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The Seahorse

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Amelia’s Bistro, Jersey City, New Jersey 1962




Reluctantly he turns his attention from the salt-water aquarium filled with exotic fish and colourful anemones to his mother.


Marilina Longo, age 35, is a short, sturdy woman with smooth skin and thick, curly black hair. Tonight she is wearing pumps, a short skirt and a blouse that presses her breasts together and highlights her cleavage. Her eyeshadow is sky blue, her lipstick an angry red.


“Don’t disturb the fish, ok figlio? You can’t drum on the glass that way, it scares them.”


He gives the glass one final tap with his finger, and watches contentedly as the fish quickly scatter.


She takes his hand, slightly scratching the palm with her long fingernails and guides him away from the aquarium, down the isle past tables of Italian-American families out for their Saturday night dinner.


The men in the restaurant, ignoring their wives’ disapproving stares, turn their heads as she walks by.


Tommy recognizes a few of them; men with slick-backed hair from the neighborhood who visit his mother late at night when their own wives and kids are at sleep.


He can hear them through the wall, some moaning others squealing like pigs being led to slaughter.


He may only be seven years of age but he has already come to hate the smell of cheap cologne, of equally cheap cigars that stinks up the small, two-bedroom apartment, the sound of bedsprings creaking with a burning, absolute passion worthy of an adult.


It is an aversion he will carry around for the rest of his life, even when making his rounds at the parlours on the Deuce many years later where those abominable sounds and smells are as sure as amen in the church.


At a small table, at the back of the restaurant, the two of them sit down.


She orders a plate of French fries for him and a plate of shrimp for herself with a bottle of white wine to go with it.


It is their one night out, an annual occasion to mark the third anniversary of his father’s death and the one time of year where she is pretending to be nice.


He can feel she’s trying hard to connect, seeking eye-contact and smiling at him, but he ignores her and toys with his French fries instead, stacking them on top of each other and imagining it’s a wall large enough to stop her annoying stare.


They sit like this for some time; her, looking at him, the whites of her eyes gradually turning red as the bottle of Chardonnay disappears down her gullet; him, playing with his food, hoping the night will soon come to an end so he can get home, watch Bonanza and resume his deep-rooted resentment of her.


Then, she clears her throat. “Tommy?”


He gives her no response, except a twitch of the eyebrow, letting her know he heard her but that he just doesn’t care.


“Look at me baby.”


Again, he ignores her.


“Got some great news” Her tone of voice has changed. She now sounds meek and nervous.


This time he looks up from his plate, meeting her hazel eyes. He remembers how he used to find them pretty, but now they just look dull and void of life - just like her.


She opens her mouth to speak but then hesitates.


“I…I….” She mutters, her voice slurred from the wine.


“…I’ve met someone...someone special…”