The night before Pop quit drinking for the final time
I was eleven years old. Two guys from A. A.,
Al D., the Postman and Ralph C., the local cop,
came over, peeled Pop, the professor,
off the ceramic tile on our bathroom floor,
and deposited him in the local Looney bin,
St. Vincent’s Hospital for the Catholic and Insane.
It was there he celebrated his thirty-fifth birthday,
without the benefit of a doorknob on his side of the door.
In that padded room, wearing straightjacket
and confident smile he announced to the world at large,
which consisted of the black attendant, Roscoe Lee,
and several other restrained individuals,
that he was now thirty-five years old and eligible
to run for the office of President of the United States.
He backed that up by dropping the fact that he
taught constitutional law at Fordham University,
another fine Catholic institution.
No one questioned his credentials
but the location of his announcement
did cast a certain pall on the occasion.
Roscoe Lee, not without knowledge of local
and national politics, informed Pop
it would be best not to make
any campaign plans, as there were already
two incumbents on the lockdown ward.
“I shall hold my candidacy in abeyance
until I factor in your report, Roscoe.
You won’t be forgotten when I
begin campaigning in earnest.”
Ol’ Roscoe smiled and returned to his task,
which was to mop the cheap linoleum floor
sending waves of ammonia and loss to the heavens.
This story appeared in the summer
issue of Bomb Magazine.
by Michael O'Keefe
ON FIFTH AVENUE THERE IS A JEWELER’S BY THE name of
Elizé. They have a fine selection of diamonds. All
of them laid out like sea-worn glass, lit like falling rain
in a foreign film. The one I bought for you glistened like
a bead of water on a lip torn between quick evaporation and
an urge to be swallowed. Like you, it caught the light around
itself and kicked it back, forcing an astonished glance from
Meir sold it to me. After a short period of bartering
he said, “Call me Meir. Like mayor. And you are?”
“Michael,” I said.
“Michael,” Meir repeated, “I
am going to take your offer to my father. This is his shop.
If he approves it then we
have a deal.”
Then my new friend Meir called his father and
in a discreet tone related my offer, grunted a few sounds
of concurrence and hung up. Coming back over and breaking
my reverie, he said, “I am sure she’ll be happy.
She will love the ring and you two will be very happy together.”
Well, this all sounded so potentially happy.
For what seemed like a while I was actually potentially happy.
Bought the ring in November and I told everyone I knew, and
some I didn’t know, that I was going to ask you to marry
me. In December we flew to Louisiana to spend
some time with your folks.
I wasn’t used to teaching five-year-old
boys, like your
nephew, how to light firecrackers to celebrate Christ’s
but I thought, Hey, these guys are going to be family, so
with the program.
As we were leaving I took your dad aside under
the pretense of needing help with the luggage. I asked him
for permission to marry you. Bobby Allen, who ordinarily stood
about five foot nine, grew a bit taller. His discerning eyes
narrowed and a spark appeared in them as if to say “I’ve
been waiting for someone to need this girl for a long
time.” He spoke in a measured Louisiana drawl and, as
always, barely opened his mouth to do so.
He said, “Well, Michael, no one’s
ever asked me for permission to marry Kayla.”
I thought, That’s good.
“You have my permission,” Bobby continued.
“I like your stability and I think that would be good
for Kayla.”Your dad was really moved and so was I. Then
we shook hands.
Going from Louisiana to Paris for New Year’s
I thought, C’est un bon idée!
I began carrying the ring, deep in my pockets,
looking for the spot to say, “Will you marry me?”
The night after we were at dinner at Jean-Jacques
bistro and you asked me what it was like to cheat on my ex-wife
in front of your friends, I thought, Well, tonight may not
be the best night.
But at the Musée de Rodin, your favorite romantic spot
in Paris, I thought, Hey, go for it.
I chose to ask you at a window looking out over
the garden. The sunset reminded me of the first brush of lipstick
on a teenager’s smile. I balked the first time, made
an excuse, went to the bathroom, got religion, came back and
made my move.
At first I thought your smile was a good sign
that you would accept my proposal and that you just needed
encouragement. In retrospect, the truth had been clear for
weeks but I’d ignored it, caught up in the false hope
generated by the haze that descends on you when love
overrides intuition. The little comments you made about
my shirt at Christmas in front of your parents, the way you
said, “I know you think I’m going to stay home
and cook for
you,” as if I ever asked you to, and the angry fl are
eyes when we made love spoke volumes I chose to ignore.
Instead, I pleaded, cajoled, laughed and wept. Asking only
that you say yes.” You said, “Not yet.”
That was a long time ago, and I just wrote to
say I saw
Stopping back at Elizé, I told Meir what
he said, “I am sorry to hear that. Let me speak to my
and see what he says.”
As he walked over to the phone I looked around
the shop and realized I had stood in the same spot back in
November when I bought the ring. Glancing down I actually
saw shadows of my former footprints, as if a part of me had
stayed behind knowing I would return and might need guidance
when I did.
Meir came over to my spot and said, “Michael,
come back in December and I’ll make you an offer. I’d
have to lowball you right now. Unless there’s a problem
and you need the cash.”
“No,” I said, “I can wait.
I’m not going anywhere.”
“Okay,” said Meir. “I’ll
see you in December.”
“Do you mind if I wait here?” I asked.
“Sorry?” Meir replied.
“I’m not going anywhere so do you
mind if I wait here?”
“Well,” Meir said, “it’s
July. You might want to just, uh, come back in December.”
“No,” I said. “I’m fine
here. So if it’s all the same I’ll just wait.”
Meir’s been very good to me since then.
The other people working at Elizé seem very nice, though
we don’t talk that much. My days are passed filling
simple needs. The Polish deli around the corner on 48th Street
delivers food. Meir’s provided me with a reading nook,
and after his father is finished with the Times I get it;
a bit wrinkled but it’s good to stay informed, I think.
My mom mailed me my favorite pajamas, green flannel with pictures
of reindeers arranged in a symmetrical pattern. Comfy.
And the seasons in New York! This summer’s
been unusual with lots of rain. Autumn just began the other
day, although it’s hard for me to say much about it
because the temperature stays pretty much the same in here.
I like it best at night. The security lights
bounce around the shop and the diamonds look like dinosaur
teeth in a tiny museum.
Just think, December in New York.
Fifth Avenue with all the Christmas decorations.
I can’t wait.