Chapter 5: A New Year

            When 1955 became 1956, Mickey tried to stay up until midnight and watch TV while Mom went to a party given by her friends at work. Uncle Tony visited the corner bar down the street, but came home before midnight. Mickey fell asleep on the sofa and woke to a test pattern buzzing on the TV. Its flicker made the living room crackle like a broken neon sign.

            Mickey turned off the TV. Light filtered into the room from the kitchen. Uncle Tony lay asleep at the table, an empty pint-sized bottle of Jack Daniels in front of him. Mickey lifted it and tried to get a small taste. A drop fell on his tongue. It stung.

            “Happy New Year,” Mickey said to his uncle. He started for the bedroom they shared. He glanced at the clock on the wall. Two in the morning. He turned off the light and in the dark he changed into pajamas and went to bed. The cold room made him shiver. Last he’d looked, there’d been only a few coals across the furnace floor. And none had been delivered since the day after Thanksgiving.

Sometimes, he and his uncle, each armed with a canvas sack, walked the neighborhood looking for stray lumps of coal that had fallen off a truck or fell from the chute on the way down into a cellar coal bin. Several hours of scrounging often yielded two full bags, enough to warm everyone for a little while.

            As he got into bed, Mickey noticed Uncle Tony’s old suitcase on the floor. Steel-reinforced corners. A large leather handle for easy lifting. Usually, it sat in the closet. Drawn by this chance to peek inside the suitcase, Mickey got his flashlight, the brown L-shaped one he’d gotten with a dozen Good Krispies’ box tops.

            Carefully, he lifted the lid and shone a light on the contents. There were envelopes with letters. Glossy photographs of ships. The covers of small, thick books promised adventure stories about jungle safaris and lost treasure. An album held pictures of Uncle Tony and Mom and others when they were younger. Most everyone in uniform. A smiling woman beamed from the middle of a line of youngsters. Grandmom? Mickey wondered.

            A chair scraped the floor and Mickey shut the suitcase, turned off the flashlight and got into bed. Somehow, he’d examine the suitcase more closely. Mom had similar treasures hidden in her closet. Sometimes, she’d finger old letters no one ever saw, or show him a photograph for an instant before snatching it away. Someday, Mickey thought, she’d take out a picture and show it to him and say, “That’s your dad. His name was …”

            Mickey wondered what Uncle Tony knew about his father. His name? What he looked like? Was he a soldier? Mickey had seen a lot of war movies, so he knew soldiers had best friends and they saved one another and drank together and fought side-by-side. Maybe Uncle Tony and his dad were best friends. Then Mom came along and one thing led to another. The idea made him smile. It sounded plausible. It fit better than the story he usually told, that his father had died and he didn’t know anything about him. Once, when he was in second grade, a teacher insisted that he should know more. Why wouldn’t he tell her? When Mickey told Mom, she called the school the next morning and the second grade teacher never asked him a question again. Mickey was glad she didn’t flunk him and make him repeat her class as punishment.

            With Easter on the way, the brisk winds of March and the cold wintry days were nearly at an end. The days weren’t exactly warm, but the bitter cold disappeared for another year. The advent of spring and the nearness of Easter also brought the annual trip downtown to the Italian Market in South Philadelphia. Uncle Tony always took him to spend a Saturday evening walking the open-air market with its stalls and its hog carcasses hanging from meat hooks, its pens of live lambs and goats, the chickens squawking in their stacked cages, vegetables and baked goods and dried meat delicacies all on display. Because he was a child, he always got something free – a sample, a little taste.

Neither Mickey nor his uncle ever corrected anyone who thought he and Uncle Tony another father-and-son pair shopping together. Uncle Tony only smiled, as did Mickey, and they both looked proud and happy, as though they had been complimented.

“I want to go say hi to somebody,” Uncle Tony said, and steered Mickey away from the corner and down a small side street that smelled of burning timber. Cats prowled an alley near piled refuse and smashed wooden barrels. A trio of dogs ran past, chased by a man with a broom. One dog carried something in its mouth. From an open doorway came the sound of chickens clucking and screaming.

“Greg?” Uncle Tony called, putting his head inside the door. He knocked. A short, portly man appeared. He wiped his hands on his blood-streaked white apron. Brown and black feathers matted the tops of his shoes.

“Hey! Tony! That your nephew? That little Mickey?”

Mickey didn’t know this man, but he guessed they must have met. Uncle Tony took him by the hand and dragged him close and said, “This is Mr. Barconelli. Say Hello. Last time you saw him, you were wearing diapers.”

“Come in. Come in.” Greg waved them into the hot, dark interior. Chicken squawks erupted from all sides of the room, and at the far end a fire flickered, steam rose from a large cauldron. Chickens, tossed into the air by two workmen, splashed into the boiling water.

“You put them in there alive?” Mickey asked, mouth open and eyes wide as he stared at the back of the long room.

Greg laughed. “No. We break their necks and kill them. You want a chicken to take home?” He looked at Tony, then at Mickey. “You still livin’ with your sister?”

Tony and Greg took seats on stools by a window. They each lit a cigarette. There was coffee in a sauce pan on a hot plate. Greg poured some into a mug and handed it to Tony. Mickey found a bench along the wall and sat quietly. He could see that there were women working here as well. They held dead, scalded chickens in their laps and were plucking out the feathers.

“She doin’ okay?” Greg asked.

“Joanne? She’s fine.”

“This guy,” Greg suddenly said, holding onto Uncle Tony’s jacket with one hand and pointing at him with the other, leaning towards Mickey and smiling. “This guy dragged me the hell off the beach and saved my life. Know that? Regular hero, your uncle.”

“How are Gina and the boys?”

Mickey tried to imagine this pudgy, young-looking stranger and his uncle as soldiers, their faces unshaven, the straps of their helmets dangling down the sides of their faces, one hand on a rifle and the other gripping a grenade.

“We bought a new house,” Greg announced, and launched into a tirade against the old neighborhood and the new neighbors and how free and open life was in the suburbs. The two men continued to talk while the chickens screamed and the women plucked and Mickey sat nearly motionless. Now and then someone opened the door and came inside and a clerk came over and ushered the newcomer to another part of the shop. With the open door came a welcomed breeze. Finally, Uncle Tony stood and gave his friend a handshake and led Mickey out onto the street.

“You knew him from the army?” Mickey asked as they walked along.

“There’s a photograph I got of Greg and he’s about half as wide as he is now. You wouldn’t believe it.” Uncle Tony chuckled.

Mickey jumped at the chance to learn more. “You can show it to me when we get home.”

Uncle Tony shrugged. “I don’t even know if I could find it.”

“Maybe it’s in your suitcase.”

“You looking in my things?”

Mickey shook his head. Uncle Tony’s dark eyes glowered down at him. He shook his head again.

“That old suitcase is nothing but old memories I shouldn’t even have anymore,” Uncle Tony mumbled. “Just a lot of junk I had when I got home from the army.”

“Wh-what about that photograph?”

“That’s junk, too. Greg don’t even look like that no more. Hell, I don’t look like that anymore, either. That’s what happens, Mickey. You grow up, get older, and you don’t look like yourself no more.”

They reached Ninth Street; both sides sported stalls of food of various kinds, including large fish set in huge tubs of ice. A fire danced in a tall, rusty barrel. Boys fed it sticks of scrap wood.

“Mr. Ardenni?”  It was Marsha. “Hello.”

Mickey smiled. He hadn’t seen Marsha in a while. He was slightly embarrassed that perhaps she had caught them shopping some place other than her father’s store. He hated it whenever he passed by with Mom and it was obvious that they had been to the new supermarket on Kensington Avenue.

“Marsha,” Uncle Tony said. “Out for Easter shopping?” he asked.

She laughed. “My father would love that! No, just in the area to see my friend. I like coming to the market, though. It’s so — so alive. Don’t you think?”

Mickey followed as Uncle Tony and Marsha walked along the street. Now and then she’d stop to touch a leather bag or a belt hanging on a pole holding up an awning. Mickey was tempted to touch one of the carcasses on the meat hooks, but he didn’t want to get his hand slapped. A cold wind whisked across his head and he held his cap down so it wouldn’t blow away.

“I have my car,” Uncle Tony offered. “You don’t have to take the trolley.”

Marsha looked away, then turned back to him. “Okay,” she said, and walked with Mickey and his uncle to where he had parked the station wagon. It was easy for Mickey to clear the back seat of its clutter so Marsha could have the front seat to herself. As they drove away, she talked about movies she had seen. Uncle Tony grunted agreement or nodded a few times. He didn’t go to the movies very often. With a laugh he told her that his social life wasn’t as lively as hers.

“I bet you’d love to go dancing.”

Uncle Tony shrugged. He watched the streets, looked up at the red light where he’d stopped. Overhead, the elevated train rumbled, making the car vibrate.

Marsha continued with, “I watch those kids on Bandstand and I know I can dance as good as they. But I’m too old to go on the show. All they want are teenagers and I’m certainly not that.” She smiled and expelled a tiny laugh from between her lips, her mouth nearly closed.

“I’m not the going out type, I guess,” Uncle Tony finally said in reply when they had been driving in silence for a few blocks.

“I am,” Marsha said. She folded her arms over her chest. Soon, they reached their street and Uncle Tony parked the car a few steps from Herlicksmann’s Grocery. Marsha got out, whispered a thank-you, and hurried to the side door to her house. Mickey followed his uncle to the junk store.

“Baseball season starts soon,” Mickey said, hoping his uncle would offer to take him to a game. This time, maybe mom would let him go. They’d go on a Sunday, to a double header so they’d get their money’s worth.

“You like Marsha, don’t you?” Uncle Tony asked.

“Are you going to take her out?” Mickey asked, picturing his uncle escorting Marsha onto a dance floor where a band played melodious tunes and waiters carried tiny plates of food on gleaming metal trays.

“I don’t know. You get too involved with people and they start asking questions.” Uncle Tony unlocked the door to the store. “I don’t like nosey people. She’s probably nosey, always wondering about things, asking about things.”

“How do you know?” Mickey asked. He liked the idea of Marsha and Uncle Tony going out together. Maybe they’d get married and take him to live with them. Mom wouldn’t follow. Uncle Tony wouldn’t let her. “Marsha is really pretty.”

Uncle Tony nodded a few times, sat at his work table and lit a cigarette. He looked at his watch. “It’s nearly nine. You better get to bed. You’ve got school tomorrow.”

As he said it, Mom yelled from upstairs, “Mickey! You get up here and get to bed. Now! Don’t make me come down there after you. You hear me?”

She was still screaming even as he mounted the steps to their apartment.

Miss Gallio boney hands fluttered in front of her sunken as she explained where Mickey could look for a book that answered his questions. She pointed, gestured with a wave, a small smile on her face. When she leaned close, a sweet cloud of perfume engulfed Mickey for a moment. But her crooked teeth and the red blotches on her cheeks, along with deep acne scars on her forehead spoiled any semblance of beauty, like an ink blot on the cover of a book.

“It’s very adult, what you’re looking for, Mickey. It won’t be in the children’s section, so be very quiet and don’t disturb the adults or you won’t be allowed this special privilege. Understand?”

Mickey nodded. The library had moved from its storefront location to a new building near the elevated train station at Kensington Avenue, past the Five-and-Tens and other shops, not too far from a used book and magazine store that Mickey liked to go to when he could afford to replenish his comics collection.

The library’s children’s section boasted large tables where kids could sit and do homework or read, and even talk in whispers. The adult section was bigger. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases lined the walls; aisles made of more shelving created narrow corridors passable by only one person at a time. Books regarding the mechanical sciences stood in the back, past a glass-enclosed area set aside for adults. Unlike the reading room of the old, temporary library, this one was strictly off-limits to Mickey. The one time he sneaked in, he was expelled from the library for two whole days. It would’ve been longer, but Miss Gallio spoke up for him to Mrs. Katz, the head librarian.

Sitting on the floor, in an out-of-the-way corner, Mickey thumbed through a book on optics, then another on the physics of light. He didn’t understand anything that he read, but the pictures made sense and he saw how lenses worked, how a camera worked; one book showed him how to make a pin-hole camera that didn’t use a lens at all. But he couldn’t find anything on projectors. Even the books about the movies failed to mention the mechanics behind simple projectors. They highlighted Edison and his battle with independent film makers and other esoteric topics that Mickey found interesting, though not enlightening for his quest.

He wanted to fix the projector. He wanted to see those old time movies. Uncle Tony had found three more silent one-reelers. Holding the narrow film to the light, Mickey saw what looked like clowns in one, two men sauntering down a street in another, and cowboys and Indians riding together in a third. He tried fitting a strip of cut film where it would ride between the two plates of glass so that the light shone through and was projected by the lens. This gave him a sense of what needed to be fixed.

The lens itself was cracked; that distorted the image. The sprockets were intact, but when he cranked the handle, nothing happened. Nothing moved. Mickey didn’t want to ask his uncle for help. This was his problem to solve by himself.

“I found this for you,” Miss Gallio said, and brought Mickey a large book about the history of motion picture projectors. He took it eagerly and leafed from page to page. He felt excited as the images of these old projectors started to look more and more like the little red one in that box he kept near Uncle Tony’s work table. Finally, he found one that closely resembled it. It wasn’t red, but black. It had the same kind of extended arms for the reel of film and the take-up reel. It had a handle meant to be turned to advance the film. There was a tall enclosure for the light bulb. But there was no explanation about how it worked, just a short paragraph describing this pictured device as an example of a hand-cranked eight-millimeter projector for home use, manufactured by Biddens and Company of Chicago.

After three hours of searching, Mickey felt he was no closer to figuring out how to fix the projector. Carefully, checking the numbers inked in white on the spines, he returned each book to its proper place on its shelf. He stopped at Miss Gallio’s desk at the front of the library, the one with the large information sign hanging above it, and thanked her.

“You didn’t find anything?” she asked. “I can tell. You look disappointed.” She put down the book on opera that she was reading. Mickey knew that this was one of our passions. She sometimes gave talks in the children’s section on Saturday mornings about music and art. Mickey sometimes attended, though he was more interested in science than anything else.

“I have an idea,” Miss Gallio said. “Why don’t you get your mother to take you downtown to the main library. They have everything. You might find what you’re looking for. Maybe in a magazine. They have old issues of all kinds of magazines.”

Mickey nodded a few times. He didn’t know how he’d get Mom to take him to the library. Perhaps Uncle Tony might?

“Just don’t give up,” Miss Gallio added. “You never accomplish anything by giving up.”

“Thanks,” Mickey whispered, and left the library. He stuck his hands in his pockets. He had some change. He counted it. Thirty-five cents. Good for a few old comic books, he thought, and walked to the used bookstore where he could buy used comic books at the rate of three-for-a-dime. He liked to read about Superman, Batman, Aquaman and all the other heroes battling formidable odds. Recently, he’d found a comic book about Lone Wolf, an Indian Boy raised by wolves, who helped White settlers fight marauding bandits as well as renegade Indians.

Mickey didn’t want to wear a tie, but Mom insisted. At least he didn’t have to wear a sports coat, and he had successfully talked Mom out of making him wear that itchy wool vest she liked. Uncle Tony dressed up, too. White shirt, dark pants, shined leather shoes, narrow tie with a gold clasp so it didn’t flop about. His best clothes, meant for Easter Sunday Mass, the only religious service he ever attended. In years past he’d offered to take Mickey, but Mom objected.

“They threw me out of their church,” she always said, year-after-year, until Uncle Tony stopped mentioning the idea. “They threw me out of their church, so they threw him out as well.”

“You act like you were ex-communicated,” Uncle Tony once argued back.

Mom took a deep breath. Tears spilled from her wide eyes. “I’ll never go back to the Church.”

Every year, Uncle Tony went to Saint James Church by himself. This year, like in other years, he returned to the smell of Mom’s Easter Sunday dinner: ham, with potatoes and carrots, and peas topped with melted butter.

“Earl’s coming,” she told Mickey. “Don’t do anything to spoil things again. I’ll get out the strap if you do anything.”

Mickey nodded. He didn’t know what he’d done last year that made Earl angry. He couldn’t ask, either.

“Put your tie on,” Mom said, directing him to stand in front of the full length mirror in her room.

He clipped the tie into place.  “Maybe I should learn how to tie a real tie, like Uncle Tony’s.”

“Get him to teach you then,” she said. She turned her back to Mickey. “Zip me.”

He did so and she adjusted her dress so the hem was even across her knees. She tugged at her girdle, pulling it sideways a bit. Mickey stepped out of her room. In the living room, he stood at a window, parted the curtain and watched for Earl’s car.

This would be a crowded Sunday dinner, he thought. Marsha had been invited as well. It was his idea. Mom was so happy that Earl had called and had accepted her invitation that she told both Uncle Tony and Mickey that they could each invite a guest.

When Mickey suggested Marsha, Mom reddened and said, “I meant one of your school friends.”

“Marsha’s my friend,” Mickey said.

“She’s Jewish. She’s not going to eat ham. And I make ham every Easter. Besides, it’s Easter. Why would she’d come for Easter?”

“Ask her,” Uncle Tony said. “That’s who I’d invite.” He smiled and turned to Mickey and, though his smile didn’t grow bigger and he didn’t wink or otherwise change the look on his face, Mickey felt like he and his uncle had just entered into a conspiracy.

Now, looking down at the street, Mickey glimpsed Marsha coming slowly towards the house. Her round fur hat and ankle-length grey coat made her easy to recognize. She strolled instead of merely walked. She ambled. Mickey couldn’t help but picture her reaching high for something on a top shelf, and the thought made him feel suddenly warm and a little bit afraid.

Uncle Tony went downstairs to let her in. He arrived back at the top of the steps with her coat over his arm, her brown fur hat in his hand. He put both in the closet, hanging the coat on a wooden hangar, placing the hat on a hook in the door. Earl arrived soon afterwards. He took Mom into his arms and kissed her and made her laugh. Mickey set the table. Uncle Tony and Marsha sat in the living room, talking. Earl and Mom smoked cigarettes; and each had a glass of wine from the bottle he’d brought.

With the table set and the ham on a serving plate, everyone sat at the table, which had been pulled away from the wall so they’d sit comfortably. The two extra chairs came from the store. One from Uncle Tony’s work table. The other, an old, rattan chair that had been on sale for as long as Mickey could remember. It wobbled and the seat sagged. It was the chair Mom told him to sit in.

“Thank you for inviting me,” Marsha said, her tongue rolling across her bright red lips; her dark eyes glistened. Her olive skin glowed, her bare arms flowing from white short sleeves with tiny blue hearts stitched at the cuffs. She sat next to Uncle Tony, her hands in her lap. Mickey had noticed she kept slipping one shoe off and on when she sat in the living room and he guessed she was doing the same thing under the table.

“I’m surprised you eat ham,” Mom said. “You can just eat the vegetables. I won’t be offended.”

“We’re not very religious,” Marsha said. She put her hand to her small mouth and laughed lightly. “My mother still goes to the Russian Orthodox Church!”

Earl laughed with her.

Mom smiled and the bowls were passed around. Uncle Tony started to carve the ham, but Mom told him to sit and let Earl do it. He was her special guest.

“Is that new super market hurting your trade?” Earl asked. “I’ve got a small shoe store in South Philly and I know how those bigger stores compete. Cut prices. And service.” He forked some carrots and peas together into his mouth. Tiny dots of blood dabbed his cheeks, as though he’d struggled with his razor that morning.

“We have our regular customers, our loyal ones,” Marsha said, her eyes on her plate. She cut a small piece from a slice of ham. When she ate, she chewed every morsel for a few minutes before swallowing. Her eyelids fluttered a little and she raised her eyes and glanced at Mom.

Mickey squirmed. He hated passing Herlicksmann’s Grocery with Mom when she went to the new super market on Kensington Avenue. Mom had started to use the wire-framed shopping cart he’d gotten her for Christmas. Uncle Tony had repaired the loose wire and put on a new handle. When she went shopping, she made Mickey come with her and she filled the cart and still there was always at least one bag he would have to carry.

“People have to save money when they can,” Mom said. “I’m sure you people understand.”

Marsha nodded. “I do. My dad … he’s old-fashioned.”

“But he lets you eat ham,” Mom said.

Marsha didn’t reply immediately. Finally, when no one else at the table said anything, she said, “Dad doesn’t let us have it in the house, but, I’ve got to admit, I like to go to Woolworth’s and sit at the counter and have a BLT every now and then.” She gave everyone a broad smile with her small mouth, her teeth even and white, her round face beaming. She turned to Uncle Tony. “That’s my big secret.”

“I go there, too,” Uncle Tony said, and soon he and Marsha were talking about the neighborhood places they both frequented, and Mom and Earl turned to one another and had their own whispered conversation. Mickey ate quietly and slowly, his eyes on his food, hoping nothing would be said to spoil the day.

It wasn’t possible to follow them, so Mickey had to be content with imagining what was happening when Uncle Tony took Marsha to the movies the Saturday night after that Easter Day dinner. The two had spent more than an hour talking in the living room after Mom and Earl left, while Mickey washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen. Now and then, Marsha’s soft laugh spilled into the kitchen and Mickey strained to hear what they were saying. Mostly, they whispered. Huddled close together on the sofa, whispering. Later, after Marsha had gone, Mickey approached his uncle and said, “She’s a real nice girl. I like her.”

“Too old for you,” Uncle Tony said.

“I just mean, I like her. Like a friend.” Mickey swallowed and dared himself to continue. “Do you like her? As a friend?”

“Sure. We might go to the movies next Saturday night. I didn’t realize she was going to night school to get her degree.”

“What kind of school is that?” Mickey asked.

“Like college. I always thought she was a lot younger. She looks young.”

Mickey tried to imagine how Uncle Tony and Marsha would walk together when they went to the movies. They’d be arm-in-arm or holding hands or maybe he’d put his arm around her waist. The only girls he’d ever seen his uncle with were older, like Mom, and they drank at the corner bar, occupying the small tables and booths reserved for wives and girlfriends and other women. These girls were the ones who sometimes escorted Uncle Tony home when he’d had too much to drink. A couple of times, Mickey had been sent by Mom to help Uncle Tony get home if none of his friends were around.

With Mom and Earl out for the night, Mickey spent the evening alone. It was great. He watched television. He made himself a sandwich and didn’t have to clean up the kitchen right away. Lying on the sofa, he watched one movie, then another, and fell asleep. When he woke up, Igor the Hunchback – the late-night monster movie host — waddled through a TV dungeon, his antics interspersed with a the movie. Mickey rushed to clean the kitchen before Mom got home.

Outside, a flashing red light got his attention. He opened the window and looked out. Two police squad cars were parked at an angle down the street, and a crowd had formed outside Herlicksmann’s. Mickey put on his shoes and ran downstairs and out the side door to find out what was going on.

Marsha screamed at her father and holding him away from the curb. Several cops stood around talking to Mr. Tanasdof, who was gesturing wildly and yelling in Russian. Mrs. Herlicksmann sat on her step and cried, her head in her arms, a shawl over her shoulders. Uncle Tony stood with the police. He held a towel to his eye. His jacket was torn and both knees of his pants were ripped. A crowd had formed on one side of the fracas. A few cars had stopped at the corner and the drivers and passengers craned their necks to see what was going on. Uncle Tony shook his head in response to the police, not arguing but being insistent about something. Marsha was crying and her father shouted at her.

Mickey edged closer, keeping to the shadows so no one would notice him. The police threatened to arrest Mr. Herlicksmann. His wife wailed when they said that. Uncle Tony asked them not to.

“It’s just a misunderstanding,” Uncle Tony said. He repeated that several times. Marsha pleaded with her father to go back inside. Mr. Tanasdof lumbered over to the police.

“He’s the guilty one!” The old man pointed at Uncle Tony. “Did he come to us and ask permission? No. Those two — they cook this up and act like they can do what they want.”
            “Grandpa!” Marsha screamed at him. “This isn’t Russia.”

“Quiet,” her mother snapped at her. “You’ve shamed us enough. Get in the house.”

A cop came up to her and said, “You want us to drive you somewhere, Miss? A friend’s?”

“No,” Marsha said. “I’ll be fine.” She turned away. “Shame?” she said to her mother? “You and pop out on the street fighting with people and I’m the one bringing you shame?” She trudged up the steps to the side door to her house and disappeared inside.

Two of the police officers started to laugh, shook their heads and got into their squad car and drove away. Mr. Tanasdof helped Mrs. Herlicksmann to her feet and escorted her into the house. Soon, most of the onlookers dispersed. People got back into their cars and drove off. Mr. Jacobs was standing with the others and he shook his head and went to Mr. Herlicksmann and spoke to him.

Uncle Tony talked to two remaining police officers for a few minutes, signed something on a clipboard, then walked away. Mickey hurried up to him. “What happened? Did you get into a fight?”

“What’re you doing out here?”

“I heard the noise. Are you okay, Uncle Tony?”

“You’re not suppose to go out of the house when no one’s home. It’s nearly midnight. What’re you doing out of the house?”

“Are you okay?”

Uncle Tony held Mickey by the shoulder and maneuvered him towards the door.

“What happened?” Mickey insisted.

“Nothing. Adult stuff. Nothing you’d understand.” Uncle Tony went upstairs, got a quart bottle of beer from the refrigerator and sat at the kitchen table with a small glass that he filled time and time again. He had a cut under his eye. His knees were scraped. A streak of dirt decorated his neck. He tossed his jacket to a corner of his room.

“Why won’t you tell me what happened?” Mickey asked.

“We shouldn’t have gone out. I should’ve known better.” His voice cracked and Mickey watched in amazement as his uncle put his face in his hands and sobbed.

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