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Laura254Jack spent most of those first days staring at his daughter’s back. He watched her good hand, the one that wasn’t in a cast, glide across a keyboard. Angelina worked fast, and clearly, Crostini, the Hitchcock blonde of a boss, was pleased. She leaned against his daughter’s little desk, randomly picking up then putting down pens and paperclip holders. Angelina looked down at Crostini’s alligator-skin high heels and asked her how long it’d taken her to get her master’s degree.

“Ms. Moltisanti, if you keep blazing through the assignments, I’m going to have to get more creative,” Crostini laughed.  “Don’t you know I’m an engineer? We don’t do creative.”

He hadn’t thought that Angelina would do so well. He’d anticipated having a few little talks with her about tone-of-voice on the phone and the importance of filing the folders in alpha-order. And since this was her first (that he knew of) post-graduate job, he figured that punctuality would be an issue—especially since, back when she was in high school, he’d had to drag her out of bed after 8:30 on Saturday mornings.  But she’d beaten him into the office. She’d checked the voicemails, tucked a note with people to call and the numbers to reach them under the sign on his desk that read Jack Moltisanti: Foreman. Her handwriting was neat, too: prim little loops of cursive.

This was especially impressive, since she was doing it one-handed. A few weeks ago, some Georgetown bitch in a ’13 Tahoe hybrid had T-boned his daughter Angelina’s ’08 Honda Civic. Angelina’s left wrist had shattered against the wheel. Chauffeur’s fracture: That’s what the E.R. doc had said. He shook his head when he looked at the goddamn X-Rays. Which was awful, of course. But also good. Jack was taking care of the insurance wrangling for her, just so she could rest and recover. But she couldn’t be in his basement forever—since the accident had cost her that coffee shop job she held in D.C., she’d had to move back in with him and Marie—so he got her a little part-time job answering phones at his contracting company.

Not his company. The firm’s name was like one of those British shows Marie would’ve watched on BBC: Whiting, Terner and Abbey. He was the foreman. As the civil engineer, Crostini was just one step above him. In title, but not seniority: She’d only been onsite for six months. One of the first things she’d noticed was the mug on his desk, which said, in bold black letters, STUGOTS.

She suggested that he “maybe just turn that around when the guys from the firm come in.” He didn’t maybe just turn it around. He even let one of the guys from the firm—the kind of guy who looked like he’d list indoor rock climbing and barefoot running as hobbies on an online dating site—hold it; the kid, who looked even younger than Crostini, spoke with breathless sincerity: “Stugots. That was the name of Tony Soprano’s boat, right?”

“Whiting, Terner and Abbey. This is Angelina Moltisanti, how may I help you?”

Using her full name was awkward (and he’d have to tell her so later), but Angelina had a pleasant enough phone voice. She hadn’t—as he’d feared—overcompensated for her usual tone with a slip-the-knife-in-sideways sweetness that would make callers think she was mocking them.

He thought maybe he should say something; just tell her she was off to a good start. Marie told him about some article in the Oprah magazine about “the boomerang generation” of graduates circling back home “during a crisis economy.” Part of becoming a real person meant sweating the rent now and again. But he told Marie he’d try to “validate and affirm” Angelina every so often. (He’d made her whittle her subscription list down, and of course she couldn’t hold on to Good Housekeeping instead).

He’d never heard Crostini sound so at ease; loose, even. He remembered the sound his mother made every night when she peeled off her bra, something between a grunt and a moan. When he was still very young and they were still very poor, she made him shower with her every night to save water. He blinked through the stream; saw the marks where underwire rutted her pale breasts. When she’d catch him staring, she flicked soap in his eyes. “Smettila,” she’d say, (though she was mostly Irish), forcing a laugh, forcing a fond memory (or, impression, at least) of his father, who they didn’t miss.

Crostini asked Angie questions about frames for some kind of drawing she wanted to commission. Angelina just smiled like a kid with a secret. His daughter had gone to school for “illustration.” He always said she should’ve drawn pictures for children’s books. Even as a kid, her drawings were bizarre: a male lion sunning himself on a construction beam, fruit bats in cop uniforms and gorillas in fatigues. He’d told Marie to ask her for something normal. And what did Angelina give him? A Pit Bull in a tutu. Still, the guys onsite at the time had been floored: “Looks just like a photograph, only more imaginative,” they’d say. “You’ve got some talent in your genes, Jackie boy, but it must’ve skipped a generation.”

He waited for some sign that she felt defeated by the work—a slouch, a sigh—but she only fidgeted to fix her sling.

“Been a while since you iced your wrist. Didn’t the doc say something about swelling?”

Angelina cut him a side-eye, but she walked to the freezer, got out the ice pack, and slapped it on top of her cast. The shitty little AC unit they had in the trailer window was nothing against the swelter of late June, and the pack started sweating like it was a guy who had a bad feeling about that final round of Russian roulette.

Jack walked over to the kitchenette, pulled a dishtowel out of the cupboard, and dropped it on her cast.

“Wrap that pack up,” he said. “You’re getting water all over the computer.”

He wasn’t disciplining her; he was simply informing her (and if she jacked up the company computer, he’d have to pay for it). But her face became a series of Viewmaster reels, embarrassment clicking over to anger, anger clicking into resignation. She fumbled one-handedly wrestling the pack into the towel. When he went to help her, she grunted that she was fine, thank you. She could manage it by herself.

If they were at home, he’d have said, “Well, fuck you too.” Or, if he’d wanted to be funny about it, “well, fuck you too, missy.”

She was old enough for him to rib her like that—not that she’d find it funny, anyway. Kids in their twenties took everything so seriously. He certainly hadn’t been innocent himself, but Angelina started even younger than that: wearing t-shirts that had pictures of naked women in gorilla head masks on them with “Guerilla Girls” written over the chest; blasting music filled with animal screeching and the sounds of hammers striking frozen slabs of beef. When he went into her room and made her turn it down, she said—without even looking up at him—“it’s about the death of Mussolini, any Italian patriot should love it.” He hadn’t missed a beat: “Our people weren’t from the mainland.”

As he stepped back, Jack couldn’t help but glance at the numbers on Angelina’s screen: items purchased, number of items, and total costs from 2007. If Crostini was only going to assign her busy work, he might as well have overseen Angelina himself. He’d have thought of some projects that were more worth her time.

“I’m going to clock out for lunch,” Angelina said. “If that’s cool.”

“Sure. Hey, I’ll even treat you. Italian cold cut with hots,” he said.

That was his favorite sub, the one he always got on carryout nights. When she was a kid, Angie used to beg Marie to let her order “Daddy’s sandwich.” Marie insisted that was “too severe for a ten-year-old.” But when Marie wasn’t looking, he’d sneak a pinch of the hots onto Angelina’s bland spaghetti. He was her favorite back then. Sometime between the nights he’d carried her up to bed singing “it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Supergirl” and the day she left for college, he’d become an irredeemable asshole.

“I’m actually getting lunch with Eleanor.”

Took him a moment to realize she meant Crostini. She’s getting lunch with Eleanor. Who, of course, couldn’t help but chime in with a “sorry to be stealing her away, Jack.” Don’t give them what they want, he thought. Don’t be that guy they can roll their eyes about.

Jack piloted his Pathfinder off-site and past the light rail stop to check on Angelina’s rental car. He had her park the Hyundai there to keep it from getting too dirty or scuffed onsite. He’d offered to pick her up and drive her the quarter-mile back to the site, but she’d insisted on walking.

When she first came back, she’d even resisted Marie’s attempts to carve her meat for her. She pinched the fork between her free left fingers and sawed as best she could with the butter knife in her right hand. The futility of her efforts had a sharp poignancy that reminded him of his next-door neighbor growing up, a retarded girl whose mother dolled her up in party dresses.

Some fucker in a silver Cobalt must’ve flunked kindergarden, since he couldn’t stay inside the lines. He’d parked perilously close to Angelina, and it wasn’t like he was boxed in, had no other choice. He’d had plenty of room to back out and then edge in straight. But, no, he was the axis of the everloving world. Why would he deign to consider other people, even for a second? Angelina would have to climb in through her passenger door (with a heavy plaster cast, no less. One that would fucking hurt if she accidentally banged it against her dashboard). That was, of course, assuming that some other fucker didn’t block her in on that side.

Jack parked in a restaurant lot about two blocks away. He snapped on his tool belt, empty save for a single hammer. He considered stepping inside a few of the cafes and the holistic health spa (whatever the fuck that was) and asking for the owner of the Cobalt. But even if the owner were there, he likely wouldn’t fess up, let alone move his car. Sure, Jack could say that the lights were on and lure the guy outside that way. Then things would get ugly in a public street, especially if the guy wouldn’t comply.

Keying the car door was too prissy. It wouldn’t even cost this guy an hour at the body shop. Jack scanned the light rail lot: tons of cars but no people around, and no cameras. No “No Smoking” sign either, so he pulled his pack from his pack pocket and struck his match against the Cobalt’s windshield.

Leaning with his back against the Cobalt’s driver’s side door, Jack palmed the hammer from his tool belt. He counted to ten. With a single swing, he drove the hammer into the door. His weight against the car muffled the crunch of metal. The sound zipped through him like an electric current. He counted to ten again. Swung again. Again. Again. Swung until it looked like the hand of God had slammed a basketball into this douchebag’s car door.

“Your name is no,” he muttered.

He finished his cigarette, stubbed it against the side view mirror. Ash gathered in the rim between the plastic and glass: If this dude drove with his window open, it’d fly into his teeth for at least a good mile. Jack slipped the hammer, head down, into his tool belt. He’d wipe it clean of metallic bits when he was back in his car. In the meantime, he’d just walk into one of the cafes and order a coffee to go. If anyone even dimly remembered a guy in a tool belt, he’d only be that guy who ordered a black coffee and flirted dumbly with the girl behind the counter (lots of sugar, sugar).

Jack drove on to the deli with his driver’s side window open and his Sirius XM radio queued to the Johnny Cash station. The guys he’d grown up with used to rib him for his Cash eight-tracks: “What kind of self-respecting guinea listens to country?” Still, they couldn’t help but nod along to “Get Rhythm” or laugh their asses off at “A Boy Named Sue.” Cash’s voice—thick with longing, sharp with regret—could’ve belonged to any of the foremen who told Jack and his friends to take a long lunch and deliver some message to a jeweler in Hoboken.

That voice made the drives past gated storefronts and Black girls playing hopscotch; under the skeletons of impending skyscrapers; and through strip-malls the length of football fields, structures so sleek and burnished they seemed like they’d been built inside one of those giant plexiglass domes in some science fiction movie. They always took his car. ’77 Impala. The perfect shade of cherry red.

About every ten songs in, Sirius would play “Man in Black,” and, like he always did when he was alone, Jack crooned along. Only this time, when he reached, “I wear the black for the poor and beaten down,” he howled the o’s in poor and down. His mother, who did her needlepoint during the war report and never threw out her “trashy papers” (every week, a new celebrity sex den, a new inside job that had killed Kennedy), would say that “the world is a giant record player, and sin is the needle.”  He didn’t know about sin, but one victory against an arrogant prick was something to feel good about. It skipped that record forward, if only for a second.

He’d planned to let the song play out before setting up at one of the benches outside of the bank. Then “Street Fighting Man” came on, and he figured that was as good a time as any to dial up the insurance rep. Some kid named Hunter. Who sounded like a kid named Hunter: He had the aggressive affability of a boy forced into too many team sports.

Jack wasn’t one for hellos, especially when all this kid could offer him was a measly five-k. A fucking pittance. It wouldn’t begin to let Angelina replace her used car without taking out a loan.

“So where are we, Hunter?”

Jack absently rapped his knuckles along the window. He exhaled slowly, his heartbeat synching with the steady drum of bone against glass.

“Tell me we were able to rattle Geico into giving us something more appropriate.”

“Well, here’s the thing, Jack,” he said. “They’re feeling like their driver, yes, she made a mistake—”

Several mistakes,” Jack said. “Speeding. Running a stop sign. Texting. That’s a hat trick of bad driving, my friend.”

An Orthodox family, a pretty young mother and her little girl, walked into the grocery store. She pushed a stroller in front of her, taking quick, nimble steps that made the hem of her black skirt float over her ankles. Her body had a pert plumpness that made her seem girlish yet worldly.

He’d watch Marie breastfeed in the days after Angie was born. Marie didn’t try to cover up, either. She sat on their bed, smoothing her fingers over the base of Angie’s bald skull. “You’d think a Sicilian baby would’ve had more hair,” she’d said. She was still his wife, the woman who laughed and laughed when, slippery-drunk on rail whiskey, he blew raspberries on her nipples. And yet, she felt more complicated now. She was more vulnerable, more refined; but she’d been ripped apart, she was primal.

Angie had never been so perfect: rosebud lips and doughy belly. He could cover her whole face with his hand. Sometimes, she’d move her lips and suckle against his palm. Sometimes, she’d yawn into the gaps between his fingers. Her breath, so ticklish and sweet.

“Well, the thing is, we can’t prove she was texting. There’s only your daughter’s word versus the other driver’s, and the other driver says she wasn’t texting. ”

“Did they read the police report? Did you? That cop, Banzini, he would have put it in.”

“He didn’t mention texting specifically. I mean, again, if he didn’t see it himself, I don’t think he can put it in the report per say. He did cite the other driver for speeding and failure to yield—”

“I’m going to get another copy of that report,” Jack said. “I specifically heard my daughter tell Banzini that the other girl was texting. They probably only faxed you part of it.”

“They scanned it and emailed it to me. The whole thing. There’s no mention of texting.”

Hunter sighed, a knife blade of exhalation.

“Yes, Jack, I’ve spoken to her, and I’ve gotten her statement.”

A trio of teenagers—two boys and a girl—wandered into the parking lot. The girl and the taller of two boys wore grocery store’s uniforms: black polos, black pants, and black visors. Name tags. The smaller boy wore jeans that he had to keep hitching up his ass and a T-shirt he fairly drowned in. He loped behind the other two as if he was just arriving at a game that had already started without him.

Hunter said he’d tell Geico that the offer was “insufficient,” and yes, he’d fax his copy of the accident report to Jack’s office right away.  Of course, he just had to mention that he “honestly wasn’t sure” they could get anything over seven thousand.

“That’s when I go ahead and talk to someone above your pay-grade,” Jack said.

By the time they’d said their goodbyes, the station had cycled through another “Two for Tuesday” Stones song (“Brown Sugar” was always the backup) and arrived at some terrible song where the singer, in a put-on corn-pone accent, wailed that he was “a dirty white boy, a dirty white boy.” Something about his voice and the droning guitars behind it, made Jack feel as tender and stripped as a thumb that’s had the nail torn off.

He sat in the car for a long time, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. He’d made a name for himself as a guy who’d take on favors. Growing up, his pal Monty always said that enough “I owe you’s” made a down payment. Jack would’ve never wanted Angie to find herself in the basement of some deli, freezing like she’d rubbed up on a witch’s tit, fighting the urge to blanche at the odor of stale meat and bleach; would’ve never wanted her to know that pig’s blood smells sweeter than people’s blood, or that people’s blood, if hosed away, right away, can fade away, stainless.

When he looked up, he saw the Orthodox mother cross into the parking lot wrangling her stroller one-handed. She bent her arm at a ninety-degree angle to accommodate the plastic basket that she’d hooked around her elbow. Her little girl gripped her free arm. The girl’s dark curls sprang out from the sides of her pink kerchief. She kicked her sneakered feet in the air, and in a tiny, tinny voice, she sang “she certainly can, can-can.”

They approached a silver Suburu Legacy with one of those stick figure families on the back windshield: a dad with an oversized tie and briefcase, a mother with a baby on her hip, and a girl in a ballerina tu-tu. Normally, those stick figure families made his teeth itch, but their curlicue smiles made him even more aware of the mother’s stressed, stricken expression as she struggled to set the basket down. There were eggs and milk inside and the pavement was hot. People simply walked by her—all perfectly able-bodied assholes who could’ve stopped their carts and held the goddamn basket for her for just five minutes.

Jack pocketed his keys as he approached the mother, offered to take the basket for her while she dug out her keys. She looked at him as if he’d thrown cold water on her face. He knew her people were a little hinky about touching the opposite sex, but she could’ve at least smiled when she mouthed no, thank you. Or she could have actually said no, thank you.

The little girl tilted her head like a spaniel that’d just caught a scent. She looked up at Jack with a smile that only seemed guileless because of her age; there was something sly and mocking in her eyes.  Jack was never the most at ease around younger kids—they could do or say anything, at any time—so he just waved with the tips of his fingers. The girl started laughing. Not a mean laugh, but a loud one. It drew the eyes of everyone in the lot. Matchsticks struck inside Jack’s cheeks.

As he walked away, the little girl sang out single word: “No.”

_____________________________

LAURA BOGART‘s work has been featured in The Rumpus, Salon, The Weeklings, The Nervous Breakdown and Spectre (among other publications). She’s currently at work on a novel called Your Name is No.

 

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