It was Parade Day. Our local one, for St. Paddy’s, a week late.
Sunny and mild, it was. Like March had already gone out like a lamb. People drunk in the streets. Our mayor, Dino Rizzo, dressed as a leprechaun. A redheaded Sici. “God love the Irish!” he’d screamed, years back, when he drank with us. ‘Cos he looked the part.
It was me, and my pals: Eileen, her sister Kathy, and Kathy’s daughter, Carolyn, who’d grown up in bars. Sneaking drinks since she was ten.
Oh, and Kathy’s husband, Jimmy.
“Haven’t done it in like twenty years,” Kathy confessed, one night.Carolyn was twenty-one, so maybe Jimmy had that “Madonna complex,” like Elvis. When Jimmy was real bombed, he sang Elvis at karaoke. “He’s no good,” Kathy said, sullenly. But she didn’t mean just his sour notes.
Till Parade Day, I’d never drunk with Jimmy. I knew he never worked and gambled away every cent, even what Kathy “hid” in the coffee can under the sink. “I know he’ll steal that,” she told me, smiling.
A babysitter, she’d used him for, till Carolyn grew up. Even she had no respect for him. At the parade, she edged away from him, disgusted.
Maybe, I thought, he molested her. But I couldn’t ask.
So far, we’d hit Noonan’s, and O’Boyle’s, who had the fattiest corned beef sandwiches, ever. Still, we scarfed them down.
Except Jimmy. “Nah,” he said. “I got too good a buzz.”
“They’re free,” Kathy told him. He just shrugged.
Then we were outside, again. Confetti flying. Sidewalks mobbed with gym rats, junkies. Families with brats, in strollers. Wearing green beads and those goofy, oversized hats.
Like Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat, I thought.
People sloshed beer all over. Falling-down drunk. It was a disaster, waiting to happen.
Jimmy’s own hat was green-and-white striped, pulled over his bleary eyes. He pulled on Carolyn’s beads, then grinned over at Kathy. She pulled Carolyn tightly to her.
Yeah, I thought. He fucked with her.
Lips pursed grotesquely, he leaned in for a kiss.
You could hear Kathy’s slap miles away. People stopped, and stared.
“Here!” She flung some bills at him. “Drink yourself to death!” She and Carolyn crossed the street.
“Hey!” Eileen said. Someone laughed, as we hurried after them.
“Did we lose him?” Kathy asked.
At Cassidy’s, we did shots of Jameson. That’s when I felt sick. When Kathy toasted, “To being single,” they laughed. But I couldn’t. Beads twirling, Carolyn spun around on her stool.
“Guys,” I said, “I’m done.”
But they kept drinking. “Tomorrow,” Kathy said, “I’m filing for divorce.” The others hooted. Another sloppy toast.
Whiskey was spilling all over. Kathy’s money on the bar was soaked.
How much, I wondered, had she thrown away?
Outside, the festivities were dying down. As we left Cassidy’s, we heard sirens in the distance.
Kathy’s keys jingled. “Can you drive?” Eileen said. But she was just as drunk.
We started walking back. “Are we . . .” I said. “Are we . . .”
Were we, what?
Going back for Jimmy? Or leaving him behind?
The crowd had dwindled. Blocks back, ambulance lights flashed. Cops and EMTs. A few drunks hovered over someone laying in the gutter.
We got closer. The ground was sticky with beer, and what looked like blood. In the confetti-littered street was a hat . . . green-and-white . . . but mostly red.
“Kath!” I said. I jumped, when she pinched me.
They’d beaten him, bad. Bruises and wounds . . . from God knows what. With all that blood, this wasn’t just fists. It was work boots. Rocks. This was vengeance. Whatever he’d said, or done . . .
From the gutter, his one visible eye met Kathy’s. She smirked.
I felt really sick, now.
“Anybody know him?” one cop asked.
“He’s her . . .” But somebody—maybe Carolyn—pinched me, this time. A vicious squeeze that shut me up.
“No,” Eileen said. “Poor guy.” Around us, people nodded.
“Me, either,” some guy said. “Shame.” He adjusted his shamrock cap. “Just having a few, like everyone else.”
“Just getting his jollies,” Kathy said.
Carolyn just toyed with her beads.