Friday, September 29, 2017

Summer's End by John W. Dennehy

Sean has grown up by the lake, but his summer companion Alfonzo is from a rather more menacing background; by John W. Dennehy.

Sean played down by the lake until he heard a car pull into the driveway. Running up the hill between their cottage and the neighbor's multi-level home, his heart beat expectantly. Summertime had ramped up, and the community buzzed with activity. Boats cut across the water and docks were crowded with swimmers. During the dead of winter, he often ventured on the frozen lake alone, isolated, but in the summer, he usually found a companion.

He glanced at the neighbor's driveway. A shiny '74 Cadillac was parked on the asphalt. The big engine grumbled from the heat, having raced north from Boston. He sprinted up the stairs to the parking area. Two more Cadillacs whipped down the driveway, then a green car rolled into his parking area.

Large men got out of the cars, securing the area before Alfonzo's dad alighted from a sedan. Back for another season, they'd rented the neighbor's place again. Sean would have a friend for a few months. They were different from other families on the lake; guys that worked for Alfonzo's father stayed at the house the entire vacation.

Sean eyeballed the driver of the green sedan. He didn't like them using the driveway. The driver didn't pay him any mind, though. He acted like he was on official business, like when secret service agents track the vice president.

"Hey, kid," the driver said. "What are you doin' there?"

"Just checking to see who is in my driveway."

"Checking to see who's in my driveway," the driver repeated, laughing. "You're alright kid."

Someone waved to the driver. He got in the car and pulled around to the neighbor's driveway. The parked cars looked like a traffic jam of shiny new Cadillacs. Watching them unpack, Sean realized it would be suppertime before they settled into the house. He wouldn't see Alfonzo until another day.



Next morning, a knock on the back door caught Sean's attention. His mother called saying he had a visitor. Sean ran to the door. He felt a tinge of excitement, hoping it was Alfonzo.

He tore through the kitchen, and found his mother at the sink washing dishes.

"Your friend is waiting outside."

Sean nodded and hurried to the back hallway.

He glanced through the storm door window. A skinny kid with bug eyes stared back at him, smiling. The kid wore a baseball cap and matching jacket. Sean stepped outside, feeling awkward. It had been a year. Alfonzo was a taller, and his face seemed thinner, sickly.

Alfonzo grinned. Sean wore a ratty t-shirt and jeans with holes at the knees. Alfonzo's new coat had little baseball patches.

"Like my new jacket?" Alfonzo said after a moment.

"Yeah, it's cool. Looks like you're a Red Sox fan."

"Thanks. Mommy took me shopping on the way."

Sean nodded.

"Dad and his guys went to the track."

"The track!" Sean repeated. "Rockingham Park is awesome. You had to go shopping instead?"

Alfonzo looked dismayed.

"I'm sure you had a good time shopping, though."

"Yeah, it was fun." Alfonzo paused. "So, what you want to do?"

"Let's head down to the dock and check things out."

Alfonzo nodded.

They tore off between the houses. The expansive lake came into view. Choppy waves rippled across the surface, and a cool wind blew off the water. They headed downhill toward the sunny end of the dock.

Rubber soles of their canvas sneakers creaked the worn planks. At the end of the dock, they looked over the water. It was going to be a good summer. Alfonzo knew a lot about baseball, and had plenty of trading cards. And he always liked to do whatever Sean suggested, never complaining.

Alfonzo got a lot of new things: clothes, toys, baseball gloves, yard games, models, and comic books. He seemed to have it all. Sean didn't get many toys. His parents occasionally bought him models and comic books. At night, he pulled out the comics, and perused them with a flashlight, reading over the same pages. But Alfonzo never got to explore the woods, and couldn't handle a boat alone. He didn't understand how a lot of things worked. Alfonzo thought the docks stayed in the water year-round, not understanding the ice would crush them.

The boys hung out until evening, only stopping to eat hotdogs from the grill, watching boats on the water.



Alfonzo came over again and the boys played relentlessly the entire day. But their games were interrupted whenever Alfonzo got hurt. He got hurt easily, and ran to his mother crying. Sean's parents never tended to injuries unless they were serious.

They had dinner at Alfonzo's house. Dinner with Alfonzo's family was more formal. Sean suspected they were very religious. They set dinner on the picnic table in front of the house. Everyone lined up along either side, like military soldiers, and then Alfonzo's father came out, standing at the head of the table.

After he sat down, the rest of them sat in unison. Instead of hotdogs and hamburgers, they had pasta piled into a large bowl with sausages mixed in the sauce. Sean sat at the corner of the table next to Alfonzo's father. The father seemed to delight in talking to Sean. Alfonzo sat between his mother and Nanny, and enjoyed telling Sean how things were done at his house. The hefty men eyeballed Sean occasionally, making him feel as though he'd done something wrong, but Alfonzo's dad waved them off.

Aside from dinnertime, Alfonzo's father was tense. He got angry often. He didn't look like his men. Alfonzo's father was taller and thinner. His skin was darker; he had short black hair, parted to the side. The men wore dark suits. But Alfonzo's father wore trendy clothes: green pants that flared out at the bottom, white shoes, and silk shirts, unbuttoned.

The two boys played catch on the lawn by the lake after dinner. Alfonzo had to go in early, and so Sean busied himself alone. Sean stayed out until twilight, bouncing a tennis ball off the roof and caught it.

Later in the evening, Sean heard distress from next door. Alfonzo's father yelled at the boy, while the mother pleaded for him to stop. Alfonzo cried, causing his father to grow angrier. This had happened before, often after Alfonzo had run home crying from a minor injury.

Sean heard the smacking, followed by elevated crying. He didn't like the hostile sounds.



The next evening, sitting at their kitchen table, Sean's mother probed about dinner at Alfonzo's house. Sean placed his elbows on the red Formica tabletop, and wrapped his sneakers around the chrome legs of the chair. He thought she was being nosey.

Sean didn't want to answer. Then he looked at her expectant eyes. "Well, it was okay, I guess," he finally said.

"What do you mean, you guess?" Sean's father said. "It either was okay, or it wasn't."

"Patrick, leave the boy alone."

"What's got into you, Margie? I just asked him to explain what he meant."

"Eating over there is fine and all. Sometimes it's really a lot of fun. But most times, I'd rather just be over here... if you know what I mean."

"Sure, kiddo. We know what you mean." She smiled and ran her hand through his hair. "We just want to know what it's like, you know... eating over there... with the Bertuzzi family."

"Well, I think that they're kind of religious."

They both laughed.

"What?"

"Those people have a lot of money," his father said.

"Sure, I know that. You can tell from all of the shiny Cadillacs. What's that got to do with them being religious?"

"Nothing honey," his mother said.

"Well, they have people from work over there. And they line up at the table, and sit down... all at the same time. Like soldiers. And Mr. Bertuzzi says a prayer before they eat."

They looked at him wide-eyed.

"Anyway, I think Mr. Bertuzzi works hard for his money."

"What makes you say that?" his mother asked.

"It's just that he's tense all the time. He gets worked up easily, like there's a lot going on that he's responsible for."

"Out of the mouth of babes," Patrick snickered.

"They're in the meat-packing business," Margie added, winking.

Sean didn't understand. He wondered if his parents thought Alfonzo's family had done something wrong with the meat.

His father took a swig of Pabst Blue Ribbon. "Sure. Can't be easy running a big business. You take care to mind your manners when you're over there."

"What do you mean? I always behave myself."

"Just do what I say. We don't want any trouble with those people."

Sean looked down at his plate. He'd only eaten half a hotdog and hadn't touched any beans. They were acting strange. "They don't cook as good as Mom," he said.

She smiled. "Why, thank you Sean. I'm glad someone appreciates my cooking."

"Hey, just because I don't always say it, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate it."

She smiled at Patrick. "Doesn't hurt to say it once in a while."

"Suppose you're right," Patrick said. "They own eighteen race horses. Can you imagine that?"

"Those people have some big bucks. Must be nice."

Sean wondered why his parents talked like that sometimes. They were happy. Alfonzo's family seemed worked up all the time. It wasn't all that easy.

"How do you know about the race horses?" Margie asked.

"Frank came over the other night. We had a drink down front. He brought over a bottle of Italian wine."

"You never mentioned this before."

"Didn't come up until now."

"Wow, eighteen race horses," she said, shaking her head.



The next day Sean went over to Alfonzo's house. Mrs. Bertuzzi greeted him at the back door, but her usual smile was absent. She was younger and curvy, not like most mothers. A subtle pause, then she turned to fetch Alfonzo.

Sean wondered if he'd done something wrong. He wanted to turn, bolt home. Then Alfonzo appeared at the door, glum.

"Just wanted to see if you were coming out," Sean said meekly.

Alfonzo stared back with tired eyes.

"Maybe you have to finish breakfast." Sean gave him an excuse to stay inside.

Alfonzo shrugged. "Let me get my hat."

His sneakers squeaked on the vinyl floor as he treaded away. Sean waited, then heard pattering. Alfonzo scampered back with the cap on his head. He smiled, stepping outside. The cap seemed to make him happy.

"So, what do you want to do?" Sean said, as they walked between the houses down toward the lake.

"I don't know." Alfonzo turned his palms up.

"How about playing catch down on the lawn?"

Alfonzo shook his head. "I'm not really feeling up to it."

"We can do whatever you want." Sean sensed that something was wrong.

"Can we try fishing?" Alfonzo said, bright-eyed. "I've never been, and you told me we could try sometime."

Sean really didn't want to go fishing. He grew up on the lake and had fished constantly for years. Glancing at Alfonzo's expectant eyes, he nodded in agreement. "Come on," Sean said. "Let's get the equipment."

They retrieved fishing gear from a shed. Returning to the dock, the boys put the poles down. Sean knelt and opened the tackle box; a few trays slid open, full of colorful lures. Alfonzo stepped over and looked at the tackle.

"Wow," he said. "Those sure are neat fishing hooks."

"They're call lures. The hooks are what's on the rods right now. We just need bobbers." He pointed to the red and white plastic balls. "The bobbers clamp on the line, and keep the bait from sinking."

"Can we use any of these?" Alfonzo said, pointing at the lures.

"Those won't catch any fish this time of day."

"Why not?"

"Most of them are poppers. You reel them in with the lure popping on top of the water. Use them in the evening, when the fish are near the surface... looking for bugs."

"Where are the fish now?"

"When it gets warmer during the day, the fish go further down. They go near the bottom when it's really hot."

Alfonzo nodded. His eyes were wide with excitement.

"You can use the spinners and shiny lures during the day." Sean shrugged. "You cast them out and reel them in. But you mostly catch pickerel with them."

"What's a pickerel?"

"A fish with a lot of teeth. Sometimes you get perch with a Mepps spinner."

"Those are the fish with the stripes." Alfonzo smiled. "Can we try a spinner?"

"Yeah, but we're going to start with worms. Get you used to casting and setting the hook, then you can try a lure."

Alfonzo smiled wide, nodding. He was all ears, paying close attention.

Sean showed him how to bait the hook, wiggling the worm on so it still moved. And then he let out some slack, and adjusted the bobber. Showing Alfonzo how to cast took some time before he sunk the line far from the dock.



Sitting at the end of the dock, the boys held onto the fishing rods. Sneakers and socks off, piled in a heap, they dangled their feet in the water. They talked baseball waiting for a bobber to go under. The sun beat down and Sean wondered if they would even catch a fish.

Then the bobber on Alfonzo's line went underwater.

"You've got one." Sean stood up.

"What do I do?"

"Stand up," Sean replied. "Then you have to set the hook."

"How?"

Alfonzo stood up. Sean reached over and helped steady the rod. "You have to slowly reel in the slack, just a couple of turns."

Alfonzo did as he was told, turning the handle of the reel, ever so slightly. A mixed look of excitement and shock appeared on the boy's face. Sean reached out, demonstrating, and showed Alfonzo how to set the hook, by yanking the rod.

The boy awkwardly jerked the rod. A weak effort.

Sean figured the hook set when the bobber went under. "Okay, now reel it in fast."

Alfonzo nodded. He held the rod and vigorously worked the reel, while the rod dipped, almost touching the water.

"Hold the rod up," Sean said, helping level it.

"Yeah, thanks."

The line darted from side to side. As the bobber moved closer to the dock, the end of the rod bent. Alfonzo struggled to reel in the fish. The rod bent further, as the fish plied its way toward the bottom.

"It's giving a good fight. Keep it up, you're doing it."

"Yeah, this fish is strong."

"Want me to help reel it in?"

Alfonzo shook his head. The line continued to dart in the water, but it zoomed back and forth in shorter distances. Sean knew it was close to coming up.

He watched the little boy strain, leaning back for leverage.

Then the fish was at the surface. Alfonzo slowly reeled it out of the water.

"You've got it!" Sean yelled. "And it's a big perch."

Alfonzo smiled, straining with all his might; he struggled to bring the fish out of the lake. Sean worried the boy would let go of the rod, and it might tumble into the water. He envisioned it being dragged along the bottom by the fish.

The rod bent further. The perch wiggled on the end of the line. Alfonzo cranked the reel in short bursts. Sean watched the fish scoot further upward, jerky increments.

"Okay, you can swing it over here."

Alfonzo swung the fish over. Grabbing the line, Sean glanced at the perch in awe. The fish was ten inches long. It had dark green coloring along the dorsal fin. Dark green stripes ran down its sides, intermittently, with bright yellow stripes.

The fish spun on the line, revealing its white belly.

Alfonzo smiled proudly. Sean leaned closer. The hook was set in the upper lip. It would be easy to unhook and let the fish go.

"This is quite a catch," he said to Alfonzo.

"Really?"

"Sure, this fish is bigger than most perch we catch."

"Can I show my parents?"

Sean shrugged. "Why not?"

"What do I do?"

"Just hold the handle of the rod like you have it there. And grab the line above the fish with the other hand."

The boy did as he was told. They hustled up the path between the houses, and plodded over to Alfonzo's back door.

Sean wrapped on the door. The boy stood behind him, eagerly holding his fish and the rod. His mother answered. Confusion crept over her face.

"Alfonzo caught a big perch," Sean explained, huffing.

She canted her head, interested.

Alfonzo stood on the patio, wide-eyed, and grinning proudly. His mother cupped a hand over her mouth, like she was about to cry.

"I'll get your father," she said, turning away.

A moment later, they were both standing there. The parents smiled, and the father had a camera in his hands. Alfonzo beamed with joy. They stood within the doorway, mesmerized by the fish, and took pictures of the child's accomplishment.



They headed back down to the dock. Sean took the pole and grabbed the line, laying the perch on a plank. It flipped weakly. He gently stepped on the side of the fish, being careful not to injure its pectoral fin.

"Why are you stepping on it?"

"This is how you take the hook out."

"Oh."

Pressing slightly with the rubber sole of his sneaker, Sean grabbed the end of the hook and wiggled it loose from the fish's lip. He pushed it through the way the hook went in; it came out easily.

Sean scooped his hand under the fish's belly. He picked it up and then kneeled on the dock. Bending over, he placed the fish into the water. He held the perch beneath the surface, watching its gills expand and contract.

The fish slowly became alert, and began to wiggle in Sean's hands. Once he felt the fish get stronger, Sean let go, and it darted away.

"That fish is going to be fine," Sean said to Alfonzo.

The boy smiled, nodding.

Sean got to his feet, and the boy hurried over to the tackle box. "Now, can we use one of these," he said, reaching for a lure.

"Be careful -"

"Ouch!" Alfonzo screeched, yanking his hand back from the tackle box. A lure with multiple, three-pronged hooks, dangled from his fingers.

"Let me see," Sean said, calmly. "It's probably just hooked through your skin."

Alfonzo looked grim. He held up his hand and peered closely at the hooks piercing the skin of his fingers; the boy was terrified. A drop of blood rolled onto the curved hook. Then it dripped, stippling the dock.

"I can get it off your hand." Sean stepped closer. "It's happened to me plenty of times. Looks worse than it really is."

Alfonzo shook his head in panic. He whimpered. Another drop of blood fell, splattering a plank. The boy shrieked, and started bawling. His face turned pale, and he ran from the dock with the lure hooked to his hand, screaming for his mother.



Sean didn't know what to do. He watched Alfonzo get further and further away. For a moment, he thought about chasing after the boy. But Alfonzo quickly slipped between the houses and ran out of sight.

The hooks would take only minutes to remove. Then he would have put iodine on the cuts, and cover them with band aids. Now, Alfonzo would likely stay inside for a while. Sean closed the tackle box, grabbed the gear, and then headed to the shed.



Later, the day dragged on without Alfonzo returning. Sean grew tired of hanging around the house, so he grabbed his baseball mitt and stepped out back.

Playing alone, he noticed that nobody was around. Everything had turned quiet, still. He wondered if the neighbors had gone out. He peeked next door. The shiny Cadillac was in the driveway, but so many cars came and went, he couldn't tell if anyone was home.

An argument erupted from the house. Windows open, he heard Alfonzo's father yelling. The boy cried, and the yelling grew louder. Alfonzo screamed and blubbered incoherently.

A slapping sound, and then Alfonzo's mother screeched, hysterically. Another slap, and the crying abruptly ceased.

Sean tossed his glove and bolted between the houses toward the lake.

A door creaked open. Alfonzo's father stepped onto a small porch. Descending the steps, he glanced at Sean, and then headed up the path.

Sean stopped and looked the boy's father over.

He wore dress pants and a silk shirt with the top buttons undone. A gold chain hung, exposed. The man's eyes were fierce with anger. He stepped closer.

Sean moved back, frightened. He tripped on a tree root and fell to the ground, landing slightly uphill from the irate man.

Alfonzo's father lingered, menacingly, not saying a word.

Sean grew indignant. "Why are you so hard on him?"

The boy's father stood there, staring, grinding his teeth. A subtle rage bubbled to the surface. Dark skin and piercing eyes, terrifying. A movement of the man's right hand, and Sean prepared himself for a blow.

The gangster let out a sigh. Looking Sean over, he took a deep breath. "Because he's not strong like you."

When the arm came around, he was holding the fishing lure.

"This is yours."

He tossed it gently toward Sean. It landed in the pine needles with a soft thud. Sean glanced toward the lure, and Alfonzo's father turned away, dejected.

4 comments:

  1. Distilled, focussed writing. A good read. Many thanks,
    Ceinwen

    ReplyDelete
  2. Clever take on relationship, nicely drawn characters, especially poor Alfonzo living under such pressure,
    Mike McC

    ReplyDelete
  3. I enjoyed puzzling over this. What was it about Alfonzo? Was he playing a game, was he a haemophiliac and under the fixated protection of his parents? ...Then the word 'gangster', right at the end and the realization that the green flared-trousered, camera-brandishing father was godfather. The highly detailed interlude with the fishing tackle slowed the pace nicely and gave the brain time to consider other possibilities before the revelation.
    B r o o k e

    ReplyDelete