A crowd of American Legion Auxiliaries was consoling Julia by the holy card table. The undertaker stood over the corpse and after a discrete glance over his left shoulder, reached down and decisively grabbed Paul’s mother’s breasts and snapped them back into place. He stepped back slightly to admire his work and then, stroking her hair once he turned to a deeply awed Paul and winked.
[I think 'snapped' is the wrong word here. Pushed, manhandled,
rolled, something less 'sharp' YK?]
This ambiguous and disturbing wink was many years in the future from Paul’s favorite childhood memory of his mother. One 6th grade morning, he gingerly approached her as she dipped the fifth tea bag into her bracing morning cup. [This sounds as if she used 5 tea bags for ONE cup of tea. Do you meant she had already drunk 4 cups?] On a second saucer were two slices of cinnamon and butter toast and on a third saucer, placed so they would get neither buttery nor wet, were four aspirins. Paul waited until she had quaffed half of the scalding cup in one long gulp and taken a long drag from her cigarette; he knew that she didn’t really open her eyes to the world until that moment. He then presented her with his holy card and his request.
His mother listened, frowned, looked at the picture, then turned it over and said “You want to dress up as Bernard Dolan 1893 –1951, for Halloween?”
“No. As Saint Patrick. See, in the picture. He’s standing on a snake.”
His mother sighed as she gazed at the picture. She took another sip of tannin. Paul could see the thoughts pouring across her face. Cost, effort, cost, effort, cost, effort….[Is his Mom religous? Will she care about peoples reactions? HAving been raised a Catholic, I can tell you my mother would have had some other concerns besides cost and effort, though this says volumes about his mother!) Finally, to his surprise and delight, she said Yes.
“All right, I’ll do it. When’s Halloween?”
His mother sighed again, picked up the saucer with the aspirins, and poured them into her hand. She tossed all four into her mouth, then she took another swig of tea and held it in her mouth long enough to start dissolving the aspirin, in order to savor the bitterness. She swallowed and took a decisive drag from her cigarette.
“All right. I’ll put something together. Now you better go to school.”
“It’s Sunday, Mom.”
“Then go to church.”
Paul retreated from his mother’s morning solitude, chest tingling with victory. [I like that, 'chest tingling'] An hour later, she roused herself to action. In a cupboard with a stuck door, she found some old green curtains. From Paul’s father’s starched white shirts, lying folded at attention in their drawer she extracted several good-sized pieces of light green cardboard. She measured, cut and sewed, encouraging her reluctant long unused sewing machine like she was driving a rusty Model T down a dirt road. As the costume began to come together she found that she was enjoying herself and she entirely forgot to eat lunch. Finishing her sewing in the early afternoon, she had rushed out to Steiner’s, the local five and dime on Madison Street, for a few essential accessories. [Open on Sunday?] Returning home, she found her mother and Olivetta in her kitchen. Having been alerted by Paul that morning his mother was working at her sewing machine, they had happened to drop by. Olivetta was just drying the breakfast dishes and her mother was rinsing off what appeared to be some spades in the sink. The look of hope and joy in Paul’s face at her arrival had caused her to put aside her perturbation and she swept up the bag within which she had earlier placed the costume and taking Paul by the hand, led him to his room. [this sentence is just a little hard to figure out. Could you simplify it?]
She emerged with a “Why don’t you wait there and surprise your father” over her right shoulder as she quietly closed his door. Olivetta and Grandma were sitting quietly at the dining room table. Paul’s mother ignored them, went into the kitchen, and came out with a large cut glass tumbler filled with ice. As she snapped open the doors of the liquor cabinet, they heard the key turn in the front door as Paul’s father came in. He walked into the dining room and greeted his wife with a “Hi Hun” and the two grim women glaring at the liquor cabinet with “Hi ladies. Are we having a party?”
“Paul has something to show you” said his wife, as Paul’s door cracked open and he peeked out. “I made him a costume.”
The hat that Paul’s father was placing on the table paused in midair.
“You made him a costume?” His eyes darted to the bedroom door.
With a most pleased look on his face, a fully costumed Paul promenaded out into the dining room wearing his mother’s gold bedroom slippers. Paul’s mother ignored the gasps from the old women, and beaming with a pleasure almost as great as Paul’s own, took an ice clinking sip of her scotch.
Paul’s father was delighted too. “Nice mitre”, he said, of the beautiful green hat that almost doubled Paul’s height.
“How many snakes do you think you have there, son?”
“Over forty”, said Paul.
But it wasn’t the snakes that impressed the two old women as much as the flamingos and palm trees that were worked into the green fabric of the saint’s regal gown and cape. Olivetta recognized the curtains that she had given as a wedding present, a fact that had slipped Paul’s mother’s mind until that very moment.
[Oh, that' just perfect!]
“I think that a drink is in order”, said Paul’s father. Paul began to shuffle around the dining room table, raising his snakes in benediction and in a low stentorian voice recited the Confiteor in Latin. As much as Grandma thought that he looked like Zora the Snake Charmer, she had to admit that he was pretty cute. Olivetta’s lips clamped together in simmering Christian charity.
“Mom”, asked Paul, interrupting his chant, “Are there any snakes in Ireland now?”
“No, sweetie”, replied his mother, pouring a real scotch for Grandma and a virgin one for Olivetta.
“No flamingos, either”, muttered Olivetta, under her breath. But this little comment was the only one she made about the costume that evening. She didn’t flinch when Paul had her try on the mitre and didn’t seem to notice when Paul’s father said that she looked like the Queen of Spades. She even began to relax a bit from the effects of her virgin scotch and was in good spirits by the time that Paul, gently reminded by his mother, made his final bedtime round of the room, kissing the women on the cheek and giving his father a hug.
“It’s nice to see him so happy like that”, said Grandma as she and Olivetta stood at the door to leave.
“Yes it is” agreed Paul’s mother.
“Have him stop by to see us tomorrow before he starts out”, said Olivetta.
“Oh, I will. But I don’t think I will have to remind him. You’re his favorite aunt.”
For the briefest of moments Olivetta looked unsettled, and then she beamed.
“Take care, now”, said Paul’s mother as the two women went down the stairs.
She stood on the landing listening to them descend. She heard the television go on in her living room and the thump of Paul’s father pushing back the reclining chair. She waited for the click-bang of the security door opening and closing in the lobby, and then she went back into the apartment.
“I’m going to check on Paul. Do you want anything?”
“No thanks, Hun.”
She went to Paul’s room and silently opened the door and let herself in. His room had the familiar smell of boysweat and incense. When her eyes adjusted to the light, she realized with a start that she
was lying there on his back wearing costume and mitre, hands folded over his chest. She came closer, caught her breath and waited in the diffuse night-light coming in through the drawn curtains. His chest moved. Silly, she said to herself and she reached down and carefully removed the hat and then lifted him gently by the shoulders and pulled him up to the pillow. He sighed and snorted once, but didn’t wake up. She gazed into his sleeping face for a moment. Then she stood up and glancing around the room at his vast collection of religious paraphernalia (Holy Hardware, her husband called it) she murmured, my son, my strange little boy, and at that moment felt a welling in her chest of affection and pride. She glanced back at his face and his little hand that now clutched the edge of his robe. With a thoughtful look, she turned and left the room.
“Darling”, she said, as she entered the living room “come sit on the sofa with me.”
Halloween dawned and Paul could hardly eat his breakfast for his excitement. His father offered to drive him to school that morning, since he had both his books and the bags with his costume.
“I know you’re excited, but take care that you don’t wake your mother on the way out.”
Paul’s costume was the hit of the school costume party. The nuns would not let him put on the dangerous loose slippers, but they took him from room to room to show him off, ending up at the principal’s office. The principal herself took him to the rectory to show the pastor. Interrupted by this unexpected intrusion on his meditations, Pastor Fahey quickly put down his magazine, stubbed out his cigarette, and threw on a black coat over his dickey and white sleeves.
“Why it’s Zora the Snake Charmer!” he exclaimed with a smile. “Wonderful!”
“No”, said the principal in the clipped tone that the pastor found so damned intimidating. “This is St. Patrick.”
“Ah. The snakes. The mitre. The green. Did your mother make you this costume?”
Paul was in utter awe at his first visit to the pastor’s own office in the pastor’s own house. This was the very room to which his grandfather had been summoned for a friendly chat with the old pastor, Father O’Naill. His grandfather had been a large red-faced man, the pastor a small dark man. But when his shaken grandfather had emerged from the interview, he found that his desire for alcohol had diminished to such a degree that Grandma never again had to call a desk sergeant on a Sunday morning to find out what Grandpa wanted to have for dinner that evening. Paul mumbled something.
“What’s that, my son?”
Paul blushed and stammered, “Yes, father." [Father]
"Well, it’s Halloween and you deserve a treat." The priest glanced at the pack of cigarettes on his desk and realized that he didn’t have anything at hand to give the boy.
"Wait", he said "I’ll look in my box of treats."
He walked over to a cabinet and pulled out a shoebox, the church lost and found for non-clothing items of some value. He rummaged hopefully through the key chains, smelling salts, dentures, wedding rings; a brown object that he realized with a wince was a sap; a pipe; something, something…
"Ah, here we are." The priest flashed an impish smile at the principal and pulled out an exquisite sterling cross on a chain; French workmanship and style, very old.
The principal’s jaw dropped open.
"Um, don’t you think the owner will miss that?"
"Probably would. But my predecessors used to keep a log of this stuff and I happen to know that this item has been sitting in this box since Prohibition. Who better to give it to than the Patron Saint of Ireland?"
The old nun started to say something, then clamped her jaw shut as she enviously watched the smiling priest hand the cross to the delighted boy. The boy mumbled something.
[Delighted boys don't usually mumble]
"What’s that, my son?"
"Thank you, father."
The nun touched the boy’s shoulder and they turned towards the door. But Paul stopped and whispered something to the nun.
"What? Well, ask him yourself."
"Father, can I have the blessing?"
"Um, sure." Father Fahey had forgotten that all Catholic children wanted the blessing as often as possible, which is why it would take him up to 30 minutes to walk across the small schoolyard if he was stupid enough to try to do it during recess.
"I bless you in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
[Again, I grew up Catholic. We said, ' in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.'
"Amen", said Paul.
Paul reported to his Grandma’s promptly after school. Cabbage, carrots and potatoes boiled away in Grandma’s nightly rendition of the Irish flag, and her antiquated broiler had already raised the overall temperature of the apartment by 10 degrees. Olivetta was there and Paul proudly showed both women his new cross that he was now wearing.
"Very nice" said Olivetta. "I buried my mother in one just like it. Very nice." [this is what makes this so great. All the hidden little touches!]
Olivetta presented Paul with a green cloth trick or treat bag that complemented his outfit. Grandma secured the gold slippers to his insteps with rubber bands and declared the costume complete. Then at Paul’s request, she sent Paul [ him, cause we know it's Paul and it seems repetitive.]next door to show Julia, Olivetta following primly behind.
The door of the Julia’s apartment was ajar and they heard the banging of the steam radiators inside.
"Flagellating herself, no doubt" said Julia under her breath. They knocked, then knocked again, and then pushed the door open and called in.
The first thing that appeared was the horses charging sound of Julia’s blind 24 year old bulldog Popo, who heard the call with his one remaining ear and came bouncing into the kitchen on his toes, barking his biteless bark. He headed toward what he remembered as the front door and, as usual, missed, crashing into the wall beside. This did not dampen his enthusiasm. Behind lumbered Julia, yelling "Popo, POPO, Blessed John of the Cross!" She stopped when she saw Paul standing there and letting out a yelp of delight she came forward and gave him a crushing cellulite flapping embrace.
[let out a yelp, don't know why, but it works better]
"Look at you! The very image of a young Pius X!" she said, causing Paul to marvel at the thought of a 12-year-old pope.
"Come in; come in, both of you. Popo put that bandage down and go to your room, bad dog!"
Paul bent down to scratch Popo’s head, which was the only part of its body not covered with tumors or shingles. It panted with delight, sticking out its tongue and flapping it in Paul’s general direction. Popo was a miracle dog and despite its weekly trip to the vet, whose initial advice to Julia was always "Kill it", he [ I think you should delete this 'he] continued on a diet of ground sirloin and steroids. Julia played her own part as well. When she made Popo his morning cup of coffee (cream, one lump) she’d sprinkle in a few drops of Fatima water.
[a little more description of Julia? I'm left wondering about her.]
"Dog’s looking better" said Olivetta, pointedly. "What’s that stuck to his leg?"
"Blessed Arnaldo of Padua. Popo was having some arthritis pains. He’s better now with the codeine, but I can’t seem to get the holy card off."
Paul stood up and Julia patted him on the cheek.
"St. Patrick" she said. "Very good. You make the costume, Julia? I like the snakes. Those snakes ate a lot of people before St. Patrick took care of them. But doesn’t St. Patrick carry a crozier?"
Paul remembered that indeed he did.
Julia waddled over to a shallow closet that used to hold a folding ironing board. She opened it and rummaging amongst brooms, mops and umbrellas, she emerged with an 18th century gilded bishop’s crozier.
"Where on earth did you get that thing?" said Olivetta.
"Uh, it was my great grandfather’s. But," she said, casting a glance at Olivetta, "it’s not what you might think."
"I’m not thinking anything." said Olivetta, distractedly bending to scratch Popo and pulling back her hand suddenly, alarmed. "Ah, we’d better let Paul go on his way" she said. [at some point we readers need to know WHY o. was alarmed. I for one need to know.]
"Yeah. Oh you look so cute, like a little pope."
Julia tweaked his cheek so hard he saw stars. She reached into a bowl on the table and took out a handful of colorfully wrapped candies with foreign words on them and stuffed them into Paul’s bag.
"Good luck. Have fun and watch out for strangers" she said. "Olivetta, please go tell Jane to come over after dinner for a cup of coffee. You too."
"Okay" said Olivetta. "Have fun Paul."
[ all the dialogue until now has been stellar. THese two last bits, from 'godd luck' just don't quite sound right. Julia sort of osunds bossy, telling O. what to do. Maybe just 'please tell', leaving out the 'go'?
And with that, he was out in the hallway beginning his long descent to the street.
[he can't descend the hallway.]