If someone says hello to me I flinch and duck. My nerves are shot, today is my birthday.
I'm telling a story tonight at NoName Stories @ WordUp Bookstore @ 7pm in Washington Heights. I'm spilling the beans.
I wrote the story below at a kitchen table on Mom's birthday in 2006. It's a clear view inside my family's Yorkville apartment. Bob and Patty loved us, but they were out of their minds.
Rory was previously published in Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, the coolest NYC literary journal out there. Check it out. Thank you, Tom Beller, Patrick Gallagher, Jean Paul Cataviela & Connor Gaudet for your generosity and support.
March 1954. In a Woodside apartment overlooking the # 7 El and the Long Island Railroad, two express trains crisscrossed, one rattling over the other.
“I need food!” Patty pleaded, rubbing her big belly in the kitchen.
“There’s plenty of food,” Bob answered, playing with the bunny ears on top of the living room TV.
“YOU’RE A LIAR!” Patty opened the refrigerator and eyed the contents for the fifth time in five minutes.
“There’s no food-food, only junk. I want bread, I want bacon, I want Hellman’s mayonnaise!”
Disregarding her request, Bob shook the ice in the spaghetti pot chilling his six bottles of Rheingold. Wiping his hands on a dish towel, he definitely heard Patty’s next statement: “Get off your bony ass and get me food!”
Bob ignored this, too. It was ‘Friday Night at the Fights,” he’d just settled in – first round, first beer. Desiring perfect comfort, Bob moved a hassock over to put his feet up. While doing this, Bob missed the left hook that sent one of the boxers to the canvas with a thud. Unfortunately, Bob’s man was down. So was Bob, $20. After the stiff was counted out, the telecast went to a commercial. Disappointed, but now available for chores, Bob wrapped his arm around his extremely pregnant wife’s head.
She pushed him away, “Get off. You know I hate anyone touching my head.”
Bob bent over, kissed Patty’s cheek and asked her softly, “What do you need, Hon?”
Patty reeled off five items, aimed her lips up and kissed Bob on the mouth.
Back from the store, Bob put his beers in the fridge, washed the pot and put water on for spaghetti. Grabbing a black frying pan, he made two bacon sandwiches with extra mayo on Silvercup bread. After serving Patty both sandwiches, he took a beer and joined her at the kitchen table.
“So, we’re decided on baby names, right? Marc Anthony if he’s a boy, and Alison Leigh if she’s a girl.”
Bob smiled. Patty did not.
“You’re so full of shit. The girl’s name is fine. When you name the boy Marc Anthony, be sure you walk carefully over my dead body; because that’s the only way that stupid guinea name will ever appear on my son’s birth certificate.”
Bob’s expression fell.
“Oh cut the crap and get that stupid puss off your face.”
“So what name do you want?”
“Rory,” she said.
“Like Calhoun, the movie cowboy?”
“Yes, it’s an old Gaelic name meaning Red King.”
“Red? Our hair is black. It’s a girly name – you’re guaranteeing he’ll get the shit kicked out of him.”
It grew quiet. The only sound in the room was Patty’s low hum. She loved bacon.
Fracturing the silence, Bob said, “It’ll be Rory when Brooklyn wins the World Series.”
“I’ll alert the press.”
Bob, “Give me an alternative.”
“Nope,” Patty said, in between bites.
“Then I’ll give you one: Thomas.”
“That’s inspired.” Patty pointed her sandwich at Bob. “I thought we agreed, no fathers’ names?”
“It’s my brother’s name, too.”
“You mean we’re going to name him after Stone Face?”
“That’s my compromise. You’ll get to name the next baby.”
Patty swallowed a large bite of mayo, with a little bit of bacon and bread attached to it. She chewed slowly, wiped her mouth and said, “OK.”
March 20th, Patty gave birth to an eight-pound boy. When the nurse let Bob into the recovery room and he saw Patty cradling the baby, he started to cry.
“Oh stop your blabbering and give me a kiss.”
“How do you feel?”
“Not too swift,” Patty said, wiping sweat from her brow.
Bob, lightly rubbing the baby’s dark hair, asked, “How’s Tommy?”
“Doctor said he’s fine. Isn’t he beautiful?”
Bob picked up the wrinkled, red-faced boy. He thought the baby’s head looked like a grapefruit. A gorgeous grapefruit. Bob held the baby for a long time, then returned him to Patty.
“I have to fill out the birth certificate. I was thinking about Robert as a middle name,” Bob said.
“No,” she answered.
“You picked the first name. I pick the middle name.”
“No, no, no, you get to name the next baby.”
“No, I get to name the next baby’s first name, and you get to name the next baby’s second name.”
“But…” Bob spoke uselessly.
“No buts.” Patty closed the discussion. “Tommy’s middle name is Rory.”
That night, Bob temporarily parked his anger, and hailed a cab to his old Manhattan neighborhood. He celebrated his first son by dancing on the bar in Loftus Tavern on 85th Street and York Avenue. A month later, the boy was christened, Thomas Rory. When the priest repeated the boy’s second name, Bob rolled his eyes.
Thanksgiving, 1955, Bob and Patty told their families they were expecting again. Throughout the pregnancy, Patty kept Bob in the dark. He begged for clues and whined for hints. Late in the term, Bob tried to bribe Patty by hiding candy bars around the apartment, promising to reveal the locations only if she told him the name. Patty never cracked. Bob prayed for a girl.
June 20th, Patty gave birth to a perfect boy. Bob dropped Tommy off with his grandmother and went directly to the hospital. The room was dimly lit; the baby was sleeping in Patty’s arms. She gave Bob a weak wave. He went over to kiss the mother and son. Patty gently held Bob’s arm, keeping him close. She tilted her head, signaling him to lean in so she could whisper something. Bob pressed his ear to Patty’s dry lips.
“Rory, his name is Rory,” she said precisely.
Bob backed away. “That’s nuts – we’ve already got a Rory.”
“Shush! Middle names don’t count. You promised.”
Bob knew he’d been had. In desperation, he blurted, “His middle name is Robert.”
“Who cares?” she said.
Patty settled back into bed, gave Bob a sly smile and squeezed her Rory tight.