone to college.”
“Nah. Me? Not a chance.” They ordered cheeseburgers, fries, and beers from a smiling waiter, who was in on the joke. “What do you do?”
“I work at N.B.C., in the mail room. I sort and deliver the mail to the T.V. people and the news people, answer the phone sometimes, and sometimes get coffee for some celebrities. I went to a two year college, now two nights a week I go to computer school.” “No kidding. That’s great.”
“I’m going to make a life for myself. I’m not going to live like my mother in this shit neighborhood all my life,” she said. He was listening to every word; no one ever spoke to him like this before. He listened to her for another hour and the time passed quickly, as if he was speaking to an old friend. They got up to leave and, passing the bar on the way out, he saw that his friends had already left. She put her hand through his arm as he walked her home, into her building, up three flights of stairs full of cooking odors, to her door. She unlocked the door, turned to him and gave him an ardent but tender kiss on his lips. “I have computer class tomorrow. Let’s go out the day after, eight o’clock again. O.K.? This time I’ll pick the place, No more shithole bars.”
“O.K.” He answered. She entered her apartment. closed and locked the door and left him in the hallway, totally bewildered.