38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl): Chapter Thirteen
Author’s Note: This is Part 13 of a series of posts serializing my novella 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl). For more information on the origins of this novella, including all disclaimers, and a complete chapter list, please see the announcement regarding this series.
Shortly after one, Davey and I drove a few miles out of town in his Dodge Dart to get a bite to eat for lunch. Cops were everywhere, and more than one gave us a solid stare as we passed. There was a resemblance between me and Mikey, but it wasn’t that strong. His hair was dark—mine dirty blonde. Mikey had the hard look of a man with serious issues. I still had the look of youth; that dumb, the world is my oyster, look of innocence. I had the look, but I knew better.
We grabbed a booth at a hamburger stand on Highway 15. The lunch crowd was pretty much gone. Most of the heavy traffic had moved over to the new Highway 401, so what used to be a pretty bustling location barely saw any business these days. The food was cheap though, and half decent, so it was a good option from ‘city food’.
A steady stream of cop cars buzzed up and down the roads, heading in both directions, some at high speed, some at a slow crawl. Every hitchhiker and every car with a busted taillight or window was pulled over and inspected. They actually caught one guy that way around dinner time driving a stolen car north on a back road. He didn’t put up much of a fight, but still looked like he had ‘resisted’ by the time he was back in his cell. The Mounties always got their man. What was left afterwards was left for the medics to sort out.
After lunch, we took a swing around the city, touring old spots where Mikey used to hang out. A lot had changed in eighteen years, and most of the spots had been rebuilt or knocked down. We even went by the old high school to where Cathy had been beaten. The bushes had been replaced by a parking lot extension. We spent a couple of hours driving around, trying to see, but not be seen. More than a couple of times, someone we knew waved at Davey, saw me, and pointed to a friend. Look there’s Donnie. The killer’s brother.
Davey dropped me off a block behind my place around four. I hopped the two fences, and slipped back into the house.
Mom still sat at the table in her robe. Dad had showered and dressed, but waited on the couch, ready to jump at the slightest noise. He glanced at me as I entered, hoping I had brought some good news. I shook my head, and slumped down next to him. We sat in silence as the sun began its slow slide to the west.
Doris, helpful as ever, brought over dinner for us. I wasn’t real hungry. Watching Mom mope about was hard on the stomach, and the beef-noodle casserole barely stayed down. I followed it with a cold bottle of Labatt’s, which didn’t help my gut much, but was at least something to hold onto, other than a coffee cup. And I sure didn’t need any more of that.
I debated going back out. Davey had said he was up for it, but all our usual haunts would be more than a little awkward. Most folks I knew well would have let it be, but there’d always be punks like Jimmy Tolliver hanging out around the pool table, trying to get my goat. I was normally a pretty calm guy, but I knew it wouldn’t take much that night to set me off. Absence, in this case, was the better part of valor.
I stretched out on the couch, and watched TV, trying to pick up the channels out of Buffalo. The Blue Jays didn’t come around until 1976, so our choices on that night were a little limited. Seemed like most folks here were Red Sox fans, but I leaned to the Yankees, if only to be different. Baseball, however, was just the intermission of the real show between May and October. Hockey ruled this town. Even in the middle of the summer, a single, poorly-chosen word could set off a brawl between Canadiens’ and Maple Leafs’ fans.
There was a Yankees-White Sox game on the TV that night, though the reception from the rabbit ears wasn’t great. It was in Chicago. I wondered if anyone in Comiskey Park had heard about the escape, or if anyone there had ever even heard of Kingston. I tried to figure out how far Chicago was from us, and if Mikey was heading west, how long it would take him to get there. After a few innings, I turned the game off, and sat in silence, staring at the ceiling.
In those days, the paperboy dropped the paper in the evenings. Today’s landed with the weight of a special edition on our doorstep around nine o’clock. We waited a few minutes before grabbing it from the stoop, afraid people would be waiting for us to stick our head out the door. I did the quick run, and barely made it in before the spotlight on the remaining news van lit up the front of the house like a concert stage. They turned their light off quick, but the effect of the flash glowed in my eyes for ten minutes afterwards.
I handed the paper to Pop. There were three sections to it, as there was every weekend. Pop took the first section, handed the second one to Mom, and I was left with the entertainment, coupons, classified and the funnies. Most nights, that would have been the section I wanted, but tonight, Mom and I hovered over Pop’s shoulder as he read the front page lead.
12 Men Escape From Millhaven
The pictures of the twelve were strung in two rows of six below that, with a caption below each with their height, weight, original crime and sentence. All but three were convicted murders. Two of the other three were rapists, and the last was in for armed robbery. Not a nice group of fellas, no matter how you looked at it. The pictures were arranged alphabetically, putting Mikey as the second picture on the second row. Three of the convicts had names that started with L’ or Le or La. All Frenchies.
The story on the first page detailed what was known about the escape, which was very little when the story was published, and said a little more about the police effort to recapture the fugitives. There was no further mention of Mikey on the first page.
The second page, however, was dominated by an article completely devoted to Michael James Mallory. The breath rushed out of Mom’s chest as soon as she read the title. “Local Man One of Millhaven Twelve” That’s what he would be known as for the rest of his life. One of the Millhaven Twelve. And Mom’s title, Mother of a Murderer, would now be suffixed with ‘and Mother of One of the Millhaven Twelve’. She crumpled back into her kitchen chair, and stared at the seat that she had been saving, all these years.
“Oh, Michael.” She burst into tears. Pop pulled another tissue from a box and handed it to her. She took it without thinking, clenching it in her hand.
Pop read the page, then read it again, scanned the next page, and flipped to the next page. He muttered something under his breath, but I didn’t catch what he said. It all slid off his back, at least outwardly. He might have been burning up inside, but outside, he maintained his composure.
Mom continued to sob, and soaked through two more tissues before the crying died down. By then I had taken the rest of the paper, and was skimming through the classified ads. I wasn’t looking for anything specific. I was just looking. It was what we did back then for fun when we couldn’t get out of the house.
I made a vain attempt at the Saturday crossword, but didn’t get more than three or four words right. I was never that good in school, but was okay at the hide-a-words and daily jumbles. Mom usually got to them before I did, but today I had them to myself and knocked them out pretty easily.
When you’re used to going out and partying every Saturday night, rain or shine, a Saturday night at home can feel like forever, especially when you’re stuck with a mother who’s bouncing between sobbing uncontrollably, and pacing frantically. It wasn’t that Pop and I didn’t want to do anything for her. There was nothing we could do for her. We’d seen her get like this many times over the past few years. They call it manic-depressive now, I think, but back then we didn’t know there was anything wrong. Life with a manic-depressive became a balancing act between making sure they didn’t hurt themselves, and making sure you didn’t hurt them. It was touch and go on the latter for a long time with Mom.
I moved from the couch into my bedroom shortly before ten-thirty, and briefly considered sneaking out the window and going to meet Davey down at the pub. But the reality was that I was okay with not going out. I didn’t want the attention—or the questions. So I sat up in bed, read an old Popular Mechanics magazine, and drifted off sometime after eleven.