By Todd Howard
Two weeks ago, on Friday, Frankie’s ma made pasta e fagioli. Well, she calls it Pasta Fazool. Frankie told me that’s a Southern Italy Brooklyn thing. It’s soup with white kidney beans, pasta, greens, and some other stuff—like lots of garlic. Anyway, Frankie’s mom is the best cook ever. My mom cooks ok, but she’s not Italian—just my Dad is.
That Friday night at dinner, we all learned that Frankie’s pa can be a real human douchebag. It was awful.
He came home late from his job, so Mrs. Boccione was feeding us kids already. Frankie and me, we’re fourteen. He’s got three older brothers, two younger sisters, and they are loud and funny and happy. Me, I’ve got one brother—22 and in college. I’ve got a good family, but it’s always quiet at my house, boring as hell. Frankie and me, we’ve been playing and going to school together since we’re six. He’s the best. We live two blocks apart in Greentown, Michigan, not far from Detroit. We all sound like we’re from Trenton. Even my mom, who is from Lansing and used to talk like a normal Michigander until she joined the Italians.
Mr. Boccione came in from the garage. He’s big but not fat—dark eyes, dark hair, olive skin. He’s more Southern Italian than the bean soup we were eating, and he is funny. He doesn’t like soccer much, hasn’t lived with his mamma since he was twenty, and defies a lot of other stereotypes we Italians acquired in Brooklyn. He loves being a dad.
He did not look loving that night. He had a magazine rolled up in his hands, like he was going to swat a puppy’s nose with it, but if any puppy had seen Mr. B’s face, he would have crated himself and locked the cage door behind him. His eyes were blazing. He was snarling without the sound. That could have been foam at the corner of his mouth.
Nobody sitting around the Boccione table twitched. We stared at the crazed man; I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one who thought of running, but we couldn’t move.
“I found this in the garage. In a backpack. Your backpack, Francesco.”
He flung the rolled-up magazine down in a soup-free spot between Frankie and me on the table. Staring at us from the glossy page were two really large penises. They were attached, I noticed after a moment, to two cute guys sitting on a couch and kissing. I gulped. Frankie winced. Mamma Boccione caught her breath sharply, and no one else moved. I almost started giggling. I’m only 14, and those were really big penises…
“What the hell is this?…Anyone?…Francesco? Gianni?” That’s me, Gianni Castiglione.
The urge to laugh left. I stared at my bowl. I could see a tear hanging on for dear life in Frankie’s left eye. That was scary; Frankie never cries.
“Pop, it’s just a magazine…”
“I NOTICED that!” Mr. Boccione never swears, so I thought he was showing a lot of self-control. “Why is there a faggot magazine in your backpack in my garage?”
“I dunno, Pa. I guess someone put it in there.” Frankie is a bad liar.
“There’s a freakin’ fairy magazine on my goddamn dinner table, and my son Frankie the Fashionista doesn’t know how it got in his backpack. Maybe it’s because you’re a freakin’ fairy! Could that be the reason, Frankie? Do you think that might be it?” OMG, he used the Lord’s name in vain.
He started shaking Frankie, hard, while somehow yelling these questions through his clenched teeth. Then he pulled his son out of his seat and jerked him around to face him.
“Look at me, you little faggot!”
“Ricci, for God’s sake…!” said Mrs. Boccione.
She did. Frankie’s dad stopped shaking him. He stood there, panting, looking down at Frankie. Frankie’s big, dark eyes stared up at his pa, and the tears were rolling silently down his face. Mr. Boccione closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened his eyes, he backhanded Frankie across his right cheek. My best friend flew four feet across the room, crashed into the dining room wall, and crumpled to the floor. He wasn’t knocked out—he was lying curled up on his side, sobbing. His nose was freely bleeding onto the Aubusson rug.
It felt like the end of something. Happiness lay there bleeding, broken, on the rug. I had loved Frankie’s dad; now I just wanted to beat the shit out of him. I couldn’t fix this. I don’t know how to fix this. It’s still not over.
No one sat still now. Mrs. Boccione went to Frankie’s side. Me and Frankie’s brothers formed a line in front of Frankie and his mom, facing Mr. Boccione.
“Jesus, Pa!” said Joey. “What the hell!”
Pappa Boccione turned his basilisk gaze on Joey; Joey turned to stone.
This was my favorite family, the people I loved like my own family. Frankie and me, we’d stayed at each other’s houses at least twice a week for seven years. We’d fought and yelled and made up more times than I could count. We’d broken our arms together in the same misguided Radio Flyer adventure. We’d done stuff together that nobody knew about. We were boys together. What were we then, all of us, at that moment in that dining room that smelled like garlic bread, San Giovese, and broken hearts?
I turned and helped my second mom get Frankie up off the floor. I noticed that I was crying, too—not like Frankie was, though. Christ, my nose wasn’t broken like his. I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to share this with him, though—mine tears were fury. Mrs. B grabbed a vicious breadknife from the table.
Her words to her husband were serrated steel, like the breadknife in her hand, which had two really sharp pointy things on the end for picking up sliced things.
“Se mai ancora tu tocchi così un dei miei ragazzi, ti taglio la gola.”
Never, ever hurt an Italian mother’s kid. She has a knife, and she knows how to use it.
Mr. Baccione hung his head. He made a sound that sounded like a weird hiccup: I think it was a sob. He turned and left through the door to the garage. The Honda started up, backed down the driveway, and left.
The way I felt when Mr. Boccione hit Frankie broke my heart. I’m not sure what Frankie and I are now. I think probably I’m gay. I really liked the picture in that magazine. I liked it when we played around under the covers, Frankie and me—just kid stuff. So, I guess we’re both gay.
We got Frankie to the hospital. I rode along in the Caravan with Frankie, his mom, and his next older brother, Bobby. The others stayed home, the girls were frantic and still crying when we left. Frankie was holding his bleeding nose in a burgundy bath towel. I held another for him, just in case.
Frankie didn’t want to tell the ER people what happened. He told them he took a soccer ball hard to the face. He didn’t tell them that his father had gone gonzo and beat the crap out of his face. None of us wanted to tell them that.
He wanted to hold my hand. That was new. I held his back.
Mr. Boccione came home the next day. Frankie told me he apologized to everyone together. He had chucked Frankie under the chin and said something like, “It’s ok, kiddo. You’re OK.” He’d probably said it in Italian. Mr. B wants me to come over so he can apologize to me. I haven’t been back to Frankie’s house yet, the scene of the crime. I’m not sure how I can look at the family, or Mr. B., or what I’m going to say. I’ve got to go there soon. I’ve got to tell my folks I’m a queer. My heartbeat is up just thinking about it. What if they disown me?
I’ll do it tomorrow. I love Frankie a lot. That’s good enough for now.
“If you ever touch one of my kids like that again, I’ll slit your throat.”
Category: Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing