Bonnie had been in the basement of the town library going through piles of newspapers. She was bent over in a dark corner where there were stacks and stacks of old ones piled three feet high on the floor. The room was full of dust, and musty smelling, but she wasn't bothered by that, nor by the rather dim light. As she searched, she had been half listening to two of the librarians talking. Now, however, she stopped listening.
She found it! She was looking for November 8, 1930. Here it was! A Saturday.
She took it out of the pile and looked at the front page. At the top it read:
Record of Tammany Leaders Stock Deals Demanded of Brokers. Nothing
obviously. She went over to a table and spread it out. The paper was yellow
and thin and felt fragile, like the willow leaves in mid-winter that blew
into the garage and dried there, brown and crumpled. The page was cluttered
with stories, as was the style in those days: Nation's Chiefs Shift Attention
to Unemployed, Abandoned Brewery Becomes Hoboes' Home. She scanned the
quickly, then, down in the corner, There it is, she said aloud. At the bottom
of the front page on the left side:
A South-End woman was killed yesterday in a car-pedestrian accident on the Mill Street Bridge. The accident happened at about 5:15 p.m. in the eastbound lane of the bridge when an automobile driven by Mr. Shawn O'Shaughnessy, 29, of town, struck the woman as she was walking home from work. The victim, Mrs. Catherine Taylor, 26, was killed instantly. Officer Russo, the first policeman at the scene, said that Mr. O'Shaugnessy was highly intoxicated, and was unable to give a clear description of what took place. Charges have been laid. Mrs. Taylor was a widow with one son. Funeral and other arrangements are incomplete at this time.
Bonnie put her head in her hands. Tears began to drip onto the newspaper under her elbows. She said softly, Grandmother, grandmother, you were only twenty-six! Dad, was eight. Peace, Grandmother, peace be with you. She had known the story, of course, but seeing it in print for the first time shook her anew. And him drunk! I hope they threw the book at him! Dad never said what happened to him, never mentioned his nameif he ever knew. I've got to find out, she thought. The rest of the story must be here in this stack of newspapers. Now she began methodically going through each paper page by page looking for the rest of the story. A week later there was a brief note: Motorist Pleads not Guilty. The librarians had apparently finished their break and were working quietly. She continued going through the papers, and gradually the whole story came out, buried now in the back pages. Its sound rang loud in her ears, like the steeple clock at noon when it caught her by surprise as she was making her fathers bed on a Saturday morning. Her tears were flowing like rain in October. Cold, in that cold, damp basement of the town free library.
The case was heard by a judge. O'Shaugnessy claimed that he skidded on the wet bridge. That Mrs. Taylor was wearing a dark coat, and in the dusk and the rain he could not see her. She came out of the rain like a ghost, he said. When he did see her, he tried to stop, skidded, and hit her. It was an accident, that was all there was to it. Officer Tony Russo, however, who was the first at the scene, testified that the defendant was swaggering, roaring drunk and incoherent, that he was driving too fast for the conditions, and that witnesses on the scene had said that his automobile was weaving as it crossed the bridge. Furthermore he did not have his headlights on. The defense, however, called Officer Michael O'Rourke who was the second officer to the scene. He testified that Mr. O'Shaugnessy was not drunk, but just disoriented and overwhelmed with grief, and that given the rain, and the darkness, Your Honor, and the unfortunate woman's dark coat, her coming out of the mist like that, the accident was unavoidable. Judge Patrick T. O'Malley found O'Shaugnessy innocent of all serious charges, but fined him five dollars for driving without his headlights on.
So that was that! Ha! Those Irish sure do stick together, thicker than mud on a pigs's back, she thought as she finished reading. It was well known that in those days the town was split right down the middle between the Irish and the Italians, as it had been since the later part of the ninteenth century when the waves of immigration started. Politics, the police force, you name it, the ethnic battle lines were drawn, and they still exist to a small degree even today. So he was let off for five dollars by an Irish judge and an Irish cop, she fumed. And my father without a mother, without anyone.
She knew what happened after that. The orphanage. Her mother had told her; her father would not talk about it. But when her mother died, her dad became even more glum, even more withdrawn, sadder and more lonely, persevering through the dark world that surrounded him like the smoke of the factory on a foggy day. Bonnie was all he had now, and he clung to her. Sometimes she felt smothered by his needs for her as a bulwark against his loneliness. If only he had had a mother. If only his wife, Bonnie's mother, had been able to live and be healthy, instead of a chronic invalid slowly slipping closer and closer to death until the day when she slipped over. Then Bonnie would not feel so tied, so tired. She would feel freer to live her life, not be afraid to look for a man without her father being jealous. She was angry with him for that, but she loved him, and felt sorry for him as well.
Her father, Robert Taylor, Bobby then, since he was only eight, was sent to St. Jude's Orphanage, about four blocks from where he used to live, up on the hill. He said he hated it there. He missed his dead mother, and their flat, and all his toys. He missed his old friends. He was in a new school and didnt like it. The nuns were mean to him, he used to say. When he was fifteen he left the orphanage and went to work in the mill as a helper. At nineteen he went in the service and was shipped off to Europe. He would never tell Bonnie anything about the war either, but she had a picture of him standing tall and straight in his uniform next to a tent, with trees in the background. When he got back from the war he married her mother, Mary, got a job at the post office, and when they were thirty, in 1952, she, Bonnie was born. When Bonnie was four, almost before she could remember, her mother began to get sick, and she never seemed to get better. She got weaker and weaker, finally had to spend all her time in bed, Bonnie doing most of the housework. Bonnie was eleven when her mother died. That was 1961. She missed her mother having; her gone was like a dull achebut her release from that bed was a release for them all as well. Now dad was fifty-three, but to her he seemed much younger. He was quite handsome, really. She didnt think about his age. She was twenty-three, but she felt hemmed in by the past. It weighed on her, clinging like a heavy quilt or an old-fashioned cloak, like that one she used to play with in the attic, dark and musty smelling, worn and ragged at the edges. It had been her grandmother's, and sometimes she felt smothered by it. Sometimes she felt her grandmother's body was still in it, it held her shape so well.
Bonnie looked at her watch, my god! it was past five oclock. She had
here since morning without a thing to eat, and dad waiting at home. I'd better
Bonnie and her father lived in a detached row house in the South End, not far from where his first home had been. It was a typical worker's house that had been built in the previous century for the families who worked in the big mill at that end of town. In the sixties a Perma-Stone salesman made his way through town and convinced about every third owner of a frame house to have his or her home done-over, and theirs was one. When it was finished, it looked quite attractive with its false-stone front and black shutters. It had two stories, with three rooms on each floor, and a basement and an attic. Her father's room with the big feather bed and the nice, warm, heavy quilts was in the front room on the second floor. In the attic were all her mother's things, stored in boxes and trunks, where Bonnie used to look through them when she was younger, trying to imagine what her mother must have been like when she wasn't sick. Her grandmother's cloak was there, too, magical in the dark. Its magic contrasted with the fake solidity of the house. Although many people in town now regretted the look of the false stone front on the older frame houses, the Taylors were satisfied. It required no painting or other maintenance, though it did look a little too dark, and the trim needed repainting. It looked solid enough to stand up to anything.
Bonnie spent the evening curled up with a book of short stories. She liked reading short stories because they didn't require the commitment of time that one had to invest in a novel, and if she didn't like the direction the story was going...well, it wasn't long until it was over, if she decided to go ahead and finish it. She didn't always; sometimes she just put the story down in the middle, or fell asleep, and the book closed in her lap. Tonight she found the one she was reading to be distressing, but she couldn't quite put her finger on exactly why her reaction seemed to be stronger than the story deserved. It was called "The Birthday Card," and was about a man trying to make a decision about buying a card in a card shop.
When she finally put the book down, having finished the story, Bonnie was shaking. Her reaction, and the tears in her eyes, surprised her. She wasn't sure the story was all that good, but something about it was getting to her. She couldn't explain her feelings. If you had asked her how she felt about the story she had just finished, she would be at a loss for words. She sat long and stared at the ceiling, at the corner of the room where the two walls came together in a sharp edge, and at the glare of the light bulb. The image persisted in her retina and brain and followed her around as she tried to let her eyes wander again. It was like an old photograph, so faded as to be almost indecipherable, but somehow containing the hint of something too disturbing to look at. She shook her head as though to shake out whatever cobwebs and dust were clinging there as she slowly made her way upstairs to her bedroom.
That night as Bonnie was undressing for bed she stared a long time at the sepia picture in the oval frame on her dresser. The only real image she had of her grandmother. It was faded. It showed a pretty girl of about eighteen--it may have been a yearbook picture--with short dark hair, an oval face, dark eyes, and a nice smile. The picture showed a young, healthy woman, full of life and vigor (not like Bonnie's mother, bed-ridden and pale, demanding and weak). Dead at twenty-six, full of life one minute, the next cold in the coffin, what a waste! Her eyes stung. And that bastard murdered her! She had watched her grandmother die many times in her mind's eye, and it was not like watching her own mother die slowly of cancer. He was drunk that's what he was, she almost said aloud, she was so angry. She felt her heart beating fiercely, and her hands get hot. Id like to wring his neck! watch his face turn red, then white, his eyes roll up, mouth go slack, and watch him die!
Why did her grandmother's death affect her so deeply? Why did she feel her presence so strongly? Even though she had never known her as a real person, she felt the effects of her loss. Recently the feelings had been growing stronger. That was why she had been prompted to go to the library and dig through the old newspapers. Was this all? Her fathers mother remained with her like a dark shadow lurking at the bottom of the basement stairs or sometimes waiting for her in the kitchen pantry and now upstairs in his bedroom. She wouldnt go away. Not like her mother's death. That was a shock, but her mother had been sick for such a long time, it was almost a relief for everyone, or so it seemed. Her mother had wanted to die, had needed to die. Bonnie was sad, and she missed her for a long time, but that was all. Now she was gone.
It was different for her grandmother who obviously did not want to die any more than Bonnie did; she was young and full of life; now they were nearly the same age. What a tragic waste! It must have been the sense of divine injustice that upset her so deeply. She should not have died. Bonnie imagined Shawn O'Shaugnessy, drunk, standing in the mist next to his shiny car, swaggering, a blue-eyed, dark-haired, handsome Irishman. Bonnie felt the shadow of him on her fathers life as well as her own. His whole childhood had been disrupted. He had to go to that orphanage, and he hated it there, where he felt all alone. He might not have married the first young woman who smiled at him, and she might have had a healthy mother. Her own childhood might have been happier. (She shouldn't think this, she told herself, but she couldn't help it.) Now she was a prisoner of his loneliness, he clung to her so, and she did not know how to get free, at times wasn't even sure she wanted to.
Bonnie thought she looked like her grandmother. They both had short dark hair, similar eyes, similar shaped faces. What most made her wonder, though, was the way her dad looked at her sometimes. When she was littler especially. She particularly remembered the way he would bend over her bed when he came to tuck her in and kiss her goodnight. Bent over, he used to gaze and gaze into her face with a serious look, and he would seem so sad. She thought it was as though he was trying to see his mother in her face, or in her eyes, almost trying to look through and past her face and see his mother again. Sometimes he would turn away quickly, and she thought he must have had tears in his eyes. After her mother died he looked even sadder and more alone.
Once several years ago when she came down the stairs all dressed
an old-fashioned gown to go to the Junior Prom, such an expression crossed
his face! He was staring up at her with a look of supplication and dependency
as though he was going to ask her for something. It passed in a moment and
was followed by surprise, a cross between shock, amazement, and awe, actually.
He put his hand to his brow, then said, You, you look lovely, just like...
and his voice trailed off. He turned away for a minute, then wished her a
good time at the dance. He had gone to bed when she returned, tired from
dancing, and it was at that moment that it hit her
Bonnie did not say anything to her father about her research in the library because she did not want to reopen his old wounds. Nevertheless, for several weeks she brooded about what she had found. Then one day she felt pressed to look in the phone book and see if Shawn O'Shaugnessy was there. Was he still alive? she wondered. Did he still live in town?
That evening while her father was out bowling, she looked up the name; there were a lot of O'Shaugnessys, and sure enough, there it was, Shawn, between Samuel and Thomas. She copied out the number and the address, which was in the North End of town, 513 Sixth Avenue. How old would he be now, seventy-four, she guessed, but she still saw the blue-eyed man with the dark, rumpled hair standing in the dusk beside his black car looking dazed, running his hand through his hair. Should she call the number and see who answered the phone? How could she tell if it was he? Could there be another? She was afraid to dial the phone. It felt like making an obscene phone call or something. What would she say? She couldnt bring herself to do it. Why did she feel so compelled to take up her fathers cause? Why did she feel like her grandmother was lurking near, pushing her.
For the next several days she kept wondering whether she should call. Tonight the thought kept intruding as she was absently reading another story. This one was called "What Happened to Pnin?" and was about some college teacher who had gotten himself into some kind of a scrape with a student. She found herself becoming fascinated with the story. It kept her from the growing compulsion that was beginning to take hold of her. Yet, while she read the story, she knew that as soon as she finished it, her mind would intrude other thoughts into her awareness.
An amusingly ironic story, she thought and smiled a tight little smile. And it had kept those other thoughts at bay. Now her mind began to slip her back to her compulsion: "I don't suppose he was bright enough to be a college professor, handsome as he had been at one time..." she almost thought aloud. If she were to make the phone call, then what? What would she do if it was he? Threaten him? Write to him first, then phone. Hear him gasp. Call in the middle of the night and wake him up? Disturb his sleep, the way he disturbed hers, and her father's? She knew her father didn't always sleep well at night. He would toss and turn in that great feather bed sometimes half the night. Sometimes she went in to comfort him, then they would curl up, and he would sleep like a little boy; he would be so grateful for her presence. Those were the happy times. She thought of how sad he was when he talked of the dead, and how he looked in her face, as if trying to see his mothers face, or the shadow of her face, there. Maybe she would write poison pen letters and sign them his conscience. Finally one evening when her father was again out bowling, she dialed the number. She didn't know what she would do next, but she listened as it rang, once, twice, three times, four, then someone picked up the phone, Hello the voice said. Hello? She was stunned into silence, her hand over the receiver. Hello? the voice said in a kind of quavery tone. It was an old man's voice. She hung up, realized she had been holding her breath. She was trembling. Is it him? Can it be him? the man standing beside his new, black Packard that dark, rainy night? It must be him! He lives! the bastard, the murderer! He's alive. Her heart was thumping in her chest. He killed my grandmother and made my sad father an orphan, and he's still alive. Damn his blue eyes! He has no right to live so long, she thought. How can he still be alive?
She remembers the first time she was shocked by the full impact of her grandmother's death. It had been a dull and rainy, misty day one spring two years ago when she returned from work. As she picked up her hairbrush from the dresser, she glanced at the picture in the oval frame. There seemed to be a tear in her grandmother's eye! She looked closely, afraid to pick up the frame. She must have been the same age as the image in the oval. A shudder passed over her like the shadow of some great wing. She began to sense the presence of her grandmother in the house, especially in his room when she was in there alone, dusting or making the bed, and she would give a little shudder, but it was strongest on the bridge where she had been killed. It got so strong that Bonnie was afraid to cross the bridge for fear something would happen to her. Maybe her grandmother was trying to reach her. When she turned twenty-one her grandmother had come back one night in a dream to speak to her. She came out of the dark rain and swirling mist and opened her mouth as if to speak, then she clapped her hand to her mouth, and her eyes opened wide, and just then she woke up, with a shiver. She felt cold, though the quilts lay heavy on her. There was something more she must do. That was it. She finally came to the conclusion that she must avenge her death. Then she would be at peace, the weight would be lifted, and her grandmother's ghost would be still.
Plagued by the idea of revenge, she keeps thinking of ways to do him in. Maybe she could catch him crossing the street in front of his house, swerve, and run him down, the way he did her grandmotherbut she was a young woman and mother when she died he, the murderer, was not much older than she, and she a widow. Why he might even have married her! Bonnie thought, with horror. He had lived all those years, a free man. Something better. If she strangled him, she could watch him die, terrified, as she pressed in on his Adams apple. Vengeance is mine, she said. She could feel it in her handsthey were shakingwatch his blue eyes close. In her less dark moods, she thought it might be enough to tear the flowers off his grave when he dies, or paint MURDERER on his tombstone.
She thinks she should at least drive by his house and see what it looks like, see where he lives. She is afraid. She is afraid to get in the car and actually drive by his house, even though she knows roughly where it is. She is afraid to do it. But she knows that she will, sooner or later get in the car and drive by his house.
Two weeks later she does. She gets to the corner of Fifth Avenue and Pine and almost turns back, stops--in fact, too long--at the intersection, her hands are sweaty on the wheel, but then she crosses the street and goes on to Sixth and turns left. She begins counting the numbers. There it is, on the left, a frame, cottage style house, painted yellow years ago, but now a dingy gray. She goes around the corner and drives by again. Then she drives around back and goes down the alley so she can see the house and yard from that angle. Its a small, shady yard, a big tree, maple, taking up most of the space. There is a hedge and a gate. She can't see in very well. She could park the car at the end and walk down and look in the gate to see what is in the yard. No, this is enough for today. I can't do any more today, she thinks.
Now she broods and broods. She knows where he lives. She has
She will do her father's business, and her grandmother's. When she is alone
in her bed, in her dreams, she sees herself going up to the front door with
a weapon in her hand, a knife or a gun, and raising her other hand to ring
the bell. Her grandmother is standing beside her, as young as she is, almost,
like an older sister. She is resolute and unshaken; they are ready to talk
their way into the house, push past his handsome dark hair, then shoot or
stab him. Watch him writhe in the ecstasy of death. Just at the moment she
reaches for the button, the bell, she wakes up, and her sheets are tangled,
wrapped around her, hot and moist with sweat. Her hands are shaking. She
thinks of her father, asleep in his lonely, warm bed like a little boy.
reaches out to her....
I have to do something, she thinks. Finally she decides to
house and walk down the back alley and look into the yard. She has to force
her feet to move along the cobblestone alley. Her heart beats hard in her
throat. When she gets to the back gate and looks in, she sees an old man
bending over a small flower garden. He has a few sprigs of white hair. He
looks small and thin, frail, older than his seventy-four years. She thinks
she can see an old woman moving around inside the house. There is a little
black and white dog lying by the steps to the back door. Oh shit! he sees
me, she breathes. The dog gets up and starts barking, running toward the
fence, barking. Bonnie slips out of view behind the hedge as the old man
slowly turns to look, slowly rises from his bent-over position with great
effort, his hand pressed on his back, as though it pained him. She walks
quickly up the alley, the dog still barking, to where she has parked her
car. She is in a hurry to leave now. She doesn't know why, but she is. The
dog is chasing her aged grandmother down the street, but she is running faster
than it is, her gray hair flowing, her dark cape streaming out behind her
like a great wing. Now her grandmother is nowhere to be seen. Bonnie starts
the car. The engine roars too loud in her ears. Her eyes are overcome with
sparks and an incredible glittering brightness. Suddenly she feels hot and
sweaty; her skin tingles all over.
It is summer again. She is living alone now. Her hair has wisps of gray in it which she doesn't bother to hide. As she looks up from the newspaper, Bonnie takes off her reading glasses, sets them down on the end-table next to her, and stares at the wall. "Ninety-one! So that old bastard, orphan-making Irishman lived to be ninety-one," and she says softly. "My wretched old father just barely in his own grave...." She reaches down and pats the head of her new puppy, now half-grown. Her Grief Counsellor-become-Therapist had recommended she get a dog, but now she hits upon the coup de grace. She has been reading how to train a dog. The manual suggested she use simple words for commands, words other people wouldn't recognize: For example if you want a command to encourage your dog to defecate at an out-of-the-way spot when you are on a walk, you might use a word like hurry. That makes her smile a wry little smile. Her smile grows and spreads across her whole face, lighting up her eyes and putting wrinkles there and around her mouth. She rubs her eyes. It was her first real smile in a very, very long time.