Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes.
Chapter Four ~ A Dark Secret Revealed
Joe picked up his beer and swirled the bottle. He stared in the dark gold liquid searching for answers. After a moment, he set the bottle down, looked over to Tony and said, “I never again set foot again in the attic until the other day. That part of the house was taken away from me in an instant. For a long while, I believed I did something terribly wrong. I didn’t understand what I did, but I I knew I crossed a line I should have never crossed. Mom never mentioned it. It is as if that moment never happened.
Tony couldn’t help himself, “I think I remember your mom being angry with you. At the time, I felt bad because I told her we looked all over for you. She called for you and you didn’t answer. Then, all of a sudden, she heard a thump in the attic and got this look on her face and took off. The next thing Anna and I knew was we had to go home. Were you ever curious as to what was in the metal box?”
“I thought about it every now and then. I wasn’t sure if it was what was inside the metal box or the fact that I was in the footlocker and messed things up. I hadn’t thought about it in years. I wasn’t sure until I cut the duct tape on the metal box and opened the box. The old hook latch I had so much trouble with when we were playing hide and seek was broken. I wondered for a moment if I broke it. For an instant, I felt guilty.”
Tony looked at his friend. He wanted to prod him. He could see the struggle in Joe’s face. Tony wondered what was in the box that was eating at his best friend. Joe was always the toughest of the two. He protected Tony, stood up to bullies. He’d just as soon fight on the playground as to backdown.
Joe said, “Look at me, Tony. Who do I favor, my mom or my dad?”
Tony thought the question was coming in from an aircraft not on his radar. He said,
“Don’t take it the wrong way, you’ve got a big nose. Neither your mom or dad have a big nose.”
Joe cracked a half smile, “I know. Who do I favor? Maybe my eyes, cheeks, mouth. I know neither mom or dad have a nose this big.”
“Your nose is big but it’s in proportion to your face. You don’t favor your dad. Your mom had dark brown eyes and your eyes are dark brown. That’s a similarity. You’re taller than both. You have any tall aunts or uncles?”
“No, both sides of the family were on the shorter side. I’m six one. I don’t think there is anyone over five feet eleven inches. I’m making a point, let me go on without interrupting me.”
Tony knew enough to back off. He waited.
Joe said, “When I opened the box, I found cards, letters, documents, and some photos.”
He paused and took a sip of his beer. Then he continued, “I’m a bastard.”
Tony looked surprised, “Everyone knows that.” Tony failed in his attempt to add humor.
“Seriously, Tony. Dad is not my dad.” Joe held up his hand to stop Tony from speaking. He continued. I picked up an old photo. It was of mom. It was weird looking at photo of my mom in a bikini on the beach. In the photo she was being carried by a tall guy, about her age, with a nose like mine. Her arm was around his neck, and he was holding her off the ground. They were both smiling. You could tell they were in love.”
“This doesn’t mean anything,” said Tony instantly realizing he should be quiet.
Joe ignored Tony’s comment and said, “There were a couple of other photos. There was one with them kissing. There was another with mom and the guy, this time he was in an army uniform. My heart was racing when I saw the photos. I didn’t know or suspect anything. But, I had this feeling, you know the kind of feeling you get when you know something is not going to turn out the way you want it to turn out if you keep on going?”
Tony nodded and stayed silent.
“I set the photos on the table. I began digging through what else was in the box. Mom saved letters and things like that. All this was before the Internet and email. I don’t even know if people write letters anymore, do you?”
Tony was unsure if he should speak. He shook his head no indicating he didn’t know anyone who wrote letters. He shrugged his shoulders.
Joe continued, “I read some letters between mom and aunt Estelle. That was mom’s older sister.”
Joe looked over a Tony, “You know my birthday, right?”
Tony said, “Yah, November 29 …”
Joe cut him off, “That’s right. “I’ll be twenty-nine this year. I asked because the postage stamp date on the envelope was dated twenty-eight years ago. It actually came December 27th, nearly a month after I was born. Mom and dad married eight months later. I never thought much about me being born before mom and dad were married. Mom told me things like that happen when people are in love and not to think anything of it. When your five or six you believe everything your parents tell you. I opened the envelope and read the letter. The letter wasn’t long, maybe a couple of paragraphs.”
Joe stopped, put his right elbow on the table and cupped his chin in his right hand. He drifted away from Tony for a minute, and gathered his thoughts. Joe took a deep breath and sat back in the booth, then leaned forward as if he were telling Tony a state secret. He said, “The letter starts, ‘Dear Annette. I met someone else. Whatever we had between us is over. I hope you won’t be mad at me.'”
“Is that all he said?” asked Tony.
“No, he said he loved her for a little while, but being away in the army caused things to happen he didn’t expect to happen. Then he added the killer sentence, he said, ‘Give little Joe a hug and kiss for me each night.'” When I read that line,Tony, I wanted to punch the son of a bitch in face and break his nose. That’s how I felt.”
“But you have the same last name as your dad. How do you explain that,” asked Tony.
“That’s easy. I did some digging. In this state you can change the name on the birth certificate up to one year without going to court. All you have to do is fill out some forms. The letter was signed, yours affectionately, Joe. He didn’t even have the guts to say I love you to her. I picked up the envelope and looked at the return address. His name was Joe Wright. He was a Lieutenant at the time and stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas. I’m going to find him. I don’t know what I’m going to say to him, but I’m going to find him.”
“You don’t want to do that, Joe. Let it go. For all you know, he’s dead.”
“If he’s dead, I’ll spit on his grave. I’m going to find him, Tony. I’ll find him even I have to
spend every cent I have.”
“Think about it first, Joe. Don’t let your emotions run away with you. What do you know about this guy other than a name, Joe Wright? In this city, Columbus, Ohio, there have to be hundreds of people with the last name, Wright. You thinking about hiring an investigator?” said Tony.
“I’m going to find him by myself. While I’m looking for him, maybe I’ll learn something about me. I’ve always felt there was a missing piece in my life, this could be it,” said Joe.
Tony leaned closer, “Besides an envelope, letter, and a few photos, what else do you have?”
“I have the bastard’s DNA and a no quit attitude. I’ll find him. Oh, yes. I’ll find him.
“Look, Joe. If your mind is set. I’ll take tomorrow off. Come over to my house. We’ll both work online and see if we can dig something up about him. Maybe we’ll find an obituary, you never know.”
Joe nodded. They clinked bottles. Tony took the leftover pizza home. Joe went back to his apartment. It was empty since Marie left. Even though it was ten at night, he changed clothes and put on his workout gear and headed out for a five mile run.
Don’t give up. Normally it is the last key on the ring which opens the door.
Big Carmen and Lil Carlo sit on the sofa in my living room. Big Carmen has a bottle of beer in his right hand and slice of pepperoni pizza in his left. Lil Carlo’s has his gun resting on the coffee table. He has a blue plastic cup of house (not my house, Carmen’s) red wine in his left hand, and a slice of the pepperoni pizza in his right.
“When’s the beautiful, tough, and edgy one gonna read her scripto?” ask Big Carmen. Before I answered, he added, “How come use is not eating a slice of my pie?”
When am I going to learn. Think first, speak second. Not today. I said, “Pepperoni is not good for you. It has nitrates. It has fats. It has other stuff, which will mess with your veins.”
“You tink so? I don’t. It’s the foundation for any good pizza. The secret is in the grease drippings. Sees, it’s the grease drippings that acts like Roto Rooter and cleans use colon. They sticks to the bad stuff. Let me asks use, how clean is use colon?”
Did Big Carmen move into the colon cleansing business? I don’t want to go there. Do you know anyone who checks the cleanliness of their colon? I hate my annual physical, know what I mean? I haven’t met a single person who wants to talk about how the cleanliness of their colon. Big Carmen and Lil Carlo are staring at me. Lil Carlo places his blue plastic cup next to his gun. His right hand rests on the gun with the kind of affection a mother gives to a baby. I wondered if it was possible to nurse a gun.
The door to La Flor’s bedroom swings open, bangs against the wall. I’ll have to call the handyman to fix the dent in the wall where the door nob hit.
“Every body and I means all the bodies within my speaking vocals, the beautiful, tough, and edgy famous model will makes her day beaut entrance with me of course.”
La Flor, wearing what I’d call – no, I’m not going to call it anything. I’m not going to try to describe it. She’s being carried out by a bare chested black bear who is barefooted and wearing, I am grateful, a men’s bathing suit. La Flor’s left arm is draped around Little Carmen’s neck, her right hand carrying her script. The paper offers as much cover as the cloth. Little Carmen cradles his precious cargo.
Big Carmen and Lil Carlo stand and start applauding. Applauding? What are they applauding? Big Carmen gives me a look, I stand and applaud. The queen, AKA La Flor blows Big Carmen a kiss. I thought he was going to collapse back onto the sofa.
The audience takes their seats on the sofa. Little Carmen carries La Flor to the TV and stops and pivots so they face the three of us.
“How do you like it so far?” said La Flor.
“Use knocked all my socks off and I wears about four pair,” said Big Carmen.
“Use knocked all my boxers off and I wears six pair,” said Lil Carlo.
Lil Carlo wears boxers? I didn’t know they sold boxers in the kid’s clothing section. I keep quiet.
“What about you, Ray.” La Flor won’t let me keep quiet. Four sets of eyes stare at me.
“Uh, ah, um. I’m speechless. You knocked all my words out of me,” again I am pleased with my brilliant mind. My ability to turn tragedy in triumph.
“You can’t handle my sexuality. Can you, Ray?” said La Flor.
“Yes, I can,” I countered weakly.
“You can’t handle da tooth,” said Little Carmen. “Did I get it right, beautiful, tough, and edgy one?”
La Flor said, “I’m tired. My perfect entrance took it all out of me. Can I read the script tomorrow you handsome man?”
“Any ting for use. Use beautiful, tough, and edgy one,” said Big Carmen.
“Can I come wit use?” Asked Lil Carlo to Big Carmen.
La Flor and I sit at the table. I’m sipping my coffee, a piece of multigrain toast smothered in peanut butter and raw honey sits in a dish in front of me. A bowl of blueberries off to the side. The temperature in the room is a pleasant 75. Yet, I feel as if I’m back in the freezer.
“Are you going to speak?” I asked La Flor.
“No. No. No. I am never going to speak to you again and this doesn’t count for speaking,” she said.
“Yes it does,” I said.
“No. It was a commercial. And, furthermore you blew a great career opportunity for the both of us.”
“How so?” I asked.
La Flor doesn’t realize she’s talking to me for the first time in five days. “That second rate, oily skinned, horrible hairstyle, who has no class now has my job as the image for Carmen’s Pizzeria. Truth be told, and I will tell the truth, it’s all silicon and collagen. And, a little liposuction from the hips. You think those lips are the same one’s she was born with? Let me tell you about her ….”
“Stop right there, La Flor. Are you talking about Carmela?”
“The itch, I won’t use the B word, stole my job. I am going to trash, trash, trash her.”
“Why don’t you celebrate her success? I’m happy TT is the new manager.”
“That’s because you have no ambition.”
“Do you want half of my toast?”
“No. I’m on a starvation diet.”
“Yes. I’m restricting myself to smoothies and wine and ghuda cheese.”
I hear the door slam, not a moment too soon. Little Carmen comes into the dining room.
“How’s the beautiful, tough, and edgy soon to be model of the world’s most expensive jewelry.”
La Flor cocked her head toward Little Carmen, “Say what?”
“I was talking to Big Carmen and telling him how’s it wasn’t fair that use is not the image for the pizzeria. He’s sorry he did it because his sales has gone down the toilet.”
“I knew it. I knew it. Everyone loves me.”
“Of course. But he had to do it to keeps peace in the big family seeing Carmela is the Whale’s granddaughter and Big Carmen is her godfather.”
“What’s this thing about being a model?” asked La Flor.
“It’s a deal, ifs use wants it. Joe Tomalina, he’s an importer and exporter of certain things. Namely, in this case diamonds is one of his imports. And, cars left for more three hours on the street are what he exports. Well. La Roche Exquisite Jewels needs the importer to procure diamonds. But upon Big Carmen talking to Joe who happens to be a cousin of Big Carmen, Joe tells the roach he got to have you as the new image. TV, Cable, all the big mags. Use got the best deal possible. There’s only one hitch.”
“What and it better not be a deal breaker,” said La Flor.
No, no deal breaker. You still got to be the eye candy for Pepper, Whale and the 5th. They want to watch you do the shoot.”
La Flor bounded out of her chair, threw her arms around Little Carmen’s neck and began to kiss him. For my part, I took my coffee, toast, and fruit to the patio. I’m not one to interfere with love.