THIRD INTERMISSION – Lena’s Song*
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“No peeking,” he whispered in her ear, folding his calloused hands over her eyes and guiding her from the front door into the living room where he gently pushed her down on an unfamiliar piece of furniture, a small bench her searching fingers told her, tight buttons stitched into shallow depressions in the upholstery, like a…
“What is it? What is it?!” she cried, heart thumping against her ribs like a dog’s heavy tail.
“As promised,” he said, his hands falling away.
The black lacquer finish had been polished to a mirror shine and her dumbstruck face shimmied in its light, a shelf of gleaming white and black keys beckoning below that impossible arrangement of elegant letters:
STEINWAY & SONS
“Oh my god, Tym,” she gasped, joy irrigating her eyes and overflowing down her cheeks. She looked over it him leaning in the doorway, arms crossed, a self-satisfied smirk hacked from the tough tissue of his jaw, and shrieked, “A Steinway! For me?!”
“Sure as hell ain’t for me.” Launching herself across the room, she tackled him through the door, legs wrapped around his waist, and unleashed a barrage of sloppy kisses that left his face and neck slick with spit and lipstick. “Brand new!” he crowed, holding her effortlessly in his powerful arms.
She put a finger to his lips to shush him, quite certain a closer inspection would reveal the telltale signs of prior ownership. What did she care? She’d been letting Tymothy’s “brand new” thing slide for so long (except that time he brought home matching satin bathrobes monogramed with other people’s initials) she was hardly going to call him out on it now. Not when for the first time since she was a girl, since before the fire, she at long last had her own piano. No more housecleaning over at Father Waylon’s rectory in exchange for private play time on his baby grand, no more sneaking a few notes off Penelope Galloway’s old jalopy of a piano, it’s discolored keys sticky from the pawing of her three monstrous little boys.
And, however unfulfilled most of Tymothy’s other promises remained, he had made good on this one. The most important one. And what if this was just the beginning? That next he might announce they were moving to the city? Finally leaving this miserable little house in the shadow of the steel mill, so forsaken it was outcast from the other three miserable little houses on the street and none had been built beyond it. The way he was looking at her now, that bright eyed way he’d once always looked at her, the world so big and boundless, she considered fellating him right then and there, on her knees with him holding her head in a basketball grip setting the rhythm just the way he liked.
But Tymothy had always been several steps ahead of where he actually was. From an early age he rejected the presumption that, just like his father and grandfather before him, he would go straight from high school (graduation optional) to work in the mill, “good honest money for good honest work” the family mantra went.
“So what are you going to do instead, big shot?” said his mother frostily who, having never received the ‘Don’t Favor One Child over the Other’ memo, was balancing his older brother Hank on her knee and stroking his chest with her fingertips like he was a human harp.
“Yeah, what?” chimed in Hank who full on embraced his destiny and had recently taken to marching around the house in his little hardhat emblazoned with ‘Jerusalem Steel’ dispensing instructions and advice to imaginary coworkers after his father had brought him (and definitely not “that little peckerhead” Tymothy) to the mill on a 1940s version of Take Your Child to Work Day.
It was a good question and, sitting on the hard linoleum in the middle of the kitchen floor, Tymothy buried a finger knuckle-deep up his nose to consider the problem. The answer came a couple days later when a radio program came on about Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. Tymothy and Hank didn’t really follow, but what Tymothy gleaned from their father’s gruff explanation was 1. Danger: Yeager was a daredevil (a test pilot), 2. Mystery: working in secret (for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), forerunner of NASA), 3. Thrills: who had flown a rocket ship (a rocket engine-powered aircraft) faster than voices (the speed of sound: 343 meters per second = 767 mph = Mach 1) almost as high as the moon (45,000 feet). Their father, a GI in the war who’d fought and fornicated his way up the Italian peninsula from Salerno to Anzio while the “pretty flyboys” loafed around in their bomber jackets smoking pipes, frowned at Tymothy’s delighted clapping and smiled when Hank, noticing, served up a tonsils-exposing yawn. He had only grudgingly tolerated the broadcast in the first place because Yaeger was a fellow West Virginian without a college education.
Didn’t matter. After a fitful night’s sleep dreaming of rockets and the moon, Tymothy awoke bursting at the seams with the right stuff and announced, “I’m going to be a daredevil,” at breakfast.
“Sure,” said his mother, pinching his ear and giving his head a shake, “you and half the other boys in America this morning. Test pilots have nerves of steel, Tym.”
“Yeah, chicken,” snickered Hank, distilling what was being implied here, their mother’s preferred tactic of indirect insult by comparison one she would liberally deploy over the coming years.
- Jeremy Deacon is so nice and polite (you’re not)
- Bennet gave everyone an A (except you)
- Football players need to be mentally tough (unlike you)
- What a beautiful Christmas present Hank (yours not so much)
- That Gideon Pippin will be a real heartbreaker one day (you won’t)
As undeterred and resolute as he was setting out, “I’m not half the other boys in America”, this persistent needling ever corroborated by his brother’s bluster and his father’s roaring silence, whittled down the blade of his ambition until, by the time he approached the end of high school where he’d performed lamentably both in the classroom (not for lack of brains but an overabundance of impatience) and on the football field (not for lack of a big strapping body, well suited to work in the mill his mother liked to remind him, but an underabundance of athletic ability), what had once been a mighty sword was now more of a pocketknife. But still a knife since there was still no fucking way he was going to work in that fucking mill. He may not be going to NASA or the Air Force or anywhere else terribly interesting for that matter but, barring a meteor strike, he was at least going to get the fuck out of Hillsborough and live in the city as God was his witness.
Or, as Lena was his witness, as it turned out.
To be continued…
*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at: http://bit.ly/2u7rqcL
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