Missed Connections

about-the-book
about-the-book

about-the-book

In the fall there began to be rumors about the link-up of Interstate 93 to the Central Artery. In Callahan’s and the Rainbow Spa people said that they—the legislators, the contractors, the DPW, the kickback specialists—were going to cut that road right through the Nunnery Grounds, their neighborhood. It was only logical. Not so much because of geography, but by the law that the people with the least clout always get it in the neck. Nobody knew yet whose house would go and whose would stay, but everybody feared the worst.

See, life is full of nasty surprises. You might be passing the Moonbeam Café on your way to the laundromat and a carload of bookies from Charlestown pull up and start spraying bullets at a Magoun Square gang member drinking his breakfast inside the Moonbeam. And there you are. Or were. Your laundry all over the sidewalk looking like moths had been at it.

On Sunday night Christine’s brother Martin took her to have a drink at Callahan’s. He was now curate in a parish near Upham’s corner in Dorchester, a neighborhood of decaying Queen Anne mansions interspersed with funeral homes and auto muffler shops. In his clerical collar he looked as respectable as Martin ever could, his pulpy face less sinister, his pointy teeth less like a trap for catching small game.

The barmaid brought their beers right away, treating him with a deference so exaggerated that Christine knew she was putting on an act meant to be comical and ironic.

“I’ve never been in here before,” Christine told him.

“You’re safe; they only have shootouts on Fridays and Saturdays.”

“Why does everyone around here always talk about violence, even as a joke?”

“Human beings are violent animals.”

“The ones you know, maybe.”

He blew the foam off his beer so that it ran down the side of the glass and onto the table. Christine resisted the impulse to wipe it up with the paper napkin that came under her beer.

“What have you heard, Martin? Is the state going to take Ma’s house?”

“She’d be better off if they did.”

“Why?”

“You know how Ma hates dust? Wait till they start knocking down houses and bulldozing the remains outside her window.”

“Well, that will give her something to gripe about besides me.”

“I thought you took no notice of what she says.”

“It’s not so much what she says. She rolls her bad eye toward me like I’m some kind of leper.”

“All she wants is a couple of grandchildren, so she can brag about them at Beano.”

“So for that I’m supposed to fling myself at some poor slob who’ll mortgage his soul for a split level in Billerica?”

“You might find you liked Billerica.”

“Sure. About as much as you like directing minstrel shows and visiting parishioners with unspeakable diseases.”

“You seem to think that my situation is some kind of trick Ma played on me.”

“Well, isn’t it?”

“No.”

“What about Mary Quigley?”

It was always difficult to take Martin by surprise, but at that moment a genuinely startled expression crossed his face. “What about her?”

“Didn’t you want to marry her?”

“Good God, no. What gave you idea?”

“I thought that’s why you were so angry at Ma when she threatened Mary with God’s wrath, or whatever she did.”

“I was upset because she butted in and upset Mary for nothing. Ma is always jumping to the wrong conclusion, and I must say some other members of the family occasionally take after her.”

“How about all those candles and novenas, then? The Lord must have got awfully tired of hearing about your case.”

“Don’t blaspheme,” he said automatically. “My becoming a priest had nothing at all to do with Ma.”

“You know what? I don’t believe you.”

He shrugged. “You may sneer, but it’s not a bad job, and I’m pretty good at it.”

“I don’t doubt that you’re good at it. But of all the things in the world to do . . .”

“So what do you do that’s so great?”

Stung, she didn’t answer for a moment. “At least I have my independence.”

He smiled skeptically.

“Anyhow, if I did marry, it would only be to a man Ma found unsuitable.”

“Do you have someone in mind?” he asked in an indifferent tone of voice. Martin’s form of tactful prying.

“Not really.”

He drained his beer glass. “She’d come around. Mothers always do.”

“I doubt it.”

They walked quietly to Sullivan Square together, watching the Edison plant puff and steam; they parted at Winter Street Station, and Martin went on to Dorchester.