Believe What Everybody Tells You
and You're Sure to Get Screwed

A Moe Minsky Tale
Written By Al Geto

 

   Bridget Malloy lived in one of the nicer two-story houses in the Bushwick section around the corner and a trot up the street from the elevated lines. Her father was a politico who was perennially mixed up in local elections. He was active in the sponsorship of benefit affairs and didn't mind explaining why policemen's balls were bigger than firemen's balls: they sold more tickets. A free spender, the endless flow of political cigars from his inside pocket kept his tobacco vendor in bowties and moustache wax. Malloy was the last man on the block after the War to End All Wars who sported handlebars. Bridget did business with his tobacconist too, in sub rosa purchases of cigarettes. She had a long, pale face, glittering dark eyes, a demanding expression about her mouth and had selected Michael Connelly for her future mate, although he knew nothing of it.

   A bonny lad of nineteen from the church orphanage, always ready to lend a hand, Michael had been given employment as assistant caretaker at the church itself. With searching blue eyes and a mop of sandy hair, his randy manner with young ladies often brought reprimands from his superiors. It was Bridget Malloy's father with all his contacts who had been approached as a possible source of a new job for him.

   Bridget, having graduated the year before, retained her special friends, younger girls still in school, as leader of the clique. They were magnetized by her easy-going style, her treats, her uncoerced opinions and rude behavior. She used makeup, but secretly. One of her bunch, Patricia Boyle, a plump girl whose baby fat had taken possession of her like a piece of real estate, sang in the school glee club, often off-key to annoy the teacher, Mr. Ferguson. That had been suggested to Patricia by Bridget, who hated Mr. Ferguson for not having admitted her into the chorus, though Mr. Ferguson, an altogether decent man, had taken on Grace Houlihan, a green-eyed girl with acute acne and a nasal twang, the third of the inner trio of Bridget's entourage. He felt sorry for her acne and her status as a social outcast. Besides the acne her nose ran and she seldom had a handkerchief. Bridget, Patricia, and Grace had cut classes together, stolen rides on trolleys, and on one occasion, drank beer in the cellar. Natural gossips, they invented scurrilous tales about anybody at all.

   "It wouldn't surprise me if Mr. Ferguson was after that new Miss Himmelmacher, with her huge bust," Bridget told Patricia and Grace as they sat around her parlor with its heavy mahogany furniture, upright piano, and crank victrola. "I saw him on his knees to her through a crack in the teacher's room door.'

   "What! Proposin'?" Patricia screamed.

   "No, tying her shoelace," Bridget replied sarcastically.

   "I don't believe it," Grace said, sniffing. "You're pullin' our legs."

   "You're right. I am. That's not what he was doing at all," Bridget said.

   "Well, what was he doin'?" Patricia demanded.

   "Tryin' to look up her skirt," Bridget revealed. Howls of disbelief came from the others. These howls only represented shock at the reprehensible Mr. Ferguson, but behind them was little conception of what Mr. Ferguson might do to follow up his perfidy. Bridget's henchwomen had not yet become privy to the full information, including the mysterious rites that took place behind the closed doors of their parents' bedrooms. However, their contempt for the ignorance of immigrants, like the latest newcomer, Agnes Delaney, demonstrated how much credit they took for the little they did know, incomplete as it was. Agnes Delaney had arrived in America but a few months before. She came from a remote village in the old country and had been shipped over when her mother died, to stay with her aunt, a lone, pious, uneducated soul supported hand to mouth by a nephew in Chicago who sent just enough to keep her alive for a tax deduction.

   Agnes' aunt could not afford a church school and Agnes, painfully shy, with her soft red hair and scattering of freckles, was registered in the public school, a bewildering zoo to her simple mind. The only talent she had was her voice, and Patricia brought her to the glee club, trembling and against her will. Which is where Michael Connelly discovered her. Michael was Mr. Ferguson's cousin, and Mr. Ferguson had induced him to fill in when he was short of male voices.

   "Michael tries to have a word with her but she runs off," Patricia reported to Bridget about Michael Connelly and Agnes at rehearsals. Bridget had to see this rival. She arranged for Agnes to join them though it took both Patricia and Grace some time to get her to come. Agnes tended to stay home in the miserable little flat that faced the elevated line, track to window, rather than test her own fears out in the world. When she first appeared in the Malloy parlor she was overwhelmed by the bizarre atmosphere of Bridget's brigade and thoroughly hypnotized by it. On her third visit they brought out the lipstick and smeared it on themselves.

    'Tis a sin, that is," Agnes said. "I have to go now."

   "Where you off to?" Grace asked.

   "Home. One of my aunt's neighbors is expectin' the stork."

   "The stork?" Bridget said

   "Aye."

   "Which stork is that?" Bridget asked.

   "The stork as brings the babies, of course," Agnes replied.

   "Have you seen it?" Bridget inquired, glancing at Grace and Patricia.

   "My auntie has. Many times," Agnes answered, gravely.

   When Agnes left, they sat looking at each other and grinning. Actually, only Bridget knew the details of what replaced the stork. The others had uncorroborated visions, though too uncomfortable to ask each other to pin them down. One thing they were all sure of, however, was that the stork was out.

   "How old is she?" Bridget asked.

   "She'll be fifteen in March," Patricia said.

   "She is not going to take Michael Connelly from me, that little shit!" cried Bridget, banging her hand down on the piano keys.

   "Oooh, Bridget!" Grace gasped at the forbidden word.

   "Well, she ain't!"

   "You hardly know him," Patricia said.

   "And I do! I do so! I been to parties where he was there. I did ask you, Patricia Boyle, talk of me to him at the glee club, and did you? No, you did not!"

   "I did, too!" shouted Patricia. "I tried for you. But he didn't care about it."

   "Well, he will! She's the cause of it, with her sheep's face and stupid country look about her. Well, I'll get rid of her, all right, I will, that shanty biddy. Back to Ireland with her in two shakes of a lamb's tail once I see my way! Little shit!"

   "Ooooh!" gasped Grace.

   "You can't do nothin' Bridget," Patricia called. "You can scream from now until Saint Patrick's Day and all you'll get is a dose of green paint on your behind."

   "Holy Mary, that's it!" cried Bridget.

   "What's it?" asked Grace, attacking her acne.

   "Now I'll see who my real friends are!" Bridget exclaimed. "She's a stupid, red-headed little rat. When she finds out about the painting of the green she'll run out of here like a bloody blast!"

   "She won't believe that old malarkey! You're crazy, Bridget!"

   "She believes in the stork, don't she?" Bridget demanded an answer. "Don't she?" The silence and expressions of the two girls conceded that. "She's no better than them other country fools who want to know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Just make sure she comes here tomorrow. We'll have it all fixed up. Now, sit down and you'll learn something."

   Patricia was the first to arrive late the next afternoon. She again reported Michael having approached Agnes following the glee club rehearsal, and while Agnes didn't remain for any length of time, she gazed at him with a craving look, as Patricia described it. Bridget, standing at the window, warned, "She's coming up the stoop now. And there's Grace waiting across the street." The bell rang. Patricia answered the door.

   When Agnes came into the parlor she at once sensed something unusual in the air. Bridget and Patricia whispered their greetings.

   "Did the stork come?" asked Bridget.

   "Not yet," Agnes said, not having been invited to sit down.

   "Well, it's lucky you could come. Grace is late. But we can't wait any more. We have something very private to tell you, and remember, we're friends and will give you all the help you need. "

   "What sort of help?" Agnes asked, puzzled. "Don't you have a birthday coming up?"

   "Aye. In March."

   "Well, you know countries have their different customs and ways of doing things, especially around holidays. I mean, you know what Thanksgiving is"

   "Oh, I've heard about it, yes," Agnes said, smiling. "Turkeys."

   "Oh, more than that. They throw sweet potatoes at each other until one or another gives up."

   "I never heard that," Agnes said.

   "My uncle almost got killed by a sweet potato," Patricia said. "It hadn't been cooked."

   "On Halloween, it's murder," Bridget continued. "They scare the bejesus out of you. While on St. Patrick's well, I suppose you know all about that one by now."

   "No. I don't," Agnes said.

   "Well, there's celebrations. All kinds. Some weird ones."

   "Oh, weird enough," Patricia said. "Don't I know it!"

   "Irish girls who are here the first year and whose birthdays fall in March, they're the ones," Bridget warned her.

   "You can't get away with it, either," Patricia assured her.

   "What is it? What are you talking about?" Agnes asked, becoming alarmed.

   "The painting of the green," Bridget said. "You've never heard of the painting of the green?"

   "What is it?" Agnes demanded, annoyed.

   "Well, if it's the first year you came and your birthday is in March, you must go to church and have your ass painted green in the vestry before noon."

   "Mother of God," Agnes whispered.

   The bell rang.

   "That must be Grace." Bridget said, and went to the door.

   "I've had it myself," Patricia said. "It's the rule. Got to be done."

   Grace came in followed by Bridget. "Are you all right?" Grace asked Agnes. "You look awful."

   "She's upset by the painting of the green. We just told her."

   "It's only your behind," Grace said. "I think you get a certificate. To prove you had it. Unless you could swear on the bible you've had it..."

   "I couldn't do that! I was born on St. Patrick's itself!"

   An exclamation of shocked surprise came from the others followed by loud shouts of amazement.

   "On the very day!" cried Bridget, with feigned horror.

   "Oh, mother of us all, you can't escape it now!" Grace cried.

   "You could look at it as the road to becomin' a woman," Patricia said, helpfully.

   Agnes, shaken, cried, "I won't be there! I'm not going to do it!"

   "Oh, they'll come for you," Bridget said. "They know where you are. You can't get away with it unless you beat it, leave town, go someplace else where they don't know you."

   "I will! I will! Oh, holy Mother! I'm goin'! I have a cousin in Canada!" She grabbed her cloak and ran out the door into the night.

   In her agitated state, she tripped on the top step of the stoop, tumbled down it, bruised herself, scrambled up and ran. As she turned the corner in the darkness she slammed into someone hastening from the other direction. She fell to the sidewalk, weeping. He reached down.

   "Agnes!" he said, surprised. "I'm so sorry!" He tried to help her up. She wouldn't rise. He knelt on one knee beside her. "What happened? Let me help you."

   "Oh, for the love of God!" she sobbed. "If you could, if you only could! Oh, Michael!"

   "How can I if you don't tell me? What is it?"

   "St. Patrick's," she sobbed.

   "What about St. Patrick's?"

   "My birthday, in March. On the very day. You know, they have the celebrations. And I, just arrived..."

   "Won't it be grand though? Bein' your birthday's on the very day, you'll be at the center of it all!"

   "No, no, Michael! I want nothin' to do with it. You can help me, Michael! You work in the church. You know how it's all done, where everything is. Patricia said it was like becomin' a woman. Well, I want to do it before. There's no other way for me. Can you do it to me, Michael? Will you? Tonight? Somewhere in the dark? Do you have a place we can go? Do you have a man's courage?"

   "Aye, but..."

   "I don't want to talk about it. I just want to do it. You have a place we can do it? Now?"

   "Well, to tell you the truth, I been thinkin' about that ever since I laid eyes on you. I love you entirely. But sooner or later we would have to get married, you know."

   "Why?"

   "Well, I wouldn't do it, not to you, seein' you that way and all, naked, even in the dark, without we would be husband and wife sooner or later."

   "Aye. I will marry you, Michael, if I must."

   He helped her to her feet slowly. They walked in an embrace around the block to the back of the church to the small stone building where the tools and extras were kept. He unlocked it.

   "Is this where they keep the green paint for St. Patrick's?" she asked as they entered. There was an old double mattress on the floor and shelves of equipment. A small bulb dimly lit the area.

   "Oh, aye," said Michael. "Everything. Paint, brushes, nails, tools."

   "You promised me, in the dark," she said.

   He switched off the light. "You can take off your clothes now," he whispered. "Lie down on the mattress." He quickly removed his own things and joined her. He gathered her into his arms.

   "Oh, Michael!" she cried out. But before she knew what was happening she cried out again and again, and melted into his embrace entirely as if it was the most natural thing in the world.






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Copyright August 3, 2000-

 

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