Joseph Salvatore

Got the Wings of Heaven on My Shoes: Side 2

If I Can’t Have You

The drops of sweat on the face of Jesus at the twelfth station of the cross on the wall in the rear of St. Anselm’s church are perceptible only if you get up close underneath it. A regular worshipper might be aware of this detail, yet lately even the most devout parishioner of St. Anselm’s would find it difficult to distinguish the once-golden drops of sweat from the once-maroon drops of blood dripping down the Savior’s thorn-pierced and Holy ravaged forehead. This plaster vision of Christ’s agony and ecstasy is in hard need of repair: the tip of his nose has been chipped off, leaving an octahedral crater in varying shades of white and gray; his right hand is gone, as is the mound of plaster that was his left-over-right singly-nailed-in feet. The blue paint that once was sky above the jutting cross, as well as the brown and green of mountains and trees are all now a smudge of ashen gray set buried beneath a soft fur of decades-old dust. The maroon and gold paint has either faded or been completely chipped so that their shapes are practically indiscernible from one another—indiscernible, that is, with the exception of one nearly imperceptible difference: The drops of blood are tear-shaped while the beads of sweat are pear-shaped, a detail Pauline revealed to Bobby on their first date at White Castle. She had explained, while foraging through the French fries on the oval platter, that if you looked closely you’d notice the tear-shaped drops issuing forth directly from the thorn wounds while the pear-shaped ones are sprinkled indiscriminately about his divine countenance, yet when you scanned down around the beautifully gaunt cheekbones, the drops became scattered together like seed. That was when you needed to know the shape of tears. Bobby had asked what the difference was between the shapes of tears and pears. Tears, Pauline said patiently, a bit wistfully, were like upside-down hearts—pointy tips; while pears possessed a blunter end, not even something she’d really call a tip exactly. Imagine, she had said, bleeding upside-down hearts when you were cut. She smiled at Bobby, looked over at the waitress, and then at her near-empty Coke, fingered more fries, and put some long oily ones into her mouth. Bobby saw a new beauty in her dark lack-of-sleep-looking eyes, in the tight lines already fissured around her sixteen-year-old mouth. He imagined how tempting that mouth would be to kiss if he and Pauline ever went to mass together, if he ever saw her close those eyes in ecstatic prayer. “Want to know another little tidbit?” she had asked. She bet he didn’t know this one: The hands of the Savior in all fourteen Stations of the Cross at St. Anselm’s were modeled on the hands of the sculptor’s dying father while the old man lay unconscious on his death bed. And on the very day that the last hand was completed, the very day, the sick man died—not one second sooner, she had assured Bobby. That little tidbit she said she had gotten from the church’s pastor, Father Machiavelli, when he came to visit the students at St. Anselm’s School last year during Lent. Bobby has forgotten: Was it while they were on that first date that she admitted that she actually liked the taste of communion wafers? That she has gone to bed craving their airy crispness, their starchy sanctity? Now, sitting in the their special booth at White Castle where that first French-fry date had taken place, the one in the rear next to the small bathroom under the payphone, waiting for Pauline to return from the women’s room, Bobby tries to assess from memory Pauline’s level of Catholicity. He has asked her here, to this place where they first met, a place that has become their regular pre-fuck (sometimes post-fuck) date spot, to broach the subject of alternatives, of choices, options. Surely she can be reasoned with—regardless of her strong religious faith—surely she has some capacity for rationality. Okay, so what if she is able to identify the blood drops from the sweat drops, and so what if she owns fourteen different rosary beads for each station of the cross (including one that glows in the dark for when she wakes up terrified from what she calls her “horrible nightmares”), that fact doesn’t mean she is beyond the reach of rationality. It’s 1977, after all. One might try to follow the spirit of the church, but no one considers its rules literal, to be held hard and fast any longer. Bobby will appeal to her understanding of the more progressive texts of the Bible, of Ecclesiastes and of nature’s timing. They are both too young to be thinking about having children right now—it’s not the season for it yet; they are both still children themselves, he’ll remind her. And as he remembers that she once had referred to herself as the Bride of Christ, the women’s room door creaks open, emitting a blast of nose-pinching disinfectant and other uremic breezes, and Pauline squeezes through at a sideway angle and returns to their table. She explains that she thought that she might have gotten her period, but . . . false alarm, she almost sings.
“Motherfucking false alarms,” Bobby says.
Her head already lowered to receive incoming French fries, Pauline glares up at him from her plate, sends him the Please-don’t-curse-in-my-presence look, and then pushes a handful of fries into her mouth, the grease-dark tendrils disappearing with every bite. It goes slowly, this waiting for entrance to the real topic of this date. When he finally says the word, he mumbles it so badly that she thinks he’s said adoption. Pauline repeats the word aloud, bouncing her head from side-to-side as if tossing the idea around inside her skull, like someone considering a baby’s name. But then she ends her performance, shrugs her shoulders, lifts another fistful of fries in the air, does her wincing-and-smiling-at-the-same-time face, and submits her veto, saying that it just wouldn’t feel right having someone else raise their own little baby.
“I said abortion, Pauline, not fucking adoption.”
A snowy pall grows over her face. She stops chewing as though discovering that the fries have a creamy filling of vomit. The veins in her throat thicken; her unusually dark eyes turn red and seem to bulge even as they squint. She swallows hard and drops a handful of fries poised before her mouth back onto the plate. If disgust had a face it would be Pauline’s. Bobby flexes his foot under the table as if reassuring himself of the height of his heels. Slowly, Pauline pushes the plate aside. She leans over the table, looking him straight in the eye. Bobby notices a tear puddling just above her bottom lid, mixing with her eyeliner and creating a shiny glob of black goo that looks nothing at all like an upside-down heart.
Understand one thing very clearly,” she says. “I am having this baby.”

Stayin’ Alive


Okay, so, somehow nostalgic sentiment and well-meaning intention commingle in Bobby’s mind. A small, pallid notion of responsibility emerges inexplicably from the caverns of Bobby’s confusion, a vague hue of honor that in all this panic went almost unnoticed on the sparse pallet of Bobby’s options. Without fully understanding the relationship between desire (a desire that seems to be ebbing somewhat recently since she broke the news) and duty, between the amount of appreciation he has for Pauline (she had after all consented to having sex with him) and the ramifications of committing to a lifetime of Pauline-ism, Bobby considers this thing from an angle heretofore inconceivable, an angle that would not only solve the abortion dilemma but would also hold out the promise of a lot more sex, an angle of survival, an angle of maturity and practicality, an angle of responsibility, an angle that, at least, sure beats the shit out of a dead end: He could actually marry Pauline.


More Than A Woman / (Tavares)


Pauline. Pauline Francesca Scarpalucci. Pauline of the high forehead. Pauline of the tight ponytail. Pauline of the eternal chewing gum. Pauline of the shorter-than-regulation-length St. Anselm’s Catholic School uniform. Pauline of the slow sashay crossing the street with schoolbooks in her arms. Pauline the virgin no longer, but Pauline the chaste, Pauline the coy, Pauline the cock-tease, but also Pauline the get-her-drunk-and-she’ll-go-all-the-way. Pauline of the tight black bra. Pauline of the dark nipples, areola haloed in hair. Pauline of the curved hips and round belly. Pauline of the legs that can bend behind her head. Pauline the flexible, Pauline the starting to get used to it, Pauline the getting to like it, even. Pauline the might-have-orgasmed-but-she’s-not-sure. Pauline the willing to try anything once. Pauline of the certain-things-she’s-good-and-getting-better-at. Pauline of the trembling hands and sharp front teeth. Pauline the nipper, the biter, the gagger, the trying-to-get-the-courage-to-swallow. Pauline of the my-parents-aren’t-home. Pauline of the after-school visits. Pauline of pubic hair running all the way up to her bellybutton. Pauline of the wondrous cunt. Her cunt so soft, softer than anything he had ever been able to conjure in dawn’s pearly light, a cunt like a soft damp gerbil, like the kind he was put in charge of in Mr. Picolo’s fifth-grade class, Mike the gerbil; the whole fifth grade class voted for Bobby to feed and care for Mike. Mike’s caretaker. Never was there a more caring little boy than Bobby Castiglione, his small hands a safe haven for all small creatures; never was there a softer thing on God’s earth than Mike the gerbil; never was there a nose so pink and dewy; never a creature so unsure of itself and yet able to give itself over to peaceful repose once in Bobby’s caring embrace, never. But soft things don’t stay; they can’t. They finally get snatched away from us and we must live with the emptiness of palms now relegated to holding our own fearful softness, put together in empty prayer, and never comfortable in a fist. When Bobby found Mike unbendable on a Monday morning, he tried mouth-to-mouth, lifted the solid creature to his lips and puckered around his now dry nose: blowing and waiting, watching; then again, blowing, blowing, like he was trying to fill an impossible balloon, until he felt dizzy; until he heard the morning bell ring; until the invasion of the rest of the fifth graders who were stopped short upon seeing Bobby engaged in the act of first aid, orally invested in gerbil resuscitation. Bobby felt like a hero, at first. But then the signals got crossed and someone said Bobby was trying to eat Mike, someone said he had killed Mike and was going to eat him for breakfast, because his family was so poor. A trickle, and then another, and then a torrent of pee burned down Bobby’s leg, puddling unnoticed by Bobby, but by no one else. And then it was over: Bobby: the murderer of Mike, the murderer of soft things, Bobby the weirdo, Bobby the scrawny fuck, the little nerd, the skinny freak; the boy who pees himself and eats gerbils and fucks dogs and cats and his mother and sister—No! Falsely accused! Wrongly accused! But who would listen now?
And then the slow journey through puberty. But short-lived are the memories of youth and in what? eleven years time? the whole thing was practically forgotten, so much so that when Bobby saw Pauline that first time at White Castle she actually smiled at him, offered him a French fry and said he looked like he had been working out. Had he been exercising with barbells she wanted to know. A boner ensued as a matter of course swiftly under the table against his bouncing thigh and didn’t go away until he had yanked himself sore that every evening, telling his family that he had diarrhea, go away, when they pounded on the hollow-core bathroom door, the one with the mirror screwed on so tightly it cracked at the bottom. Bathroom mornings devoted to meditations on Pauline. Ah, Pauline: round in all the right places, all the more woman to love: the bigger the ocean, the better the motion; and at first Bobby couldn’t stop touching her breasts—and she let him touch them…let him suck and tug and squeeze and lick, let him hold and contemplate and revere and exult before the wonder that was her mammary glandulations. He didn’t even mind the small wiry hairs that actually had gotten caught in his teeth, or the steely taste. It was all part of his initiation. But then he explored the rest of her geography, her southern hemisphere: and soon there was only her Cunt, her Trim, her Snatch, her Pussy (all those words he had heard Tony and Joey and Double J use). It was smaller than he expected, more hair than the girls in Hustler and Club. Hard to locate really, this pussy of Pauline’s. Wasn’t even sure if he was in all the way the first time (even though that night she had made him feel like he possessed a rapier of gigantic proportion, gasping and biting her lip and staring into his eyes horrified and fixedly, as if she were watching him pull a bullet out of her arm with a jackknife). It was rough the first few times, but then he got the hang of it. He was a quick learner, a serious student of the craft, even liked to put Pauline’s legs up over his arms, Pauline, that first time he did it, giggling and wrestling her meaty haunches back down to horizontal, but then showed him she could put them all the way behind her head.
They had a good go of it, really, but ten or twenty fucks does not a going-steady make. This he started to believe with growing vehemence after every assignation. Who cared if Bobby had never done it with anyone before Pauline—they had done it—he had done it—that was all that mattered. Now he knew what he was doing, an experienced swordsman, a randy rake, a saucy schoolboy, well-trained and ready to do some serious dancing on the disco floors that were uncharted womanhood…in Bay Ridge and beyond. Yeah, why think so small? He could even do this stuff with girls from other neighborhoods; he had a car, sure: Bensonhurst! Borough Park! Red Hook! The Heights! Other boroughs awaited! He could even do it with (it really wasn’t impossible to imagine) the women of glittering Manhattan. It was all there was waiting for him. The scent of strange perfume beckoned from across the bridge.
How could he marry Pauline now, when so many other legs begged to be raised?